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Do you remember last week how I expounded on the virtues of frozen herbs and showed you how to cook a cherry and thyme clafoutis?

(I KNOW! Cherry and THYME! Herbs in a dessert. I’m such a renegade. I should probably write a groundbreaking recipe book right now.)

Gluten free cherry clafoutis with thyme

It was because I’d just been to that Darégal cooking workshop and was all of a flutter about how frozen herbs were going to change my life. I’d basically decided, watching the Darégal chef make those amazing mussels in coconut milk, that from now on I was going to be the ultimate domestic goddess, conjuring up flavourful home cooked meals at least twice a day. It was only because I hadn’t had frozen herbs in my life until that point that I cooked so many chicken dippers. But now… now my freezer was full of chopped garlic and coriander and ginger and the world was my oyster.

CHANGE WAS COMING.

Okay, so I have cooked some chicken dippers since then, but Belle honestly does love them. She’s like a toddler really in many ways – give her a plate of chicken dippers, some ketchup and the TV remote and she’s happy.

I don’t think that you need to necessarily choose though between being a culinary herb wizard and eating chicken dippers. I’m a complex woman after all, I have LAYERS. Some days I’m a chicken dippers kind of a gal, other days I’m cooking myself a prawn and coconut curry for lunch just because I can.

And very nice it was too.

easy prawn and coconut curry recipe View Post

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Do you remember a while back when I had that revelation about frozen chopped onions? At the time I called it a ‘landmark in my culinary life’, which was a bold statement, but then judging by the tone of the rest of the post I was perhaps going through a bit of an intense time – there’s a slight manic quality to the way I try to get Belle involved in the risotto – perhaps frozen onions really did feel life changing?

It had come on the back of me discovering all of those unusual frozen foods I never knew existed, so I was probably still a bit hyped from that. One of the foods that made that list was frozen herbs, which is what I want to talk to you about today, so get comfy.

Picture the scene for a moment, if you will. You’re cooking a new recipe and it has a long list of ingredients – garlic, ginger, coriander maybe. You’re feeling unusually enthusiastic about cooking so you embrace it and buy a packet of fresh coriander. Maybe you get carried away and buy one of the more expensive plants, thinking it’s just what you need to inspire you to cook fresh curries every day.

‘This coriander plant is going to change my life,’ you think to yourself, ‘who knows what kind of person I can be with this on my kitchen windowsill! It will be like the frozen onions all over again!’

Fast forward a week and you’re eating chicken dippers and chucking the dead coriander plant in the bin, or scrapping the coriander mush out of the vegetable drawer of the fridge. Ah well. Next time.

Great news for you my culinary friend! You don’t have to be that person any more. You don’t have to skip over the herbs in recipes because of the shame of that moment in the future – you CAN have your coriander and eat it! You just need to buy FROZEN HERBS.

I had this frozen onion style moment of inspiration at a cooking even I went to last week with a French company called Darégal, who are the world experts in culinary herbs. You probably won’t have heard of them, and you don’t need to look out for them in the freezer section as in the UK they provide herbs to restaurants, manufacturers and supermarkets to use in their own meals and products, rather than being their own consumer brand. Go into pretty much any supermarket – Iceland, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda or M&S – and their frozen herbs with have come from Darégal.

They also make frozen garlic, chilli and ginger – all things that I end up either skipping in recipes because I can’t be faffed, or chucking away loads of a week later.

where to buy frozen herbs View Post

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One of my favourite times of the week is a weekend morning, when Belle is still asleep and I’m alone with the cats, pottering.

Pottering is great isn’t it? I get the Archers omnibus on and I potter about doing all the crappy jobs I’ve been putting off for weeks like recharging the hoover battery and finally dealing with the Christmas tree on the back patio. (This one is currently aspirational.)

This weekend I potted up the avocado stone I’ve FINALLY managed to get to sprout after about eight failed attempts over the course of several years, which was very satisfying, and then to balance it out I threw away two other dead plants. That’s the circle of life for you, right there.

