I like January. So many people find it the most depressing month of the year, but January was the month I got married. So once the Christmas stilton has gone and the New Year hangover has subsided I have my wedding anniversary to look forward to.
We didn’t plan to get married in January, not at all. We planned to get married in August. But as we got engaged when I was literally still in my teens (19, so only just) we had a bit of an uphill battle to save up for the sort of lavish, over the top wedding that I was planning. Then life happened – moving to London, working on our careers and alcohol intolerance, and that big country wedding just never materialised.
So one night in late November 2008 after nearly 5 years of engagement I told Will I’d had enough. I didn’t care about a big expensive wedding but I did want to be married to him. I stamped my foot and cried in our teeny Shoreditch flat and he agreed. 8 weeks – wedding – GO.
Turns out you can totally pull together a London wedding in 8 weeks! We had a small ceremony for 15 in The Yellow Room at The Old Marylebone Town Hall and it was perfect, I wouldn’t have wanted any more people there as I cried through the whole thing. We went on to lunch at Shoreditch House and finally to a big reception at Fabric, Will’s work place at the time, where his colleagues had pulled out all the stops and turned the club into a winter wonderland for our big party. Our mums bought the flowers the day before at Columbia Road market and made the buttonholes and bouquet, the marvellous Katja Hentschel took photos for us and the cake from Choccywoccydoodah was a wedding gift from Fabric.
Our honeymoon in a beach hut in Kenya cost more than the wedding and could not have been more perfect.
Had I had weeks and weeks to plan our day there would definitely have been things I would have changed; for one I would have lost a bit of weight (I was the heaviest I’ve ever been on my wedding day) and grown out my hair. I wouldn’t have chosen my dress two days before and maybe picked a hairdressers that wasn’t forty-five minutes late opening on the day of my wedding. But the way it happened reflected us perfectly as a couple; slightly chaotic, homemade and a little haphazard but a great deal of fun. And more importantly I got myself the most wonderful marriage. That is so much more important than dresses, cake or champagne (which was actually Cristal, now you mention it. Mmm).
I would like to insert something cheesy and vomit-inducing about how much I love and value my husband here, but nothing sounds quite right and I think he knows anyway. Will – you’re the BOMB. I love you, happy anniversary xxxx
If you have a busy life (or even if you don’t) you will probably know the value of one-pot cooking. I am a huge fan of bunging everything in the same pan and letting the flavours all have a party in the oven whilst I do something else with my time, perhaps watch the afternoon episode of Desperate Housewives for example, and then having a lovingly prepared steaming dish of dinner on the table ready for when Will gets home. I probably cook this way two or three times a week, my current favourite being an Italian chicken stew made with rosemary, balsamic and pearl barley (I promise to share this recipe soon!).
Whenever I cook a one pot dish I always turn to my favoured casserole – a lovely cast-iron shallow Le Creuset version in Almond. It’s a brilliantly non-stick dish that is always clean after a rinse in the dishwasher, no matter how many burnt splatters I get on it.
We are big fans of the classic french cookware brand Le Creuset in this house. Since we bought our first home together five years ago I’ve become more and more into cooking and the economy of buying solid, hardworking and reliable cooking equipment has been clear. Which is what I tell myself every time I salivate over their range at John Lewis.
When I first found out we were moving to the countryside the first thing I went out and bought myself was a cream Le Creuset teapot, and the first piece of kitchen equipment my mum ever bought me was their classic casserole in the signature burnt orange (I think the official term for this colour is ‘volcanic’. Since then I’ve managed to pick up larger casseroles, a griddle pan, saucepans, frying pans and cookware. I can’t get enough.
Le Creuset recently emailed me to tell me they had a range of warming winter one-pot recipes they’d created for their cookware, and I was delighted to try one of them out. I let them choose which one they sent me - a Chinese-inspired braised orange duck dish. This is not a dish I’d choose to cook normally so I was excited to try something new.
This recipe serves four and I halved the quantities (apart from some veg) for Will and myself, and opted to use my oven-safe Le Creuset saucepan over the much larger casserole. Following the instructions to the letter, the recipe turned out wonderfully: the duck fell off the bone as I lifted it from the pan and was lightly flavoured from the orange, but not overpoweringly so. The cooking time was three and a half hours so it was the perfect dish to cook while feeding Elfie dinner, knowing it’d be ready for us a little while later.
