Thursday 23 December 2010

9 months... the length of time since I've written about the great Blu-ray DVDs we've received from Think Parents. Oops. I'm very grateful that they continue to send us the movies, despite my sporadic blog updates. Without further ado, I present you with "Nine Months of Film Blurbs, and Many Apologies to Digital Outlook".

Dumbo and Toy Story 1 & 2:

Disney have re-released quite a few of their "classic" films on Blu-ray, with digitally remastered animation and some bonus bits. They are still hugely dated, which is unavoidable (unless they want to re-record the voices and update the songs), but Jack and Mia didn't seem to mind or notice. "Dumbo" doesn't disappoint if you're into Disney's Dead Mother formula of storytelling and their trademark catchy tunes. I was surprised at how short the film is, which actually works quite well for children with fairly short attention spans (i.e. mine). Jack and Mia enjoyed watching the film, but the true test is the number of times a film gets requested in future - and "Dumbo" has sadly failed.

Here's a clip from "Dumbo":

Now, the Toy Story series - I cannot say enough good things about it. And now it's in Blu-ray! Granted, the animation (particularly in the first film) is slightly out of date and not nearly as slick as the remarkable graphics we now see in films like "Up", but the storyline and characters are so incredibly endearing and likable. "Toy Story" is a favourite in this house, amongst both the big and little people. And yes, I'm one of those people who cried in the cinema (quietly, behind the 3D glasses) during "Toy Story 3". Such a brilliant trilogy of films.

The Princess and the Frog

Even though the word "princess" appears in the title, Jack admits that he still likes this movie and it's been on our television screen several times since we received it. Every time we see the ad for this DVD, Mia shouts out "WE HAVE THIS ONE!" So, accolades all around. I admit, I've not actually paid much attention to this film when it's been playing so I can only pass along my childrens' seal of approval.

Some clips:

Alice in Wonderland

I was going to buy this one for Paul, who is a Tim Burton fan. Again, I haven't managed to watch this one myself but Paul did watch this with Jack. I don't think this was a hit with Jack, and it's likely because this film isn't really aimed at small kids. I'm also a Burton fan, so I will sit down and watch this one day.


Tea Party

Hatter Futterwackens

Eat Me Cakes

Beauty and the Beast

I don't think this one was very popular as it hasn't been requested again. It was never one of my favourites either, but this is likely due to my extreme dislike of Celine Dion.

No clip, but here is a list of bonus features, as provided by Disney:

Blu-ray bonus features

  • Backstage Disney
-        Beyond Beauty: The Untold Stories Behind The Beauty and the Beast
-        Broadway Beginnings
-        Composing a Classic: A Musical Conversation with Alan Menken, Don Hahn and Richard Kraft
  • Deleted Scenes
-        Alternate Story Open
-        Belle in the Library
  • Family Play
-        Enchanted Challenge: A Disney Quest Game
-        Bon Jour, Who is This? A Disney TelePlay Game
  • Disney Channel Music Video
·        Classic DVD Bonus Features

Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue

We took this one with us to Center Parcs and in one weekend, it was watched at least twice. Mia goes nuts for anything Tinkerbell so this was always going to be a hit with her. Jack sat through it, completely riveted. After one viewing, he said to a friend of ours "Don't tell anyone that I watched Tinkerbell." So shhh, don't tell anyone that Jack likes this film.

Clips ahoy:

And finally, this isn't a film review but a site review. Disney's "What Shall We Do Today" site has games, activities, songs, and other interactive bits for kids based on their Disney Channel programmes. This channel is very popular amongst the Durbin children, so they were eager to dive into the site. Unfortunately, none of the games would load, so we've had to postpone our review. I will say that the site is very easy to use (Jack was able to navigate through the menus without any difficulty) and your child will only need a basic reading level to get through the activities. Which means very little adult supervision is needed, which means mummy can go make a cup of tea while the kids play on the site. Win/win.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

party time

Mia's playgroup are having their annual Christmas party tomorrow, and I was asked to bring savoury finger foods for the adults. Having completely forgotten to buy anything specifically for the party (because that's how I roll these days), I was at a loss. I had a look through the fridge and freezer and had a bit of a "Ready, Steady, Cook" moment. Bacon and...erm...cucumber and...uhh...ranch dressing on...on...crumpets? Pea and cottage cheese fritters? Carrot sticks poked into Babybels? Tell the kids they're "porcupines"! Yeah, that's it. In a moment of inspiration/desperation, I came up with an idea based on a half pack of puff pastry lurking in the back of my freezer. Who has half a pack of pastry? Seriously? What did I do with only half a slab of puff pastry? At any rate, it gave me an idea, and this is the result.

