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Zee’s Kitchen

Zee loves to watch cooking shows with me. Our current favourites are Masterchef and Great British Bake Off, however, occasionally we will also tune in to Come Dine With Me if we see that it is on.

When he was a bit younger, Zee would concoct elaborate ‘dishes’ made out of Lego bricks, books, cars and Star Wars figures, which I would pretend to taste and then provide constructive feedback based on skill, taste, and presentation. Now that he is 8 years old, he actually expects to get in the kitchen and use real food. This is great if we are following a recipe and he is my sous chef, but one time we left him in charge and poor Auntie BB was served a dry satsuma and cheese sandwich with a dollop of yogurt on top!

We were much luckier in Crete this summer when Zee went into the restaurant business with our very own Greek master chef, Yiayia.  He devised a menu based on the ingredients that Yiayia had in her fridge and the Special of the Day changed daily depending on what Yiayia was making Papou for lunch.

I love that Aperol Spritz made it on the menu!

We all sat around the table and placed our order, which Zee would take back to the kitchen and Yiayia would let him add ingredients, stir sauces and help to plate up. Then, he would call for ‘Service’ and I would carry the plates to the table.

After the meal, we were presented with a bill for the food we had eaten and when I dared to suggest he pay his staff out of the takings, he fired me! He hired me back again every day, but at €7 for an Aperol Spritz, I was definitely out-of-pocket.

Anyway, to encourage his love of cooking – or perhaps to avoid another fruit and dairy sarnie – BB bought Zee a Children’s cookbook for his birthday.

Inspired by the movie Julie and Julia where Julie (Amy Adams) vows to prepare all 524 recipes in Julia Childs’ (Meryl Streep) landmark cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, I promised Zee that we would cook all 50 recipes in the Children’s Cookbook and I would write about his efforts on this blog.

The first recipe from the book that Zee attempted with BB was a cheese and ham melt, which he had for lunch. We skipped the poached egg on top because he wanted it without, but we will go back to the recipe and – just like Julie in the film – he will learn to poach an egg!

Yesterday, as BB and Yiayia were visiting, we decided to bake this delicious looking chocolate cake!

We read through the list of ingredients together and found most of them in the cupboard, so I only had to send the Greek God(zilla) out for a couple of items. Funnily enough, he did not complain about being asked to buy 3 different kinds of chocolate, but a courgette is a big deal…

When he returned with the chocolate, I was at first concerned it would not make it onto the cake as both the Greek God(zilla) and Zee eyed it up longingly, however, this was not the biggest challenge we were to encounter.  For it would seem that Zee – very much like his father – does not like to be told what to do!

Follow a recipe? Grease the tin? Sieve the flour? Nope, he wanted to do it his way and without any help from me.

When the Greek God(zilla) is in the kitchen, I know to stay well away while he experiments with every pot, pan, utensil, herb and spice on the rack, but Zee is only 8 and has never operated a hand whisk before.

After a bit of a debate, we reached an agreement and I was eventually allowed back in the kitchen on the condition that I let him have a go at everything.

With peace restored, we followed the steps and it was all pretty straightforward. Zee loved cracking the eggs and whisking them, but quickly grew bored with sieving flour. He also enjoyed breaking the chocolate into chunks but wanted to eat more chocolate than he wanted to melt.

After 20-minutes in the oven, the cake was ready so we just had to let it cool down before icing it. This was the fun part, although we made a huge mess with the melted chocolate and our presentation could have been much better!

Taste-wise, there were no complaints. BB was delighted that Zee had baked a cake from the cookbook she gave him while Yiayia was just happy to see him! So much so, she would have probably even devoured a satsuma and cheese sandwich with a dollop of yoghurt on top had it been made by Zee’s fair hands.

With Auntie BB

Next week in Zee’s Kitchen, tuna fishcakes!

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Camping

As much as I love the idea that we could be a family of campers, last weekend was the first time we have ever spent the night together in a tent. And, it wasn’t even our tent. And, the campsite was 10-minutes from our house. And, we were there for less than 24-hours. So, I am not sure if you could even call our one night sleeping in the great outdoors (in the middle of London) camping, but that’s how it was sold to us so we went with it.

We borrowed a tent and various other bits of equipment from my Dad. We had blow-up beds, sleeping bags, a stove, pots and pans, water bottles, table and chairs, cool boxes and enough food for a week (in case the Tesco 5-minutes away was closed). By the time we had packed for every weather eventuality – wellies, raincoats, fleeces, flip-flops (forever the optimist!), hoodies and a couple of changes of clothes – the car was so full that we could not see out of the back window. Fortunately, we did not have very far to travel.