I served the duck legs with (overcooked, oops) rice and pak choi sauteed off with sesame oil, butter and garlic. It was divine.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used sesame oil as it's Will's favourite)
4 spring onions, trimmed and chopped roughly
4 shallots, quartered
2 medium carrots, cut into finger sized pieces
pared zest 1 large orange
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
4 tablespoons orange juice (I freshly squeezed mine as I had the oranges)
1 level teaspoon Chinese five–spice powder
3 star anise
1 level teaspoon cornflour
2 tablespoons Bonne Maman Bitter Orange Marmalade (I used a Co-Op branded marmalade as that was the only one available)
freshly ground black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees C, fan 120. Trim the duck legs of excess flaps of skin and fat or, if preferred, remove the skin completely. Put all the pieces into the casserole, cover with boiling water and on the hob bring to a gentle boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain well, discarding the cooking liquid. Dry the duck on kitchen paper towels.
Rinse and dry the casserole.
In the casserole heat the oil over a medium heat. Add two of the duck legs and brown evenly on both sides. Remove these with a slotted spoon and brown the remaining two legs. Lift out.
Add all the vegetables to the hot oil and fry, stirring for 2 – 3 minutes. Return the duck pieces to the pot together with the orange zest, soy sauce, orange juice, five–spice powder, star anise and the raisins. Add 125ml water and some freshly ground black pepper. (No salt, the soy sauce will bring sufficient salt to the recipe).
Place on the lid and cook in the oven for 3 hours.
Remove the casserole from the oven. Blend the cornflour with a little cold water and stir this, together with the marmalade, into the ingredients. Return to the oven for a further 30 minutes to allow sauce to thicken.
Remove the pieces of orange zest and star anise before serving.
This dish may be served with small oven roasted potatoes or boiled rice.
It’s weird, looking at Elfie now you don’t see a baby anymore. You see a toddler, a mini-person. Especially when she’s dressed in the next size up of 18 months-2 years clothes which seem seem so much more geared towards making toddlers look like children rather than babies. Thank goodness for onesies which I will be keeping her in forever – she’s always my baby in her onesie.
Elfie is growing so fast and can now walk if you hold her hand, last week she even took a few steps on her own which made me come over massively Proud Mummy-like. The pace at which she’s developing is insane, she didn’t want to walk two weeks ago and can still go a whole day without walking unaided – she’s in no rush to become mobile which is absolutely fine by me.
We’ve experienced plenty of health scares recently which have been terrifying but at the same time have taught us more abut how to deal with Elfie when she goes in to an adrenal crisis, which is when she starts becoming ill. Normally when we come down with a virus or an infection our bodies have a mechanism to kick-start the healing process but Elfie’s body is missing the ability to deliver the initial burst of adrenaline needed, meaning she becomes gravely ill very quickly. She takes a maintenance dose of medication to counteract this but when she’s ill she needs to be given this adrenalin manually.
Nightmare number one was when she had her flu jab – we woke up at 8.30 realising she hadn’t stirred (her usual wakeup time is between 5 and 6) and when we rushed to her she was floppy and weak. This was the first time I injected her with her emergency intramuscular dose of cortisol which was terrifying but the immediate effect was amazing.
Nightmare number two found us in A&E a week later with a very poorly child. It transpired that she’d had tonsillitis and an ear infection and needed another emergency cortisol dose, which we didn’t have at home as our doctor wouldn’t prescribe her the medication without seeing her first (naturally the wait for an appointment was 2.5 weeks). More drama ensued when the paeds nurses refused to give her injection intramuscularly as directed on her emergency notes – they wanted to put an IV in her hand instead. We refused, Elfie has the trickiest veins (blood tests are horrendous) and it has taken hours for consultants to get IVs in her before, plus we knew that shortly after her IM injection she would perk up and there’d be no need for further medication. So as we were going against medical advice they agreed to prescribe us with her medication but I had to inject it myself. In the hospital. Whilst being watched by a nurse. And as we predicted within an hour she was back to normal and they released us after another hour of observation. It is so tough being in that situation and knowing you are behaving like ‘that’ pushy dickhead parent, but as what she has is so rare I feel it’s necessary. And I always apologise for being so ‘assertive’ afterwards.
Since then we’ve had a long night of baby sick (caused by coughing from a sore throat so no hospitalisation required) and some pretty awful teething episodes but apart from that she’s been good. I think I’m almost at the stage where I feel comfortable enough with her medical situation to be able to take her abroad, albeit preferably somewhere English-speaking with good medical facilities.
Elfie’s language skills aren’t that brilliant at the moment; when I first got pregnant I envisaged that by this time, with the baby moving and kicking, we’d be able to curl up on the sofa together and talk to Elfie about her new baby brother and how exciting it will be for her. We could certainly do that but I expect she’d be clamouring to get down so she can go and blow her nose on the carpet on the stairs, or give the living room rug a cuddle. I asked her if she was an alien today and she said “yeah”, so I don’t think she’ll understand the new baby before it arrives.