I also like to do a bit of light cooking when I’m pottering – something that I can nibble while I do my jobs. One of my favourite things to make is my ‘whatever’s in the fridge frittatas‘, partly because they’re tasty but also because it’s a useful way to clean out the fridge, which is another one of my favourite pottering pastimes.

This weekend, once the avocado stone was settled in, I thought I’d make some frittatas as a way to use up the cauliflower I’d had in the fridge for ages. I bought it with good intentions but you know, sometimes it’s hard to get around to eating a whole cauliflower, however positive you may feel about it at the time. I had a similar situation going on with a bag of spinach, which I’d bought to stir into a sweet potato curry that never happened, so that went in too.

cauliflower cheese mini frittatas

On reflection, I think they needed something sweeter to balance the flavours a bit better, (I dipped them in BBQ sauce, which wasn’t ideal), so in the recipe I’ve added the option of peas or cherry tomatoes, which I think would lift the frittatas nicely. View Post

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different parenting styles

A couple of weeks ago I published a post on Untold Stories from a mum who felt that having kids hadn’t been worth it. A lot of people left comments, (thank you!), and quite a few people messaged me directly to tell me how the post had affected them or resonated with their own story. Below is a copy of one of these emails.

There’s something about this story that really connected with me – that conflict between wanting to be everything for your older children and at the same time feeling powerless. I feel this a lot as a parent, especially with Belle as she doesn’t have a relationship with her father. I can often feel like I’m trying to be both this woman and her husband at the same time – good cop and bad cop – only I’m not sure what either cop is really meant to do.

This woman has the same sense of unfulfilled potential as the writer of the original post, but it’s something more too, something that feels like it’s tearing her in two different directions, leaving her broken in the middle. It was hard to read as the sadness is palpable, but I’m sure they’re not uncommon feelings. What I found especially sad was the idea that the very worst thing that could happen to her daughter was for her life to turn out just like her own.

Get in touch if you have any thoughts on this or other Untold Stories or if you have your own story you’d like to share about any aspect of parenting.

……

I just read the Untold Story about whether having children is worth it and it really resonated with me. I’ve also been a stay-at-home mum for twenty years and I am in the very same mental place as whoever wrote this Untold Story.

Lately, I find myself lying in bed, unable to sleep, wondering what my life would have been like had I not had my children. I have two – 20 and soon-to-be 18. Girls. My 20 year old has moved into a flat for her third year at uni, with her long-time boyfriend. My youngest daughter has got into the the uni of her choice and will be up and away by September.

The hardest part of parenting this age is that they still need you, but they want their independence. My eldest is struggling with her course, won’t let me help and often threatens to drop out. I’m utterly drained of trying to support an ‘adult child’ who wants to load everything on me, but doesn’t really want my advice. And now that she has moved out, she can easily ignore my calls or texts. My youngest is headstrong and desperate to leave the backwater where we live but I know I’ll still be needed in that begrudging way an older teen depends on.

I haven’t worked in 20 years. I have a good degree in history with honours, which has proven to be utterly useless to me. I spend every waking minute trying to make my husband and children happy, yet I feel totally unfulfilled, useless and that I have also squandered all of my potential. My husband takes a far more pragmatic approach to parenting our girls now – let them make their own mistakes and we’re there for them when the shit hits the fan. But I can see a car crash coming to my eldest if she doesn’t pull it together and try harder, because I can’t bear for her to either drop out or leave with a degree that’s of no use to her.

Because then she’ll have a life like mine – lost, unfulfilled and emotionally spent. View Post

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Sleep is incredibly important to me. I’m like a toddler – if I don’t get the sleep I need I just don’t function properly the next day. Lack of sleep makes me grumpy, I feel tired and my brain just doesn’t work as well. After 9pm my knees start to get twitchy and I’m really only staying up at this point because 9pm feels like too early a bedtime for a grown-up. Sometimes I sleep well, sometimes I thrash about having wild dreams, overheating or getting too cold. How to sleep better is a question never far from my mind.

