Pre-Birthday Victoria Sponge (gluten free)

  

Friday 5th June

While I race around trying to pack three rucksacks for a weekend away in Holt, I ask Ollie repeatedly to PUT. HIS. SHOES. ON. On the tenth time of asking I think we’re getting somewhere (I’ve managed to prise him away from his Lego), but I am mistaken. 

Instead, Elkie Brookes’ voice fills the air at top volume with Pearl’s A Singer (Tom’s karaoke song of choice). I race into the lounge to find that he’s ‘just popped on a record’ as you do at a massively stressful time. It angers him that I won’t let him listen to the end of the track. A fight ensues over who is going to take the needle off the record. All I can think of is that Tom would die if he could see this: both of us with our hands grasping the arm of the record player. I am reminded, not for the first time, of Michael McIntyre’s sketch about attempting to leave the house when you have children: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=uFQfylQ2Jgg

It is the hottest day of the year so far but I don’t have time to change and so set off in jeans. I jog to school, Ollie on scooter, whilst telling him a made up story. He demands one on every journey now. Ollie’s prescriptiveness about the plot-line makes story-telling very taxing on the brain. It can’t just be any old tale. Today he wants one about a hedgehog called Jayden, with a mother called Ruby, who falls down a hole. 

I greet Daisy at the gates with a scooter and a rucksack for the weekend. Her school bag and coat have been abandoned, as instructed, in the cloakroom. 

“Right children! We have a bus to catch and fifteen minutes to get there!” I order. 

The kids do an about-turn and head towards the park. Getting this bus has caused great travel anxiety because: 1) I don’t know if I’ve read the timetable properly and (2) we’re going to be waiting at an unofficial bus stop so it’s in the hands of the driver as to whether s/he feels like stopping or not. 

We power through the park; Daisy and Ollie chatting and scooting in perfect time with each other. The dappled sunlight comes through the trees on either side of them.

“Right! Right! Right!” I call when they reach the exit at the far end of the park. I sound like a police officer on some high speed pursuit.

“I love this!” calls Daisy over her shoulder. “It’s like we’ve run away together and you’re guiding us to safety!” 

I’m touched that Daisy would want to run away with her old ma. We’re now in the housing estate behind the park and I realise I’m just directing us to my friend’s house; I’ve no idea which way Aylsham Rd and the bus stop are from here. 

I startle a young boy in a blazer and ask him the way. As suspected we are heading in the wrong direction. It’s an uphill slog in the heat to the bus stop but we make it with enough time for the children to recoup. 

  

The bus driver is obviously in a good mood because he stops to pick us up, although my anxious flagging down/ lying in the road would’ve made it difficult for him not to. 

It is hot on the bus and the children choose to sit on the back seat of the top deck with a teenager who looks delighted. The driver appears to have a death wish or is eager for the weekend to start because we hurtle along the A140 at top speed and I have to use my arm to brace Ollie and stop him being thrown all over the place. 

  
 It is with much relief that two hours later I find myself basking in the last of the evening sun down by a ford. We are house and dog sitting for the weekend in a beautiful North Norfolk location. On arrival at the house, we collect Poppy the dog and head down the lane. 

  

The children strip off and play in the water. Poppy watches them anxiously and then wades in, collecting rocks from the bottom of the ford in her mouth. 

  

Tom and I sit on the bench. It is idyllic. The sun must be going to my head because I find myself agreeing that we should get a dog like Poppy and move to the country. 

The next day friends come for an early birthday lunch. Helen, of Ferrero Rocher cake fame, makes a wonderful gluten-free Victoria sponge with dairy-free butter cream. It’s the first such butter cream I’ve had and the cake, with raspberries on top, is delicious. http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/fruit-recipes/vegan-victoria-sponge/#mdVr3tSB6tlzysvg.97

The next day I finish it off on Blakeney quayside; cup of tea in one hand, crabbing line in the other. We have a ritual whenever we come here: I go to the mobile van in the car park and get tea for me and cockles for Tom, while he finds a good crabbing spot. By the time I join them someone will have either thrown the crabbing line, the bucket or themselves into the water. This time it’s the brand-new bucket we bought ten minutes earlier.  

