My 1st Years – Gifts For New Babies

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What’s one of the best bits about having babies?

The talcum powder smell, the love and joy they give you, the fun you have with them?

Noooo, one of the best bits about babies is shopping for them!

Unfortunately my two just keep growing and growing (grrr – but my gosh weren’t they gorgeous?!) so Baby Gap is no longer as exciting as it once was, but a girl can dream. I don’t think that ‘shopping’ is enough of a reason to have another child so luckily my friends have started re-creating, meaning I can indulge my baby shopping fantasies (thats shopping for items for babies, not shopping for actual babies) without being pregnant. Fun!

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I think that when you have a baby it’s wonderful to receive really special gifts for them. When my two were small my friends were incredibly generous and gifted us with a plethora of gorgeous items and I’m happy to carry that tradition on. Which is how I came across My 1st Years.

My 1st Years started with value, personalisation and quality in mind and is growing to be one of the biggest personal baby gift companies in the UK. Their tagline is ‘Made With Love’ and the founders really enjoy seeing the pleasure and joy their products bring to new parents. I love a happy business story!

They offer a really wide range of products so I’ve picked out some of my favourites to show you. If you’re really struggling though I think a personalised baby blanket is always a lovely way to show someone you’re excited about their new arrival and my favourite is the cable knit. It’s truly a gift that will be treasured forever; I still have Elfie and Hux’s old baby blankets on their beds, and yes I nuzzle them on occasion. Weird things mums do, right?

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Clockwise, from top left: gingham dressing gown £25, limited edition gold throne £200, ditsy storage basket £35, soldier pyjamas £30, pack of two bibs £12.

Thank-you My 1st Years for supporting MTT! 

Counting My Motherhood Blessings

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I feel so very lucky to be a mother. It might not have happened in the ‘right’ way (at 24 I felt like a teenage mother) and I perhaps haven’t ended up in the ‘perfect’ family situation, however these two little people are my absolute world.

But I find that it’s so easy to get lost in the motherhood fug and forget how fortunate I am to be a parent. You know how it goes – you get up mega early with a toddler bogey or wet finger in your ear and you’re immediately wiping morning bums and sorting out pyjamas. Then it’s time to field breakfast requests; mine always want croissants or home baked bread with honey, they usually get slung dry Shreddies and a banana or porridge. After that it’s the serious discussion over why spaghetti strap dresses are inappropriate for winter, a debate on socks and – if you’re lucky – a 2 minute shower for you to a soundrack of “why don’t you have a willy, mummy?”.

Then you take off on the school run grasping for book bags/water bottles/PE kits, dropping your kids off at whichever location they’re supposed to be at (or not, as I’m constantly getting Nursery/Pre-school days muddled) before you can sit down at your desk, get to the gym or start the supermarket shop. The days are chock-full with work, meetings, domestic bits and bobs, finger painting, working again, negotiating (the UN has nothing on me).

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It baffles me how full I used to think my days were. This is what it’s like to have full days. Juggling two children, a job and Easter holidays has taught me what it’s like to be busy. It Does. Not. Stop.

EVER.

Until.

Until your children go away for six days with their dad – that’s when it stops, like, completely stops. And I didn’t like it.

This was the first time I was spending such a large amount of time without them at home so I made plenty of plans for when they were away. I wanted to see three special friends and vowed to empty my inbox. I was re-igniting my green diet, remembering how good it feels to go to the gym, socialising, shopping, enjoying life.

In reality I drank a bit too much wine, spent a long time catching up on sleep (no such thing as too long, NO SUCH THING), online shopped for bras that now all need to be returned because they’re the wrong size, watched almost an entire boxset (GIRLS!) and caught up on The Good Wife, woke up one morning spooning a greasy Dominos box, you know, the standard.

Day one and two were great – I needed to stop after the not sleeping and full-on whirlwind that was Jan/Feb/March. But then it just started feeling very quiet, very quiet and very strange.

