Thursday, 27 December 2012

Christmas Cards 2012

In these internet-dominated days there has been much discussion about whether or not to send Christmas cards any more.  A greeting on Facebook is instant - and free - and can reach friends and family around the world at the click of a mouse.  I'm a huge fan of this idea, having friends in several different countries, but a part of me is still extremely fond of the ritual of writing, sending and receiving 'real' cards.  So this year I've done it both ways!

Of course having a baby in the house provides all manner of excitement over the festive season.  Poor Ted has been subject to all manner of comedy dressing up - not that he seems to mind too much...

But he was more than slightly baffled when I plonked him in his Bumbo and starting painting his feet!

He soon began to enjoy it though; I suspect it tickled a bit!

In order to get good prints I discovered that best best thing to do was to use clothes-pegs to attach the paper to a hardback book.  You can then press the book onto the foot, rather than the other way round!  As you can see I also covered the floor with newspaper and had a bowl of warm water and a cloth within easy reach.  This worked really well.  He couldn't reach his paint-covered feet whilst wedged into the Bumbo, and he remained pretty cheerful whilst I covered at least 20 sheets of paper with his footprints!  Many were unusable, but I decided that if I did loads I'd get enough that were suitable.

Once the footprints were dry I cut them out and spent an evening in front of some festive television turning them into cards.  The reindeer ears and antlers are drawn on with felt pen, and the noses and eyes cut out of paper before being glued on.  The tree trunk is simply drawn with coloured pen, and the tree adorned with some sparkly stickers.  The reindeer are my favourite.

This was a fun project and a nice memento of Ted's first Christmas.  It seems that I'm not the only mum who had this idea:  here's Nic's Christmas card made by her little boy.

I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Plum and Ginger Flapjack Crumble

I've never had much success making flapjack.  Although perhaps that's because I've only tried once.  I think I used Nigella's recipe from Domestic Goddess, and remember being distinctly underwhelmed by the result.  I don't know why I haven't tried again, perhaps with another recipe, because I think a good flapjack is hard to beat.  For me they have to be chewy and soft; just holding together, but not hard and crunchy.  Flapjack nirvana!

Well now I have managed to make the perfect flapjack, and even better it's part of a luscious Autumnal pudding. 

I stumbled upon this recipe in the Sunday Times magazine several weeks ago.  It's by Lucas Hollweg, who I believe has a new cookbook out.  I've never been a huge fan of a traditional crumble topping, but the idea of a flapjack crumble sounded wonderful to me, so when I saw plums for sale on Salisbury Market I knew I had to try.

I followed the recipe to the letter and the result was simply delicious - squidgy soft flapjack with the gingery fruit bubbling through.  It was fabulous hot, but I couldn't stop myself taking a teaspoon to the fridge throughout the following day to nibble away at it cold! 

I've since made the same topping to go on a base of gingery stewed rhubarb, and can report that it was similarly successful.

I think this is a recipe that I'll be using time and time again. 

Lucas Hollweg's Plum and Ginger Flapjack Crumble

Serves 6 (generously)

750g (1lb 10oz) plums, halved, stones removed
2 balls of stem ginger, roughly chopped, plus 2 tbsp of syrup from the jar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
150g (5½oz) butter, plus a knob extra
175g (6oz) demerara sugar
100g (3½oz) porridge oats
125g (4½oz) self-raising flour
2 tbsp golden syrup
5 tbsp double cream

 Put the plums in a saucepan with the ginger and ginger syrup, plus the cinnamon and a knob of butter. Heat gently for a few minutes, until the plums have started to soften.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Put the plums in an ovenproof gratin dish (about 23 x 23cm/9 x 9 in and about 5–6cm/2–2½in deep), then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the sugar.

In a bowl, mix together the oats, the remaining sugar and the flour. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Now add the golden syrup and cream and mix well. Tip onto the oat mixture and stir together. Spoon on top of the fruit, level out in a thin even layer about 1cm (½in) thick – try not to make it any thicker, or it may not cook through. Put in the oven and bake for 40–45 minutes, or until set and golden brown.

Leave to stand for 10 minutes before eating so the top can set a little (this also prevents you from burning your tongue). Cream or vanilla ice cream are the obvious partners in crime.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Lemongrass Coconut Cake

Whilst I am quick to dismiss those who express surprise that I still manage to bake with a small baby in the house - I just enjoy it, I'm not Superwoman - I have to admit that I'm finding myself increasingly drawn towards a simpler style of cake nowadays.  I've never been one for overly-elaborate baking, I don't really have the patience for that, but right now my very favourite things to make have to be super-low-effort, super-tasty, and ideally keep super-well so I don't feel that I have to eat it all too quickly before it goes stale (one of the perils of being at home all day).