   
 

After an hour of managing vicious crabs (I still bare the scars), and Ollie’s acrophobia (he has to sit two metres away from the edge); I give the kids a challenge: a pound each if they can make it over to the bank on the other side. We wander over to the jetty which slopes into the water; Tom stays behind, too engrossed in crabbing to join us. 

   
 

It is muddy and I have come poorly equipped (no towels or swimming stuff), but money is a great motivator and they overcome their fear of crabs in the water to make it across to the other side.  We climb to the top of a hill and celebrate their success with ice creams over-looking Blakeney. The perfect end to a pre-birthday weekend. 

 

  

   

Asparagus, Spinach and Potato Soup

  

Monday 25th May

I drive away from the north Cambridge services with a tight feeling in my chest. It comes from being separated from my sidekicks after four intense days together. A break is much-needed, (they have been picked up by Pops), but it’s strange not to have Ollie sitting next to me balancing his Martin bear and Squirrel on the hand-brake; or not to hear Daisy’s squeals from the back about being squashed between a laundry basket and a Fortnum & Mason hamper. 

A phone call from Tom comes through on the hands-free. It’s bank holiday Monday but he’s slaving away at the office. 

“Hi! What time are you going to be home? I’ll make sure I’m back for when you get home.”

This throws me into a panic. I have a car-load of what, to the untrained eye, could be construed as junk and I need to ‘lose’ it in the house and garage before Tom gets home. 

“Ummm,” I try to do some wild calculations…ETA + half an hour for bad traffic + half hour to unload the car. “Five o’clock,” I say decisively after a long pause.

“Five o’clock! It’s not going to take you two and a half hours to get from Cambridge.”

I persuade him this ETA is correct with talk of Bank Holiday traffic, and then swiftly change the subject on to dinner: What about steak and chips (his favourite)? Maybe he could pick it up on the way home?

I put my foot down and get back to Norwich in record time. I’d like to lie in a darkened room or a hot bath after a day of high emotion, long driving, and furniture removal, but there’s no time for that. 

Like a mad woman I leap out of the car and tackle the garage, attempting to pull out nine tangled-together bikes to make room for a fold-down table and three boxes full of I can’t remember what. Why does a family of four need nine bikes? I think as I huff and puff, pulling and pushing my way into the garage. 

I get back to the car and am amazed at how much it is possible to cram into one vehicle. The last item out is a wicker chair that someone (my mother?) has painted turquoise. I have no use for this chair but it comes with a fitted cushion in rose-print material made by my grandmother. I am a sucker for any of her handiwork hence its final reprieve from the charity shop. 

I’ve run out of places to hide stuff so I put it in the dining room with a sheet over it. The one thing I have in my favour is that for a very intelligent man, Tom has extremely poor observational skills. Sometimes it’s as if he’s blindfolded himself and wandered into a room.

“Do you know where my coffee grinder is?”

“By the fruit bowl.”

“I can’t see it.”

Then I have to go through and point it out. 

Later that evening we sit at the dining room table eating our steak and chips and enjoying the quiet. I feel uncomfortable about the large sheet-covered mound directly in his eye line, but Tom seems oblivious and chats away instead about what I’m going to do tomorrow with a whole day to myself. 

“Sort out the garage!” I say “I’m going to take everything out and start again. Get rid of a load of stuff.”

He looks at me like I’m mad.

“Don’t you think you should just relax?”

I’m on the verge of admitting that I have a removals van arriving from York with a part-load of furniture and no where to put it, but why ruin a nice evening? 

The next day I wish I had taken Tom’s suggestion of relaxation, but Ish and his van could be here any minute now and I need a space for a cupboard, a chest of drawers and two wooden chairs. 

I spend all afternoon dragging everything out onto the drive. I shut the garden gates but that doesn’t stop every Tom, Dick and Harry passing by from asking me if I’m having a sale.

“No! They’re my possessions!” I feel like shouting, although in hindsight it would’ve saved a few trips to the tip if some things had been taken off my hands.

By 2pm I’m starving but I can’t leave the house because my life is spread out for everyone to see on the drive. The only thing I have is a surplus of asparagus growing in our adopted asparagus bed in the back garden. 