Living alone is by and large for me a success. I enjoy my independence, my freedom, my taste in decorating. Having lived with a man for 8 years I really enjoy my own space and the fact I don’t have to deal with anyone else’s toenail clippings. I like being in charge of the remote, the fridge and everything I do. But this week, for the first time, actually felt lonely. I can’t remember the last time I had the space to feel lonely. It was sad.

I missed the children ever so much. I missed their wit, their cuddles, their intelligence, their giggles, their smell, their chitter chatter, their singing. I even missed them crawling into bed with me in the middle of the night. My empty arms ached for my children to dive back into them – I felt empty and rudderless. Without them I had nothing, just bumping around from work to gym to home.

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Their homecoming was the most special thing ever. I can’t describe the absolute joy you feel upon seeing your children’s faces for the first time in six days. Pure and utter joy.

They’re less than ecstatic at the reunion, obvs because they’re cooler than you and are more concerned about how Buzz Lightyear has fared in their absence, but post-reunion there’s definitely been an increase in cuddles for us all. Hux told me “it’s lovely to have you back, mummy” and Elfie said “I love you even more than the planets”. BEAMING.

I’ll remember this feeling of appreciation for my children forever. The next time there’s a meltdown in IKEA, a 6 night run of no sleep, a bout of chicken pox (holla to ma chicken pox people! We’re suffering over here), a squabble over a Peppa Pig mobile phone… I’ll remember this.

I am so lucky to be a mum.

 

MTT: Asian Turkey and Lettuce Wraps with Stir-Fried Broccoli and Mini Sweetcorn (Turkey San Choy Bau)

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I fell off the health wagon.

Somewhere between not sleeping and a bit of boy trouble I totally lost my will to paleo. I’m talking serious discrepancies here: I’ve been eating bread, pasta, Belgian chocolate cookies, fish and chips. I re-discovered what it meant to eat for comfort, to get to the end of the day and crave nothing more than a bellyful of carbs.

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Special thank-you to my dad (from hereon in known as ‘The Enabler’) for bringing me two packets of biscuits on his way home from work when Elfie had spent the day being sick and I’d spent the last 48 hours being awake. At that moment they were all I wanted in the whole world and they tasted SO GOOD.

I also discovered that when you aren’t sleeping or eating your usual greens-and-protein diet the last thing you want to do is go to the gym. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle; no energy, stay at home feeling sluggish, no endorphins from exercising, feel more sluggish, definitely no gym.

I felt pale, bloated, unhealthy and hey – GUESS WHAT – sluggish. I do not like feeling this way.

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So after the children went away I decided to take action. I addressed the first issue of SLEEP and did that for ten hours straight. Then I threw out the remainder of the biscuits, After Eights (I adore After Eights…) and Chinese takeaway. Bad kitchen food vibes be gone…

I wrote myself a pretty strict meal plan for the next five days; lots of lean meats, no grains, enough salad and kale to sink a ship, a moderate amount of cheese. I went to the supermarket and then went to the gym. Three times (the gym, not the supermarket). I now can’t climb the stairs without my legs shaking but I feel strong again, vibrant, not bloated. And I had an amazing swim today! Endorphins forever!

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I hate this feeling of falling off the wagon. In the grand scheme of things (and particularly in comparison to my pasta-and-fats diet of old) it’s really no big deal. But I have a zit that I just know is as a result of my takeaway indulgences and I hate feeling that I’m not giving my health the best possible shot.

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Whenever I feel like I’m set back in life I just think – tomorrow is a new day. If I had a bad day at work or a terrible nights’ sleep – tomorrow is  a new day. That’s a wonderful motto for mums (or humans in general, really) who feel like they need a fresh start or a slate-wipe. It’s not life or death, it’s a few chips and an M&S cookie – let’s start again tomorrow, shall we? Are there any Easter-Egg-And-Booze overindulgers out there who want to join me? Tomorrow is a new day!