Nigella's Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake fits the bill very nicely and is one I make often (the link will take you to a nice write-up and the recipe on another blog).  The addition of the lemony syrup poured over the still-hot cake keeps it beautifully moist, and I can have the whole thing made, baked and mixing-bowl washed up within the hour.

But thanks to a cooking group that I am part of on Facebook, I have discovered a new favourite:  Lemongrass Coconut Cake.  When I saw the name I thought I'd like to try it, but when I saw how amazingly simple the recipe was I just knew I'd have to bake it.  This is a cake from Rachel Allen's latest series (and I assume an accompanying book?) 'Cake Diaries', but the recipe can be found online here

As you can see, it's one of those lovely bung-it-all-in-a-food-processor recipes - fabulous!  The smell of the lemongrass as it's blended into the sugar is incredible, and I have to say that the unbaked mix nearly didn't make it into the tin as it was so flipping delicious.

Once baked it looked plain, yet elegant, and when I'd doused it in the syrup I sprinkled over a little more dessiccated coconut; the recipe calls for 125g and I'd bought a 150g box of it so this seemed a good way to use up the annoyingly small amount left over. 

The recipe suggests serving this as a dessert, but the first few slices were simply eaten alongside cups of tea and coffee.  Last night however we did have some for pudding, accompanied by the creme fraiche indicated in the recipe, but also with some chunks of papaya spritzed with lime juice.  We ate papaya regularly when we lived in Brunei, so as well as being a perfect marriage of Asian flavours, this was a little trip down memory lane. 

Definitely a winning recipe, I think I'll be baking this one again and again.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Apple Rosemary Jelly

Yet another variation on the theme!

Rosemary is my favourite herb, so the idea of using it in a jelly really appealed.  Just imagine how gorgeous this will be with roast lamb.

I'm writing this recipe out as much to remind myself about it in years to come as I'm winging this one, just making it up based on my now-fairly-extensive jelly-making experience.

Apple Rosemary Jelly

3lb apples
1 1/2 pints water
1/2 pint white vinegar
lots of rosemary, finely chopped

Roughly chop the apples, no peeling or coring necessary (just watch out for bugs if your apples are foraged as ours are), and put in a pan with the water and the needles stripped from about 5 stalks of rosemary (no need to chop this).   This will infuse the jelly with a delicate rosemary flavour.

Simmer until soft and pulpy, then add the vinegar and continue to boil for 5 minutes.

Strain overnight using a jelly-bag or muslin.  This post explains how.   

Measure strained liquid and add 1lb of sugar for every pint.  Boil until setting point is reached then stir in lots of chopped rosemary. 

As with the chilli jelly, it's important to let this cool for 5-10 minutes before potting it, otherwise all the rosemary will rise to the top of the jars.  If this does start to happen (as it did with my first jar) simply screw the lid on tightly and turn the jar upside down for about a minute.  Then turn it the right way up again.  If the rosemary is still rising, repeat until it is suspended throughout the jelly.

This made 4 jars.

Labelled with Cath Kidston stickers - for that extra domestic-goddess feeling!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Apple Chilli Jelly - 2012

I've blogged about this jelly before, in Autumn 2009, but I realised that I had rather lazily just linked to a recipe which I had since adapted somewhat and failed to note my adaptations.  So in an attempt to record what I actually do, I thought it deserved reblogging.

This year we have a stunningly beautiful chilli plant which we bought from the Dorset Chilli Festival earlier this year, so we have no shortage of chillis to use.  Many have been harvested and stashed in the freezer, but this is a perfect way to use some straight from the plant.

I use this jelly as a condiment, particularly with roast chicken.  It's also perfect with any crumbly white cheese such as Wensleydale or Lancashire.

Apple Chilli Jelly

3lb cooking apples
2 pints water
white sugar
red chillis - to taste

Chop apples, don't peel or core, and place in a large pan with the water and 2 or 3 chopped chillis, seeds and all.

Simmer until soft and pulpy, then strain overnight (see previous post for photos).

Measure juice back into the pan, and for every pint add 1 lb of sugar.

Bring to the boil, stirring often, and boil rapidly until setting point is reached.  Again, refer to previous post fot description of how to do this.

Remove from the heat, but this time wait for 5 minutes before stirring in 3 or 4 (or more?  It's up to you - I used 9, but they're tiny) finely sliced chillis.  Then ladle into sterilised jars.  It's best to wait before you stir the chillis in because if the jelly is too liquid the chillis all float to the top of the jar, whereas when it's slightly cooler the chillis will be suspended throughout.

This only made 2 medium jars.  I must make another batch as I'm not sure this will see us through the coming year!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Apple and Mint Jelly

It's that time of year again, Autumn is approaching fast.  Whilst some may mourn the loss of Summer, I'm excited - after 2 years in the Tropics I can hardly wait for golden leaves, crisp cold days, misty mornings, hearty casseroles, lighting the woodburning stove, roasting chestnuts... and foraging! 