The edges aren't burnt, they're "caramelised".
Tomato, Basil, and Mozzarella Tartlets

(Makes 12 tartlets)

1/2 pack of all butter puff pastry
3 plum tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
2 tbsp garlic oil*
Fresh mozzarella, chopped into 12 1" cubes
Freshly grated parmesan
Salt and pepper

*I'm lazy and sometimes resort to garlic oil (I have a jar of extra virgin olive oil with several whole cloves of garlic in it) rather than chop up garlic for a recipe. 

Preheat the oven to 220C (non-fan assist, 200C fan assist).

Divide the pastry into 12 equal portions and place each portion into a muffin tin. Squish the dough down until it covers the bottom of the tin and comes up the sides a little. You're not aiming for perfection, just tart bottom coverage. In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, basil, garlic oil, and season to taste. Place about a teaspoon of the mixture on top of each pastry bottom, and top with a cube of mozzarella. Grate some parmesan over all the tarts, just to cover. Bake for around 15-20 minutes (depending on how thin you smush your pastry), and leave to cool on a wire rack.

These are bigger than a canape (i.e. it's more than a mouthful, unless you're like me and have a really big mouth and no sense of decorum), but are easily nibbled with a glass in one hand. You can make these a day ahead and serve them at room temperature.

Witness the uneven cooking of my oven. Bad Neff! Bad!
I wanted to make something else to help feed a hungry crowd of parents while their children run around, fuelled by chocolate Santas. My friend Helen pointed me to a recipe the other day for cheese straws on the fabulous Smitten Kitchen site, and having all the ingredients, I decided to give them a go. They are light, buttery, and absolutely delicious. As Helen said to me, these would be perfect with a glass of wine.

I left out the chilli only because children might be eating these, but I would definitely include it if I was serving these to adults. The other thing I would like to add is that Smitten Kitchen's cheese straws look a little more appealing, because American cheddar tends to be orange while ours is usually white. In future, I will use a strong orange cheese to give it that extra colour, and add a little cayenne to the dough.

Now before anyone accuses me of being all Martha Stewart-like and wondering how anyone could find the time to make stuff like this, I promise you, both recipes were simple and quick. From start to finish, the tarts and cheese straws took me an hour to complete both recipes. 10 minutes of that was preparation, the rest was sitting on my arse having a cup of tea. Well okay, that's not entirely true. The 10 minutes also included wrestling Christmas baubles out of the clutches of my baby's hands, rescuing her from falling off the sofa headfirst, and attempting to roll out dough while she held on to my legs like a rugby player.

Simples. Promise.
i iz not lettin u cook.

Sunday 24 October 2010

one banana, two banana, three banana, four

Banana bread is one of my favourite things on earth. It's one of the tastes of my childhood and became a staple during all of my pregnancies. When I was pregnant with Jack, I discovered that Nutella smeared on a piece of banana bread was a lovely, lovely thing. (And my considerable girth at the end of that pregnancy was proof of my love.) When I was pregnant with Mia and Isla, I got the urge to bake towards the very end - probably part of that so-called "nesting phase" - and made loaves of banana bread just before they were born. In fact, before yesterday, the last loaf I made was the day before Isla arrived. So to all you heavily pregnant and fed up ladies out there, banana bread may be your answer*.

Paul and Jack returned from school on Friday with a carrier bag full of very ripe bananas, which was obviously a sign from the gods that I should bake. Banana bread was a given, and a quick poll of my friends and a scan through my cookbooks gave me a few more ideas. So first, my Mom's banana bread recipe. I think this came from one of our church cookbooks when I was a kid. All I know is that Mom has been using this recipe for as long as I can remember and it works every time. I think that the flavour gets better with age; banana bread is best eaten later that evening or the next day, in my opinion. I keep mine in the fridge because I like how dense and chilled it gets, but feel free to keep yours wherever you'd like. It also freezes well; slice it up and put greaseproof paper between the slices before freezing, and you can either defrost the slices gradually on the worktop or stick them in the microwave for around 20-30 seconds if you're impatient. This is a cake rather than a bread (despite the name), in that it's quite sweet and doesn't really require anything on it. Unless, of course, you enjoy Nutella and have a massive sweet tooth.

