Thursday 26 November 2009

Christmas served

Angels & Urchins had a post the other day asking for people's Christmas tips. Mine was to be organised and I referred to my little black Christmas book, which contains my meal plans for the last few Christmases. I know that makes me sound terribly anal and perhaps something of a Christmas geek (possibly a complete saddo), but it's become my little tradition.

Every year I browse through my numerous recipe books and seasonal magazines to find recipes that tickle my fancy. Then I piece them together so that they all work in unison - after all, anyone can plan a Christmas meal, but planning a rolling feast that works from Christmas Eve through to the tail end of Boxing Day is another thing altogether. AND critically, many of the recipes need to be things you can prepare in advance so that you appear to be a culinary goddess who still has time to bake gingerbread angels with the children for the tree, while never breaking a sweat.

This year, however, it appears that it's just going to be us for Christmas and it just doesn't seem worth going to this much effort for my 'got to watch my figure' husband and my two 'but I don't like it' children. So given that I won't get to do my annual plan-athon (unless a bunch of waifs and strays would like to come have Christmas with us - you're more than welcome!), I thought I'd share my menus from the last few years in case you are looking for ideas.
I haven't posted the recipes. The majority come from Nigella's Christmas book which I cannot recommend highly enough, however, several come from magazines with the odd smattering of Gary Rhodes' Keeping it Simple. I've tried to indicate which things I made in advance to help with the timings of things. One doesn't want to be flushed or even, dare I say it, sweaty on Christmas day.

Having typed these out, I realise that we basically have pretty much the same stuff year after year for Christmas, with the odd tweak, but it's Christmas Eve that is different. Happy reading, have fun cooking and an even better time eating!


Christmas Eve:
Lamb shanks with garlic and cranberry jus, creamed potatoes and peas (made on the 23rd -potatoes for mash peeled and ready to boil)

Pannettone bread and butter pudding (made morning of 24th)

Xmas morning breakfast:
Poached eggs with parsnip hash browns, bacon and oven roasted tomatoes on the vine (top tip - make the parsnip hash browns in advance and freeze them)

Canapes (this year made by Sainsburys)

Xmas lunch:
Turkey (forgot how I did it this year but I always go for a whole turkey, never just the crown)
Gingerbread stuffing (you'll see this one a lot)
Braised red cabbage with beetroot and apples (made morning of 24th)
Sausages wrapped in bacon
Roast potatoes
Green veg mix (we don't do sprouts) - broccoli, leeks, courgette and peas
Cranberry sauce with dried figs in port (made on 23rd)

Christmas pudding and brandy cream

Xmas night:
Cheese & crackers

Boxing day:
Cranberry muffins and coffee for breakfast
Lunch - at a pub
Dinner - cold turkey, salad and general smorgasboard of leftovers

Christmas Eve (and afternoon):
'Homemade' mince pies with brandy butter (made day before). I call these home made because I actually 'compose' them - but they're made using ready to roll puff pasty and ready made minced meat. Just roll, spoon in, seal the edges, eggwash, pop in oven and eat. SO much better than bought!

Canapes (once again bought)

Hungarian goulash, braised rice, crusty bread and salad of greens with thinly sliced red onions (made day before)

Pear & cranberry crisp with vanilla ice cream

Xmas morning:
Eggs benedict with either salmon or ham, champagne & orange juice (get husband to make and use bought hollandaise sauce)

Xmas lunch:
Nigella's super juicy spiced turkey (that you soak in a bucket overnight). Prepare morning of 24th. I left ours in the garage covered with foil. It was cold enough.
Nigella's all spice gravy
Nigella's Gingerbread stuffing (it's a goodie - you'll notice it from last year and indeed the year to come)
Cranberry sauce (very dull -same as the year before with port and figs. It's good though)
Chippolatas wrapped in bacon
Roast potatoes (add semolina to them once par cooked for extra crunchiness)
Maple roasted parsnips
Buttered carrots
Green beans, peas and pine nuts

Christmas pudding with brandy sauce (not made by me)

I appear to have lost what we did for Boxing Day this year but I think it was a honey glazed ham - we had many people with us.