The season of free food is already here and we have a kitchen full of apples, collected from the local hedgerows.  Some, I was surprised to find, are good eaters, but others are more tart and fit only for cooking.  But that's fine by me because cooking was what I had in mind.

This week I will get though several pounds of sugar and the kitchen will be filled with a vinegary fug as I'm cooking up several batches of both chutney and jelly.  I love apple jellies and use them as a condiment for savoury foods, particularly roast meats, or with cheese and biscuits.  First up this week was apple and mint jelly.  As you might expect this is particularly good with lamb although I'm also partial to some alongside roast chicken.  Our mint plants are starting to bolt, getting very tall and straggly, so this was perfect timing to strip off all the leaves prior to cutting them back.

Anything that involves reaching a 'setting point' fills me with a certain amount of trepidation, but I remind myself not to panic, this is not difficult, the pectin in the apples means it sets well.  Nothing about the jelly-making process is difficult actually; it may be a little time-consuming, but I like the fact that you make it over 2 days as it spreads out the work.  To further allay any fears, know that there is no peeling and coring involved here, the apples are simply washed then roughly chopped and thrown into the pan, pips and all.  Wonderfully lazy.

Apple and Mint Jelly

3lb apples - the recipe I use (from the Alphington Church Restoration Fund cookbook, and thanks to Mrs M Bate of Alphington for contributing it) calls for 'green apples' but I use any foraged apples I can get my hands on.
1 1/8 pints water
small bunch fresh mint
1 1/2 pints white vinegar
granulated sugar
3 tbsp chopped fresh mint

Wash and roughly cut the apples into large chunks - quarters, or smaller I'd say, but this is no time to be precise.  Place them in a large pan with the water and the bunch of fresh mint, and simmer until soft and pulpy.

Add the vinegar and boil for 5 minutes.  I'd recommend opening the windows when you do this as the boiling vinegar produces some eye-watering fumes.

Strain the appley mixture through a muslin or jelly-bag overnight.  This might sound tricky, but it's not.  Just place a clean jelly-bag, muslin, or similar piece of fabric into a large bowl, then ladle in the apples.  The photo below is actually my apple-chilli jelly which I have started making today, hence the pieces of red chilli you can see, but all these apple jellies work on the same principle.

Gather up the corners (or the tags on the jelly-bag) and hang it above the bowl to drip.  I have constructed something using a coathanger and a chair!

The next day tip the apple sludge into the bin or onto your compost heap, and measure the juice back into your large pan.  For each pint of juice, add 1 lb of white sugar.

Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Boil rapidly until setting point is reached.  This usually takes about 15 minutes, but can take a lot longer - just keep testing.  I test by dropping a scant teaspoon of the mixture onto a cold plate (keep one in the fridge) and once the mixture has cooled slightly push your finger through it.  If it wrinkles, then you're there, it will set.

Skim off any foam (this last batch had lots, but other batches have very little, not sure why), turn off the heat and stir in the chopped mint.

Ladle into sterilised jars and leave to cool.  I got 5 medium-sized jars from this batch.  The jelly is a beautiful pinkish-red, probably because the apples I used had reddish skins.  I like this effect!

Next blog-post:  Apple Chilli Jelly!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

A Cup of Chai

When we were in India last Summer we drank Chai Masala, or spiced tea, several times a day.  On our return to Brunei I had several attempts at making it and always intended to blog about it.  But it just didn't happen.

Roadside Chai-Wallah in Udaipur.

Fast forward a year, and we find ourselves back in the UK with India a distant memory...  until we visited the Great Dorset Chilli Festival 2 weeks ago.  Feeling in need of refreshment we popped into Mr Tea's tea tent and when I spied Chai on the drinks list I had to try it.

On taking the first sip I was instantly transported back to Rajasthan.  It wasn't quite up to the standards of the Chai-Wallah - for a start it was made with a powdered mix - but the heady scent of cardamom was so evocative I left the festival absolutely determined to make this again at home - and NOT forget about it this time!

So over the last week or so I've been brewing myself a mug of Chai most mornings.  I doubt its authenticity, I feel sure that 'real' chai should have rather more ingredients, more spices, but I find it delicious and comforting.  As I type this I have a vague recollection of adding a piece of fresh ginger to the pan when I made this in Brunei...  I should try that again.  We're currently using some lovely Ceylon tea, in leaf-form, given to me by a Sri Lankan pupil at my Brunei school, but it works equally well with a regular teabag.