  
I take up the veg box man’s idea of an asparagus, spinach and potato soup. I chop the veg, add some stock and then leave it simmering, nervous that someone might be outside nicking my stuff. 

Ish arrives at 4pm (by which point I’ve had three bowls of soup) and laughs as I appear from the back of the garage.

“Having a sale?” he asks in his broad Leeds accent. I commandeer him into helping me lift the old IKEA drawers x 2 out of the way. 

“I hope I’m not going to get a call from your husband wanting all this furniture returning to York once it’s discovered,” he says with a twinkle in his eye as we lift grandma’s cupboard off the van. He seems to find my predicament most amusing. 

Seven hours after starting, Operation Garage is complete. Everything is tidy and you can get in without becoming entangled in bikes and scooters. 

Twi nights later Tom has to go into the garage to get something out. I hang around nervously waiting for the loud exclamation when he sees that half our garage has been turned into a furniture warehouse. 

He notices nothing. I’m almost annoyed. 

“Err. Hello. Haven’t you noticed anything?”

“Oh it looks really tidy! Well done,” he says as he turns to pull down the door and lock up.

“But what about the furniture?” I say, incredulous. 

He steps back in and peers at the wooden cupboard and the drawers. 

“They’re really nice. What are they doing in the garage? We should have them in the house,” he replies. 

Ingredients

  • onion, 1
  • garlic cloves, 2
  • fresh ginger, 1cm chunk
  • olive oil, 1tbsp
  • asparagus, 120g
  • spinach, 200g
  • medium potatoes, 2
  • vegetable stock

Finely chop the onion, garlic and ginger or use a food processor. Fry them in the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat for five minutes.

Peel and finely chop (or food processor) the potatoes. Add them to the pan with the asparagus which should be cut into 1cm chunks. 

Add the vegetable stock (I’m sorry – I forgot to measure how much I used).

Simmer gently for ten minutes.

Add the spinach. Simmer for another five minutes.

Blend with a hand blender and season. 

Serve up. 

York: The Big Goodbye

  

Friday 22nd May

Over Morrisons’ tea the night before, I break the news to Ollie about our real reason for going to York. 

“So you know grandma has been living in Spain this year? Well the thing is…..” 

I’m interrupted by crying from across the table. Ollie looks up sharply from his sausages and Yorkshire pudding. Now we’ve got his attention.

“Why is Daisy crying?” he asks nervously. Even I’m surprised by the loud sobbing. Daisy is as tough as old boots, where’s this come from?

“The thing is,” interjects Daisy, “we’ve got to say goodbye. She’s leaving that house and we’ll never see it again.” 

The sobbing turns to wailing. Daisy shuffles around to our side of the table. She wants to deliver the rest of her speech from the comfort of my lap, but the fixed table and chairs makes it difficult for her to squeeze on to my knee, plus, selfishly, I’d like to be able to finish my salmon and chips.

“We’re going up this weekend so we can have our last fish and chips on Bishy Rd; our last sausage sandwich at the car boot sale; our last hot chocolate at The Pig and Pastry, ” she continues. 

It is not lost on me that all of these events are food-related. 

The next day the three of us travel up the A1 on a journey we know only too well.  The five hour drive (bank holiday traffic) is only made bareable by blasting out the entire Shed Seven back catalogue. The children are very accommodating; Ollie nods his head in time to the music.

We drive straight to The Fisherman’s Wife and meet grandma there at 7pm for our usual order of fish, chips, mushy peas and a pot of tea. As soon as we arrive, the waitress tells me I left my almond milk behind last time; I may as well live here. 

  
Back at grandma’s (the family home for the past thirty-one years) the two of us stay up until the early hours. It’s bad enough on a standard visit (a combination of both being Geminis AND having a lot to catch up), but add to it sorting through thirty years of family stuff, and I feel wired enough to stay up all night. 

In the morning I bound out of bed and startle grandma who’s trying to have a quiet cup of tea in the kitchen. The kids are watching something in the other room.

“Right! Let’s start on the kitchen cupboards! I’ll pull things out, you tell me what you want to keep!”

Grandma looks horrified. “I just want a cup of tea!” she begs. 

