Lockdown Ginger

It’s been a while.

So long in fact, that I was locked out of my WordPress account and I had to dig deep to remember my password.

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Eldest? Plus birthdate?

But I’m here now, albeit nervously…

“Why aren’t you blogging?”

“Why haven’t you written anything?”

“How is the writing course coming along?”

All fantastic thanks. (In my head.)

It’s a strange thing, because pre-lockdown I felt I didn’t have enough time to concentrate on my writing. Now, having had the ultimate luxury of time, I’ve done even less writing.

WTAF?

The thing is, I’ve been a little bit busy with other things (possibly also known as ‘avoidance tactics’.)

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At the point of lockdown, I cancelled all pending appointments, loz’d my cleaner and thought, “Sure, I can do this.”

Because, even though I have an avoidance of certain things, in typical Libran balance, I LOVE getting stuff done! I’m a do-er. A ‘fixer’ as my friend calls me.

I can do this!

…I just hadn’t banked on a housefuls of family members doing ‘it‘ with me.

As an introvert,  I love to go out, being social, seeing friends, having fun. But I equally enjoy my time. Me time. Recharge time. Quiet time.

Husband heads off to work. Kids delivered to school. My house becomes ‘my place’. My refuge. My solace.

Gone.

Fucked.

Taken from me.

Kids not at school. Husband working from home.

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They’re always around…

What was this trickery? Would Ant and Dec suddenly pop out from behind my sofa and unveil this huge prank?

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Seemingly not. This was really happening.

“Okay. I can do this.” I told myself. Again.

I set to work with a strong plan in place and by week two, I’d made good progress on avoiding writing and tackling rooms and drawers and cupboards around the house.

Shelves and their items have been cleared and shifted, sometimes the actual shelves themselves, moving rarely-used items up high (like the Slushy ice maker machine thing) and making room for regularly used things to be at a more accessible height, rather than needing a stepladder. (Aka 6’4″ husband. Handy for high stuff, not necessarily DIY stuff. Although during lockdown he has proven himself a worthy apprentice and more than capable. )

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The aforementioned Slushy Maker

Onto the spare wine glasses from our wedding list, taking up valuable space in a kitchen cupboard. They’ve finally been unpacked – it’s only been 15 years. In our defence, we aren’t the biggest boozers. Husband rarely drinks, as it takes a LOT of alcohol to even make a dent in his impairment.

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Strata by Conran. A popular gift lift choice in the early 2000s

And the last time I was drunk was at a friend’s 40th, where wandering bar staff kept topping up drinks and somehow my glass was always in the firing line. I was carried out of there (apparently) and spent the following day in bed whilst husband took kids out for lunch. Mothers Day lunch. Shame.

Back to the lockdown though – the office had a good declutter and the shredder has been working double time. Yet to learn ‘five sheets maximum’ reminder is there for a reason.

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We’re jamming’…

There was a lot of cooking. A lot of cleaning. A lot of teaching. A lot of working. A lot of Zoom calls. A lot of washing.

We all had our jobs to do and set to it with pretty good attitudes. All working around each other, checking in to see how we were doing, going on walks and all sorts. Busy busy busy.

By week four, I was even looking at various designs for workwear coats.

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My Grandma wore one like this. She would definitely have made it onto the Big Breakfast ‘Woman in a Tabard’ segment

But by week six, I had to have a very frank discussion with myself that something had to give.  I was forever cleaning, still wanting to keep the house ‘just so’, forcing all ‘housemates’ to commend me on ‘how nice the bathroom smelled’, ‘how clean the floor was’ and how ‘satiny smooth the ironed bed linen was’. By the way, don’t come at me with your ‘I don’t iron my bedsheets’ – I am willing to give up some things. Not that.

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Not my actual bed. But excellent ironing.

I was done. Finished. Frazzled. Miserable. I had to purge something before I was shipped off in a straight-jacket and thanks to a very good friend, experiencing similar, she encouraged me to draw up a schedule and stick to it. It involved 50% less cleaning. I was over the moon.

[At this point, it’s worth mentioning that there have been some incredibly sad times during lockdown. Please don’t think with this blog I’m making light of a desperately tragic time for so many people. I most definitely am not. But I’ve watched people still share ‘funnies’ and blogs about food and fashion trends and all sorts and for me personally, these are the things that have kept some semblance of normality amongst this mess. So hopefully you will indulge me in my musings too….]