Cardamom Chai Masala

In a small pan, put:

1/2 mug of milk
1/2 mug of water
1 teabag, or 1 teaspoon of tea-leaves
4 or 5 cardamom pods, crushed with the back of a spoon
sugar - to taste (I use 1/2 a teaspoon)

Heat gently until boiling, stirring or whisking regularly, then strain into your mug.

And what better accompaniment to this than a square of locally-made  fudge, bought at the Chilli Festival.  Perfect!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Cherry Batter Pudding

Rob went back to work this week for the first time since Ted was born.  It's been fantastic to have him at home for so long, but it's time for me to start functioning again.  At this point 48 hours ago I was beginning to think that I would never ever be able to do things like write for my poor neglected blog, or not until Ted had gone to school at least!  He was feeding furiously and grizzling loudly if I dared to let him out of my arms, and it was as much as I could do to get us both out of bed and dressed.  In fact practically all I could do for most of the day was watch the Olympics on television, babe in my arms.

But today things are calmer.  Ted is sleeping and I am starting to feel like I might actually be able to get things done.  I've started thinking about planning meals and writing shopping lists... but I think it's probably still too soon to think about housework, don't you?!

And so it's back to the blog.  Whilst I haven't managed to cook anything much recently, I have managed to produce the occasional cake and pudding for various visitors, including one pudding that I feel that I need to make again very soon, just for us.  I say 'us', but maybe I really mean ME - I could eat an entire dish of this on my own without a second thought.  For me, it's the perfect pud - comforting, warming, egg-custardy and full of one of my favourite fruits, cherries.  Above all it's incredibly simple, and made even more so when you use a jar of ready pitted cherries.  I found these ones in Lidl, and now always make sure I have a jar in the house in order to make this dish:

Incidentally, for the breastfeeding mother, the juice from the cherries makes for a very convincing-looking red wine substitute if you strain it into a glass!

I think this pud is probably the English version of the French Clafoutis, although this has more of a custard texture than a batter, despite its name.  But whatever you call it, I call it my current favourite pudding - highly recommended!

Cherry Batter Pudding - From the Dairy Book of Family Cookery

3 level tbsp flour
pinch of salt
3 eggs, beaten
5 level tbsp caster sugar
450ml milk
15ml rum (optional - I didn't use this)
50g butter
675g black cherries, stoned and washed (or 1 jar of pitted cherries, strained, from Lidl!)

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl then blend in the eggs.  Add 3 tbsp of the sugar.

Stir the milk into the egg mixture, and the rum if using.  (NB the original recipe says the heat the milk until lukewarm before doing this, but I have never bothered).

Butter a shallow dish, put in the cherries, pour in the batter and dot with the remaining butter.

Bake in the oven at 220C (425F) for 25-30 mins (although I usually find that I have to give it an extra 10 minutes to make sure it's set in the middle), sprinkle with the remaining sugar and serve warm.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Welcome to the World Edward!

...or Ted.

So much for my maternity leave plans...  Ted surprised us, and confounded the 'first babies are always late' theorists, by making an appearance 2 and a half weeks before his due date.  I'm not sure I could say that we were 'ready' for him, but then are you ever?!

Lots of friends have asked me about the birth - so here goes.  Please feel free not to read if this kind of thing doesn't interest you - I'm sure I wouldn't have read about it before I was about 6 months pregnant (I spent that long being completely 'head in the sand' about the whole process!).  In fact, definitely don't read it if you're in any way squeamish or simply don't want to know.  I understand completely!

Last Wednesday, 13th June, we went to bed as usual, but the last thing I remember saying to Rob was 'I have a funny pain at the top of my bump'...  I thought no more of it and went to sleep.  At 12:40 I woke up needing the bathroom, and as I stood up there was literally a gush of liquid as my waters broke.  I remember standing there saying 'BLOODY HELL' to a comatose Rob, and then rushing off to the toilet.  It really was quite dramatic!  Of course, we then couldn't remember what we were meant to do - stay at home and wait?  Call the midwife?  So I rang Salisbury hospital who asked me to come in to be monitored as I was over 2 weeks early.  They put me on a foetal monitor for an hour or so and once they were satisfied that all was OK they sent me home 'to rest', telling me to come in to the day assessment unit the following morning to have a scan (I had one scheduled for the following week to check the position of my placenta and the size of the baby as my bump was so small).

So we came home and tried unsuccessfully to get back to sleep - me because I had begun to have contractions, and Rob because I kept asking him to massage my back!  It was at this point that the NCT massage techniques we had practised were really useful and soothing.  By 7am I started to time the contractions as I knew that once I got to 3 per 10 minutes, for a consistent length of time, labour was really beginning to be established, and by 9am that's exactly what had happened - I was finding it hard to talk through a contraction, and when I called the hospital again they said to come straight in to the labour ward.  Massage now fast became pretty useless!