“Okay. Well, moving onto something else, I’m going to hire a van next weekend and come back again. I can’t let all this furniture go to the charity shop,” I say manically. I’m slightly concerned about what Tom will have to say when I arrive home with a consignment of old furniture, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it; hide it in the garage if needs be.

We spend the next two days sorting and clearing. I discover that I get my highlighter addiction (nothing better than highlighting something off a to-do list) from my mother: she has a highlighter for every week of the year; I also seem to have got my wide-ranging interests from her. Her bookshelves range from poetry to psychology to The Royal Family (her guilty pleasure). 

Trips to the charity shop and tip are interspersed with last lunches and coffees at our favourite establishments. Cooking goes out the window this weekend. 

   
 I have avocado on gluten-free toast at The Pig and Pastry (a better cafe, you will struggle to find); while in Rowntree Park, Polly and I share tea and plum cake in The Library Cafe and try to pretend that we are on our own and not in charge of the four kids who are slurping smoothies and rolling on the floor (okay, that was just Ollie).

   
 
Monday morning comes around too quickly. Sun streams through the attic window on what is to be our last morning in this home. I lie in bed and try to work out how many nights I have slept up here in the eaves of the house. By my reckoning, nearly five thousand. 

  
I remember back to my history A’level. Revising up here in the stifling heat, until I couldn’t cram another date in, and grandma had to march me around Rowntree Park pond until I’d calmed down and stopped crying.

And how on summer evenings, after we’d been called inside, I’d talk to the boys in the house opposite; shouting across the street from one attic window to another.

Daisy takes our departure badly. While grandma and I lug furniture from the top of the house down to the front garden (grandma’s idea to get a part-load sent down from York to Norwich); Daisy wonders around sobbing and stroking the walls:

“I’m going to miss you walls, and I’m going to miss you carpet!” 

  
This goes on in every room. The night before she’d only calmed down after writing a list of everything she would miss. It included the cobwebs and the skirting boards. I feel like she is carrying the grief of the whole family. 

The tears only stop when I mention to her that it might be best not to tell daddy that a furniture removal van will shortly be winging its way to our house in Norwich. 

Seconds later, I find her outside confiding in Ish, the driver, that her mother will be hiding the furniture in the garage when it gets to Norwich and that her father might be cross when he finds out. Ish laughs cheerfully in a I’ve-seen-it-all-before kind of way. 

  
I cram the kids into the car along with the adopted pot plants, the many books and my grandmother’s fold down table. It’s a slow, somber drive out of St. Clements Grove, along Bishopthorpe Rd and onto the A64. Then grandma phones and says she’s found a sandal. I look down. Ollie is only wearing one shoe. So we turn around and do it all again. 

  
I have to restrain Daisy from getting out of the car and doing another round of goodbyes. For a child who is so stubbornly Southern (she even says pasta with a long ‘a’: ‘p-aaah-sta’ ); she’s definitely been bitten by the Yorkshire bug. 

As we hit the A64 for a second time, I put Going for Gold on the stereo and salute goodbye to my beloved York. Thankfully, Polly’s last words to me are ringing in my ears:

“Don’t worry. You can take the girl out of Yorkshire, but you’ll never take Yorkshire out of the girl”. 

Butternut Squash, Asparagus and Feta

 

Wednesday 20th May

My mother-in-law: gardener, counsellor, motivational speaker, cleaner, disciplinarian, theatre-goer, first aider, Excalibur designer…..These are just some of the roles she covered in her three-night stay with us. 

She thought she was just coming to tackle the garden, but that was the tip of the iceberg. 

“Could you pop down to Daisy’s school activity-cafe and design an Arthurian sword with her?”

Even though she claims not to have a creative bone in her body, she tackled this task, and every other, with true Collier (Senior) gusto; and moved seamlessly from one role to the next. 

Even the neighbour’s daughter was confused as to who or what she was: one minute she is gardener, donning Tom’s full waterproofs, hands caked in damp soil as she plants out a row of lupins; five minutes later (literally five minutes) she comes downstairs as theatre-goer ( Daisy’s debut performance in King Arthur) dressed in white cotton trousers, blue boat-neck top and beautiful silk scarf. 