By week eight or nine I started to see the plus side of lockdown… I even made a list of positive things:

  • No chance of the kids catching nits. That would have finished me off.
  • Yes, my hair really is that dark naturally.. but on the plus, I HAVE NO GREY HAIRS!
  • Fortunate enough to wrangle a weekly online slot and many substitutes have now become firm favourites. Received a sub of tennis racquet-shaped pasta and it was a complete winner! It did however descend into a shit show whilst the kids recreated Wimbledon and flicked peas at each other using pasta racquets.
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New balls please

  • We can finally bake our own challah! It had always seemed a daunting bake. Something best left to the pros. But it’s fun and a lovely activity to do with the kids. (And I can do a nifty 4-strand plait thanks to YouTube.)
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‘Challah’ at me for the recipe. It’s not mine. but I would share it.

  • I’ve deep cleansed my address book, email inbox, subscriptions and gone pretty much paperless in my finances. I feel about a stone lighter.
  • Following an extensive spice cupboard audit conducted by my eldest, I have accepted the fact that I have more than enough dried parsley. However, I have just added red pepper flakes to the bursting collection and I can now make the The Good Earth’s Crispy chilli beef. (If you know, you know). All thanks to @food_obsessed_girl.
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Worth every ingredient

  • After initial first-world problem meltdowns that I couldn’t continue go to the gym or Pilates classes, I have rediscovered the delights of instagram lives and zoom classes. Thanks to @ciaralondon I have expanded my music appreciation with soca, whilst holding and pulsing and flexing. And thanks to @pilateswithlouise, I have rediscovered the joys of matwork and look forward to ‘Teaser Tuesdays’.
  • I taught my kids new skills – like what the ‘Rinse Aid’ light meant on the dishwasher. And that ‘adding salt’ didn’t mean using Malden Sea Salt. They were fascinated that there was actual special salt for dishwashers.
  • I’ve read. And read and read. Usually I only get to do a ‘solid read’ on holiday. But lockdown has allowed me that pleasure again and it’s my detox in the evening. I think I’ve actually watched less tv than ever.
  • Re: above, possibly a lie. Youngest and I indulged in some feel-good tv and binged on Friday Night Dinner. ‘Shit on it’ is now a regular turn of phrase in our house. And daughter will often greet me with ‘Hello Jackieeeee’. Fun fact: the house where it’s filmed is round the corner from me. Unknown-1
  • Got the kids on board with sheet change day – Fridays if you must know. They are now fully capable humans as opposed to what my friend’s daughter said following bed stripping instructions. “What does ‘strip’ the bed mean?”
  • My hygienist appointment avoidance was finally on an even keel with everyone else. I went just before lockdown – I truly hate going. But now? I can’t go. You can’t go. No-one can go!!! I am guilt free. Although feeling sad for my daughter who has a brace that is currently missing about five brackets and I had to perform a DIY wire cut using nail clippers. Don’t worry, it was on advice of orthodontist and so far so good.
  • We can now bake our own Millie’s Cookies. We went through various recipes and test batches – oh the gluttony – but have finally reached perfection thanks to Baking Mad. I guess it depends on what your version of perfection is. Plus, we were sick of banana bread.

See? Lots of positives. There are of course so many negatives in this altered normal life we are all living, but I’m trying hard each day to outweigh with the positives that we, as in my family, are all healthy.

I crumbled at week 6 and again, 6 weeks later. This week, week 13-ish, I had the meltdown of meltdowns. I just couldn’t do ‘it’ anymore.

It’s really not easy. And ‘it’ will be different things to different people. But my ‘it’ got too much for me this week. It felt good to have my moment and re-set.

And I feel much better for getting all of this down in a blog. Writing makes me happy. So do cookies.

I hope I won’t leave it so long next time.

Must go – the slushy maker is required from the top shelf with the impending warm weather…

x

 

Hotel, Motel, Whatcha Gonna Do Today?

All of a sudden it’s nearing the close of 2016 and I’m in full-on packing mode, casually ignoring the husband’s jeers of ‘#early panic’ and sticking with ‘#organised’.

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Not my actual case. I would NEVER put it on my bed

In any case, I spy him opening his airline app to see if he can check in online yet.

“Kids! Come here!”

“What is it, Daddy?”

“Look! These are our seats on the plane. It’s called an ‘A380’.”

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Kids just want to know who gets the window seat

This ‘checking’ thing is coupled with regular monitoring of ‘Flight Radar 24‘, a plane tracking app. He and his mate (the only two known subscribers) have spent many an evening verifying a particular plane coming in to land.

But enough about the flight, I’m all about the hotel. No cooking, no cleaning, no washing, no bed-making. Did I mention no cooking?