I think we were the only people on the labour ward at that point so we were taken straight to the biggest delivery room that also had a birthing pool as I had said that I'd like to use water during labour.

The consultant came and told me she wanted to insert a drip into my hand as they were concerned that the baby was small and that the placenta was in the way of the cervix, but at this point I was able to put up a coherent argument for a lack of medical intervention and begged instead for her to find a portable scanner and check on the baby/placenta that way.  She agreed, saw the placenta was well out of the way and that the baby looked fine, and let me off without the drip.

A quick internal exam showed I was only 2cm dilated which made me cry as it really didn't seem much after 7 hours of labour, however 'mild', but the midwife was really encouraging and said it was all going well.  She said she'd examine me again in 4 hours time ('FOUR HOURS?!?' I was thinking... 'surely it'll all be over by then?!')  They said it was too early to run the water in the pool, but before long I decided that I wanted to be in a bath, so they ran one for me in the room's en-suite bathroom.  They also wheeled in the bottle of Entenox (gas and air) so I could carry on using that to help with the pain.  I wasn't really sure if the gas and air was doing much, but I do recall some nice 'trippy' moments in the bath whilst sucking on the Entenox and listening to a Sting CD!  Incidentally, I did find that music helped me get into the zone and focus on working through the contractions.  Nothing can really prepare you for the experience, but for me music helped, as did counting my breaths through each wave of pain.   It was about 10 breaths per contraction and I knew 6 and 7 were the worst, then it would subside.  I also managed to eat some tea and toast, and then later an egg and cress sandwich for lunch, which Rob fed to me as I was sitting in the bath.  Yes, that's right, no matter where I am and what I'm doing, I always have my appetite for food!

I've just re-read that and it does make it all seem rather calm and collected, whereas I was feeling anything but...  The pains just got so intense, I began to make some rather strange involuntary noises (like a cow, apparently!), and then I clearly remember deciding that SHOUTING would help, so I started yelling OWWWW!!!  and quite possibly some other, rather riper, phrases as well!  The labour ward is on the ground floor, and lots of the windows were open, so I dread to think what the people walking past were thinking...

When I was examined 4 hours later I was 5cm dilated, but at this point the 'natural birth-plan' was out of the window and I was asking if we could possibly consider some pain-relief options.  Well, they might not have been my exact words, but that was the gist of it!  They said they'd give me some pethadine which I had hoped to avoid (not wanting it to affect the baby) and they said they'd get me some.  With hindsight this should have been the time to fill the birthing pool but I guess as I'd just got out of the bath they didn't think there was any rush.  They also attached foetal monitors directly to the baby's head as the ones on my bump kept slipping off.

Time, in my memory, is rather distorted at this point, but I do know that they got back with the pethadine, did another internal exam and announced that I was - ta-da! - fully dilated so it was 'too late' to give me the drug.  Did I really finish dilating that quickly, or did they just take hours to get back to me?  No idea!  Whatever, this was a real mix of emotions.  Some real 'I did it!' feelings, that I had got that far on 'only' Entenox, and also the (sadly misguided) idea that I was 'nearly there'.  Surely it would now be only a few pushes and I'd meet my baby?!

Er, no.  That's when it all started to go wrong.  My contractions all but stopped.  In a way this was good as it did give me a chance to rest (and everyone else in the room got a break from my torrent of abuse!).  However, it soon became clear that this baby wasn't going anywhere without some help.  They tried the natural way first - I was offered a choice of essential oils for an aromatherapy massage (clary sage, jasmine and rose all apparently help to speed up contractions) and I chose jasmine.  I remember laughing because they made up some massage oil with it, and put it in a urine-sample pot!  Nice.  I enjoyed some massage with it, and it did help to bring the contractions back, but they weren't strong enough for me to push hard.  After a while (er, about 3 hours...) it was decided that the Doctor really needed to see me to 'make a plan'. He eventually arrived, a rather brusque chap, and had a rummage around (God, it's all so undignified).  He pronounced that the baby was lying back-to-back (as opposed to facing my back) and that I needed to go to theatre for an epidural and forceps, and failing that they would prep me for a C-Section.

From hereon in it became like a scene from ER as I was lifted onto a trolley and literally run through the corridors to the main operating theatre.  Suddenly I was surrounded by people in green scrubs - all of whom were the most wonderful kind, smiling, caring, lovely people who literally held my hand throughout the entire process.  Rob was left outside the theatre to change into scrubs while I was wheeled in, lifted onto another bed, rolled over and given an epidural in between contractions with me shouting 'PLEASE TAKE AWAY THE PAIN!!!'.  And from then on - wow!  I really started to almost enjoy the process!  My legs quickly went numb and the only way I knew I was having contractions was when the midwife told me, and I watched my stomach contort.  I was determined NOT to have a C-Section after a day of labour, so I knew I was going to push this baby out.  The doctor inserted the forceps and turned the baby round - this involved an epesiotomy, but I knew nothing about it by then.  The midwife told me when a contraction was starting and said 'Push like you're having a big poo!'  She said 'Your baby's head has been born!' and I asked 'has it got hair?' (meaning of course 'is it a ginger?!') to which she replied 'yes, a bit'.  Then another contraction apparently came, I was told to PUSH and suddenly there was my baby being held aloft.  They asked Rob to tell me what it was... and I heard him say 'It's a boy!' 