Mom's Banana Bread

2 cups of plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup of mashed bananas (approximately 3 medium bananas)
1/3 cup of whole milk
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C and grease a loaf pan. In a medium bowl, sift the flour with the baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until it's light and fluffy. Add the eggs and mashed bananas, and beat until they're thoroughly incorporated. In a mixing jug, combine the milk and lemon juice. [I suspect that this was a substitution for buttermilk (perhaps adapted from the original recipe), so I'm sure you could use 1/3 cup of buttermilk in place of the whole milk and lemon juice.] Add about 1/4 of the dry ingredients to the banana mixture, then a tablespoon or so of the milk mixture, and continue alternating like this until everything is mixed in, ending with the dry ingredients. [I don't really know if this matters, but it seems to be a common instruction in a lot of North American baking recipes. Whether or not starting and ending with dry ingredients and alternating like this does anything magical to the finished product is a bit of a mystery to me. But it's what I always do, and I'm too lazy to experiment and see what happens if I just bung everything into the bowl.] Bake for around an hour. When a cake tester comes out dry, it's done. Let the bread cool a little, then turn it out on to a wire rack to cool completely. Don't try to slice it before it has cooled, or else it'll crumble all over the place.

The second recipe of the day was for banana chocolate muffins, courtesy of the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. Now, I know that many people are not fans of this book and I've heard several people complain that many of the recipes don't turn out properly. Me, I've never had anything go horribly wrong and I've enjoyed the recipes I've tried so far. But having said that, I think this recipe does need a little tweaking. It calls for 1 tsp ground ginger, which for me, was far too overpowering and almost completely masked the flavour of the bananas. This is very apparent if you try the cupcakes without the icing, as I did when I shared a sample uniced cake with Isla. The ginger does work with the chocolate, but it's still very dominant. Next time, I'll leave it out. Also, it calls for 1 tablespoon of baking powder which sounds like an awful lot to me, but I did use it and it worked fine.

I won't include the recipe here as many others have posted it and I don't want to make the nice people at Hummingbird grumpy by copyright infringement. Suffice it to say, these are worth making. Feather light, delicate, and delicious. A big hit with all three kids, and Mia thoroughly enjoyed mashing the bananas. 

Thanks to the advice of my friends, I've frozen the rest of the bananas for another baking day. Which should go well, provided I don't confuse them with the bananas that have been sitting in my freezer since I was pregnant with Isla (originally intended for energy-providing smoothies during labour.) Which reminds me of the time I defrosted my freezer back in Montreal and the ice was so thick, a bag of corn I forgot that I had plopped out when it melted away. My freezer: a voyage of discovery and ancient artifacts.

*(Probably not, but it can't hurt.)

Monday 23 August 2010

a tale of three recipes

I found myself with an excuse to try out three recipes for a charity yard sale. I always enjoy baking for something or someone else because a) I get to make something sweetly decadent in our usually sugar-free house and b) it won't stay in my house and therefore I won't scarf the whole batch down in front of the television with a bottle of Baileys.

When I saw the recipe for bakewell slices/squares from my friend Annalisa Barbieri, I knew this one was going in the oven as soon as I found an excuse. I adore bakewell tarts - pastry crust spread with a layer of jam, topped with an airy almondy layer and icing - and loved the idea of doing them in bar form. Her recipe is very easy to follow (don't get scared off by the thought of making the pastry layer) and the accompanying text is fabulous. All recipes should be written like this; it's like having your best friend next to you talking you through the process rather than the intimidating formal instructions often given in books. (I think authors like Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater are exceptions to this, probably because they are food writers rather than chefs.)

They turned out nicely, easily, and weren't overly sweet as you often find with commercially-produced bakewell tarts. It's only now that I notice how different mine look to Annalisa's. My pastry isn't crumbly and the almond layer looks far more dense. I've been eyeing my scale suspiciously after a few baking mishaps lately, so I think I may have added a bit too much butter to both the pastry and filling. Or maybe I just suck at pastry. No matter, they taste marvellous and hold together brilliantly as squares. Next time, I'll probably make a cherry compote type of thing like Annalisa made rather than the jam because it soaked into the pastry and almost wasn't a visible layer in the end.