I let out a loud “Wow!” as she enters the kitchen which startles Ellie, the neighbour’s daughter who’s hanging around. Her entrance coincides with a fight upstairs over which child is washing their hands first. The bathroom is the scene of 90% of their fights. If the original 1930s door we had put in, makes it until they’re teenagers, I’ll be amazed. The loud noise of foot against wood, combined with trying to serve dinner AND be out of the door to get actor to stage in fifteen minutes, nearly sends me over the edge.

“Nanna, sorry, could you deal with that commotion?”

Since having children I seem unable to call her by her actual name, Helen. In the first few years she protested loudly about this, but now she’s become resigned to it. It’s better than what my mum’s called though: normal grandma as named by Daisy from the age of two. It’s possible the normal bit could’ve been meant ironically? (Only joking, mum). 

I can hear nanna at the top of the stairs giving Ollie, in Daisy’s Blyton-esque vocabulary, a right ticking off.  There’s stern words and defiant shouts. Ellie raises her eyebrows at me, 

“Who is THAT woman?” she asks. 

I can see her mind whirring: Is she gardener? Or smartly dressed guest? And how come to gets to do the telling off round here? 

I usher Ellie out of the back door and down to the bottom of the garden where the kids use a gap in the fence to access each other’s houses. 

Nanna appears in the kitchen carrying Ollie. A sibling truce has been agreed. I could do with nanna here full-time. 

The next day, after she’s got her coach back to London, I return to an empty house and a pristine garden. The woman has worked solidly for two days in the rain. I rummage through the fridge and find some leftovers for lunch: some butternut squash and onions that were roasted in Harrisa pasta and red wine vinegar.

 I heat them up in a pan with some leftover asparagus. It doesn’t look like much, but adding some feta, olives, coriander and sweet chilli sauce when it’s on the plate creates a delicious dish. 

As it heats in the pan, I look out at the rows of lupins and lavender plants; the new pots filled with trailing geranium and beautiful little yellow flowers. At the front, the drive is lined with pansies and there is a pink hydrangea in a blue pot which reminds me of my grandma everytime I come home. 

I have enjoyed nanna’s visit: our rain-soaked trips to the garden centre where we try to fill a small VW boot with too many plants; her huge appreciation at every meal cooked and her speeches (largely aimed at Ollie) about gratefulness and finishing what’s on your plate; and I have appreciated the back-up she has provided in all its many roles and guises. Roll on the next visit, nanna! 

  

  

 

Speedy Suppers #2: Creamy Bacon Pasta

  

Friday 15th May

We swap the Friday afternoon scrum at the sweet shop for the after school Nepalese-fundraising bake sale. Daisy joins the throngs to buy back one of the cakes she made last night. Ollie worms his way to the front and is served immediately thanks to one of his Year 6 contacts, Beth. He emerges triumphant with a huge chocolate muffin. 

Sometimes doing the school run with Ollie is like being in the presence of a local celebrity; he seems to know everyone. 

“Hi Vanessa!” he shouts to the school cleaner before stopping to chat about the weather. 

“Hello Marcus!” he calls to one of my Year 4 drama crew, before high-fiving him. 

In the playground, Annabelle from Daisy’s year comes along to pick Ollie up (a daily ritual), and Ollie squeals with delight. 

Who Ollie doesn’t know, isn’t worth knowing. I have no worries about him starting school in September. He has contacts in all sectors of school-life, from the girls in Year 2 who will look out for him at break-time, to Daisy’s old Reception-Year teaching assistant who’s always had a soft spot for him. 

We amble along to the park. There’s been a cold wind today, but in the sun it is warm enough to peel off some of the layers. 

Daisy has a friend to play with, but she would prefer to plonk herself down on my lap and ear-wig on the adult conversation. The information she gleans makes great writing material (for her), no matter how careful I am about what I say. 

Sometimes I find with horror discarded notes around the house containing fragments of conversations overheard from the top of the stairs and then quickly jotted down. 

At the park, Ollie has latched on to a Year 3 boy and they are cavorting around as pirates having sword-fights with big sticks. 