Put me back!

He was briefly taken to the side of the room to be wiped down (he was covered in blood and vernix) and then brought over to me wrapped in a blanket with a little woolly hat on.  In hindsight I wish I'd asked for the immediate skin-to-skin contact, but at the time it didn't matter.  He looked so scrawny and pale - and angry, poor little chap - but it was amazing how quickly he became pink and beautiful.  I think I was being 'sorted out down there' while this was all happening - I do remember seeing a bucket with the placenta in it (ick!) which was apparently huge, meaning I lost a whopping 800ml of blood during the delivery.  I must have been stitched, and I remember one of the staff whispering that they'd put a suppository in (while they were down there I guess...  should have asked for a bikini wax too!) but I was blissfully unaware of it all.

We were soon wheeled down to post-op recovery where we were the only mother and child, so got lots of attention from the cooing nurses.  Later still it was back to the post-natal ward where we finally got that famous post-birth tea and toast.  And yes, it was awesome!

That night is a blur - he was born at 7:30pm, weighing 6lb 8oz - but that's about all I can remember. He was very fractious all night (and who can blame him?!) but I recall just holding him and rocking him and smiling like a lunatic.

The next day I felt like I'd been run over by a truck.  I had to keep a drip in, and a catheter, so I was confined to bed, but Rob was back first thing to deal with the first meconium nappy, and supply me with constant cups of tea (and dried apricots - I was determined to keep things moving 'down there'!).  By the afternoon I was allowed to have the drip and catheter removed so was able to move around gradually, and my recovery in the week since then has been pronounced 'excellent' by the midwives. 

Before I finish, I'd just like to say that the midwifery and medical care I have received in Salisbury has been absolutely superb.  The midwifery team, both in the hospital and the community team, are incredible.  I have never met a more caring and supportive group of professional people.  I have had home-visits every day since I got home from hospital, and numerous offers of help and support from people such as breastfeeding counsellors (we've had a rocky start on that front).  I couldn't have asked for more.

So that's the story of Ted's entry into this world.  He's the most delightful baby, I feel very blessed to have him.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Goodbye Brunei, Hello England!

Well, it's been 6 weeks since my last blog post and - no apologies for not blogging sooner - it's been a somewhat hectic time!

Leaving any posting is hard.  Hard work physically, packing up your life into boxes, but hard work emotionally too, saying goodbye to people who have become fantastic friends often within a relatively short space of time.  It's military life I suppose, but it's not something that ever becomes any easier as time goes on. 

Brunei was the hardest place we've ever had to leave.  Of course there were things about Brunei itself that were hard to say goodbye to - the climate, the travel opportunities, the Yacht Club, etc - but mainly it was the people.  I think it's a function of being abroad and so far from home, but we had found ourselves part of a small and close-knit community amongst which we had made some extraordinarily close friends - lots of colleagues from my school, and also the rest of the British Loan Service community of which we were an active part.  We had also recently joined a choir, the Serunai Singers, and as much of our final fortnight in Brunei was taken up with rehearsals for 2 concerts, this too became a new group of people to whom we had to say a sad farewell.

So here's some photos of our final couple of weeks in Brunei:

Goodbye to the Serunai Singers.  The concerts were fantastic.

A lovely farewell tea at Pantai Jerudong hosted by Rob's OCS colleagues.

Plenty of 'final lunches' at our various favourite local restaurants.

Celebrating Rob's birthday amongst the chaos of our final few days in the country.  Luckily it was also the Loan Service Quiz Night so a very sociable occasion!

Goodbye to Berakas Camp, our home for the past 21 months.

Our final night in Brunei, and a lovely party hosted by our wonderful neighbours.  We stayed until after midnight, despite my pregnancy tiredness - we just didn't want to leave.

And our last day in Brunei spent, of course, at the Yacht Club.  The lovely Reggie gave us our final meal 'on the house' and we spent the day chatting with both ISB and LS friends.  A fitting end to our time there.

But now, 8000 miles and a 17-hour flight later, we're back in the UK.

We landed early in the morning and went straight to spend the day with Rob's nieces and their families.  It was fantastic to see everyone again and we were really touched by the effort they had made to welcome us home.