Xmas eve:
Ye olde homemade mince pies again in the afternoon
Vodka metropolitans
G&Ts with rosemary swizzle sticks (I can highly recommend rosemary swizzle sticks. Just get springs of fresh rosemary and use as a stirrer. They look pretty, festive and the rosemary adds a lovely fragrance)
Spiced nuts (made on 23rd)

Lamb & date tagine with red onion and pomegranate salad, cous cous and green salad with pine nuts and harissa dressing (the tagine comes from Nigella's Xmas book again and it is AWESOME) Made on 23rd - the tagine

Cranberry orange and almond pudding with custard (made on 24th)

Xmas morning
Continental breakfast of mango, blueberry and pomegranate salad with natural yogurt, granola; salmon, ham, cheese, breads and bucks fizz

Champagne and nibbles (I never seem to make the canapes - I always want to but it's the place I always save myself time)
Xmas lunch:
Turkey with lemon/sage butter (prepared on 24th)
Roast potatoes
Maple glazed parsnips
Turkey gravy (stock made on 24th)
Red cabbage with apple and pomegranate juice (made on 23rd)
Lemon and tarragon carrots
Green beans, baby leeks and asparagus medley
Gingerbread stuffing (because Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without it) Made on 23rd
Boozy cranberry sauce (made on 23rd)

Apple and calvados pudding (bought)

Xmas night:
Cheese board with crackers

Boxing day breakfast
Boiled eggs and soldiers

Boxing day lunch/supper
Baked applewood smoked gammon, left over turkey cold, left over red cabbage, green salad with pomegranate seeds

So that's three Christmases condensed into one. This year we might just go to MacDonalds. Sigh.

Please share your Christmas menus with me so that I can live vicariously through you.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Fashion victims

I have many things to worry about in life. Often it's work related. More often it's something to do with the children - particuarly the kind of thoughts you have at 3am when husband is away on business for a week and I imagine 'what if I fall down the stairs and crack my head open and the kids will be trapped inside the house and what will they do' type things (which usually results in them having a lesson on how to unlock a door and call 999 first thing in the morning).

But there is one thing that I don't worry about. Well not much. And that's how I look. Sure I'm like everyone else. I grab the baby belly and wish it wasn't there. I stare at my wrinkles and do imaginary plastic surgery to see if I can ever look 20 again. I spend too much money getting my hair cut and coloured only to hate it the minute I walk out of the hairdressers. And I stare at my cupboard full of clothes and lament that I have nothing to wear.

But while I might occasionally wish that I looked a bit more fashionable, really, how fashionable do you need to be to walk up to road to the school gate (when the school gate is in the countryside in deepest, darkest West Berkshire)? And it's not like I then race into a glamorous job surrounded by people. It's just me at my desk in my office at home, with a possible visit from the postie or Ocado man. It doesn't call for high fashion does it? I can go an entire week (possibly more) when I don't even take my mascara out (I can hear people in London fainting as I type this).

Yet I have just finished skimming a copy of Harper's Bazaar magazine that came with a SHE magazine. I don't normally buy high fashion mags (see above as to why). I flicked through it, staring at the Top 20 most fashionable people of the year and the must have fashions for the year ahead (they're shite - who wants to look like a throw back to the 80s with shoulder pads so pointy you could have someone's eye out?)

And it occurred to me that there must be any number of people out there who spend a huge amount of time worrying about what they wear and what they look like. Imagine going out in something that was last season? The shame. My clothes are so out of date that they're almost back in fashion. And it's not just the clothes, it's the accessories, make up, beauty lotions and potions, hair, jewellery and then, making sure you're at the IT places so that you can show it all off.

My scruffy jeans, jumpers with bobbles on them and sailing boots (my current IT look) might not make me feel lovely (and we all like to feel lovely) but at least I don't have the angst that goes with high fashion. And given all that us mothers have to worry about, fashion just doesn't need to be on the list.

So today I am going to wear my not so glamorous attire with pride and know that it represents a calmer, more peaceful me with one less thing to worry about.

