Monday, 27 June 2016

Seven Things You'll Discover When You Return To Work After Maternity Leave

 The baby was possibly more prepared than I was, judging by the nursery activites

1. Although you feel properly dressed for the first time in twelve months (no spit-up crusty dressing gown! no nursing bra! no misshapen slippers!) and haven't been anywhere near your baby for eight hours, somehow you'll still find a soggy rice cake stuck to your derriere or the florescent crumbs of Organix carrot sticks (aka fake wotsits) on the shoulder of your brand new suit

2. You'll be the first to shout 'don't worry, I've got a baby wipe!' at the sound of any spillage in the office. And jokingly laugh, to the sound of tumbleweed, that you also have several different sized nappies in your bag should anyone in the team need one

3. You'll glance back in the rear view mirror on the way to work and have a moment of abject panic when the baby seat is empty... before realizing the baby is safely ensconced in nursery and not, as usual, trying to undo the seat belt just as you're joining the motorway

4. You'll spend at least half an hour wondering how far to take the cheery 'no, do phone us anytime!' mantra of the nursery. Or spend at least half an hour thinking up increasingly elaborate excuses to call to check on your little ones progress

5. You'll try so hard not to talk about your baby at every office conversation. Frankly impossible considering every conversation you've had in the last twelve months has been about your baby. You literally have no other material

6. You'll spend most of your first week back wondering how many pictures of your bundle of joy should adorn your desk... And whether it is polite to encroach on your colleague's desk with your variety of pictures frames or whether you could replace the insipid, dull posters reminding everyone to recycle with splodgy paintings of your baby's feet


7. You'll decide it doesn't matter whatsoever if you get a speeding ticket on the way home or a parking ticket from double-parking outside the nursery: HECK, YOU HAVEN'T SEEN YOUR BABY ALL DAY!

Sound familiar? Anything I've missed?


Tuesday, 14 June 2016

New chapters, nursery and cheerio to maternity leave


                           
Mornings chilling in our dressing gowns and PJs are soon to be replaced by early alarms and commutes

I'm writing this post in the local cafe. An empty coffee cup and a fully digested newspaper by my side. 

And a very, very empty pram. 

Our little one began her settling in sessions at the nursery this week and it feels odd. Strange. Very, very weird. 

And once I'd figured that pacing the street outside the nursery for two hours was probably not the most... relaxing use of my time I came here. I thought to take the opportunity to enjoy a cup of coffee that is not only hot but is unlikely to be thrown across the table by the eager, enthusiastic hands of an eleven month old baby, risking third degree burns to anyone within a five metre vicinity. And after a read of the paper I now feel more up to date with the arguments on either side of the EU referendum than the BBC's Chief Political correspondent. Heck, reading a paper that hasn't been copiously dribbled on or ripped into teeny shreds and joyfully stuffed into a baby's mouth as though a piece of prime Wagu beef, is a novelty in itself. 

But my mind drifts constantly to the nursery, my eyes flickering to my phone every second. Keep your phone on, they said, just in case. Just in case what? (My overactive imagination has since gone overdrive...I've actually found myself scouring Twitter and the BBC news for any incidents in the vicinity of the nursery).

How come this teeny little thing that only so recently was utterly dependent on me is now waving bye bye Mama as I hand her over to virtual strangers? Surely it was just yesterday, on a day just as sunny and warm as this one, we were taking her home from the hospital for the first time?  

My mind also drifts to work, starting on Monday. A new job. Because obviously settling a baby into nursery and returning to work after a year in which my brain cells have melted faster than the polar ice caps isn't enough of a challenge. If only the new job description read:

'knowledge of survival skills when sleep deprived essential, specifically excellent ability to rapidly consume considerable volumes of luke-warm caffeinated drinks while ignoring mounting piles of dirty washing'

or 

'desirable qualities include singing 'Row Row a Row Your Boat' and 'The Grand Old Duke of York' multiple times a day'. 

Do wish me luck. Anyway, enough pondering; my two hours are up. 

*manically runs as fast as possible back to nursery* 

Friday, 3 June 2016

Strawberry, Vanilla and Soured Cream Cake



It's strawberry season! Hurrah! My favourite red fruit season! And the competition is pretty stiff; raspberries come a close second... although radishes are relegated to a distant eighth.

The arrival of the first sweet, juicy British strawberries in the shops definitely heralds the start of the summer. Along with digging out dusty bottles of suntan lotion dated 2015 2010 from the back of the bathroom cupboard and the local tennis courts being absolutely packed for the first time for eleven months in anticipation of Wimbledon fortnight in a few weeks time.