Banner, bunting and balloons!

Sneaky pre-lunch trip to the pub - ahhh, bliss!

 Gorgeous Sunday lunch.

Four nights in a hotel in Salisbury followed, during which we enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with this beautiful city and its wonderful historic buildings.  Not something we had been used to in Asia.

To give ourselves a break from the unpacking of the boxes that were delivered to our house, we took a few days to visit my parents in South Devon.  The weather was stunning so we were able to enjoy the glorious coast and countryside, as well as having lots of great meals cooked for us of course.

We managed to see pretty much everyone else in Rob's family over the Jubilee weekend when we went to visit them in a holiday cottage in Corfe Castle, Dorset.  All very sociable, and a great place to celebrate.

But now we're at home, waiting for the next excitement to come...  Baby Norm is due in just over 3 weeks and we're slowly getting things organised.  In the meantime I've set myself a little maternity-leave project to fill in some of the gaps in this blog.  Looking back through my photos I realise that there are lots of things I didn't blog about - our trip to Australia for example, and the National Day 2012 parade which was such an impressive Brunei event.  So hopefully several more blog-posts to come over the next few weeks.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Things I've Learned

...about pregnancy.

If you'd like to be pregnant, but aren't, it seems like everyone around you is
Nothing too surprising there I suppose, as if you're at the age where you're considering producing kids, then chances are so are many of your friends.  However...

If you have problems getting pregnant, you are not alone.
We didn't make it public, but we tried for ages - years - to conceive, and when all investigations produced the same frustrating result of 'unexplained infertility' we tried IUI.  This is a small step on the way towards IVF, but not nearly so traumatic or invasive (or expensive!).  We had 2 rounds, and hit the jackpot on round 2.  Whilst I didn't talk about this while we were going through it, I'm more than happy to do so now.  As soon as you mention the words 'fertility treatment' it suddenly seems as though approximately half of the mothers you speak to have been through some kind of medical intervention in order to get pregnant.  I've lost count of the number of people who have said 'oh yes, I had IVF/IUI/ICSI'.  Either that, or had one or more miscarriages before successfully having a baby.  I wouldn't want to start speculating on the reasons for this, but the upshot is...

NEVER ask.
Think about it.  If you ask a married/partnered woman of 'a certain age' if they are going to have children, there are 3 possible answers:
1) "No, we don't want children".  Fair enough, but likely to be a decision that was taken after quite a lot of agonising, and doubtless an incredibly personal one.  I/we toyed with this option, but it's a huge decision to make and for many people may not be something they wish to explain or be questioned about.
2) "Yes, we'd like to one day but not yet".  This is the least painful of all the answers, but believe me, it may not be the truth.  I found it much easier to spout this one rather than the alternative below:
3) "We'd love to but we can't" (usually followed by tears, either in public or once one has reached the safety of one's house/car).
Taking into account what I have noticed about the number of people who go through the agonies of infertility, this question, however kindly or innocently meant, is more than likely to cause some pain.  It's personal, just don't ask.

And continuing the theme...

Jokes about pregnancy when you're not pregnant are simply not funny.
Infertility is rarely amusing (unless you read this blog which always gave me a giggle!).  'Hilarious' quips about the possibility of you being pregnant, or suggestions that you might be (accompanied with a nudge and a wink) simply because you complain that you're tired, or were sick, do nothing to make your non-pregnant situation any more palatable.  I will be forever grateful to certain key people in my life who never EVER mentioned, suggested, asked or joked about my childless state.  Some did, and it hurt.

But on a more cheerful note...

Once you get pregnant everyone wants to share their pregnancy experiences.
This is either endlessly fascinating, wonderfully reassuring or hideously offputting; it depends on one's mood and who is talking to you.  Take your cues from the pregnant woman concerned and if she looks like she's about to faint or vomit, then please, stop telling the gory birth-story and move onto something more cheerful!  And remember, please don't express horror or surprise about people's pregnancy symptoms (or lack of them) because...

There is no 'normal' when it comes to pregnancy.
Just as every child is different, so is every pregnancy and birth.  It took me months to realise this.  I was in bits during my first trimester, worrying that I didn't have morning sickness - surely something must be wrong with me/the baby?!  The worrying didn't stop once I entered my second trimester - now it was 'why isn't my bump bigger?!'.  Now I've reached the final third I'm finally accepting that we're all different, and that's OK.  I now appreciate my 'neat' bump and am naively telling myself that it means I'll have no trouble slipping back into my pre-pregnancy clothes, and will have no sign of stretchmarks (yeah, please don't disillusion me).