On the way home I remember it’s Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day: his campaign to create a movement to get all children educated about food, and to inspire families to cook again. http://www.foodrevolutionday.com/#urIKDupJC5CR95Wd.97

I read through the whole website last night and felt so passionate about what he is trying to do, that I found my finger hovering over the Be A Food Ambassador button. 

Fortunately I pulled myself back from the brink, but I decide the kids can cook tea for us tonight. As the weather is good, we christen a little kettle barbecue that’s been kicking around in the shed. 

This is Daisy’s favourite dinner and it’s very easy to make. I allow her to light the barbecue (under my watchful eye), then I look back at the photo with horror. It’s like one of those pictures you get at school: Spot All The Fire Hazards……The little brother standing too close; the long hair not tied back…… These things are hurriedly rectified.

For dinner, the children start by shelling the broad beans:

 

They add these plus the peas to the pasta pan (being held by me):

   
 

Ollie grates the cheese:

  
And Daisy adds the cream once the pasta has been drained:

  

Then Ollie pats the cheese into the pan (not strictly the method, but we all have our own cooking styles):

  
A stir and a quick heat through and dinner is ready:

   
 

This is a very adaptable, delicious dinner which is ready in under twenty minutes. 

ingredients (serves two)

  • pasta, 120g (penne, fusilli etc)
  • bacon lardons/ham, 100g
  • olive oil, 1tbsp
  • frozen peas and/or broad beans, 60g
  • double cream, 75ml
  • grated Cheddar cheese, 20g

Method

Place the pasta in a large pan of boiling water. Cover and reduce the heat leaving it to simmer. Cook as per the packet instructions – usually 12-15 minutes. Add the frozen peas/broad beans approximately five minutes before the pasta is cooked. 

Meanwhile, if using lardons heat a frying pan with a tbsp of olive/vegetable oil and fry the bacon pieces over a medium heat until cooked. 

Once the pasta and peas have cooked, drain them then return them to the pan. Add the bacon, using a slotted spoon to remove from the frying pan, or ham if using that instead. 

Stir the cream, then the grated cheese, into the pasta over a low heat. Serve when it’s heated through. 


Cha gio in Smithfields

  

Tuesday 12th May

So the boy is starting school in a few short months and I shall miss him greatly.  Who will I share that post school drop-off pot of tea with? Who will operate the food processor when I’m making soup? And who will give me a big thumbs up when I create another winning smoothie?

To make the most of these last few months, I decide we should do one special thing a week, starting with a day trip to London. Ok, so this benefits me more than Ollie because I get to see two old friends, but I’m sure he’ll enjoy the train ride. 

  
Thanks to my travel anxiety we actually arrive at the station twenty minutes early. Maybe anxiety in other areas of life would benefit me on the punctuality front?  I have packed Ollie an activity rucksack. By the time we pull out of Norwich station at eight thirty we have already played Snap, Bear Hunt memory game and he’s eaten the entire contents of his snack box. 

He finds a pair of headphones in his bag. They are for the emergency iPad – just in case I need a break….

“I want to play something now!” he demands. We’re not even at Diss yet. This wasn’t the plan, but then again I haven’t drawn breath since I got up, let alone had a sip of tea. 

I shut my eyes for a few short minutes before the shouting starts. Ollie can’t hear himself speak due to the headphones, so he bellows out enabling the whole carriage to hear his every word. He can’t get onto level four of his game and needs my help. It still hasn’t sunk in with him that his mother is not only rubbish at computer games, but fundamentally opposed to them. 

I try, unsuccessfully, to help him gain level four entry (just to get some peace), but it’s impossible. The little man in green has to jump from one moving platform to another. 

“Oh you’ve killed me, mum! You’ve really killed me!” wails Ollie at the top of his voice, as the little man falls to his death thanks to my incompetency. 

People in suits look up sharply from their devices. I’m just hoping this isn’t the quiet carriage we’re in. Out of desperation I ask the Sun reader sitting next to Ol if he can help.

“Excuse me, are you any good at computer games? My son is stuck on level three of Lep’s World.

The man gives me a strange look over the top of his newspaper. I realise that without explanation, Lep’s World, could be mistaken for having something to do with leprosy, rather than a game involving Irish leprechauns which this is. 