Brownies: may cause death in large quantities
I was looking for something easy and that would make a vast quantity, so who better to consult than the queen of excess herself, Ina Garten? I love Ina. I wish Ina was my auntie and we could stay at her house in the Hamptons every summer. She would bring us trays of muffins, pancakes, fritattas, and carafes of coffee in the morning, and ply us with butter-filled delights for the remainder of the day. Her gay friends would come over and we'd sit on the beach and laugh about other Food Network chefs while we sip cocktails by the pitcher. Where was I? Oh yes, brownies. Lots of them. I remember seeing her make her Outrageous Brownies on television, and thinking "Why the hell does she always cook enough to feed 50 people?" Thankfully, this came in handy for the yard sale. They are, as you'd expect, everything you'd want in a proper American brownie: an enormous amount of rich chocolate, a slightly crisp outer layer, and a fudgey, almost undercooked middle. They are very similar to the recipe in Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess, with the addition of instant coffee granules. I omit nuts from any brownie recipe I make, only because I cannot stand nuts with cake. I don't want anything to interrupt my enjoyment of pure chocolate loveliness, and this includes children, the telephone ringing, people at my door attempting to convert me to their religion, and nuts.

These brownies are very easy to make and apart from the lack of nuts, the only other change I made was using 72% chocolate (Green & Blacks) only instead of a combination of semisweet and bitter. Follow Nigella's recipe if you want to make a reasonable quantity, and follow this one if you want to feed a small nation.

World Peace Cookies
The final baked good, which didn't make it to the yard sale (reasons to follow), were World Peace Cookies from the beautifully photographed and wonderfully written Smitten Kitchen blog. These are what I would call "grown up cookies". They're very light, crispy (comparable to a French sable), and deeply chocolaty without much sweetness. A large cold glass of milk is a must with these, or a good cup of tea.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm deeply suspicious of my scale at the moment, which increased after I made this dough. Most of the comments following this recipe complained about the crumbly dough, and my friend Helen who recommended the recipe to me also mentioned taking a bit of flour out if it didn't hold together for me. So when it rolled up easily and didn't fall apart when slicing it, I knew something had gone amok. I did a test run of only three cookies (I'm not a confident baker, usually for good reasons) and they melted into little black burned pools of chocolate and butter. I sliced off three more, thicker this time, and only cooked them for half the given time, watching them like a hawk. The photo on the left is the result, so not a bad attempt over all. Not having time to redo the dough before the sale, they will remain on my "to do" list until next time.

I am, somewhat alarmingly, becoming known as "the lady who makes cakes". Obviously this is entirely my fault, due to blog posts like this and various photos I've uploaded to Facebook. The thing is, I don't particularly like to bake. It's too specific and scientific, with no room to improvise - unless you're a confident baker, which I'm not. I feel a bit of a fraud when people compliment my baking talents because in my mind, I've simply found a good recipe that works. When I put together a savoury dish, I do feel I can claim it as my own. I might use a recipe for inspiration or get an idea from a cooking programme, but I tend to make things up as I go along and the dishes evolve over time. I don't mind adding a bit of this and that, omitting something, substituting another, adapting ingredients, or combining ideas from several recipes. When it comes to baking, I follow the recipe to the letter. I have to read and re-read the recipe several times, because I almost always miss a vital step. It's not intuitive to me, so I don't "know" what to do unless I've made it a million times before.

I am a lady who likes to eat cake, for sure. When I bake and it turns out well, I'm always surprised and pleased, which is why photos get posted and recipes get blogged. In my heart of hearts, I would much rather let someone else do the baking, preferably in a cafe setting that serves great coffee.

Saturday 14 August 2010

curry night

There's something about Fridays that make me want to eat curry (and drink something large and alcoholic), so I decided to make one of our favourites and also try out a new dish. And have something large and alcoholic. Mojitos, if you're wondering.

I was watching "Saturday Kitchen" a while ago, and the Hairy Bikers were guests. They'd just finished filming a series in India and demonstrated how to make a South Indian prawn curry. It looked easy and tasty, and I gave it a go - it's since become one of our favourites. I normally make it with prawns but sometimes I add other fish (scallops, monkfish, salmon, etc - anything firm). I also make it with chicken thigh filets, which is what I did this time. You could use chicken breasts if you're not keen on thighs, but brown meat has infinitely more flavour and stays much more moist, and the caloric difference isn't very substantial. Here's the recipe as I made it last night:

Chicken Curry

  • 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 green chilli, trimmed, seeds removed
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4cm/1½in piece fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 12 fresh curry leaves (I use freeze dried)
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp ground fenugreek
  • pinch asafoetida
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 500g/1lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs, chopped into bitesize pieces
  • 200ml/7fl oz coconut milk (I used one tin of Blue Dragon's "mini" coconut milk)
  • 1 lime, juice only
To serve:
  • 4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  1. Blend the onion, chilli, garlic and ginger to a paste in a food processor.
  2. Heat the sunflower oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the curry leaves, mustard seeds and methi powder and fry for 20-30 seconds, or until fragrant.
  3. Add the onion, chilli and garlic paste and fry over medium heat until it turns brown (keep an eye on this so it doesn't burn!)
  4. Add the turmeric and coconut milk, and season. Cover and bring the mixture to a simmer for 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Remove from the heat and squeeze over the lime juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary, and add a little hot chilli powder or diced fresh chillis if you'd like a little more heat.
  5. Garnish with the chopped coriander and lime wedges.
The mushroom dish was based on this curry recipe from the fantastic Mamta's Kitchen site (my "go to" site for anything Indian.) We're off the peas at the moment (too carby), so I substituted spinach which worked really well. Otherwise, I mostly followed the recipe as written (I used only 1tbsp of oil.)

The whole meal was under 400 calories, 5g net carbs. Oh and one mojito (sweetened with Stevia) is 60 calories and 0g of carbs. Just so's you know.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

paleo/low carb/gluten free/whatever you wanna call it pizza

I do try to eat a low carbohydrate diet when I can, not counting those times I have wine and cake (*cough*). There is a history of (pre and adult onset) diabetes in my family and being the apple-shaped gal that I am, I try to eat a low sugar diet to get the weight off and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. I'm not usually a fan of finding replacements for high carbohydrate dishes - don't even get me started on cauliflower "mashed potatoes" - but I came across a recipe today for flourless pizza, and thought I'd give it a go.

I love almond flour (ground almonds) and use it for baking and making pancakes. I stumbled across a recipe for pizza using ground almonds on Mark's Daily Apple, and curiosity got the better of me. I made some minor adjustments and used my favourite sauce recipe, and lo, pizza came out of my oven for the first time in a very long time. To my surprise and absolute delight, it tasted good. Obviously, this will never come close to proper pizza dough made with 00 flour and baked in a wood oven by someone who loves you a great deal, but it is a worthy substitute. I think this base would also work very well for a savoury tart (e.g. goat's cheese, tomato, basil, and caramelised onions) or for a sweet tart or cheesecake base (omit the salt from the dough recipe and add a little sugar/sugar substitute.)

Some tips before the recipe:
  • Add more sauce than you normally would for a wheat flour-based crust. The almonds absorb a lot of liquid, and the pizza can come out on the dry side if you don't use enough sauce.
  • This base has a very neutral taste. Unlike a traditional crust, you won't get much flavour from the dough. A traditional Margarita pizza, for example, probably won't work very well with this base. Go for big flavours in your toppings, like spicy meats, chillis, herbs, and strong cheeses.
  • The base will end up like a soft shortbread consistency. If you prefer a thick, chewy/grainy crust, don't press it out thinly. Once the pizza cools, the crust firms up quite a bit and becomes crispy on the outside.
  • I found this pizza to be quite filling. This recipe makes a pizza roughly the size of a dinner plate if you press the dough out fairly thinly, which I feel is enough for two people if you serve it with something on the side, like a salad.
Flourless Pizza

For the base:
1 cup almond flour/ground almonds 
1 large egg
1 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of salt 

For the sauce:
1 tin plum tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, peeled (left whole)
A few sprigs of fresh basil
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and/or line a baking sheet.

Combine the base ingredients in a bowl until it forms a firm ball (similar to a cookie dough consistency). Add more almond flour if necessary. Press the dough on to the baking sheet, forming a circle. Create a "lip" around the edge of the dough. (See photo, right.)

Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. (See photo, left.) In the meantime, make the sauce. Add the olive oil and garlic to a saucepan over medium heat, and warm the oil until the garlic starts to sputter. Add the tin of tomatoes and basil. Let the tomatoes simmer for around 5 minutes, stirring and breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon. Pour the tomatoes through a coarse sieve, pressing it down to squeeze out all the juice. Pour the sieved tomato sauce back into the pan, and let the sauce simmer over medium-low heat until it's thickened. Season to taste.

To your cooked base, add the sauce and toppings of your choice. Return the pizza to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly. Remove from the baking sheet so that it doesn't stick to it as it cools.
Slice, serve, eat, and relish in the fact that you're eating pizza.