And British strawberries are set for a record-breaking year. As though the fruit is going for gold at this summer's Rio Olympics, the British crop is set to reach 74,000 tonnes this summer, up 11% from last year. This is all thanks to our insatiable demand for the strawberry; £564 million pounds worth are sold each season and berry consumption has risen by 132% in the last decade.

Pass the double cream.

To make the most of the season I baked this cake last weekend, a light, moist cake with sweet creamcheese frosting and packed full of juicy strawberries.



Strawberry and Vanilla Soured Cream Cake

175g soft butter
150g golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 vanilla pod, seeds only
140ml soured cream
1 punnet strawberries, roughly cut in quarters

100g full fat cream cheese
200g icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to fan 160C/conventional 180C/Gas MArk 4. Butter and line a 22cm loose-bottomed round cake tin
2. Place the butter, sugar, eggs, baking powder and vanilla in  large bowl and beat well until light and fluffy. Beat in 4 tbsp of the soured cream and stir in three quarters of the strawberries
3. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes until risen and golden in colour. Cool for ten minutes in the tin then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely
4. To make the frosting, beat together the icing sugar, cream cheese and remainder of the soured cream. Spread over the cooled cake and use of the leftover strawberries to decorate.

Baker's notes...

  • This recipe is adapted from BBC Good Food and is one of my go-to recipes. Easy, failsafe and really rather scrumptious
  • Once baked, it keeps nicely in the fridge for 48hours. However, if it has lasted more than 48 minutes you have way more willpower than me 

Monday, 16 May 2016

Baby Weaning: the Theory...and the Reality

 Ready, Steady....Wean!

When I first began to plan weaning the baby I envisaged myself as the ultimate Annabel Karmel-Ella off of Ella's Kitchen SuperMama. The baby would be eating purees worthy of Masterchef champions. Only the finest, ripest, brightest fruit and vegetables would be purchased. I bulk bought designer bibs and designated entire cupboards to luminous coloured plastic bowls and spoons. The freezer rapidly filled with carefully labelled, lovingly prepared miniature pots of weaning goodness.

Fast forward three months. 


The freezer remains full of miniature pots. But I gave up long ago labelling them. Each mealtime we now play the very fun game of 'weaning pot roulette'. Bingo! Its pork casserole! Darn- Salmon Surprise* for the third supper running!

Freezer roulette...

I've discovered that there is a definite correlation between the amount of time earnestly preparing and cooking a delicious recipe and the refusal shown by the baby to eat said delicious recipe. I spent hours one afternoon cooking a fish pie to find the baby abjectly refusing to even entertain eating a single spoonful. 

The first month of weaning, any food that was tossed on the floor was immediately, without hesitation or deviation, unceremoniously thrown straight into the bin. By month two, it was three strikes and in the bin. Nowadays, I'm not entirely certain whether the carrot stick I've just returned to the high chair was from today's dinner... or last week's lunch. 

I still haven't worked out what is one prune too many. This, it turns out, is a careful calculus no less demanding than the mathematics required to launch a rocket to the moon. If I miscalculate, we need to pack a lot more nappies in the changing bag.  

And the mess. Oh, the mess. We are single handedly keeping the manufacturers of Varnish in business. 

But you know, it is a lot of fun. Seeing the baby's gorgeous little face scrunch up in delight (or disgust) as she explores new flavours and tastes. Watching her enthusiastic banging on the high chair tray, her little legs racing underneath, as I head to the fridge in search of her favourite: the coconut milk yogurt. I may not be the love child of Annabel and Ella, but the baby is enjoying solids very much, and that's all that matters after all. 

* Probably wouldn't be on the menu in a Masterchef final I suspect

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Seven Commandments of Taking a Baby to a Cafe



When the baby was a teeny, teeny little thing that happily fitted into the palm of our hand and spent 80% of the time sleeping, 15% feeding and 5% having a nappy change, nipping out for a much needed caffeine boost was a quite straight forward task as she'd just sleep while we tucked in. Now, it requires the logistical planning of the Duchess of Cambridge's wardrobe mistress on their recent Indian trip, when she wore fourteen different, perfect, outfits in five days*:

1. Find a cafe that'll accommodate our pram tank. When we go with our friends that can mean up to a dozen buggies  tanks, which pretty much means a short-lived, nimble invasion of an entire small country cafe with tots, toddlers, tantrums and those pushchairs tanks

2. Pack enough toys  to fit in one entire aisle of Toys-R-Us. You know when you haven't packed enough toys to entertain when the baby spends half an hour happily trying to open the pack of wipes...