In London we rendezvous in the cafe at The Barbican. Babies Sonny and Frank sit in their pushchairs, while Ollie picks raisins out of his scone. We adults catch up on the last few months, starting with the election. I could sit here and talk all day but Ollie needs the toilet, so I’m pulled away from a very interesting discussion to stand in a disabled toilet.

Ollie has grown wise to what the signs mean: he refuses to go in the Ladies, and I refuse to go in the Gents, so we compromise and use the disabled loo. Much to Ollie’s delight, it contains a full-length mirror so that he can stare at himself admiringly whilst sitting on the loo. I, on the otherhand, am consigned to staring at the wall six inches from my face. Every attempt to turn around is met with cries of:

“Don’t look at me, mum! Turn away!”

Have I really come all the way to London to stare at a toilet wall, I wonder after ten minutes have gone by? I know you can’t rush these things but I’m panicking about all the chat that I’m missing out on.

To keep Ollie entertained, we walk to the nearby Museum of London. A new one on me. I’m impressed that Ollie is so fascinated by all the displays of bones and pieces of flint found under the streets of London, but after two rooms of this, I’m hankering after the gift shop. 

  

I virtually have to drag him there with promises of a souvenir or two. I go mad and end up carrying a basket around because there’s so much I want to buy. There’s a Sherlock Holmes display and a suffragettes one. I buy my dad, fellow Conan Doyle aficionado, a whole Holmes gift set which will be sent out to Madrid (dad -pretend you haven’t just read that…). Then I start on the suffragette merchandise. 

Meanwhile, Ollie has done the whole store and has chosen his heart’s desire. It’s not the replica gold coins, which I would’ve put money on, nor the Paddington bear keyring. What he really wants (and ends up getting because he’s wedged it onto his chubby little finger) is an obscenely large heart -shaped diamond ring for £2.00. He purchases this alongside a sour cherry candycane, and wears it with pride for the rest of the day. It makes going to the toilet, washing his hands and operating the iPad, very difficult, but he will not be parted from it. Next time he comes, he tells me on the train home, he’d like a sapphire one. 

For lunch we go to Smithfields and pick at random a Vietnamese restaurant. They look delighted to see us coming with our two pushchairs and three children under the age of four; Ollie leads the procession with his huge diamond ring. 

As soon as we order, baby Frank springs into action and does endless crawling circuits of the restaurant. At one point I wonder if Rachel (his mum) has left for good, but she returns sporadically to shovel another mouthful in before having to race off again. 

  
I’m delighted to see that much of the menu is dairy and gluten-free. I nervously order the Cha gio (a lot of accents missing there), which are crispy pork spring rolls. I haven’t had spring rolls for years because of the gluten factor. These ones taste so crispy and delicious and downright amazing dipped in peanut sauce that I have to call over the waitress AGAIN to check that they definitely don’t contain gluten. Apparently they are wrapped in rice paper which is something I need to get hold of as soon as possible so I can recreate them. 

  
Ollie and I also ordered a fresh apple, mint and lime juice each which re-ignites my determination to find our juicer (not used in ten years) which was last seen in the garage.

We get the 1600 train home. It’s packed but we’re happy and full. Ollie wants to know where we’re going tomorrow. He is under the misapprehension that we will be having a ‘special day’ together every day from now till September…….

  

Rhubarb Streusel Crumble

  

Saturday 9th May

We have a new reward system involving marbles. Like all good  reward systems it is made up on the spur of the moment. My parenting has been going down the swanny recently. Nobody actually listens to me anymore and I find myself resorting to empty threats or downright lies to get the children to behave, or just not to kill each other.

I have become the wait-till-your-father-gets-home person that I swore I’d never be. On bad days I make pretend phone calls to Tom at work:

“Hello! I’m just phoning to tell you that no one is behaving! No pocket money unless they put their shoes on in the next ten seconds? Yes, I’ll let them know!” 

Or I threaten to turn the car around and take Ollie back to pre-school so that we can discuss his behave with Gemma, his key-worker. A suggestion which is always met with screams from the backseat. 

I know these are big no-nos in the world of parenting but sometimes you’re just pushed to it. Hence the marbles. They were either going to the charity shop (no one plays with them) or being put to some use.  