Monday 21 June 2010

hooray for boobies*

*(still gets my vote for Best Album Title Ever)

It's National Breastfeeding Awareness Week in my neck of the woods, which is a Department of Health initiative that aims to promote and support breastfeeding. I recently completed a training course to become a breastfeeding peer supporter, to lend mums a sympathetic ear and encouragement. Although I haven't managed to get my disorganised self a regular gig as a supporter yet, I did want to advertise the fact that this sort of thing exists - and may exist in your area, should you need it.

I didn't read anything about breastfeeding before I had Jack. I just assumed it would happen easily, and didn't really involve more than getting your boobs out and popping the baby on. I never thought about all the anxieties, mostly irrational, about my ability to feed my baby. Most things simply didn't occur to me until I actually breastfed.

I got off to a bad start with an unexpected c-section accompanied by a 10cm incision. Drugged, exhausted, somewhat in a state of shock, I suddenly had a newborn baby and holy crap, he wants food and I'm his only means of nutrition. I couldn't position him comfortably, and balanced him precariously on a nursing pillow while attempting to avoid putting pressure on my scar. He doesn't just latch on and feed; he sucks for a minute and pulls off screaming. And by the gods, what the HELL is this awful abdominal pain I'm feeling whenever he feeds? I'm in so much pain, I'm only on paracetamol (because morphine makes me want to throw up), and I can't sleep because I'm stuck in a hospital ward with five other mothers and five screamy babies. In the middle of the night, Jack keeps waking up to feed and I have no idea how to get him latched on. The midwives are so overworked that all they can do is come to my bed, plug Jack in, and quickly dash off to the next person. I don't know how they got him latched on and I'm terrified to move in case he detaches himself and I need to ring that goddamn bell again. In the days that follow, he continues to latch on (painfully) in very small spurts every couple of hours, screaming between feeds. I don't know what I'm doing wrong and I don't know who I can speak to about it. Whenever Jack cried for a feed, I literally felt ill knowing that I'd have to endure a toe-curling latch and yet another unsuccessful feed. I watched the clock, horrified that two hours had passed so quickly, knowing that another feed was coming.

At two weeks, a health visitor (relocated now, thankfully), advised that I "top up" with formula. I gave Jack his first bottle of formula and it broke my heart. I rang Paul at work sobbing; I couldn't do something as basic as breastfeed, and the guilt was incredible. Supplementing, of course, led to supply issues and by two months, it became necessary to stop breastfeeding completely. Not having to breastfeed any more was actually a relief.

When I got pregnant with Mia, I was determined to learn as much as I could about breastfeeding and spoke to my midwife about needing support, especially in the first weeks. I went over everything that happened with Jack and chatted with mums in "real life" and online. I felt so much more prepared, but more importantly, I felt like I had an arsenal of information and support. Mia's birth was infinitely easier than Jack's, with no major recovery issues, and this undoubtedly made a difference to breastfeeding this time around. Also, not having that first time mum learning curve helped. I was more confident and trusted my instincts. I breastfed Mia until she self-weaned at 19 months (when I was pregnant with Isla, and I think my supply had dipped as Mia kept saying "Gone!" every time she latched on.) Isla is almost one, and breastfeeding has gone swimmingly since the beginning. And for this, I'm very grateful. And very proud.

This is why I jumped at the opportunity when the health visitor suggested that I take a course to become a peer supporter. I knew what it was like to have no one to speak to and to have no confidence in my own abilities, and I knew what it was like to formula feed. I hoped that this would help me give unbiased support and that being a "been there, done that" mum might make mums who are struggling feel a little bit more comfortable talking to me.

So if you're one of the struggling mums, or you have a question, a doubt, a worry, or just want to get together with another breastfeeding mum, please do get in touch with your midwife or health visitor and ask if there are peer supporters in your area. Additionally, you can ring the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 or the NCT breastfeeding helpline on 0300 330 0771 any time of day or night.

Monday 7 June 2010

i've only just begun

I get incredibly enthusiastic about all sorts of things. I discover a hobby or come up with ideas that will make my life more organised, thrilling, and infinitely more interesting. I am fantastic at starting projects; I'm rubbish at actually completing any.

I am going to name and shame all of the unfinished business in my life at this point in time, with the hope that it will motivate me to get everything most of it something done. Eventually.

