Thursday, 1 October 2015

In case of suffocation by smog...

The pox continues.  This time it is airborne, and ubiquitous:  The Haze is in town, all guns blazing. When I mentioned it before, I think the pollution reading was at 150 or similar.  That’s in the “Unhealthy” range.  To give you an idea of how bad it’s been, it is currently at 202, and having been exposed (literally) to readings of over 400 at the weekend (300+ is “GET OUT OF TOWN”, so I imagine 400 is “Would you prefer cremation or burial?”), I am now, like most people, totally blasé about todays’ reading.  202? Ha!  I SPIT IN YOUR UNHEALTHY FACE.  (Well. I would spit, if my mask had a spitting hole in it.) 
Apart from the hassle of poisoning yourself every time you breathe, the Haze brings with it a far greater discomfort:  Schools are being shut down.  Egro, children are at home – All. The. Time. Add to this mix: sickness, a travelling Man, and just constant, never-ending parenting – and I was feeling quite a bit sorry for myself last weekend.  (I heard of schools which remained open, but gave  parents the option to keep the kids at home– which some parents chose to do. Nothing short of napalm would stop me from depositing my children off for the day.  And then, only if it was a direct hit.)
Anyway, I have found through my many years of self-sorrow and parenthood (generally hand in hand) that there is little which a dish made almost entirely from cream and butter won’t resolve.  I put this to the test the other night, and am pleased to say that, coupled with a glass of red wine, the world lost its noxious Tupperware sheen, and the stars shone brightly.  At least in my head.

Creamy Mushrooms on Toast

(If you’re feeling fancy you could serve this on brioche or some sort of posh bread, but this is Singapore, so let’s not get carried away with ourselves.  Alternatively, I seem to recall a similar River Cafe recipe involving wet polenta, but cf ref to Singapore (and also toast is so much quicker and easier, and involves a lot less stirring.) You could of course just eat it in a bowl all on its ownsome, but you need something soft and bready to mop up the puddles of creamy  deliciousness which linger at the bottom of the bowl.  And now my mouth is running.)
You need:  for 1 (dressed in pyjamas, or some sort of unattractive “leisure-wear”.  Because your spouse is away and you’ve been indoors all day, and you haven’t got the energy for things such as grooming or dressing)
  • A couple of handfuls of regular garden-variety mushrooms, wiped clean
  • Olive oil and a large slab of butter (at least a tablespoon’s worth)
  • A small clove of garlic
  • A splash of wine (or water, if your lifestyle does not necessitate post-kiddie-bedtime pain-relief)
  • A glug of cream (any type, the thicker and fresher, the better)
  • A handful of chopped parsley
  • Buttered toast.

Put a slug of olive oil and the slab of butter  in a saucepan and put over a low heat.
While it’s melting / heating, roughly chop the  mushrooms.
Add to the pan, stirring to cover in melted butter. 
Increase heat until they start to sizzle, grate or crush the garlic clove directly into pan, then cover and set heat to low.  Leave to cook for about 5 minutes.
Add a slug of wine or water – most of it should evaporate, but you want some to remain.  When it starts to bubble slightly, add the cream – how much depends on how creamy you want the sauce to be, I used about 5 tablespoons’ worth  - and stir. 
Turn the heat off, add the chopped parsley, and stir through.  Taste – if you think it’s missing something or it seems overly rich (HOW??), add a squeeze of lemon.   Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Pile onto hot buttered toast, pour yourself a generous glass of wine, grab a book, and somehow arrange all three* and yourself on a sofa,  without spilling a thing.  Drink a toast to absent spouses and sleeping children. Remove mask and tuck in.   

(*Put the toast / mushrooms on a plate, maybe.)