“Right that’s it!” I bellow, interrupting another dinner-time bickering session, “New system! Here, have a wooden egg each!” I say as I grab two hollow eggs from our Easter display which is still hanging around. “Everytime I CATCH you being nice to the other one, you win a marble. When you get to ten marbles, you can choose a reward!”

There’s silence for a second while they process this, then Daisy throws her arms around Ollie, nearly suffocating him, and shouts,

“I love you so much, Ollie! Now can I have a marble?” 

I clarify the rules (made up on the spot): 1) just being kind to get a marble will not win you a marble, you have to mean it 2) begging for a marble will not win you one either. 

All of this falls on deaf ears. The kids, in particular Daisy, are frenzified at the prospect of winning a prize. They don’t see this as a long term goal – their aim is to get to ten before the night is out. 

They eat their dinner exclaiming how much they love each other, then race upstairs for the usual post-dinner bathroom fight about who’s going to use the toilet first. Except this time Ollie gets on to the bathroom first and Daisy shouts out (for my benefit),

“That’s ok, Ollie! I’m about to pee my pants but of course you can use the toilet first, because I love you so much!” 

This being-kind-to-each-other farce continues into bed-time where they beg to sleep in the same bed so that they can ‘hold hands all night’ because they love each other so much. I’m not sure which is worse, this or the fighting.

Within 48 hours the wooden eggs are full of marbles; much quicker than I anticipated. The children come down to breakfast to find eight envelopes with a reward inside each one. They are allowed to choose one each.

Ollie tears open the envelopes and Daisy reads them out. They can do team work when they need to. 

“What does this say, Dais?”

Daisy peers over, “Go on a bike ride with daddy.”

“Nah,” says Ollie and chucks the card over his shoulder. “Next one”.

“Go for a hot chocolate with mummy,” reads Daisy. 

“Nah,” says Ollie, and over the shoulder it goes. All the rewards which involve time with the parents receives the same response. They get to the penultimate card:

“Get an extra chocolate bar on Treats’ Day.”

“Yessss!” They shout in unison and high-five. 

“Can you imagine?” says Daisy, “two chocolate bars on Friday instead of one!”

“Now we’re talking!” says Ollie. 

The next card pleases them even more: 

“Pick any two items from Poundland.”

They hug over this one and I am left feeling slightly disappointed that our children are such consumerists…..

  
Saturday was a day of hard labour for Tom with more fence-erecting. Now that the majority of the house is done, we’ve moved onto tackling the garden. 

Such hard work seemed to warrant a hearty roast chicken dinner and a pudding using our first crop of rhubarb. This is a gluten and dairy-free  dessert but you can easily use normal flour and butter. I’m told it’s the best free-from crumble I’ve made, which is not saying a lot, because last time I forgot to put sugar in and it was like eating sawdust over fruit…….

   
Ingredients

  • rhubarb, 450g
  • soft light brown sugar, 40g
  • pure vanilla essence, 1tsp
  • gluten-free plain flour, 75g
  • bicarbonate of soda, quarter of tsp
  • ground ginger, half tsp
  • ground cinnamon, 1 tsp
  • sea salt, pinch of
  • soft light brown sugar, 75g
  • Jumbo porridge oats, 60g
  • Pure sunflower spread, 75g

You will need a small oven-proof dish approximately 30 x 20cm.

Method

Cut the rhubarb into 1cm lengths and put into a large saucepan with 40g of the sugar and the vanilla essence. Cook over a gentle heat for 10 mins. Drain any excess liquid.

 

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/ gas mark 5.

In a large bowl sieve together the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices. Stir in the oats, salt and sugar, then rub in the margarine. 

Spoon the rhubarb into the oven dish and sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the top.

Bake for approximately 35 minutes until the streusel is golden. 

Delicious served with coconut custard: coconut milk plus custard powder – follow the instructions on the tin. Custard powder is gluten-free so this makes a delicious gluten & dairy-free accompaniment to any hot dessert.

  
Crumble inspired by Pippa Kendrick’s fabulous free-from cook book The Intolerant Gourmet. I can’t recommend it enough for gluten and dairy-free cooking, plus Pippa has a Norwich connection as well. http://www.theintolerantgourmet.com/my-books/ 

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