Her vocabulary has expanded a little to include “nana” (banana) and a lions growl (grannie) but aside from that she’s still only saying “yeah”. I think she’s a little behind in this respect but as she spent the first three months of her life very poorly and not developing I guess we’ve got this time to catch up, and new sounds are coming every day. She can understand A LOT of what’s said and definitely knows her own mind. She won’t be doing anything she doesn’t want to do and she will do as much of what she likes to do as possible (read books, eat ham, swim until her lips turn purple).
We’ve had to broach the tricky idea of discipline this month. Because she can’t articulate her thoughts she often gets frustrated and hits or kicks out, which is definitely not OK. Other than this she is an extremely well-behaved little girl and we can take her pretty much anywhere and feel quite confident that she won’t have a meltdown – lucky for us as we like to go to restaurants. The only exception to this rule is if there is a soft play area in the vicinity – woe betide anyone who lets her near but not in to soft play.
The last point: teething. It’s a bit of a shitter, isn’t it? I know kids have got to grow teeth somehow but they really come in the most painful and horrendous manner. They bring us so many nights of broken sleep, big old mouth spots, dribbling chins and a lot of grumbling and groaning. I am however very impressed every time I see Elfie with her whole fist in her mouth. These are the skills in life that will make her LOTS of friends at University.
It’s hard enough to get dressed in the morning. No matter how many clothes you have it is always a bit of a challenge to find something to wear. Am I right, ladies?
Throwing a bump into the mix along with massive boobs where perhaps you had none before (RIP, 32Bs) makes things a million times harder, and it is so easy to live in comfortable lycra and baggy tops when you’re feeling lumpy and unattractive. But for me this means I start getting lazy about my appearance, neglecting my hair, eyebrows and moustache, and nobody likes it when mummy looks like Hitler. I find that when I start with making an effort with dressing the bump nicely everything else follows. Even upper lip hair.
Taking things one step further, this time I’ve been trying to document my favourite outfits and posting them on WIWT: do not underestimate the power of taking a photo of yourself and posting it online to motivate yourself towards the makeup. It’s shallow, it’s not clever, but it works for me. I would like to add that on my home days with Elfie you will still find me in jersey and yoga pants, but otherwise I am trying. Really really trying.
So far, my pregnancy essentials have been:
- A decent pair of maternity jeans (mine are these from TopShop)
- Maternity vests, which allows my normal clothes to still be worn over the bump (I prefer Mamas & Papas or TopShop‘s camisoles).
- Low-slung skinny jeans (my pre-pregnancy jeans luckily still fit under the bump)
- Comfortable pyjamas
- Long-sleeved jersey tops a couple of sizes bigger than normal (Primark are good for these and I have them in black, white, grey and stripy – I’m wearing one here with an Aubin & Wills tshirt over the top)
- Belts, to nip baggy tops in at the waist (such as here, with an oversized shirt dress on New Years Eve)
So, down to the nitty-gritty. Here’s what I’ve been wearing recently:
1. To my Mother-in-Law’s birthday party, I wore a Tommy Hilfiger sheer shirt (mmm stretchy) with a long black lycra vest underneath. The skinny jeans are from GAP and are pre-pregnancy.
2. To meet the lovely Kaisa Larkas for lunch I wore a Paul by Paul Smith jersey dress with shirt bib detail (classily ironed that morning with my hair straighteners) and a blue and white stripy jacket from TK Maxx.
3. On a day out with Elfie and my mum I wore a silky top from Zara with a Mamas & Papas maternity camisole underneath, Uniqlo pre-pregnancy skinny jeans and shoes and sequinned jacket from TK Maxx.
4. For a Sunday lunch with my mother and Sisters-in-Law I wore a Jack Wills dress, sleeveless cardi from a local boutique, an ASOS belt, shiny American Apparel leggings and boots from Dune at John Lewis.
I expect I will struggle now as the bump expands and I’ll be unable to wear my pre-pregnancy trousers, therefore shrinking my wardrobe down further. However with spring round the corner (did we even have a winter?) there will be more choices with shorter tops and dresses. I wish I’d considered my wardrobe a little more seriously before trying to get pregnant, clothes-wise I think giving birth in August would have been my ideal. I am not even joking.
I’d love to hear from you: what were your favourite maternity clothing choices? Am I missing anything?