Turkey San Choi Bau

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My first meal back on the health wagon was a good one. Asian turkey and lettuce wraps – or turkey san choy bau if you’re feeling fancy – with stir-fried broccoli and mini sweetcorn. Turkey is one of the best meats you can eat, it’s high in protein and low in fat, though I find it can be a bit tasteless sometimes which is why it’s best in recipes like this one with punchy flavours. You could also use pork, chicken or beef, too.

Asian Turkey and Lettuce Wraps with Stir-Fried Broccoli and Baby Sweetcorn
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Main course
Cuisine: Chinese
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • Half a large onion, chopped finely
  • 400g turkey mince
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 grated carrot
  • 1 grated courgette
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce (I use gluten free Tamari)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • hot sauce, to taste
  • crushed peanuts
  • handful coriander
  • Lettuce to serve, leaves split out (4 per serving) - cos, baby gem or iceburg is good
  • half a head of broccoli, cut into florets
  • half a pack baby sweetcorn, chopped in thirds
  • handful cashew nuts
  • 1 additional tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 additional tbsp honey
Instructions
  1. Start by heating up your sesame and vegetable oil over a medium heatbefore frying off your onion for a couple of minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Add your courgette and carrot and stir through.
  2. Pop your mince in the pan and stir to break up. Brown it off.
  3. Add the soy sauce, honey and fish sauce and cook well until done through.
  4. Meanwhile heat a frying pan or wok to a high heat and toast off the cashew nuts, shaking the pan frequently so they don't burn.
  5. When they're done tip out and put to one side. Put the pan back on the heat and add a tbsp of oil. Throw in your broccoli and baby corn, charring on all sides.
  6. Move the veg to one side of the pan and add your soy sauce to the other. When it's bubbling stir the ingredients together and drizzle the honey on top. Add the cashew nuts, stir through and take off the heat.
  7. Serve the turkey in your lettuce leaves, sprinkled with crushed peanuts and coriander. Add hot sauce if you like it spicy (I don't!). Add the broccoli and baby corn to the side.

 

What A Single Mum Does Without Her Kids

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Whenever anyone talks to me about my single parenting and then says to me “I don’t know how you do it” I feel a little bit satisfied. I kind of plump my feathers a bit and explain that I do it because I have to and think: “finally! Someone’s noticed all my hard work and thinks I’m amazing!” But it’s actually not really that simple.

I’ll tell you exactly how I do it; I do it because every fortnight the children go off to their dad’s house and I get two days and two nights all to myself – time that I can do whatever I want with. In all the parenting I did pre-divorce I never would have had this time to myself, precious time to rest, recuperate and do whatever takes my fancy, ALONE. I do it because as hard as it gets being the sole parent in the day-to-day of my children’s lives I have that precious time to take a step back, miss them terribly and realise why it is I work so hard for our little family.

In truth I usually spend my time catching up on sleep or work I’ve missed when I was sleep deprived but the option is there: FREE TIME! I can go to Paris! I can drive around ALONE after dark! I can go for a swim without my companion pooing in the baby pool! The world is my oyster.

As a sidenote I have to say that I have every respect for those I think are the ‘real’ single parents of this world. The mums and dads who don’t have their children’s counterpart parent involved in their lives, those who do it alone 24/7, 365 days a year. Those are the people you need to look up and say: “I don’t know how you do it”. Compared to those amazing people I am Single Mother Lite.

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Yesterday the children went off in the car to their dad’s house for six days. SIX DAYS. I cried first, then ate half a box of After Eights, felt weird and wondered what to do. Then I took a two hour nap because sleep, sweet sleep, and now I have five more days without my little buddies to fill. I predict I’ll get bored of napping by tomorrow – nobody can sleep that much.

Just kidding, I can totally sleep that much. But I probably shouldn’t.

It’s an odd one, having your children go away for such a long time. If it wasn’t for the sleep thing I wouldn’t want them to go, I really wouldn’t. I know it’s good for my sanity to have a break and do some things just for me and of course is great for them to spend the time with their dad but it still doesn’t feel nice. It feels like when you go on a long trip for the weekend – a few hours away so you can’t return home easily – with that weird feeling that you might have forgotten something. And then when you get there you realise you’ve missed something crucial, leaving your phone charger or toothbrush at home. That’s how I feel – completely normal, but like there’s something essential missing.