When I moved house a couple of years ago I paid special attention to my bedroom. I decided the best way to sleep well would be to create a very tranquil, calm space that would be free from clutter and generally a chill place to sleep. It ended up being a bit like a minimalist hotel room, with just the bed and two side tables, (and the cats obviously), but I liked it. It definitely had the tranquil vibe I was looking for. It made me really appreciate how important it is in your bedroom to pay attention to details like temperature, lighting, colours and how to choose the best mattress and bed sheets.

flowers in the bedroom

If you always find yourself wondering how to sleep better then I’ve put together some tips for you to hopefully help you get a better night’s rest and not let lack of sleep spoil your days. View Post

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brunch club

A few weeks ago I had brunch with my friend Nicky at The Weir in French Weir Park. It was one of those beautiful January mornings where little droplets of cold snot form on the end of your nose as you walk and you can’t feel your feet but it’s worth it for the way the winter sun hangs low in the sky and the crisp air fills your lungs and lifts your spirits.

French Weir park Taunton

I’ve been to The Weir a few times before for coffee but never for food and I’ve been wanting to go ever since I saw that they do homemade baked beans on toast.

I have a bit of a soft spot for baked beans as it was pretty much impossible to visit my Gran and Grandad for any length of time and not be served them with slightly burnt toast and salty butter. If you got really lucky you’d get tinned beans and sausages with homemade crinkle cut chips. I don’t remember my Gran ever eating, just serving them to me and my Grandad, one tin between us, the eight sausages always divided out equally, never left to chance. View Post

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Reduced sugar bread pudding recipe

If you ever find yourself wanting to impress a group of new friends I can recommend doing it through the medium of bread pudding.

I first made a variant of this bread pudding recipe on a writing course about a year and a half ago and I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said that for most people it was the highlight of the week. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it was VERY good. The bread soaks up the custard and something happens that I think must be actual magic – it’s moist and sweet and tastes of heaven.

The original version doesn’t have any fruit, and goes in a lot heavier on the sugar and butter topping, but as I was trying to create a reduced sugar bread pudding I cut back on this and added peaches and raspberries for sweetness instead. I think it’s better than the original, if that’s even possible. View Post

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different parenting styles

After last week’s very emotional story from the mum who doesn’t think having her kids was worth it, I thought it might be good to tackle a more practical parenting issue in Untold Stories this week – one of internet safety. This post, written for me by John at Dad Blog UK, looks not at how we as parents protect our kids at home, but how we manage online safety in the face of other parents, parents who don’t seem to care as much about keeping their children safe from harm. It’s an interesting angle on a much talked about topic and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. (John was happy to have his name to this one, but if you’d like to contribute a story to this series then you’re welcome to stay anonymous.)

……

Is there an aspect of parenting I find ‘really difficult’? This was the question posed to me by Jo, the author behind Slummy Single Mummy and a blogger I have long admired, not forgetting she’s also a published author. [Flattery will get you everywhere John.]

Well, where do I start with this?

Finding a way to get my kids to eat with exemplary table manners? Dealing with friendship disputes? Stressing about secondary school applications? The list is endless. I worry about my kids all the time, but one issue has cropped up repeatedly and it’s cropping up more and more as my kids get older. The issue I am talking about is online safety and digital resilience. Having rules in our own house is easy. These are straightforward to put in place and keep on top of. It’s having to deal with the rules and standards that other families follow that presents a plethora of issues.

I am going to come out and say it; time and again I have found families not even following the most basic online safety rules. Unfortunately, many mums and dads don’t appreciate the impact this has on other children and the wider community. I struggle with this, I mean really, really struggle with it. Just when I think I have seen it all, I learn of another acquaintance whose child has had a nasty experience online and one that, more often than not, could have been avoided if they’d followed some basic online safety rules.