P.S. I just typed this and realised that today I DO actually have a meeting with clients and people in a fashionable place. Hmm. Maybe I will worry about fashion just for today. But from tomorrow I'm back to not giving my wardrobe a second thought.

Monday 16 November 2009

Until Now.

Having been away at sea for 6 weeks, I fully expected to have to put up with some behavioural 'issues' from my children upon my return. And there have been tantrums and testing, but no worse than before. Until Now.

I fear that my four year old son has been abducted by aliens from the planet of LittleShitville, they've fed him their potions and returned him to me. I am at a loss as to what to do with him. He cares about one thing and one thing only: Sweets.

This should be ammunition in my armoury to be used as a bribe or a threat or a trail to get him to pee in the toilet rather than in his pants. But neither threats nor bribes work. Nor indeed does kindness, praise, shouting, putting him in his room, putting him on the step, involving him in activities or tiring him out with very long walks.

He is determined to destroy the house and partake in violent fights with his brother ALL THE TIME. He screams and shouts as though he is being murdered for no reason in particular. He is rude. Disobedient. Stubborn. He talks back. Lies. And is so utterly determined to be right that he will swear the colour red is acutally blue just to be contrary.

Take this morning as a case in point. I was trying to fold about 8 loads worth of laundry, iron about 6 of them, make lunchboxes, make breakfast, get myself showered and dressed and the boys in the clothes. Running rapidly out of time, I resorted to (admittedly a bad idea) the incentive of one jelly worm if son2 could put his clothes on. All of a sudden he went from not being able to dress himself, to being fully clothed in nano-seconds.

Having had his worm, I went upstair to get dressed while saying over my shoulder that a sweet in the morning was not going to become a regular occurence (he is on very strict rations because if there's one thing he doesn't need it's more e-numbers and sugar.)

Moments laters (as I'm fully lathered up in the shower) son1 rushes upstairs to let me know that son2, has managed to push a chair up to the VERY high sweetie cupboard and has helped himself to chocolate coins. I washed off fast, scurried downstairs with my trousers around my ankles and my hair dripping down my back to find the small boy surrounded by gold coin wrappers and his mouth full of something.

"Open your mouth," I said. "mhmm," he said shaking his head, cheeks bulging. "OPEN IT!" I say. Relucantly he opens to reveal a liquid in his mouth, not the chocolate I expected to see. "What is it?" I ask. He says nothing, just stands with his mouth open with a pool of liquid lolling in front of his tongue. I take my finger, dip it into his mouth and taste it (yes, I actually did that. THAT is what it means to be a mother). Syrup. Maple syrup.

I open the fridge. The lid is off the new bottle and a good amount has been necked directly from it. One jelly worm. God knows how many chocolate coins and a good slug of syrup. Breakfast of champions.

That little incident resulted in a week long sweetie ban. And that much sugar for breakfast might have explained the rest of the day's behaviour, but sadly, today is not an isolated incident.

He then spent the day with his childminder, who has always said that he is an angel child. Until Now. Today she informed me that she had had to severely reprimand him for utterly rude behaviour. Apparently, after she had taken him on a lovely day trip on a train (despite her being terrified of trains), buying him lunch and a toy, and taking him to feed ducks, when she asked whether he'd had a nice time, he yelled, "NO!" And then continued to be rude saying how rubbish everything had been.

He then came home and instead of colouring (which older brother and I were trying to do given the rainy weather) he proceeded to colour in himself and the furniture. Whatever I suggested for dinner was pronounced disgusting. So I ignored him and made a stir fry with noodles which I know ordinarily is an acceptable meal.

Until Now. Today it was REVOLTING. And DISGUSTING. And HIDEOUS. He then shoved his bowl away, stomped off with arms folded yelling: "I'm not eating that. Make me something else!" and proceeded to turn on the TV.

At which point he was told in no uncertain terms to turn the TV off, sit at the table, be polite, eat nicely and follow house rules or he could find a new house to live in. Probably not the best thing to tell a small child, but right about now I'm ready to give him away to the people who look after Tracey Beaker and co. He could certainly give Tracey a run for her money.