A few families in our group had already started putting up their tents when we arrived. Zee immediately spotted a friend and a football so off they went, while we found a good spot and unloaded the car. We spread the tent out flat on the ground and, of course, this is when the heavens decided to open. So there we were, having not yet unloaded our wet weather outfits, squinting at the instructions in the pouring rain. The phrase “All the gear, no idea” came to mind…

The instructions looked straightforward enough. Basically, just three poles right? I was charged with allocating the poles to their corresponding sections because, as we all know, the Greek God(zilla) does not like to follow instructions and this was not an occasion to humour him. However, I got confused with the front and the back and the grey and the black and we spent 20-minutes trying to slot a long pole into a short sleeve, before re-reading the instructions and realising I had screwed up the order of the poles, much to the Greek God(zilla)’s satisfaction. Once this was sorted, the tent went up pretty easily.

Simples

As if by magic, this was the exact moment my sensible friend chose to appear with a bottle of Prosecco and a big bag of crisps to wait out the rain.

The kids were having a great time playing football in the camping field and running in and out of each other’s tents. The organiser of the trip had the brilliant idea to set up a communal BBQ area where we could all take turns to grill sausages; as well as a campfire to toast marshmallows. Obviously, there was wine so I sent the Greek God(zilla) off to blow up the mattresses before we got too stuck in. There was a bit of a drama when the pump, despite making a lot of noise, refused to blow out any air, leaving us to beg for a foot pump – “all the gear, no idea” etc etc – but we got it sorted in the end and our beds actually looked quite inviting. Or, maybe that was just the atmosphere and Prosecco talking.

We had a great evening chatting with friends and watching the kids have fun. As the sky grew dark, we all gathered up our broods and cuddled up around the fire for a while before tired little eyes began to close. I took Zee to bed and he curled up and was asleep within minutes. I contemplated going back out to join the others, but the lure of an inflatable mattress and sleeping bag was just too strong and I joined Zee to bed.

I awoke a few hours later to find myself lying flat on the floor. The Greek God(zilla) was snoring comfortably beside Zee, who was enjoying an elevated position between us on the only bed with any air left in it. I tossed and turned for the next couple of hours until dawn broke, often finding a slightly inflated spot and then finding myself back on the hard ground again within minutes. Zee was too excited to sleep in past 7am so we were both up early. We got dressed, did a wee in the designated bucket and peered outside the tent to see who else was up. Zee happily ran off to join his buddies in another game of football while I tracked down a teabag because of course, I remembered 75 things that we would never use, but totally forgot the ONE essential!

I spent a lazy morning gathered around the kettle, catching Zee whenever he ran past and pushing a chocolate croissant or piece of fruit in his hands while hearing all the gossip I missed from the night before. It seems the campfire chat went on way into the early hours, with one poor family recalling how the Greek God(zilla) kept them ‘entertained’ telling stories and laughing at his own jokes outside their tent until way after midnight. There was a point, she said, when she thought it was all about to quieten down so allowed her weary head to rest gently on her pillow when his voice suddenly boomed “MY FAVOURITE JAMES BOND IS TIMOTHY DALTON” and it all started up again.

Got to love him.

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School Dinners vs Packed Lunch

After 4-years of having school dinners, Zee started this term with his first home packed lunch. A move I had resisted up until now for a few reasons:

  • School lunches are free to children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2
  • I like the idea of him having a hot meal in the middle of the day
  • I searched for packed lunch ideas on Pinterest and the results terrified me!
  • I thought it would be a bit of a faff to prepare something varied, nutritional, creative (see above point) AND to his liking every single day

However, he was adamant that he wanted to switch from school dinners to a packed lunch because:

  • The queues for a school lunch are often quite long, which meant he missed out on valuable play time outside with his friends – children with a packed lunch can just sit down, eat and then go out to play
  • Portion size – he was always ravenous when I picked him up at the end of the school day (I suspect he was eating less in his rush to get to the playground)
  • All of his friends had a packed lunch and it “wasn’t fair”

So, I relented and said we could give it a go, but with a few conditions.

My main concern was that I didn’t want his lunch to always be bread based, so I am going to try to mix it up a bit with homemade soups, pasta, and rice salads. I was also quite insistent that he should not expect chocolate, crisps or cake in his lunch box! He pulled a bit of a face at first but quickly accepted my terms before I changed my mind again.

This week he has had tortilla wraps filled with ham/cheese/leftover roast chicken/egg and salad vegetables. I have varied the fruit offering daily with chunks of mango, strawberries, blueberries, satsumas and/or apple. I’ve also chucked in a few extra carrot and cucumber sticks to snack on, a yoghurt and a bottle of water.

So far, he has eaten everything in his lunch box and not rifled through my pockets in search of a snack as soon as he is out of the classroom so I already feel that he is eating more. In addition, I haven’t been giving him bread for breakfast or dinner if he’s having it for lunch, so I do need to find something quick and easy to replace our go-to scrambled eggs on toast after swimming on a Wednesday. The rest of the week, I cook a hot evening meal that we all try to sit down and eat together.