I always have BIG PLANS with my time off (I don’t). I find pleasure in the tiniest things: in our day-to-day the children go to bed at 7pm so I don’t like leaving the house after 5.30pm because this upsets our bed/book/bath routine. So one of my favourite things to go out at GASP 7pm to buy Fish and Chips (the one takeaway food that I wish did deliveries), or nip to the supermarket to pick something up before they close at 10pm. There’s just something super liberating about driving around after dark when you’re normally tied to your home from a particular time. STOP THE PRESS THESE ACTIVITIES ARE WILD.

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I also like to go to the gym at different times, like 8am when I’m normally scrabbling for P.E. kits and book bags. And when I go swimming I go at the grown up only times. Liberating.

I did go through a period of time when I thought it was a good idea to go on dates when the kids were away, squeeze in as many as possible. But I’m kind of at that stage now when I’d rather spend time with my friends or those deep fried fish and chips rather than making polite conversation with a man.

Unless you’re Jamie Dornan, then I will always have time for polite conversation with you.

So off I go today – the world at my feet. I’ve started with a morning of work which will be followed by a gym trip, a bikini wax and then the afternoon, evening, morning and boozy lunch with one of my favourite ladies in the whole world. Then a Friday evening with another wonderful woman and a Saturday morning of – ooh I don’t know – maybe buying the papers and taking them back to bed. I might push the boat out and go into London on Sunday but then again I might just enjoy the silence… because of course there’s the important matter of fitting in all 4 seasons of Girls somewhere.

Whatever it is I do though I bloody miss those kids. Hurry back to me, babies. Sleepless nights included…

The Best New Mum Advice

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Do you remember when I told you about SMA® Nutrition’s Baby Advice By You campaign? SMA Nutrition were searching far and wide to find the best advice for mums by those who know the best – other mums. The campaign went up and down the country to find the best nuggets of information to be judged by Jenni Falconer and top mummy bloggers and made into films. All the winning pieces of advice can be viewed on SMA Nutrition’s YouTube Channel.

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Which would be your most important piece of advice for new mothers? Here are some of my favourites:

“Babies are funnier than you ever imagined. When I had my daughter I never realised how hilarious she was going to be. Babies can give you lots of expressions even though they can’t talk yet. They’ll give you a quizzical look, or they might even fart in a shop when it’s completely silent. So even though they are a lot of hard work and it can get a bit stressful, I would say they completely redeem themselves with the funny looks. Make sure you take lots of videos and lots of photos so that if times are hard, you can just have a look back and remember actually how good times are together.”

“Try to remember everything will be fine. In the early tiring days as a new parent it’s easy to get confused by all the information coming to you from books, health visitors, friends and family and everywhere else. My friend told me to relax and enjoy it and I wished I’d listened and hadn’t worried so much as in the end everything was absolutely fine.”

“Trust yourself; it takes time to turn into a wonderful mum it doesn’t happen overnight. Thank people for their advice – they give it to you because they care not to cause you any distress. Decide which bits are going to work for your family. You’re already doing an amazing job; don’t let anyone tell you any different.”

I worked in collaboration with SMA Nutrition and their B.A.B.Y. campaign. 

 

 

Bonjour! Café Rouge Has A New Menu

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The children are off later this week to spend a few days with their daddy.

Whilst I’m practically salivating at the prospect of five nights of uninterrupted sleep in a row (woah there), I’m really dreading how much I’ll miss them. Don’t tell anyone this, especially not them, but I’d probably take the sleep deprivation over spending time without them – I know, I know. Big words.

