Sharing resources

In my very first blog post I said we are all doing the best we can with the resources we have.

What happens when our resources are insufficient? Well, of course the usual course of action is compromise – how many parents have gone without something (sports car, luxury holiday … shoes without holes, dinner) in order to provide something for a child?

Not all our resources are material, however. When your first child arrives, you suddenly have to develop vast stores of patience, resistance to fatigue, tolerance of repetition, tolerance of repetition, tolerance of repetition, negotiation, imagination, innovation and good cheer, among other attributes. If you have more than one child then your powers of mediation develop very swiftly, too.

There’s no hope of compromise when your soft skills run out. The cracks inevitably start to show.

Maybe you forget to turn the bathroom light off. Maybe you fail to turn the oven on. Maybe your recycling doesn’t make it to the kerb on bin day. Maybe you mess something up at work – with any luck you merely neglect to attach the attachments to an email.

You’ll know when your resources are running low. I always seem to get a puncture on the pram when mine are running low – on a normal day I groan and repair it, but on a bad day it is All Too Much and I sob into the rubber glue.

I try to keep my "game face" in front of the children, because they’re only small and adult problems are often too complicated for them. But sometimes it’s the patience that runs out first, and they suffer the exasperated bark, or even the passive-aggressive sarcasm.

I do feel awful when it comes to that, by the way. If the outburst can be turned into a joke, I’ll try it. I don’t want to frighten or upset them, or anyone else.

Now, this entry isn’t just an outpouring. There is something I can recommend when one is reaching capacity/crisis. No real substitute for a full night’s sleep and a lottery win, or a doctor’s visit perhaps, but sometimes it can be the difference between being able to take a deep breath and carry on, and bursting into tears or yelling.

Behold: the Solidarity Hand Squeeze.

You need another human being who can empathise. Any parent will do, although I recommend choosing one you actually know. You don’t have to explain a thing: you just say, "I need a Solidarity Hand Squeeze". Then you hold hands with the other person (one hand each) and give a quick, reassuring squeeze.

Alternatively, if someone mentions that they’re dealing with something tricky, or seem a bit overwhelmed, you can offer a Solidarity Hand Squeeze.

The Solidarity Hand Squeeze says, "Life can be hard, but you can do it."

The Solidarity Hand Squeeze gives you more than it takes from you, whichever side of the transaction you start from. It reminds you that are not alone.

It’s no panacea, and I don’t want you to think I am minimising the very real emotional problems and mental illness that can go hand in hand with parenthood. But in that moment it can help. And any help has to be worth a try.

Take my hand: you are not alone, and neither am I.

Chocolate and cherries

I love playing with my food – that is, taking a recipe and messing with it and saying “hmm, what if…?” Having people over is a perfect excuse for experimentation, and most friends don’t mind being a guineapig.

We had a slightly retro Christmas as far as food went, and I was dying to make a proper black forest gateau, following Delia’s recipe from How To Cook. But too many people claimed not to like cream cakes, so I made a big vulgar trifle instead. It was amazing, though I say it myself.

But I couldn’t give up on the Black Forest completely, so when two friends came round for supper I decided to go for an unusual version I’d been building in my head – the Black Forest brownie.

This was the simple, last-minute version, involving a slab of normal chocolate brownie (using the Hummingbird Bakery Traditional Brownie recipe), a tin of black cherry pie filling, half a pint of double cream, and about 50g of dark chocolate. I dolloped the pie filling lumps on to the brownie, reserving some of the sludge. I whipped the cream to stiff peaks, then folded in the sludge, and carefully added this on top, before grating the chocolate over – I use a rotary grater for this kind of job, which incidentally is perfectly safe for the preschooler to use, when I feel inclined to let him join in.

Et voila! Not beautiful, not gourmet, but very rich and very tasty.

However, it did need tweaking, and was boozeless because of its audience. Here, therefore, is the recipe I would recommend if you feel tempted.

Ingredients
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
175g unsalted butter or baking spread
325g caster sugar
130g plain flour
3 eggs
a tin of black cherry pie filling
or a punnet of frozen black fruits
300ml double cream
100g dark chocolate
1tbsp cherry liqueur or brandy

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3.

Melt together the chocolate and butter using a bain marie or microwave.

Add the sugar and stir really well until incorporated, then add the flour and then stir really well.

Add the eggs and mix until thick and smooth, then pour the mixture into an 8″ round springform tin (preferably lined with silicon paper).

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until it starts to crack and flake on top. Leave to cool and set.

If you have chosen to use fresh or frozen fruit, soften in a pan with a spoonful of sugar, then leave to cool.

Whip the cream to stiff peaks. Melt the chocolate, then fold it into the cream with the booze.

Carefully spoon out on top of the brownie, still in the tin.

Next, spoon the fruit mixture over the top.

Chill and leave to set. Just before serving, release from its tin, and dust with icing sugar or grated chocolate.

It will look more like cheesecake, but taste nothing like. Try it with me!