Monday, 21 September 2015

I smell like rotten spit

It’s been another poxy weekend.  The hand foot & mouth has, thankfully, been banished; alas, tonsillitis – my tonsillitis – has replaced it. I’ve never had tonsillitis before.  My sister, I recall vaguely, used to get it as a child, and I assumed it was more or less a sore throat, with a bit of a complaining and malingering thrown in for good measure.  (Sorry Rache.  It may have taken 35 years but I get it now.) Bloody hell it’s awful.  I’m no longer collapsing every time I stand up, and sweating or shivering (or both) every time I lie down, but it’s still awful. 
Added to the pain and the all-encompassing STARVATION – because what the tonsillitis fairies don’t tell you is that everything you eat is akin to shredded glass – is, at least in our family, the ritual humiliation by the small people.  Dropping the kids off to school today, in a fug of fever and malnourishment-induced wooziness, the Girl turned to hug me and then backed away in obvious disgust, stating “your smell” as the reason.  (As a courtesy to my children, and any innocent passers-by, I had in fact showered– my first in three days! which hurt my skin  - but apparently My Smell lingered.)  Then this evening the Boy told me that my breath smelt of “rotten spit”, which is always nice to hear.   On the plus side, I then threatened him with My Breath if he misbehaved, which of course he did immediately, at which point I held him down and breathed into his face, and watched as he turned gratifyingly green. I guess there are some upsides to tonsillitis.
Another upside was that I rediscovered my old, but fabulous, blender – forced, as I was, into the furthest corner of a dank kitchen cupboard by a growling stomach and a yearning for something icy and slushy.  Since Friday night I have been subsisting on smoothies and gazpacho.  (And paracetomol, and some sort of antibiotics.  Also, today, a culinary breakthrough:  mashed potatoes!  Which were heaven itself.)  My smoothies have all been taking the form of banana, some sort of frozen fruit (strawberries, the most seeded raspberries known to man, or mango), yoghurt, and orange juice.  I’m stuck in a smoothie rut somewhat, so if anyone has any good recipes (which don’t necessitate sieving, or listening to children complain about THE PIPS) please let me know.  
Gazpacho however... Ah. Basically a vegetable smoothie with some olive oil and vinegar.  And ice - blessed, blessed, ice.  Here’s how I made it (totally off the top of my head, so apologies to all you proper cooks): 

(If anyone has a more disgusting counter-top, I'd be curious to see it.

Into the blender I put:  1 chopped up red pepper (deseeded, but not peeled. Life is too short.);  a tin of plum tomatoes (HERESY, I know. It’s easy tho’); half a clove of garlic; one cucumber, peeled, deseeded (very roughly, using the back of a spoon) and chopped;  about ten tablespoons of olive oil, and about 5 of balsamic vinegar.  (You can use any vinegar.  I used balsamic because it’s the least astringent, and my throat, my throat...).  Blend until smooth, pour over ice, and... Eat?  Drink? 
Then go breathe garlic – and rotten spit – all over your astonishingly loud, and sick-bed-unfriendly, children.  Or indeed anyone else who is foolish enough to cross your germ-ridden path. 

Monday, 14 September 2015

Pea Soup

In the words of one of my lovely Irish friends here, it was a poxy weekend.  Even worse, it was a long poxy weekend, the length extended by 50% fairly suddenly two weeks ago with the announcement of a general election.  (Yes, two weeks; in your face America, with your drawn-out democratic process...) The poxiness was two-fold: the arrival in our house of Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease, and the arrival, in our jurisdiction, of The Haze.
The Haze is a nice phrase used here to describe a thick blanket – more of a shroud, actually - of pollution which envelopes the island for days on end every couple of years.  It’s basically caused by Doritos*, so please stop buying them, because my eyes hurt and I am about to murder my house-bound children.  (*It’s caused by forest burning in Indonesia, usually started to clear vast areas for palm production.  Thus, Doritos.  Have some carrot sticks instead? YUM.)  So once it starts looking like The End of Civilisation outside (it does, truly – here, take a look:

It just looks like fog, doesn’t it?  Fog which is making the view a wee bit blurry in the distance?  IT’S NOT FOG, and in the (near) distance are – should be – large buildings and tower blocks. (Actually, I quite like that I can’t see them, but I wish it was because they weren’t there. Not because a great big bloody bonfire was blowing its toxic fumes all over us.))
...once it starts looking like The End of Civilisation, people – ex-pats – start going slightly crazy and taping up their doors and windows, and gluing their children to the sofa, and wearing these:

Ha!  I’ve always wanted to be a London bicycle courier.  Don’t worry, I haven’t actually ventured outside in this – YET.  But I will have to if we run out of triangular cheesy corn snacks.   (Also, eye-drops might be a good idea for the shopping list, no?)
While I think of it, there are many benefits to wearing these masks – not least because it will prevent a coroner from concluding in years to come that I smoked 80 fags a day:
I can yell and shriek at my similarly be-masked children all I want, because (a) no one will recognise me, and (b) no one – including my children – can hear me.
No lipstick needed.
Chin-sag hidden.
Ditto wonky teeth (although braces have been ordered! Part of me is hoping we get 12 months smog once they’re in place).
The children are delighted to wear them, and actually obey me when I order them on (they did initially query why they had to wear them in the car and indoors, but deferred to me once I hissed Beijing at them) and behind them their usual squabbles and complaints are delightful smothered muffles.  AND if they wear them long enough they eventually stop talking / moving altogether, which long-term isn’t so good, but as a short-term solution to parenthood is excellent.

Part II of Poxy Weekend was a variation on the usual Sick Child event; a cranky, sad, runny-nosed Baby, who became cranky and fevered, and then cranky and fevered and spotty of hand and foot. And kept complaining that her mouth was sore, and would only eat ice-cream.  And despite all this, it took until Sunday morning – almost a week after the initial onset of crankiness and its cohorts- for the parenting penny to drop. 
Did you know that if you have HF&M in Singapore that you have to report it to the Government AND quarantine the child for TEN DAYS?   Not that we’re going anywhere in that pea-soup, but it’s making a miserable situation even more so.

Speaking of which, I have just had the most delicious pea-soup – the irony and appropriateness of which has only just dawned on me – for dinner.  The Man is away, a situation I usually celebrate by having soup for dinner.  (I am banned from doing so in his presence; apparently soup is “not dinner”.) (I also generally have one of his bottles of wine.  That’ll show him.)  I think I’ve given this recipe before, but you just add a bag of frozen peas to some softened onions and potatoes, throw in a handful of mint (if you have it), cover with stock, bring to the boil, then simmer for a few minutes before blending.  Lots of olive oil and salt.   No photo, because I didn’t think of it (and was too busy gobbling and drinking).  Here’s one instead of the Baby, skipping out to play hide-and-go-seek in the smog.  (It keeps them occupied for hours.)

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

I'm running out of time to raise normal (or compliant, or well behaved) children. Gah.

So I got down off my soap box, because I was getting a bit hoarse from all that shouting, and also because the view from up there is really quite depressing.  Not that the view from Ground Parenting is all roses and cupcakes.  The Girl is determined, it seems, to lose all of her personal belongings – or at least anything she brings to school.  The tally so far – three weeks in – is:  two hats,  one shoe, a very nice (also, very expensive) cardigan, a water bottle, a snack box, a lunch box, and an entire ballet kit, including brand new shoes.  My choices are to keep her in the house, or staple all her belongings to her.  Time to go staple shopping I think.  
The Baby, meanwhile, got a taste of the forbidden fruit of co-sleeping (she was sick, I was tired) and so now every night it’s the same old schtick:  “Me sleep with you?”  No.  “Meeeeeeeee sleeeeeeeeeeep with youuuuuuuuuuuuu?” No. “Waaaaaaaaaaaah.”  Last night:  “Me sleep with you last week, ‘member?”  Yes, I ‘member.  But you were sick, ‘member?  She then proceed to gag and retch until she got sick, at which point she triumphantly announced:  “Me sick!  Me sleep with you now!” (No.)
And the Boy – well, where do I begin.  Currently, it’s just dawning on me that, at nearly 7, I am running very short on time to influence his behaviour or personality.  (Anyone familiar with the Jesuits will know what I’m talking about.) Although I should probably admit to myself that this is battle lost long ago - if even ever fought, that is.  He’s e’He’s currently obsessed with world records – mainly those related to something vile or disgusting or vomit-in-your-mouth inducing:  the longest nails (uuuuugh) or the hairiest family (oh yes) or the biggest poo (I was unable to help him with this – cursory glances at the Guinness Book did not include photos of record-breaking poos - but I suggested he or his younger sister could probably be contenders).  In the car, alone with him the other day: 
Him: Who’s the most beautiful woman in the world?
Me (Feigning shock – and, dare I say it – disappointment):  What do you mean?  It’s ME of course.
Him: (Laughing convulsions.  Then squirming with embarrassment.)  Come on Mummy, stop, you know what I mean!
Me:  I don’t know what you mean!  I am the most beautiful woman in the world.
Him:  (More squirming, although the convulsions have given way to something approaching mild panic.  Concern, perhaps, for my senility, or at my disillusion.) Mum!  STOP! C’mon! You know you’re not!
Me:  Huh?  WHAT?
Him:  (No longer laughing;  visibly antsy, in fact.) Mum, SERIOUSLY!  How could you be the most beautiful woman in the world?  You’re all old, and you’ve got brown hair and brown eyes and everything...
Me:  (Quite seriously) Sorry?
Him: You don’t have blonde hair.  Or Blue eyes.
Me:  Oh.