  • Training for a 5k in July.
  • Four knitting projects, one of which was started when I was pregnant with Mia.
  • Sewing projects: a banner for Jack's swimming badges and bibs for Isla. Should probably learn how to sew first. Good thing I bought all those "Learn to Sew" books that are sitting unopened on my overcrowded bookshelf. Which leads me to...
  • the stack of books on my nightstand and bookshelf.
  • Lose the two stone I've been meaning to lose for about, oh, 7 years now.
  • Project Declutter: may require a skip/dumpster. Or three.
  • Finish the scrapbooks I started for the kids. Make that, finish Mia's, start Jack and Isla's.
  • Do something with that belly cast from my Isla bump. I've got great ideas for it and all the materials. That's a start, right?
  • Construct bird-proof cages for my vegetable plants. I was going to start that this morning, but then I decided that sitting on the sofa with a latte sounded a little nicer.
  • Laundry. See above.
  • Sort out the garden. Specifically, dig up the weed-infested rockery. Am considering starting a new trend: Concrete Garden Hills.
  • Watch and review several DVDs for Think Parents.
  • Similarly, write up the California trip blog posts that are still sitting in draft form.
  • Do something about the freelance journalism idea. Like, maybe, WRITE SOMETHING?

Was that supposed to make me feel better? My tummy hurts now. I'd better make another latte.

Thursday 25 March 2010

meet the flintstones

The power went out this morning. I said, "I'll do some sewing", which would have been a grand idea if my sewing machine had a battery back up. Ah. Yes. "I wish we had a stovetop kettle" I sighed, before realising several minutes later that a pot with water in it would do precisely the same thing. Then I remembered my beloved Bialetti espresso maker - I could make coffee! Except that I buy my beans whole and grind them in an electric mill.

THIS is what modern living has done to the human brain, people. No wonder the world's in such a state.

Monday 22 March 2010

tally ho, jolly good, bob's your uncle

So I did a terribly English thing recently that I've never done before: a car boot sale. To us North Americans, this is basically a yard sale out of the back of your car. Usually held at venues with large grassy areas or big parking lots, you drive your car up and you can literally pop open the trunk and sell your wares or you can set up a table. Ours was at the local cricket pitch, and I stumped up the five pounds to get my spot amongst the other sellers.

Just like back home, people swarmed the sale in the hour or so leading up to the "official" starting time. Looking for early bargains and the pick of the best ("best" being used very, very loosely in some cases) items, people crowded around my table rummaging through boxes and bags as I unloaded. "How much for this?", someone asked hurredly, waving something at me. "Erm, what is it? Oh, a sealed boxed set of books.£2?" I had no clue. I'd never done a sale like this here and really had no idea what to charge for anything, let alone be able to come up with prices as I was unloading the car. I quickly realised that I was severely undercharging, blurting out prices randomly. I hadn't even had my Thermos of tea yet, and there was the small matter of a baby in the back of my car who may or may not settle down to nap nicely in her seat during the sale. I had my float in a biscuit tin sitting in the boot, and a man peered over at it excitedly and said "Oooh I want to know what's in that!" "My change", I answered, at which point he left looking glum and probably went off to buy a solitary used running shoe in consolation.

A woman came up to browse through some girls' clothing I was selling, and I asked what size she was looking for. She pointed at her granddaughter and said, "She's 2 1/2". "Sure, I've got size 2 and 3 here. Would you like me to show you what I have?" The woman stared at me blankly for a moment and said "But she's 2 1/2" in a voice not dissimilar to something you'd expect to hear from Kathy Bates shortly before she whacked at your ankle with a large mallet. Dejected, she wandered away.

On the most part, people were kind and chatty, and we had a sunny (but brisk) day for it. Thankfully Isla slept through it all and my big Thermos full of tea kept me going. It was good fun, although not terribly profitable. I made £16, on top of the fiver I paid for the pitch. Rather annoyingly, I made £50 on eBay the following weekend, selling things from the comfort of my warm sofa and a glass of red in one hand. I suppose the benefit to a car boot is that you can get a little money for something that probably wouldn't sell on eBay (old books and DVDs, for example), but it means having to stand by the boot of your car chatting to people who are a little bit mad.