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For me, it’s the hotel smell upon arrival. I love that foyer ‘whiff’ you get – fresh flowers, furniture polish and the aroma of 24-hour efficiency that wafts around the place.

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Reej. Bev. Wilt. It really is. (Never been, but love to)

We choose our accommodation carefully based on the three R’s:

  • RESEARCH
  • RECOMMENDATION
  • REALLY BIG BEDS
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RIP Andrew Sachs

I married a man whose nickname could be Hightower (‘Police Academy’) and whilst he isn’t black (couldn’t be further skin-toned from it), he is very tall. Therefore, at home I sleep in the lap of super-king luxury, so if the hotel hasn’t got super-king or queen or whatever the local equivalent is, I’m not taking this shit lying down.

Call me a snob, but I’m a very light sleeper and I’m hoping for more than forty winks on holiday.

After years of experience, I have learned not to unpack once shown to our room. It’s all very ‘end of the Sound of Music’ where kids and I must remain silent and almost out of sight, leaving husband to shake his head in mock-disappointment at the original room they offer us.

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Stay quiet children…

I used to get embarrassed, but now I let him get on with it if it means a free upgrade from the original room opposite the lift. He blags well:

Disney World – fourth time on The Haunted Mansion:

“Mate, help us out, we came here this morning for our fast-pass slot but the ride was closed for maintenance. We’re flying back this evening and it’s the only ride we’ve not yet done.” (All aboard for the fifth time.)

Driving aimlessly round Manchester Square, London

Very late for dinner with friends and nowhere to park. Drops me off at restaurant. Arrives at restaurant 3 minutes later.

“Where on earth did you manage to park?”

“Don’t worry about it, Doll.”

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There was actually a film crew. He put this on the windscreen

Once finally in the room, I check ‘hanger quality’. I’m not a fan of hole-in-the-rod ones (as if I’d steal them?) or fiddly clamp ones.

I’m almost tempted to try my mother-in-law’s time-saving method of packing everything on a hanger. (I said ‘almost’.)

So, whilst I am doing all the unpacking, husband goes into James Bond mode.

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No. Not that.

I mean the safe.

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Birthday, house alarm or anniversary for the code?

This is his priority and he takes it seriously. I’ve barely walked into the room when I am ordered to shed all valuables and put them in the safe with the passports.

Once I’ve unpacked the clothes it’s onto the bathroom; an almost lengthier unpacking process with my lotion and potion-loving family. After I’ve established that the hair-dryer is a complete waste of time and inspected my face in the giant back-lit magnifying mirror, I stow away the handy sewing kits and shower caps as ‘going home presents’. (No interest in the body lotion – far too allergic.)

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Will just go curly then…

I don’t even need to glance at the bed to know that we will need more pillows. Always more pillows. ‘Hello housekeeping?’

Next, I like to find most useful/accessible plug point and claim it as my own. There’s usually only one unless we unplug the useless lamp in the corner too.

So, what about the rest of the family whilst I’m doing all of this hard work?

Well, the kids are trying on the free slippers and maintenance are on the way up to sort out the tv for my husband. We may make it out of the room by lunchtime…

Happy holidays and thank you for all of your blog support this year. It means loads. x x x


Here’s a fun festive recipe to round things off for the year:

Rice Krispmas Puds

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Noms

Ingredients:

100g Rice Krispies

5 or 6 full-size Mars bars

3oz unsalted butter

Red, green and white ready-to-roll icing

Method:

Chop the Mars bars up and melt with the butter in a microwave for 3-4 mins on medium.

Stir melted Mars into bowl of Rice Krispies and mix.

Roll into golf-sized balls. Add a Malteaser in the middle of a few of them (yassssssss!) – finders wins prizes! (Ensure you actually have prizes.)

Top with a white circle of icing (snow), red balls (berries) and green sprigs (holly).

Food for Thought

Food glorious food, I truly eat to live and still have my very first cookbook.

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I made these as a kid

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not obsessed by food (*thinks of sister-in-law’s spag bol and salivates*), but I do kind of, sort of, plan my day around what I’m eating. Husband is no different and will often walk in from work and lovingly greet the fridge as if it were another child.

I also have a fair few like-minded friends. There’s the one that compiles an ‘eatinerary’ for trips abroad, plotting what restaurants they will visit and the friend who has a dedicated meal-planning notebook. To be fair, notebook friend has to contend with a nut allergy, a milk allergy and a fuss-pot toddler. (Did I mention that she was a vegetarian?) Busy life, big family, after-school activities – you can see the sense in planning. As Benjamin Franklin says:

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Whilst husband calls me stubborn, I say ‘tenacious’. I hate to fail and firmly believe in the mantra:

‘If at first you don’t succeed, call it ‘Version 1.0′ and try again.’

