Tuesday, 15 July 2014

five (a bit late)

Isla is 5

Oh my dear Isla, youngest child of mine and often (unintentionally) forgotten. It was your birthday a week ago today and I'm just getting around to writing your blog post now. But I know you won't be too bothered about the lateness as it means your birthday is being dragged out a little bit longer.

You were my biggest baby and I think you often have the biggest personality. I love the faces you make when I take your picture and even the tantrums you throw when you're having a diva strop (sometimes.) It's so hard not to laugh. I love how brave you can be; you have no qualms about belting out "Frozen" songs over a microphone in front of a crowd or being a fairy in a ballet show. Your "YouTube videos" are hilarious (and no, we will not upload them to YouTube ever.)

You are my big little girl, Isley Piley. Small enough to still pick up and cuddle, but big enough to walk confidently through life. Never, never stop being you. I love you to the moon and back.

Thursday, 19 June 2014


Mia, my middley, you have shattered all preconceptions I had about little girls. You would rather wear your brother's rugby top than a dress, play Minecraft instead of Barbies, and by the end of each day, you're covered from head to toes in a layer of something.
But you also love ballet classes, making (those godforsaken) loom band bracelets, belting out songs from "Frozen", and having your nails done. You are actually quite shy and can be incredibly self conscious, contradictory to the roaring Mimi most people see.
You are, most importantly, your own fabulous little person. Happy 7th birthday Mia Yoshiko, my rainbow baby. You are full of awesome.

Monday, 12 May 2014

what the hell am i doing here?

I think it was Mother's Day everywhere else in the world other than the UK yesterday. It was definitely Mother's Day back home in Canadaland and with it came lots of posts from Facebook friends about motherhood. Most of it sentimental, some quite funny, and a few about how difficult it is to be a mother and how under-appreciated we are.

A friend posted a link to this video about "the toughest job in the world", which turned out to be motherhood (note: it's a greeting card ad, so don't feel enraged when you get to the end to find out you've shed tears over a commercial.) The message is that we're unpaid, work 365 days a year, and do most of our tasks standing or moving around. As the unsuspecting interviewees put it, they're inhuman working conditions. "Why would anyone have kids?" a friend of my friend asked. Well. Good question.

I've always said that being a parent is the toughest job I've ever had. There are no sick days, no holidays, and they always want something. I cannot tell you how many times I hear "I'm thirsty/hungry" over the course of a day. I'VE JUST FED YOU A MASSIVE ROAST DINNER. YOU DON'T NEED TO EAT AGAIN FOR AT LEAST ANOTHER HOUR. NOW LEAVE ME ALONE SO I CAN HAVE A PEE.

There is no privacy. They howl and try to bash the door down in a zombie-like frenzy if you ever attempt to shut yourself in any room in the house.

You cannot make or receive phone calls because there is a special signal installed in all telephones that incites children to riot as soon as you say, "Hello?"

You will never eat a hot plate of food ever again. Just eat sandwiches or vegetables and dip from now on and save yourself any disappointment. And make sure the sandwich is a variety your kids don't like because they will stop at nothing to eat it.

Being Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny will add a whole new level of stress to your life. If you get caught, you will be the crappiest parent of all time. Retrieving a tooth in the pitch dark and sticking a coin under your kid's pillow without making any noise is like Tom Cruise dangling from the ceiling in "Mission Impossible."

And sometimes they can just be little shits.

I think I've aged 20 years since having kids. I'm always tired. I'm always on the verge of losing my rag with someone. I'm an introverted only child so why I decided to fill my house with kids is a mystery.

But being a parent is also a pretty great thing. My kids make me laugh, like proper belly laugh. They ask me questions that make me wonder why things are the way they are. They give me an excuse to see Pixar films at the cinema and ride on merry go rounds. They love me unconditionally, throwing their arms around me for hugs each morning. Even when I've been a little shit.

It isn't at all logical and I definitely couldn't sell this job to anyone. I think having kids simply makes me a better person. I'm no longer self-centred and I've discovered I have this endless supply of love for these little beings. I want to teach them things and learn along with them. I'm so curious to see what sort of people they'll become. It's not why we decided to have kids in the first place - that I can't really verbalise - but it's what I've discovered since becoming a parent.

Having kids is not for everyone and not everyone has a good time with it, but for me, it's just what makes sense. Sticky walls, Lego foot injuries, and all.
Still one of my favourite photos of the kids: Christmas Card Fail
Christmas Card Fail, 2010

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Mamta's/Kavey's lamb biryani: AKA what to do with leftover lamb

A well-used recipe from Mamta's Kitchen
A very well-loved Mamta recipe I printed up in 2010
I've used and loved the recipes from the wonderful Mamta's Kitchen site for ages now. When I want an Indian recipe, I head to Mamta's because I know it'll be failsafe and delicious.