No matter what you do, January’s always a bit of a let down. There’s the New Year’s Eve hangover that traditionally lasts a week (not this year, obviously), the lack of funds thanks to Baby Jesus’s birthday, the empty promises to stop eating potatoes cooked in Goose Fat and the shock that is your husband returning to work after a blissful two weeks of helping out around the house. Which is why I say January is the perfect time to go on holiday.
We’ve managed it twice before – once to Langkawi, Malaysia and once on our honeymoon to Kenya, but this year as I get so horribly paranoid about Elfie suffering a medical crisis abroad we decided to stay a little closer to home. One of our very best friends had a week off before she started her new job so we decided to spend five days together at Center Parcs. Amazingly we timed our holiday to co-incide with THAT Mumsnet Center Parcs thread, though I can confirm any suspicious marks on the sheets in our villa were a result of a baby banana breakfast in bed.
We booked into a three bedroomed villa at Center Parc’s Sherwood Forest site for a mere £249 (plus an extra £35 paid to secure a property close to the amenities); it had everything we could have wanted including a dishwasher, full kitchen, bath, shower, 7ft tall blackboard, open fire and flat screen TVs. The fridge was only small but we kept our wine and kegs of real ale (yes, really, Will likes to take KEGS on holiday with us) on the patio where we turned the in-built BBQ into a booze storage area. The villa came with all baby stuff we needed – cot (sans sheets) and highchair – though we had to bring things like baby cups and cutlery. It was really useful to be self-catering, I would have quite happily eaten out each and every night but it was lovely to be snuggled up in front of the fire with a big plate of homemade (villamade?) pasta knowing Elfie was safely tucked into bed.
I went on plenty of childhood holidays to Center Parcs Longleat so really didn’t know how I’d feel on my return as an adult. It had definitely lost a little bit of magic as it turns out that it’s not staffed by magical Center Parcs fairies who all live on-site (this is definitely how Disneyworld works and nothing will make me believe any different) but we all really enjoyed ourselves. The food was OK (Strada, Cafe Rouge, Pancake House, Huck’s American Diner) and I have to admit the swimming areas were dirtier than I remember them to be, though this may be down to my fussiness rather than lowered standards. I did however enjoy the full-body dryer facility in the changing rooms, particularly useful if your husband forgets to pack your towel and your delightful child pees on the one you are all sharing.
There was so much to do and we all agreed we could have been there happily for another couple of days; I love Center Parcs’s car-free ethos and it felt so good to be outside enjoying the fresh air or spotting squirrels or rabbits. I even went for a RUN and pootling around on a bike was a lot of fun.
The girls took a morning off to visit the Spa which was divine: I was so relaxed that I fell asleep in an upright wooden chair within half an hour. I sampled all the different steam rooms but didn’t stay in any for long, but my companion had a lovely time in all of them and especially enjoyed the open-air balcony with beds and fur blankets where you could relax and listen to the sound of the birds. Screw that, it was freezing, I much preferred the indoor beds which you could curl up on to with an actual duvet and pillows. The outdoor pool was lovely if a degree or two too cold and had a nice range of bubbles and massage jets. One thing I thought the spa was missing was a proper jaccuzzi or hot tub but overall it was a very good value. It doesn’t have the luxurious feel of Ragdale Hall or Eden Hall but at £30 for a half day it was well worth it and I would definitely return.
The boys sampled other activities such as the driving range, squash and these weird underwater fan-powered jet things (thoroughly enjoyed, apparently made them feel like Bond Villains) but otherwise we were happy to spend most of our time relaxing. Our wholesome friends went on a couple of bike rides and raved about the gorgeous scenery, which I was happy to enjoy from the comfort of our big comfy sofa.
Overall it was a fantastic week away that I’m looking forward to making a yearly tradition. We booked at a very cheap time of year, our accommodation came to a mere £15.50 per adult per night although we spent a fair amount on food, eating out at least once a day. The on-site supermarket has a large stock of food but I did a Sainsbury’s shop the day before and took that with us. You can spend as much or as little on activities as you like and usage of all swimming facilities is free.
Things I learnt at Center Parcs:
- If your crotch is already slightly ouchy from being six months pregnant, getting onto a bike for the first time in 8 years will only make it worse
- Similarly, cycling with a six month baby bump is quite difficult, even if it is small
- I really, REALLY, can’t bear to go to a swimming pool without wearing flip flops
- The great outdoors is actually rather nice
- Strada’s rosemary and garlic stretched pizza bread is to DIE for
- Once a child realises there is a soft play/ball pit area in the immediate vicinity there is no dragging them away
- Any Mumsnet reports of rampant anal sex at Center Parcs are to my knowledge completely false.