His lunch has taken minimal time to prepare in the morning, but as I chopped the veg and fruit in advance it really was just a case of assembling everything together. I also like that I can see how much he is actually eating – especially the veggies – and that he is not being enticed by the pudding option on the school menu every day.

It’s too early to tell whether a packed lunch is more cost-effective than a school dinner just yet, but this is something that I will have to sit down and work out properly in a few weeks time.

Overall, he seems a lot happier and it’s not really much extra work for me at all. Although there’s always a chance he’ll get bored with my daily food offerings when the novelty of having a packed lunch wears off!

Quiet time

Can you hear that? It’s been a while, so maybe it feels a bit unfamiliar at first, but there’s no mistaking the sweet, sweet sound of silence.

Zee went back to school today and while a part of me is sad that our wonderful summer together has come to an end, for the most part I have quite enjoyed getting things done! Aside from discovering surplus Match Attax cards under every sofa, cushion, bed and kitchen cupboard, there is something quite satisfying about putting the house back together after 6-weeks of embracing the mess. And, by embracing, I really mean tolerating – I am a Virgo after all!

I am also a big believer in the ‘watch while you work’ method and am happy to report that I have made excellent progress on condensing the TV planner. All the shows that I couldn’t watch with an 8-year old – or a judgmental 47-year old – in the room, have been viewed and cleared. However, even after watching 4 back-to-back episodes of Eastenders, I still feel completely lost as to what Max is up to, what Phil is really playing at, and how long Steven thinks he will continue to get away with it all.

It’s a far cry from when Zee first started in Reception and I balled from drop-off until pick-up. This morning, he walked confidently behind his new Year 4 teacher without so much as a glance back, despite me waving and calling out ‘Zee! Bye, Zee!” behind him.

I miss him already.

Birthday shenanigans

Having a birthday that falls on the August Bank Holiday weekend is always guaranteed to be a pretty low-key affair. My friends are nearly almost on holiday and the office – when I used to work in one – was usually closed. My sister and my dad both work away from home and often at short notice, so can never make concrete plans. It’s not quite as miserable, but definitely up there with having a birthday on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day – nobody is ever really up for celebrating with you unless it’s a big one! Then I had Zee and he was born the day before my 36th birthday. It was the best birthday present I could ever ask for, however, my birthday has lived in the shadow of his ever since! Of course, I do not begrudge him this attention in any way at all, in fact, to make up for not planning his birthday more considerately at conception, I have insisted all the focus be on him ever since.

We have been in Crete for 4 out of his 8 birthdays, which works brilliantly. We spend a whole day with Zee, eating cake, swimming in the sea and he gets spoilt rotten by all his Greek relatives. Then the next day we visit Lake Kournas and the Greek God(zilla) takes me to my favourite restaurant in Rethymnon for dinner. Last year, we were fortunate enough to also be joined by our sisters and their families, so it felt like one big fat Greek party for a week.

This year, as we would be at home for his birthday, Zee wanted a football party with all his classmates and he wanted it on his actual birthday, none of this birthday in July nonsense that I have tried to pass off on him in previous years. Naturally, with it being the school holidays as well as the bank holiday weekend, all but 5 of his school friends were away. Although, by some stroke of luck all of his cousins were around so the football party could still go ahead. And, as an added bonus, we invited the cousins back for a sleepover!

Now, not many people would fancy being woken up on their birthday at the crack of dawn by 5 over-excited young boys, but it really was a joy! Made more so because my sister also stayed over so we were not outnumbered. More than that, we were expecting 30 people for a BBQ later that afternoon and I needed an extra pair of hands! The plan was that the Greek God(zilla) and my sister’s partner would take all of the boys out for a kick about in the morning so that my sister and I could put the house back together and prepare the food.

Well, what actually happened was that we tidied the beds away and ran the hoover round, but then I took full advantage of having a professional hair and make-up designer in the house and spent the rest of time being pampered. This did mean that we were still rolling the pastry for the spanakopita when the first of our guests started to arrive and hadn’t even made a start on the dips, sides or salads… or even chopped so much as a carrot. But, hey, I looked great!

I put my brother to work on the cocktails – a sure way to make sure no-one realised the food was a tad delayed – and he did a fine job making sure everyone had an Aperol Spritz. Tom Collins or Margarita in hand. Then, I put my dad to work on the carrots, proving there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

Listen, it wasn’t perfect. I forgot about the spuds entirely and the Greek God(zilla) underestimated the number of sausages required, but to be surrounded by so many of my friends and family on my actual birthday was a real treat.

Thank you x

 

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