I stumbled upon her daughter Kavey on Twitter and discovered that she's been posting recipes, too. I had a lot of leftover lamb from Easter dinner and remembered Kavey's post about her mum's lamb biryani (http://www.kaveyeats.com/2014/03/mamtas-delicious-lucknowi-style-lamb-biryani.html), which happened to be posted the same week I made the Worst Biryani Ever.

I should have realised when I read the recipe that it was never going to even remotely resemble biryani. It was sort of like a pilau rice dish or maybe a distant relative of paella if you used your imagination, but whatever it was, it was not biryani. It was incredibly sloppy due to far too much stock. How it got 337 five star reviews on the BBC Food site is beyond me. And don't even get me started about people giving recipes five stars when they have to amend most of it to make it edible.
Really, really not biryani
This is totally not biryani and I can only apologise.
So anyway, proper biryani. Had I done two more minutes of Googling I would have realised that it is a dish of two parts that are layered and baked. Kavey's recipe reinforced this, and I bookmarked it with a promise to give it a go one day. Enter my copious amounts of leftover lamb and a need to get at least one more meal out of it without resorting to shepherd's pie. I used leg of lamb, but I think shoulder would be much better (and cheaper.) 

I didn't stray far from Kavey's recipe; I didn't have saffron or rose water for the rice and used coconut oil to saute everything instead of ghee. As I used cooked lamb, I only simmered it for about 20 minutes. The final dish was absolutely, gloriously scrumptious and I would very happily eat the lamb curry on its own. 

I prepared it ahead of time so I only had to pop it in the oven when I got home from work. Kavey asked her mum about preparing it in advance, and Mamta advised that I chill the rice quickly under cold water before assembling to prevent any nasty bacteria from setting up house in my baking dish overnight. I would add that once you've made this dish, don't reheat it again to avoid the nasties. You ever wonder what often causes "Delhi Belly"? Rice that's been sitting around too long or has been reheated too many times. It ain't pretty. 

The onions do take a while to brown, so heed Kavey's note about it taking about 20-30 minutes until it goes sticky and lovely like this:
Browned onions
And don't freak out about using so many onions because they will shrink big time. There is a Japanese word that escapes me for the crunchy layer of rice that forms at the bottom of the pan, but it is one of my favourite things in the world. I greedily scooped out all of this golden layer for myself. Oh yes I did.

So, thank you Kavey for sharing your mum's beautiful recipe and for giving me something more creative to make with my leftover lamb. All five of us loved it and I would make it again in a heartbeat.

Lamb Biryani

Sunday, 6 April 2014

review, sort of: savion glover, sole sanctuary

It's not often you'll find one of my reviews on this site but as no one asked me to review Savion Glover's latest show "SoLe Sanctuary" (currently at Sadler's Wells theatre in London), here it is. Actually, this isn't a proper review; it's more of a response to the lukewarm reviews I came across on t'internet (of which there were only two, but both for major British newspapers.)

So here's the thing - most people here will know Savion Glover as the tap dancer who was digitally tracked to animate the feet of Mumble, the penguin from "Happy Feet". For those of us from North America, we also know him from the wildly popular production "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk" that had a good run on Broadway in the 90s. We also know him from the films "Jelly's Last Jam" and "Tap". And yeah, probably "Sesame Street", too. The point is, we know what to expect when we see him tap.

We know he's not going to leap into the air and turn a sofa on its side or shuffle his way up a grand staircase. He's not going to do jazz hands and big-toothed smiles to big band music. He's going to use his feet like percussive instruments, moving very little else. He is going to blow us away with his intricate rhythms and make us wonder how he's making any sound because we can't really see his feet  moving.

His latest show, SoLe Sanctuary, does exactly this. It's 80 minutes of percussion, sometimes with music or singing, but mostly just his and Marshall Davis Jr's taps. He strips tap down to its essence: sound. He doesn't look out into the audience because he doesn't need to; I spent the entire show staring at his feet, my jaw on the floor.

His segments with Davis Jr were like conversations, moving between finishing each other's sentences and trying to outdo each other. They smiled broadly as the other danced, showing a longtime familiarity but also marking respect. It was difficult to tell if these segments were ad libbed; their faces made us believe that some of the steps were being seen for the first time on that stage.

I think drummers would enjoy this show or at least get something more out of it. I don't think I fully appreciated how intricate these rhythms were and my rudimentary understanding of tap didn't help much, either. Still, I was transfixed. I found myself shaking my head at these impossible steps and nodding along to the sounds. The audience erupted with applause and whoops at the end of each segment and gave a standing ovation at the finale.

There was no intermission but I think a break would have disrupted the flow of the show. It also left us wondering how the hell these men could tap for that long without collapsing. It was, in a word, astounding.

Thank you Savion for educating me about traditional African American tap and for blowing me away with the sounds that came out of your feet. I am inspired.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

and then the kate bush ticket gods smiled upon me

My first year at York university was in 1986. I had really big hair and I thought I was pretty cool because I was a Fine Arts Student. I was on my way to get my BFA (or as most of us fondly called it, a "Bachelor's of Fuck All") and I wore a lot of black and was very, very deep.