He then ate his meal by picking up each individual noodle and wrapping it around his head or his hand or spreading it across the table and nibbling at it - purposefully looking for a reaction - so that after 1 hour he'd had approximately one and a half noodles. Several severe warnings later about how he will have his food taken away and how he'll go to bed hungry and won't be getting pudding, he pushed his luck one time too many and indeed lost his meal.

So now I have a child who I am putting to bed hungry and who has been threatened with household expulsion. I'm not happy. He seems utterly unfazed.

Are all four year old boys like this? Someone tell me this is a testoterone surge. Because he's been my easy child. Until Now.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Somebody hand the Maclaren PR people a coffee. They need it

So according to news reports, Maclaren, the British buggy manufacturers, are having to recall 1 million of their buggies in the US because 12 children have managed to get their fingers chopped off in the hinge mechanism. They're also distributing thousands of safety devices to parents to fit onto the buggies to avoid the problem. But they're not doing it in the UK.

Apparently, according to Maclaren and its PR agency, the buggies are safe if used properly and they see no need to issue the safety devices at this time. This has caused a parental uproar. There is no group of people more likely to get their knickers in a twist about something than parents.

The parents are split into two camps:

There's the A) 'What about us?' brigade who feel that the same recall should also happen here and that the safety devices should be sent out. The sceptics amongst them are saying that the only reason Maclaren is taking action in the US is because American parents are a more litigious bunch. They're baying for blood... just not from their children's fingers.

And then there's the B) 'Oh get a grip' camp who feel it is a parent's duty to look after their children and that they're just as likely to get their children's fingers trapped in car doors or door frames as anywhere else. And they'll also point out that the buggies meet EU safety regs and that you shouldn't open or close your buggy with your child anywhere near it.

Of the two camps, I'd prefer to be in B camp because I'm not a big fan of the sue culture and quite frankly don't have enough time to get too worked up about these things. On the other hand, I do find the sanctimonious rumblings of the 'perfect parent' brigade pretty hard to swallow too. Sometimes you do have to open your buggy with your child nearby. And surprisingly, children don't always do as they're told. And if a buggy has the potential to chop off fingers, perhaps a safety device would be nice.

But ultimately this is a PR disaster in the making. Any parent out there right now deciding which buggy to buy will at the back of their minds be thinking: Maclaren, oh yes, they're potentially not safe. Better look at something else. And then there are the hordes of genuinely confused parents who've heard the reports of a product recall and just don't know whether they're supposed to be returning their product or not. I imagine the helplines at Maclaren are a tad busy right now.

And it's hard to know what hell the Maclaren PR team are going through at the moment (I imagine it involves quite a few late nights and some extra strong coffees). What was the correct course of action? All crisis PR rule books say that you communicate, communicate, communicate. Which I guess they have been doing. But it's always been through a 'statement' or from an unnamed spokesperson. They need to get their MD out there explaining their case. Put a comforting, reassuring, sensible British perspective on this issue.

Perhaps their thinking went as follows: 'by offering the safety gadgets in the UK, we're admitting that our products are unsafe'. So perhaps they're trying to reinforce the message that their products are safe if used correctly, with no need for an extra safety bit. But then why give them out in the US? It invites the criticism that they're simply doing it to avoid being sued. Surely the product is either safe or it's not? Either offer the device everywhere, or not at all.

I suggest that they offer them in the UK under the advice of: "Our buggies are safe when used correctly. However, if you have any reason for concern, we can send you a safety gadget." Then send them the gadget with more explanations about why the buggies are safe. And then communicate, communicate, communicate with those customers. Turn the negative experience into a positive one. Let all retailers know that the buggies are safe but send them the safety doodah to give to customers as an option should a customer ask about it.

I think Maclaren is trying to be British about this. They're trying to downplay it. They're trying to tap into the the 'sensible British reserve in which one doesn't sue or create a flap'. Perhaps they think that the less the say, the sooner it will go away. But they shouldn't underestimate the power of parents.