This is a sensitive subject within our household. A little while ago one of our kids was on the receiving end of some online bullying. When I looked into what was going on, I was horrified at what I discovered parents were letting their kids do online. There’s a particular social media platform (I won’t mention it’s name) that has a suggested user age of 13. I found that many of my child’s friends used this app and often with their parents’ blessing, despite being several years too young.

My child was introduced to a girl, we’ll call her Miranda, at the local athletics club. Miranda had a full, public profile and thousands of followers. At the age of nine, she’d regularly post content of herself with a full face of make-up and wearing short skirts. My child thought this was amazing and that she had a really cool friend. Alas, it transpired Miranda had been self-harming. View Post

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It’s 5.30pm on a Sunday evening and I’m in an old church in Bristol. Long ropes dangle from the ceiling as I stand, 6 feet above the ground, on a trapeze. I lean forward, one leg extended behind me. I crouch slowly and sit down on the bar. I lean back and let go with one hand, twisting my body, my legs stretched out straight, toes pointed.

In that moment I feel powerful, alive, and only vaguely concerned about how sweaty my palm feels on the rope. In my mind I look like this and in lieu of photographic evidence I defy anyone to prove otherwise:

Trapeze artist

Last week, in our first session of a five week aerial skills course, we were on the hoop. With the hoop I felt about as graceful as a badly coordinated toddler trying to zip up a coat. On the trapeze though, (once the instructor has helped me get on), I am a goddess, full of energy and grace.

Now I’m not saying that two weeks of drinking Ensure Max Protein everyday has turned me into a world class circus acrobat, ready to fly through the air, confident in my strength and power, but it has made me a little less tired, given me a little more energy, and that can’t be a bad thing, not when according to research*, around 10.5 million of us in the UK feel exhausted from our ‘always on’ lives.

I don’t know if it’s age, or the midlife unravelling or what it is really, but a lot lately, (the last couple of years if I’m honest), I’ve just felt pretty tired. Worn out with having to DO everything, by myself, all the time. Tired of being always responsible, generating all my own work, having to remember to reply to my Instagram messages and get the car MOTed and have Belle’s eyes tested and, and, and…

*deep breaths* View Post

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having children wasn't worth it

I absolutely love today’s anonymous contribution to Untold Stories. It’s told with such honesty and candour. ‘It feels so miserable though,’ the contributor said to me, ‘do you want me to make it funnier?’ A few people have asked me this already, as though they’re letting me down, but that’s the point of Untold Stories. Sometimes life doesn’t feel very funny, but we go about our days doing all the things we know we’re meant to do and telling everyone that everything’s fine. And probably it is fine, mostly, and sometimes it’s just enough to know that other people are miserable too. You can read more Untold Stories here.

Written by anon

We’ve all heard it said to the new mother, exhausted from sleepless nights, a traumatised body and feeding, feeding, feeding: “Oh, but it’s all worth it!”

After twenty years of parenting, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the biggest lie of all. But worst of all, it is the lie that we cannot speak out loud because the very people who we have created: our beloved children who we worship and live and breathe for, might overhear. And the biggest terror of all is that they might know that if you had your choices again, you might choose differently. You might not choose them.

Every school report described me as ‘full of potential’. After two decades of parenting, I feel I have squandered it all. It is a source of both shame and regret.

My best friend was childless by choice, but often gives my life sidelong glances of envy. Look at the lovely children, gathered around the table, laughing gaily: a real-life Ladybird book of The Family! But she looks mainly by social media, because I am too exhausted to visit her in London, too scared of the tasks piling up in my absence, too lacking in confidence around her highly-paid and highly-made-up friends to join in the way I used to. View Post

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brunch club

A couple of weekends ago I took Belle for brunch at Kitchen at Jordans Courtyard. We ate banana bread, we played cards, we secretly watched a little boy with an adorable bowl cut eat pizza – it was a good day.