I made friends with a guy called Tony during the first week on campus. He was gay, so don't get all excited - this story doesn't involve true love or anything like that. It mostly involves nose piercing, hair dying in the co-ed residential bathrooms, and Kate Bush.

Tony was a massive Kate Bush fan and a vegetarian. "I'm vegetarian too," I blurted out. I wasn't, but from that point on, I was. I did know who Kate Bush was thanks to "Hounds of Love" becoming a huge hit that year, and I was already a fan. So Tony and I became inseparable, did a lot of very silly things at university, and I was now a Kate-loving vegetarian because I was incredibly impressionable and keen to please. Good thing I didn't bond with a heroin-smoking Kajagoogoo fan, really.

Tony introduced me to Kate's back catalogue along with some B sides from his "The Singles File" boxed set. I made cassette recordings of everything and Kate became my soundtrack to my weekend job; the graveyard shift at the Shell station. Her music was also a handy way to coax my uni roommate out of our room. Playing this at full blast usually had the desired effect:

I fell in love with her music. I still know every word to every song and certain songs always evoke specific memories. "The Dreaming" will always remind me of my job at Shell because it was my favourite album and I played it over and over during my shifts.

When I moved to Montreal, "Sensual World" came out which introduced us all to the wonderful Trio Bulgarka. I learned that one of her songs was based on Molly Bloom's words in James Joyce's Ulysses and immediately set out to read it and love it. Which was a really stupid idea because I had absolutely no idea what the book was about (although a later course in Irish literature would help me decipher the story.) And of course there was Book of Dreams by Peter Reich ("Cloudbusting") and millions of other references I would pick up over the years.

28 years later (god, really?) my friend Steph alerted me that Kate is going on tour. WHAT? A quick Google confirmed she was indeed touring for the first time since 1979. Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt.

I knew I had a one in a bazillion chance of getting tickets. She has a huge fanbase and this was to be her only tour, made up of just 22 shows. I cracked my knuckles last Friday morning, opening up a few browser tabs, and hoped for the best. I didn't expect to get tickets, but I had to try. But I did. I got tickets. I got opening night tickets in row E. I just kept refreshing the page and magically the little icon went green and I clicked madly, not even looking at what night or what seats I was getting.

Even with the confirmation page staring back at me, I couldn't believe I actually got tickets. I wouldn't close the window until the confirmation email came in and even then I had to read the email a dozen times to make sure I had indeed secured tickets to Kate Bush.

I don't know how I managed it, but by the gods, I am absolutely thrilled about it. My 45-year-old self is high fiving my 17-year-old self. And telling her to stop smoking and acting like an idiot.

(I'm not vegetarian anymore, sorry Kate.)

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

(not) an open letter to other mothers

Dear stay at home mums and working mums,

I recently came across open letters from a working mum to stay at home mums and vice versa, and it was pretty cool. It went against the Mommy War grain and put forth messages of support for those in the trenches at home and in the office. How lovely to see something written about mothers that didn't make anyone feel like shit. That's a big step forward for the Internet.

I'm a both a working mum and a stay at home mum. I work in an office and I work from home. I'm employed part-time by several clients, which actually totals more hours than I ever put into my Monday-Friday job. Then I do this mummy thing which takes up quite a lot of time, too.

"What will you do with all your time?" people asked me when my youngest started school. I replied through gritted teeth "I'll still be doing all the jobs and errands I was doing before." This is the stay at home mum dilemma: people think you have nothing to do unless it involves childcare or physically going into an office. Legally, you are allowed to poke these people in the eye with your car keys.

All school events seem to fall on my office days, meaning I miss out on things like sports days and assemblies. Sometimes I can go into work late, but I can't swap my days due to childcare and after school activities. This is the the working mum dilemma: you miss out on kid stuff because you're stuck in the office or putting your nose to the grindstone to meet deadlines. Legally, you are allowed to consume vast amounts of gin to help cope with your deep resentment for conference calls. (Take the bus on these occasions though, obvs.)

In the end though, we are all mothers. We all give up sleep, money, personal hygiene, food, sanity and a host of other things for the sake of our kids. I see you staggering around the aisles of the supermarket, trying to do your weekly shop in 3 minutes before your child has a meltdown (who is not at all happy despite the fact that you've given him a baguette, a punnet of grapes, and a bag of chocolate chip cookies.) I see you in your office raising a cup of hot tea to the sky, eyes closed in a prayer of thanks for the opportunity to consume a warm beverage in its entirety. I see you at home, your eyes fretfully oscillating between your laptop that contains a looming deadline and the enormous pile of laundry. I get it. And as an in-between mum, I am totally with you.

I would hold up my fist in solidarity, but then you'd see my bingo wings.

Another Mum

*(I can't call this an open letter because it'll vex my friend Heidi.)