You know, experiences like this ought to count towards your British citizenship, not a silly multiple choice test about facts that even British people don't know about. When are you ever going to need to know what percentage of teenagers in Wales get pregnant each year? Car boot sales are one of the ultimate British experiences, along with pub lunches, discussing the weather at great length, and complaining about bad service to your family/friends but not actually saying anything to the people providing the bad service. All of this I can do with great skill, and yet I still need to take that damn test.

a very filmy catch up

I'm such a naughty girl. I've been a part of Think Parents for ages now, and they've very kindly sent me a bazillion films that we've watched - but I've neglected to blog about. So, here are some reviews of the movies we've seen, with many apologies to the lovely gang at Think Parents.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The Disney film that started it all, the first feature-length animated film has come to Blu-ray. They've jazzed up the colours and backgrounds, and added some effects (like rippling water) that are conspicuously out of place. There is an option to watch the film in its original format (i.e. with a lot of black space around it to fit modern television ratios), or an option to watch it in "picture frame" format with backgrounds to compliment the film and fill in the black space.

It is, without a doubt, hugely dated. Even Jack (who's 5) immediately spotted that it was an old film. However, both Jack and Mia sat through the entire film and enjoyed it. Myself, on the other hand, wanted to rip my ears off after five minutes or so. The songs aren't exactly catchy (the dwarfs' songs being the exception, obviously) and the vibrato helium-sucking voice of Snow White should never, ever be inflicted on anyone. It's, sadly, one of those films that the kids may like but the adults will wander away to do the washing up or regrout the bathroom.

The bonus features include a Disney sing-a-long and game for the kids and, for the adults, a film showing how the original film was made.

Diamond Edition Featurette: Creating Snow White

Clip: Whistle While You Work

Santa Buddies, G-Force and Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure

Santa Buddies: terrible storyline, terrible script, terrible acting, but the kids absolutely loved it. It's almost the end of March and they still force us to put it on for them. It's dogs and Christmas - Jack and Mia couldn't ask for much more in a film. (and they won't get it in this one)

G-Force: another "cripes, is it over yet?" film for the grown-ups but again, the kids adore it. To be fair, it's got its moments and is slightly more clever than most kids' films out there. It does have a unique storyline and is filled with fighting spy rodents. Again, the kids couldn't ask for more.

Tinker Bell: Mia adores this one! It's actually good fun, the animation is fantastic (and is especially impressive in crisp, vibrant Blu-ray format), and I don't mind watching this one repeatedly. Think Parents sent along a pack of goodies to go with the film, so we could host our own Tinker Bell movie viewing party. As Mia was a little young for this, we've saved the Tink gear for her birthday this summer. She's a big fan, so she'll love the invites, napkins, etc.

And last, and certainly nowhere near least, the magnificent film Up. We saw this in the cinema, and the first 20 minutes made me cry. Then I laughed. Then I laughed a lot more. We got this on Blu-ray, watched it at home, and the first 20 minutes made me cry again. Then I laughed a lot again. And again. And again. (We've seen this film a few times now, to put it mildly.)

It's worth every ounce of hype it's received. Like "Wall-E", the beginning is mostly without dialogue, telling the story simply with beautiful animation and music. It's laugh out loud funny (the dogs are brilliant), genuinely moving, and thoroughly enjoyable. It's not as good/slick/innovative as "Wall-E", but I don't know if that was ever its intention. Kudos to Pixar for coming up with yet another film that we, as parents, will be forced to watch a billion times but we won't mind a jot.

Some clips:

Dug the dog

Russell meets Kevin


Friday 1 January 2010

happy twenty-ten !

Thought I'd given up this blogging lark, eh? Thought I'd forgotten all about you, eh? Boo! Here I am!

On this, the first day of the year, I wanted to share something I thought would be relevant as many make resolutions to better our lives. I came across an article called Ten Psychology Studies from 2009 Worth Knowing About, which really put some things into perspective for me. Well, most of the article did - the point about playing Tetris after witnessing a traumatic event wasn't terribly useful, to be honest. The study that resonated the most with me was the one about experiences making us happier than possessions. How simple yet profound: we get bored with material objects but experiences stay special forever. Granted, we can all probably think of one or more items we own that are precious and incredibly special to us, but if we're talking about splurging on an xBox, iPhone, or other things that contain upper and lower case letters in random combinations, the novelty wears off after a period of time. But if you think back to places you've been, things you've done, meals eaten, laughs shared, your firsts, your lasts, and all the in-between, the memories provide an emotional response you'll never get from a possession. These memories also tend to improve with time, as proven by the fact that no one seems to remember that late pregnancy and childbirth is pretty damn uncomfy (until you do it again, and then you say to yourself "Oh, yeah. Shit.")

Thus, if you're wondering what to suggest for that next birthday present or thinking about treating yourself, opt for an experience. If anyone's asking, I would very much like a spa weekend in a remote luxury resort that has a michelin-starred restaurant. Thanking you in advance.