So, great. I have sired (can a woman sire?  Google doesn’t know) an Aryan supremacist.  Although is that worse or better than siring someone who can vomit at will to serve her own needs, or the Child Who Loses Everything?  I dunno.  I give up, in fact.  Here, have my children.  Anyone? 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

In which I find a soapbox, and climb up on it.

I’ve spent most of today thinking about those poor drowned children in the Med, feeling totally helpless and useless, shame at my great good fortune in being born when and where I was, and anger that this is happening (mostly directed at David Cameron, who is a cock of the highest order – a “swarm”??  What the actual fuck?) Every time I go on Facebook (currently, often [I have a few work projects on, and at such times my productivity is always inversely proportionate to my social-networking rubber-necking]) I see another petition, which I sign, and one great charity or organisation after another and donate, then share the details, so much so that by now I’ve probably been defriended by almost everyone.  (Having said that - if you’re looking for an organisation to donate to, or just want some assurance that somebody somewhere is actually doing something (but then donate, please), pay a visit to these people - - who might restore – just a little bit – your faith in humanity.)
I just can’t stop looking at that child dead in the water, his trousers down around his ankles, his arms above his head.  That’s exactly how the Baby sleeps (the arms, not the trousers).  My heart breaks for the parent who helped him get dressed, who chose the t-shirt and the underwear and the shorts, who laced up the shoes.  Who hoped that today would be the day when their lives might begin again after the nightmares and horrors of God-knows-what, and blocked out the other thoughts of What Could Happen.  Who tried to make a game out of getting their 5 year old son into the over-crowded boat, and held on to him as the boat rocked, and sang in his ear and shushed and kissed him as it rocked even more, and held even tighter as they were flipped overboard, and tried to hold him above the waves, kicking and crying and gasping.  And who then – just imagine it - couldn’t hold him any more.  I can’t stop thinking of how he looks exactly like my own kids. His perfect baby skin and his big-boy shoes.   
Shall we have a recipe?  Let’s!  Here’s the brilliant noodle / salad / dipping sauce I mentioned in the last post (ages ago, I know).  You might not think it from the dearth of recipes, but this blog was actually originally conceived as a food blog.  My skills as a complaining parent outstripped my capabilities in the kitchen I suppose.  Back when I thought of it as a food blog, I used to – still do, in fact – follow a heap of cooking blogs, including the almost-obligatory Smitten Kitchen.  It goes without saying, of course, that by “follow” I mean I read them and think “ooooh lovely” and then close them, and go back to staring at the wall and trying to think up another word to add to the 72 I’ve already written for work that hour. However!  There was something about Smitten’s recent Takeout-style-sesame-noodles-with-cucumber which caught both my eye and my enthusiasm.  Possibly because I had all of the ingredients in the fridge/cupboard, and nothing else?  Who knows.  Either way I made it and it was FABULOUS and I immediately – as in, before I had actually even eaten the noodles – made another batch of the sauce because it is SO GOOD, and promptly ate that with my fingers a spoon.  And I made it again for lunch the next day – just the sauce, which I ate with cucumbers, and then again the following night, with fresh spring rolls (pictured. Flaccid is the word that springs to mind.)  And then I fell into a peanut-and-sesame-induced coma.
For the full and proper recipe – including cucumbers and noodles – head over to Smitten Kitchen.  But actually, I’m not sure the full recipe is worth the hassle.  Just make the sauce and eat it with a spoon.  (And make it my way, because her list of ingredients is a bit scary looking.)  