For example…

Folding a fitted sheet correctly. Whilst my kids watch You Tube videos of FULLY GROWN ADULTS (ffs) opening ‘Shopkins’ packets, this is my ‘thing’.

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#Shopkins, shopkins! Once ya shop, ya can’t stop!#

Opening a jar of pickled cucumbers. Unless Ryan Gosling lives opposite me and I can feign weakness, me and the Jarkey can handle it.

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You really think I perfected my cheesecake the first time I made it? No chance. There were many versions and much critiquing. In my house we call it ‘TBF’. ‘Tried but failed’. TBF often gets used with dinners, clothing, the England squad. It’s so versatile.

Monday’s meal is always sacrosanct. The busiest day for after school activities, dinner needs to be a crowd-pleaser. Eldest calls it ‘Up the Bum Chicken and Crispy Rice’. (She’s very visual). Recipe at end of blog, but here’s a taster:

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Just look how the light catches her breasts…

Whilst I’m all for a cook-fest, I love eating at friends, going to farmers markets and trying new restaurants. I once read that you should always order out the dish you can’t/rarely make yourself. So if it’s Greek, I will almost always order chops. It’s not that I can’t cook them, but more that I can’t bear the lingering smell in my kitchen.

Posh or pokey, there has to be something that sticks in my memory and makes me want to return somewhere. I have a friend who by her own admission isn’t massively into cooking, but she once made a pasta bake and much like the blobs of oozing mozzarella she generously baked inside it, it sticks in my memory. As does her signature Banoffee Pie. I think she must add something magical to it, because I don’t even really like bananas.

Whether a place has got 3 Michelin stars or a drive-through, as long as its tasty, I’ll eat it. An unassuming pub near me does the most delicious burger and chips. Maybe it’s the dinky little condiment pots they bring to your table? The quaint wooden spoon with your order number on it? Or the cosy fireplace in winter? For me, I will go back every time for that dish. Only negative is that you pay at the bar upon ordering and I miss doing the ‘sign your palm’ thing we all do when we ask for the bill. (I also miss the ‘zip-zap’ noise from the old credit card machines.)

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Olden times

Whilst I enjoy reading social media threads about Penis Beakers or discussions about the best eye cream, I’m most happy when the focus is on food. My photo library is mainly foodie pics or screen grabs of recipes.

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Watermelon, Feta & Kiwi Cube. I will never, ever make this

As promised, ‘Up the Bum Chicken and Crispy Rice

Wash the chicken, don’t wash the chicken. Much like Brexit, it’s your choice and you will have your reasons.

Place chicken in an ovenproof dish. I use a Le Creuset dish. All about ease. One dish. Oven-to-table.

Pat chicken dry with paper towel. Salt and pepper all over. Cover with cling film and leave in fridge all day.

Rinse basmati rice until water runs clear and leave soaking in fresh water all day.

Remove chicken from fridge about half hour before cooking – I always cook from room temperature. Pat it dry again – helps crisp the skin.

Preheat oven to 200˚C.

Shove a whole onion and some garlic cloves, both unpeeled, up the chickens bum. I sometimes do a Jamie Oliver variation of this with a whole boiled lemon, garlic and thyme. I talked a friend through this  recipe, thinking nothing could go wrong. Foolish me. (She has since perfected it and now regularly makes it.)

Either way, it’s all up the bum stuff.  (Don’t worry – link is nothing sinister, just a clip from one of my favourite films ‘Wish You Were Here’, with Emily Lloyd. She was due to play Julia Roberts’ role in Pretty Woman. Fact.)

Spray chicken with some extra virgin olive oil and pour about half a cup of water around it. I mix in some chicken stock too. Shove in oven.

After an hour, pour drained rice around chicken.

General rule: 1 cup of rice, 2 cups water. 2 cups rice, 4 cups water, etc. Add some chicken stock to the water, pour onto rice and stir in s&p and a drizzle of oil. If you have time/inclination, fry over some diced onions and add to the rice, but I often just add dried crispy onions. Sometimes egg noodles too. Stir.

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Lazy option

Back in the oven for another half hour. Chicken cooks for 1.5 hours total.

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Rice angels. Never a grain of rice left

Some friends have argued this seemingly short cooking time with me, but I’m yet to kill anyone so I must be doing something right.

If all else fails, at least I can fold a fitted sheet properly…