You’re Either a Swift or a Swallow…

Ahh, June. Weather gets (marginally) better, pasty white legs come out, fake tan gets badly applied in lieu of a proper spray tan and we can hear cheers of ‘COME ON!!! GO! GO! GO!!!’ at school Sports Day up and down the country.

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Or is that all just applicable to me? (The fake tan at least.)

My kids’ school has ‘Houses’ – the school splits into two and you are a ‘Swift or a ‘Swallow’ (denoted by the tie colour you wear to school.) Watching my two at Sports Day fills me with joy and fear in equal measure.

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Joy…

1. They’re ‘taking part’ and learning about team spirit.

2. They believe the medals are made of real gold. Youngest at least.

3. They know that a pre-midday finish means a going somewhere usually reserved for school holidays that will (hopefully) not be too rammed. Mega Jump here we come!

Fear…

1. If they hurt themselves. (Bag fully stocked with antiseptic spray, water, plasters, foil blanket like the Marathon finishers get given. Okay maybe not in my bag but I have one in my boot. No, I really do.)

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2. I’ll miss capturing the moment on my iPhone because husband keeps texting through to ask, “Well? Well? How are they doing?”

3. That the school will surprise us with a ‘Parents Race’. (I have nightmares about this.)

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If Carlsberg did Sports Day

So after all their ‘relentless’ training (running back and forth in the garden and jumping over ‘three tiles’ in the hallway) , it reminded me of my own Sports Day fifteen.. no, twenty.. shit, thirty-odd years ago.

Like the Swifts and Swallows, you were one of four houses: ‘Pine’ (green, me!), ‘Willow’ (yellow), ‘Rowan’ (red) and ‘Birch’ (blue). We had to wear those bands of coloured material across our chest to denote our competing House colours. We would then all pretend to have broken arms, using the sash as a sling. Crazy kids….

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Simpler times

Even today, given the choice of those four colours, I would till choose green. I stick with what I know. Pine through and through. A bit like my Spurs-mad husband, he would never ‘turn Arsenal’.

But every now and then I like to mess with the balance of my Libran scales and do things out of my comfort zone. Big or small, they (usually) make me feel happy or ‘spark joy’ as Marie Kondo the Folding Queen says…

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Such as:

Food – some people have ‘sticky chop’ night. ‘Fish night’. ‘Pot-luck’ dinner night. For my family, as previously mentioned, Monday night is up-the-bum chicken night. My family look forward to it come rain or ridiculously-sweltering-shine of recent days in London. In light of sweaty weather, last Monday I thought I would serve the chicken with a cold salad. No-one spoke to me for the rest of the evening.

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How she deserves to be served. With rice

Going out-out – Last year, a friend’s husband asked if I wanted in on Guns n’ Roses concert tickets and I immediately said yes. As the date came around I did question my 40+-year-old decision to trek to Hackney Wick on a Friday night, but it was the most amazing concert, which I wouldn’t have missed for the world. On the way back to the station, whilst trying to avoid eye contact with men pee’ing all along the barriers, my fellow giggers asked me if I enjoyed it. Yes, I said, as much fun as last year’s Secret Cinema ‘Dirty Dancing’ event. (I’m no longer invited to the Metallica gig.)

Online shop – It always comes on a Wednesday. Every Tuesday at swimming, I bore my swimming mum friend with what interesting things I can add to my final order. One week, friend didn’t show up and I got paranoid she was avoiding my food interrogation – so I went all gung-ho and swapped my delivery day to Tuesday.  Liberating I tell you. (I just run out of things by Thursday.)

New restaurants – I love food. Literally. Obsessed. So when we go to a new restaurant, I go with a vague idea of what’s on the menu. For those who are diet-restricted, I appreciate that checking beforehand is a necessity, but I love the surprise of a menu and checking out what dishes are going to other tables. when I go out with my Uni girls, one of them always seems to order wrong – it’s fine we’re used to it. There are five of us to basically feed her bits of our meal. She’s like a toddler that won’t eat something, but put it on your plate and she wants it. (Except she’s 41.)

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Diary – if you’re still a paper-diary fan like me, then you fall into one of two camps. Mid-year buyers (freaks) or January buyers (me, completely normal). I can’t be swayed on this.

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Petrol – I had a friend (still my friend 35 years on) whose mum would never let her petrol tank go below half-full. (Or half-empty depending on the type of person that you are.) A shrewd way to operate, sure, but often I quite enjoy that reckless feeling of ‘will I/won’t I make it’. That said, the initial thrill soon disappears when the petrol station you had in mind is closed. Panic sets in and you begin to sweat. “Does the car always judder like this?”

Some handy advice in case you didn’t know…

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… the arrow next to the fuel pump denotes which side your petrol cap is on, particularly handy on a hire car. nB. Not all cars have this, but lots do.

Go on – you know you want to check yours. Or maybe you’re one of those reckless types that parks up regardless and drag the hose the whole way across the back of the car if necessary.

(Sorry, but that’s not for me.)

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…