3. Don't forget the rice cakes. There is nothing more off-putting than enormous big bambi-esque baby eyes staring up forlornly and enviously at you as you tuck into a gigantic slice of Double Chocolate Fudge Cake

4. Order an espresso. At least you'll get to drink it in one hot mouthful unlike the lukewarm latte that'll have been sitting there for twenty minutes while you've wrestled with a wriggly baby while failing to open the pack of rice cakes

5. Try and avoid sitting next to anyone leisurely reading the paper over a large cappuccino on their day off. They probably did not come into the cafe to listen to me loudly discussing the contents of the baby's nappy after a lunch of salmon; I know this as, once upon a time, I used to be that person.

6. Decide whether the baby crawling under the tables picking up dropped panini crumbs will a) build up her immunity b) save you from making her any lunch or c) be good exercise for you as you crawl after her in the style of an army commando training course

7. Forget about any thoughts of a nice relaxed coffee for the next ten years, grab a take-away and head for the nearest soft play (aka Dante's Inferno) or a cold cuppa and another pack of chcocolate digestives on the sofa




*As a new-ish Mum, a swift sniff, a wet wipe and a flash of febreeze and I reckon I can get away with one outfit lasting five days.

Dairy and Sugar-free Fruity Flapjacks


For the last few months we've been weaning our (now not so) little baby. Its been messy. I have never had to mop our kitchen floor quite as much as I have since January. It starts the day sparkling, as though auditioning for a kitchen cleaner commercial and ends the day covered with splodges of puree and squished chunks of fruit and vegetables, all congealed together in a small lake of water from the baby's beaker.

Despite the mess, it is great fun as the baby has a ferocious appetite. She adores her food, impatiently banging on her highchair when I've not prepared her food quickly enough, reminiscent of a character in Oliver or a contestant in Man Baby-Vs-Food. 

I was keen to bake a little something for the hungry munchkin but as she has a milk allergy I needed to do a little research before getting out the greaseproof paper and switching the oven on. 


I'm certainly no deliciously ella but these are quick, easy and perfect for using up storecupboard ingredients. The baby has been enjoying them as finger food, mushed up with a little oat milk for breakfast and, of course, as another thing to throw into the food lake beneath her highchair.


Fruity Flapjacks (dairy and sugar free)

2 medium bananas
1 apple, peeled and grated
0.5 tsp cinnamon
180g oats
100g dates, finely chopped
85g dried apricots, finely chopped
100ml olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas Mark 3. Graese and line a 20cm square tin with baking paper
2. Mash the bananas in  large bowl and add in the apple and cinnamon. Stir in the oats and dried fruit and finally add in the oil, mixing thoroughly until the ingredients are nicely binded together. You may need to add a little extra oil or water if the mixture appears a little dry
3. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden. Leave to cool in the tin before cutting into squares

Baker's Notes...

  • These are great for adding a variety of dried fruit too- simply raid your storecupboard for inspiration!
  • When my husband and I bit into them we did miss the sugar- more a relfection on our dietary habits than these flapjacks I suspect... 
  • Stored in an airtight container, they will keep for up to three days

Monday, 18 April 2016

Babyproofing and Fridge Fitness with Betta Living



Cheese in fridge

According to the various books and websites we spend each evening pouring over in an ambitious attempt to keep a day or two ahead of our baby's suddenly very rapid development*, she ought to start crawling very, very soon. Admittedly at the minute, when placed on her tummy, she lolls back and fro, not dissimilar to a beached seal pup. Its very cute for us, slightly more frustrating when your favourite toy is merely inches out of reach.

And so it comes to babyproofing, well, everything. We realised very quickly that pretty much our entire home holds the most enormous attraction for an adventurous and inquisitive baby. Infact, I'm convinced there is a correlation between the more dangerous the item, the more attractive it is to a curious eight month old tot. Heck, why play with a boring, dull rattle when there is a whole selection of cables attractively and temptingly dangling down from behind the telly to gnaw at? And an immediate beeline is always made to the cupboard containing all the cleaning products and their enticing bleach containing bottles.

So when Betta Living got in touch to ask for a few tips on fridge safety and organisation with a baby it seemed a good time to really consider what needed to be done to make our home even just slightly less hazardous. After a little research, these were amongst the tips I sent in:

“Consider setting aside a cupboard or drawer for your little one to consider their own. Fill it with safe objects, such as plastic storage tubs, wooden spoons and tea towels, and encourage your baby to explore this rather than the fridge.”

“Don’t put grapes on the lowest shelves in the fridge,” she says. “These are choking hazards and could be very dangerous for inquisitive young children.”

The tips appear in the article 'Fridge Fitness' and include valuable tips from other bloggers to ensure your fridge is kept in tip top condition.

* I swear it was just two minutes ago we were elatedly walking out of the hospital with our perfect little bundle of joy, having successfully put on a nappy without a midwife staring over at us trying to remain professional as she pointed out that we'd put it on the wrong way round. Again.

With thanks to Betta Living who supported this post