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I’ll do my usual thing of filling my time off with work, the gym and my lovely friends so it’ll go quickly (Kirsty‘s coming to visit from NYC and there will be nights at the pub with Bryony and Amy) but until they depart on Wednesday we are making the most out of our last few days together. And one of my favourite things to do with these little people is go on a Saturday night dinner date.

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We get dressed up – Elfie wears a dress, Hux a shirt and me high heels – and have a lovely meal out together. Because I sell it to them as something very special they are both beautifully behaved and we have a wonderful time chatting nonsense and learning about my number one favourite thing – food.

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Camembert

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Ragoût D’Escargots

On Saturday night the lovely people at Café Rouge invited us over to their restaurant at The Hub in Milton Keynes to try their new menu and so off we went, dressed up and excited.

I heard the Chief Executive of the Casual Dining Group (who own Cafe Rougé and Bella Italia) speak at a conference a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed the discussion around the changes that are afoot within the chain. There’s the new menu of classics and new dishes and a programme of re-furbishment happening – exciting times!

As a restaurant I don’t think I would have ever chosen Café Rouge as a dinner destination. Lunch? Yes. Coffee? Probably. But it had never struck me as a place for a dinner date or child-friendly meal so I was interested to see how we’d find our evening.

Cafe Rouge2We arrived at 6pm and were really warmly welcomed by the manager. She showed us to our table and talked us through the menu. I loved her obvious enthusiasm and excitement for the changes that have been made; the Milton Keynes Hub restaurant was actively involved in the development of the new menu and each member of staff I spoke to was so knowledgeable about every item. I was happy to hear they’ve brought back one of my favourite dishes – fried Camembert – and the Confit Duck Leg which I’ve already heard most excellent things about.

We started our meal with the Fougasse à l’ail (£4.95)- an artisan loaf baked with garlic and served with warm garlic butter. It was huge – it disappeared in minutes. We all enjoyed it.

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Rib-Eye with Bearnaise and fries

I knew they’d introduced snails to the menu and was excited to try them. I’ve read that snails are the ‘next big thing’ in foodie circles, being so high in protein yet low in fat, and though they still make me feel a bit gross if I really think about what they are I do really enjoy them. And so we ordered our starters of Camembert (£5.95) and Ragoût D’Escargots (£5.95).

The Camembert was lovely – really enjoyable. But the Escargots were the real star of the show; delicately cooked with red wine and mushrooms and topped with puff pastry. I would eat these over and over again. I enjoyed these with one of my favourite cocktails – a Rouge Royal (Café Rouge’s Kir Royal – £4.95).

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The mains swiftly arrived; I went for my absolute favourite of a rib eye steak (medium) with Bearnaise sauce and french fries (£16.95). It was perfectly cooked and thoroughly delicious – half of it was eaten by the children. Elfie chose the very French Croque Monsier (her verdict: yummy) and Hux never picks anything other than pasta as he is two – the kids menus (main course, dessert and drinks) came in at £6.95.

Pudding was the only disappointment for me that evening. I always pick a Crème Brûlée which is my absolute favourite but the topping was nowhere near as thick and caramelised as it should have been. The strawberry and black pepper sorbet it was served with was lovely, however.

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The kids adored their ice cream sundaes, Hux so much that he insisted on eating it with his hands. You know, sometimes it’s easier not to argue.

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I get invited out for dinner a fair bit (and take myself out even more often!) and don’t always review the restaurants I go to. I like to think I have pretty high standards and so if I leave a restaurant feeling disappointed I’d just rather not write about it.

However, we three had a great time at Café Rouge and I think the whole thing was one of the nicest dinner experiences we’ve had in a long time. The staff couldn’t have been more attentive to us (but not overbearingly) and the food was well-cooked, tasty and good value. I was impressed by the wine list and had a try of a very nice Picpoul de Pinet and the restaurant had a great buzz by the time we left.

Plus there’s the bonus of having one of the most awkward family photos taken of us EVER that night. My children, ladies and gentlemen:

IMG_0175Café Rouge: we’ll be back!

Thank you to Café Rouge for inviting us along to try the new menu… we had a great time.