Delicious Sesame & Peanut Sauce Thing
For enough for two to dip, or as a dressing for a plain green salad (truly – try it) or – if you must – on noodles, you need:

 - 2 tablespoons of peanut & sesame paste   
(Either:  mix a tablespoon of peanut butter & a tablespoon of tahini – the easiest option;  or:  Make your own paste, by blending a handful of white sesame seeds and a handful of peanuts with a tablespoon of oil (sesame, if you have it) in a blender until really smooth.  (That’s what I did because I HATE tahini, and also I managed to drop and smash my jar of peanut butter en route to the kitchen counter.    If you make it yourself, make plenty – keeping the ration 1:1 – and you can use the paste for hummus as well as this sauce.)  You’ll want two tablespoons of the paste.
 - 3 tablespoons soy sauce
 - 2 tablespoons vinegar (Any type apart from balsamic)
 - 2 tablespoons sesame oil
 - 1 tablespoon sugar
 - 1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
 - Small clove of garlic, crushed
 - ½ teaspoon of chilli flakes
Mix all of the above in a bowl with a fork.  It’ll be thick and somewhat curdled;  add some warm water – just a spoonful or two – to loosen it up.  And. That.  Is.  It.
Gobble up.  Be grateful for what you have.  And for God’s sake, do something.  Sign a petition, go on a march, donate a few quid.  Open your hearts.  Please. 

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Summer in a (large) nutshell

You’d never think that I came back from Europe with great grand plans:  start a large writing project;  try new recipes;  work out every day; update my blog every other day.  STOP WASTING SO MUCH TIME DOING NOTHING.
But, as it turns out, I don’t in fact do nothing;  I do a LOT of driving hither and thither, almost exclusively for child-related purposes.  Which, of course,  is the first cousin of nothing – but not a relative I can avoid at the moment.  It really is very time consuming – the older 2 to school, the Baby to nursery (24 kms round trip, with the morning traffic and the crap Singaporean drivers to content with), the Baby from nursery about 20 minutes after I’ve left her,  the older two from school about 20 minutes after that - and set to become more so, if the Girl changes school this year. Then I’ll have 3 offspring in 3 schools triangulated such that my commute will cover more or less the entire surface area of Singapore. (“Put them on the bus!” everyone cries, and I usually do, for the older ones, for the afternoon ride.  But I had my suspicions about the morning journeys – we’re the first pick-up-point of an almost hour-long trip - which were confirmed when the Boy told me - gleefully – that the bus auntie gave him a bowl – a BOWL! – to pee in when he just couldn’t hold it in any more.  (And who then held the bowl? I wanted to ask.)
Anyway.  This is a very long and convoluted excuse for my absence.  I was going to talk about the summer, wasn’t I? God, it feels like a hundred years ago. It was great.  Especially the bit where I packed my husband and children and their hired mother off to Sweden and skipped off to London ALONE for A WEEK. Looking back on it, it feels quite unreal. Did I really get to leave my family for a whole week?  Did I actually go to museums and the theatre and art exhibitions, and pound the banks of the Thames and have uninterrupted coffees and lunches and drinks with best friends, and cycle all over and feel like I was 30 again?  Why yes!  I did! Isn’t London fabulous?  (WITHOUT KIDS, obviously.  With kids it’s just one endless day after the next of expense and obstacles and whining and dragging.)
Before that, we had almost two weeks in Mallorca en famille, which was also great (but really, can anything top a week in one of the world’s top cities, alone?) although I overestimated my capacity to embrace the Spanish laid-backness, and after ten days of shit service and literally waiting for hours for menus or a coffee or PLEASEGODJUSTGIVETHEMSOMETHINGTOEAT (don’t these people have children?  Don’t they know what happens when they’re hungry?  GIVE THEM A BREADSTICK FOR FUCK’S SAKE) I decided  that I probably won’t be realising one of my many unfeasible dreams and retiring to a Balearic rural idyll.  “Foreigner dies of irritation and thirst in local cafe”.
Before that, we finished off our stay in Ireland which, despite the best efforts of the weather, was marvellous.  Helped largely by stumbling upon a DIY sangria recipe which saved my life in the pubs (I hate beer, and UGGGH, Guinness, and so I spend my time in Irish pubs saying “Ummmmm.... Ummmmm... A gin & tonic?” and then they take down some manky old gin which their dead neighbour’s great-aunt made in 1979 to celebrate the Pope’s visit, and I panic and end up with a pint of Heineken, or GOD, Smithwicks, because I can’t think quickly enough.  Here it is:  Order a mini bottle of red wine (it’ll be shit, that’s fine); a brandy, no ice; a bottle of 7up; and a glass with ice.  Pour half the contents of each into the glass of ice.  Drink.  Pour again.  Drink again.  Fall home, holding on to your octogenarian father, who did not sign up for this longevity of child-care.  [Warning:  it being Ireland, it’ll set you back about E47, but better than a pint of Smithwicks, no?])
Then Sweden, where I was tearfully (truly!  But not the good ones) reunited with my bairn, and rewarded for my absence by the Boy telling me that sometimes I’m nicer than Daddy. (Daddy had ground his teeth down to stumps by that stage and declared that he was never minding them ever again.  Poor Daddy.)
And so we’re home.  Where I have amazed myself by cooking a few things beyond the normal pasta/cous-cous/baked fish repertoire, including the most AMAZING noodle/salad sauce thing, but I’m beginning to bore myself, so you’ll have to wait. (Hopefully not two weeks, but never say never.)  In the meantime, I leave you with my favourite image from the summer.  The Girl had her 5th birthday, and included in the gamut of cack received was this little piece of plastic wonderousness:  Pregnant Barbie! (Actually, the full effect of said wonderousness calls for three photos.)  It should come as no surprise that Barbie is Too Posh To Push:

Alas, later, there were complications when the under-age ObGyn placed the baby back in, breach, and the baby got totally stuck, as did the revolving stomach, and so now Barbie is forever mid-delivery – which is not a good look on a child’s toy AT ALL.  Although if it’s a deterrent to pregnancy you’re after for your child, I highly recommend it.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Sticky topics of conversation. (Hohoho)

Suddenly the summer is over, and with it the summer holidays.  THANK YOU GOD.  Because, while they were fabulous, I have started to eye up the large pack of paracetamol over the past few days.  Jetlag, children and no childcare do not a smiley-mummy make.
This is a short one (phew).   There are school lunches to make, and school bags to drag out (and, in fact,  clear out  - I am a total lazy slut when it comes to things school-related), and HORROR – the laundry of items such as school hats to be done.  (It is a national holiday here – Happy Birthday Singapore! – and as such our helper is, quite rightly, ignoring all things domestic.)
I thought I would welcome myself back by entertaining you all with a précis of this morning’s enlightening conversation with the Boy.
“Mum, can a woman have a baby if she’s not married?”
Seriously, this again?  “Yes, of course. Just look at your auntie Anna.”  (Thank you Anna – your marital non-status is the source of most of the sex-education conversations in our house.)
“No, I mean without a boyfriend or anything like that.  Just by herself.”
“Well, yes.  And no.  She doesn’t need to have an actual man, but she needs a man’s seed.”
“How does she get it?”
“From a doctor.”
“A man doctor?  He gives her his seed?”
Huh. Sometimes, I guess. But perhaps now is not the time for that conversation.  “Well the doctor will work with a scientist, and they can get seed from a man, and put it inside the woman and the seed meets the egg and, all going well, a baby will start to grow.”  God.  The worst explanation of IVF EVER.
“How do they get the seed from the man?”
You know, from the very first question, I should have known that this is where we would have ended up.  “Oh, they just take it from him.”
“But HOW? Is he asleep?  Do they just dig into his willy and get it?”
“No, he gives it to them.”
“From his willy?”
“But how? How does he get it?  Where is it?”
“It’s in his testicles. It comes out from his testicles through his penis.”  For the first and only time this weekend, I’m really glad our maid – or anybody else - isn’t around.
“But how does he get it out?”
“THROUGH HIS PENIS.”  A firm voice.  A firm let-that-be-the-end-of-it voice.  
“BUT. HOW. ?”
I roll a mental dice.  Is this a conversation I want to have now?  He’s 6.  However, I don’t want to lie or fudge it. But he’s 6. And he cannot be trusted to keep his damn mouth shut with other kids. So I fudge it. 
“It’s just one of those things to know when you’re a bit older. TV?”
Today’s lesson in parenting:  TV always trumps masturbation.  For the moment.