White Sauce Makes Friendship Better

Do you remember how you made all your friends? Most of them drift into your life and gradually become friends … but Nicola and I bonded over white sauce.

Now, obviously there’s a proper way to make white sauce, starting with a roux, getting a pan and a whisk dirty, and requiring precision timing and one’s full attention.

However, nothing I cook can have precision timing or my full attention nowadays because of the small children: for example, the toddler has recently learned how to climb on to the window ledge, but not how to climb down. I have neither the patience nor the resources to spoil batch after batch of white sauce.

About two or three years ago I learned the Mumsnet Microwave Method, and it changed everything. Suddenly I could make white sauce again, so fish pie (of which more in a later post), macaroni cheese and lasagne were all back on the menu.

One afternoon, in a queue to pick up from pre-school, idly discussing what we were making for the children’s tea, I referred to macaroni cheese as a no-stress quick and easy dish. Nicola, whom I knew vaguely but not well, was unconvinced. So I taught her the Mumsnet Microwave Method, and we’ve been friends ever since.

Method?

You will need a 2pt/1L microwave-safe jug, a microwave, a fork, 10floz/300ml milk, 1oz/25g cornflour and an optional 1oz/25g butter.

Measure the milk into the jug, then add the cornflour and butter. Mix vaguely with the fork.

Microwave on full power for one minute, then mix with the fork.

Microwave on full power for one minute, then mix with the fork.

Microwave on full power for one minute, then mix with the fork.

At this point you will start to think nothing will ever happen. Have faith.

Microwave for a fourth minute on full power. Behold! Smooth, lump-free white sauce. Add parsley, cheese, brandy, etc as required.

The method also works for custard (10floz/300ml milk, 1tbsp custard powder, 1tbsp sugar).

Scaling up to a pint yields variable results. You need a big jug to avoid catastrophic overflow, and you need to start with a two-minute blast. But when you’re making a cauliflower cheese, half a pint won’t cut it.

When verrucas just won’t give up

Eldest son had a verruca, which spread and turned into two verrucas, on the sole of his foot. They became painful, and we didn’t want them to spread to anyone else in the house or beyond, so we were diligently treating with Bazuka. The adverts promised such great things.

Several weeks in, nothing was changing – if anything they were getting bigger, uglier and more painful. So I searched online for “how to get rid of a verruca”. At this point I should warn those with weak stomachs, or those eating: Do Not Google Image Search Verruca.

Anyway, over and over in the various links people kept mentioning duct tape. A little further reading revealed that any verruca treatment works by creating a hostile environment for the verruca. Applied treatments such as Bazuka or apple cider vinegar (I considered it, but I needed mine for a new pulled pork recipe and couldn’t bear to use it for both reasons at once) create a chemically hostile environment, and duct tape starves the verruca of oxygen, apparently.

Eldest son was very skeptical about the treatment, which involved applying Bazuka after his bath or shower, then wrapping duct tape around his foot to completely cover the affected area. I can’t convey his intonation here, but “DUCT TAPE? ARE YOU ACTUALLY KIDDING ME?!” is a fair representation.

Two weeks it took, after two months of nothing at all. Every time we uncovered it, the skin was a bit more wrinkly and the verruca itself was looking a bit more unhappy.

One day he got changed for swimming (note: when I tried to buy a verruca sock the pool staff told me you don’t have to have one any more so long as it’s being treated) and as he pulled his sock off it had a great lump in it. He brought it to me in great satisfaction.

“Look, mummy, my verruca has come off!”

And indeed it had. At long blooming last.

Terrible picture, but this is the lump of skin with one of the verrucas itself visible as a lump in the middle. Man alive, it was a thing of beauty. I mean, completely disgusting. Ahem. Like using those blackhead remover strips.

Aaaand here’s the craters left behind. We are now a couple of months on and nothing has returned.

So there you have it. Weeks of Bazuka did nothing until we destroyed the verrucas’ habitat by covering the area in duct tape.

We’re all winging it, aren’t we?

Anty is always telling me I should write a book with all my parenting hints, tips and hacks. I’m never quite sure if she’s joking.┬áIn any case, a sporadic blog has got to be less painful than a manuscript and inevitable rejection!

Parenting is hard: harder than I thought possible. I mean, you can provide food and clothing and housing and stuff, but psychologically … it’s like an assignment you can never pass.

But here’s the secret: everyone is just winging it. We’re all doing the best we can with the resources we have. And any information sharing we can possibly achieve that gets us one step closer to feeling like we’re getting it right has got to be worth it.

So my intention is to populate this blog with the hints, tips, hacks and secrets that drag my life over from “WHO ARE ALL THESE SMALL PEOPLE AND WHY DO THEY KEEP ASKING ME FOR THINGS?” to “Hey boys, your tea’s ready”.

In the meantime, if you don’t already know how to make handles from a drinks carton, learn now. It will save a lot of spills.

(image from babble.com)