I’m a big fan of the original Kitchen at The Wharf in Langport, not least because if I get lucky I can sit at my old kitchen table, which found a new home there after I realised I couldn’t open my back door properly with it in my own house. (It’s a round one with white painted legs and a bare wooden top, should you fancy visiting it.) To be honest I prefer the eclectic, mismatched decor and the cosy atmosphere of Kitchen in Langport, but Belle likes it when things are a bit more in order, and so she prefers the new version of Kitchen at Jordans Kitchen.

They’re essentially both nice though.

(Year 5 level review for you there. Honestly, I should consider writing for a living.)

What’s especially nice about them both is the food. Their menus change with the seasons and they source as much of their fresh produce as possible from local suppliers. They also run their own artisan bakery in Langport, so they really are all about quality ingredients and cooking from scratch.

I browsed the menu at Jordans Courtyard while Belle practiced shuffling cards. She was trying to master the thing where you split the pack and sort of flick the two halves together, whilst trying to look casual and cool. A well-shuffled pack is very important for a serious game of Go Fish.

It took me a long time to decide because basically I wanted everything. I was especially drawn to the toasted banana bread with granola and yogurt because that’s not something I’ve ever seen on a brunch menu before, but also I wanted the big breakfast because FRIED POTATO ROSTI. Any kind of fried potato item on a brunch menu is normally a clincher for me. I think it’s because fried potatoes always remind me of my Dad, being small and dipping bits of crispy potato in tomato ketchup. They’re such a treat aren’t they?

We decided to go with a bit of a joint effort and get the full breakfast to share, with homemade baked beans and sourdough toast, and then the banana bread as a joint pudding. The breakfast would actually have been enough between us as it was really filling. A split breakfast works well for us as I don’t really like bacon and Belle doesn’t like sausage or black pudding. (I bloody love black pudding.)

Brunch at Kitchen at Jordans Courtyard review View Post

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is my child fat?

Following my post about my new Untold Stories feature I’ve already had several people send me their stories, which I’m really thrilled about. It means a lot to have you trust me with your thoughts so thank you! If you have a story or a concern of your own to share then do get in touch. 

Today’s story is on a really interesting subject – that of children and weight. It can be a really tough one to talk about because there’s such an anti-diet movement at the moment, which is fantastic in a lot of ways, but there’s also a fine line between embracing your body as it is and still understanding the importance of eating good foods and treating your body well. With children it’s especially hard because eating habits and the stories we tell ourselves about food embed themselves from such a young age. 

If you have any thoughts on the subject please do leave a comment, or share the post. I’d really appreciate any support you can show for this new regular feature.

……..

Firstly, to be clear, I have no idea how much my children actually weigh or what their BMI is. I just know that since my husband and I separated, they’ve both gradually got a little plumper, to the point that I am now bothered by it. To complicate my concerns, when I raised the issue with my ex, hoping to create some joint rules and strategies about junk food, snacks etc, he responded that in his opinion, the children don’t look overweight, they look happy.

A bit of context – I’ve always struggled with my weight, and so has their dad. As a clever but overweight child, I was bullied and felt different and unhappy. As an adult I lost a significant amount of weight after the birth of my first child. I’m not currently completely happy with my weight but I am more accepting of my body than I have ever been. Knowing that this issue is triggering for me, I consulted a counsellor. At the heart of it, as much as I do worry about my children’s short term and future health, I don’t want them to feel unattractive and uncomfortable as I did for many years. And I don’t want people to look at my children and judge me as a mother.

It really bothers me that I can see rolls of fat on my children’s stomachs, but I also don’t want to give them a complex about their appearance, I want them to be body positive. The older one is starting puberty and someone else mentioned she had a bit of puppy fat. It’s very hard when she complains about her stomach area to know what to say. She needs to understand that there is a correlation between what she eats and the health of her body, so I’ve told her that healthy choices of food will help keep her body a healthy shape, and that planking exercises will strengthen her core, but haven’t made any changes to the way I feed her. She gave up sweets for new year, which I was slightly concerned about, but didn’t discourage. View Post

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