Pregnancy is scary.
No matter how much you want it, some pretty freaky crap happens to your body after you conceive.  I know some people adore it, and the general consensus is that you must be in a permanent state of bliss about the burgeoning life inside you, but I've been pretty weirded out by it at times.  Like when you feel the baby start to move...  yes, it's lovely in some ways, but downright alien in others, and sometimes deeply uncomfortable (leave my bladder alone please child...).  Earlier this week my belly-button started to pop out - ick!  The expectation is that it's all 'lovely' but I have had conversations with several friends that reassure me I'm not alone in finding it all rather bizarre.  Amazing, miraculous and incredible of course, but freaky and weird nonetheless.  I don't think it'll make me a bad mother that I feel a bit like this.

Your bump - once it begins to show - becomes a hand-magnet.
This was strange at first, but I just find it quite amusing now.  I would never consider touching anyone's stomach in normal circumstances, but somehow pregnancy breaks down those social barriers for many people and you suddenly find your belly being stroked by people who are not your beloved partner.  It just makes me laugh when people I know do it, but it would be very odd if a stranger tried...  I have one friend who was moving house in late pregnancy and one of the removal men lunged in for a belly-rub - eek!

Sometimes you can feel that there is waaaaay too much advice out there.
So grit your teeth, read what you think is useful and make your own decisions.  Many people are very cautious in pregnancy, but many others blithely disregard all advice claiming that drinking wine/eating rare meat/smoked salmon/blue cheese never hurt anyone.  You just have to choose your own path and do what's comfortable for you.  I err on the side of cautiousness regarding food after a particularly unpleasant bout of gastro-nastiness had me hooked up to a drip in hospital for a day when I was 9 weeks pregnant.  I was convinced I'd given myself listeriosis and would lose the baby, because I had accidentally eaten some out-of-date yoghurt.  All turned out to be fine, but it's left mental scars and has affected what I eat now.  But conversely I'm quite happy to have a slurp or 3 of wine every now and again.  My basic rule is that if you're thinking about eating something that will make you worry for the next 24 hours, then it's just not worth it, whatever anyone else may say.  It's only 9 months of your life - and just think of all those rare steaks and blue cheese you can enjoy once the baby's born.

Whilst your pregnancy is fascinating to you, it may not be to everyone else.
Actually I knew this before I got pregnant, and let's be honest, don't we all find it difficult to get enthusiastic about grainy scan-pictures that quite frankly all look the same?  (Er, or it might be just me...).  I show people my scan pics if they ask (I have them on my phone as the hospital here has always 'run out of paper' in the ultrasound room here), and e.mail them to my best mate and a few family members, but don't really feel the need to publish them on Facebook.  I don't really mind if other people do, but they don't particularly excite me.  And what's with the 3D scans?  They did one on me a few weeks ago and I nearly shrieked in horror - I appear to have an alien inside me!  I do worry that I'll become a baby-bore, especially as I won't be returning to work for a while... but I am vowing here publicly that I will restrict myself to a limited number of baby/child-related Facebook status-update per week so I don't find myself being defriended or hidden by all my friends!

It's more or less expected that you will find out the sex of your unborn child and publicise its name long before you give birth.
We have chosen not to find out - despite asking the sonographer to write it on a piece of paper for us 'just in case' we wanted to know! - and it appears that we are pretty unusual nowadays.  It doesn't bother me, it's just an interesting phenomonen.  We have some names chosen, but I don't know whether we will change our minds about them, so for now they're under wraps.

So Baby Norm should be making his or her appearance at the end of June/beginning of July.  And despite what I said in my final point, I can promise that it won't really be called Norm! 

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Flat Stanley visits Australia

So Stanley and I have just returned from our holiday (Rob came too!).  We spent nearly 2 weeks touring round south-eastern Australia in a little camper-van, and had a fantastic time.

Here's some snaps of Stanley on the trip...

We spent the first day in Melbourne with the lovely Sarah who showed us around.  Here's Stanley and me on the beach at St Kilda.

I'm sure Stanley would have loved the rollercoasters at Luna Park in St Kilda, but I'm far too much of a wuss for that!

We got a great view of Melbourne from atop the Shrine of Remembrance.

Leaving Melbourne, we drove West along the Great Ocean Road.  Here's Stanley posing in front of the Twelve Apostles.  What you can't see is the 300 baffled Japanese tourists standing behind me wondering what on earth I'm doing...!

The furthest point of our drive was Sydney, and Stanley certainly enjoyed seeing the sights here!

He narrowly missed a dip in the harbour itself actually, as it was pretty breezy on the ferry to Manly.  Sorry Stanley, I wouldn't have been diving in to save you!

A final farewell to our trusty van at the end of the trip.  Stanley had a great time, and was very relieved that despite the excess of exciting wildlife in Australia (we saw koalas, kangaroos and emus, to name but 3), there were no hungry monkeys around to torment him!

I can't wait to see where my class's Stanleys have headed off to this holiday...