What parents don’t do – making it work by letting things go

Sometimes a work space, sometimes a tea table for toys

This is a bit of a digression for me. But I have read quite a few things about parenting recently that I wanted to respond to. (Don’t worry – normal food-related service will resume soon).

The particular spark for this post came from a discussion between food bloggers Molly Wizenberg and Ashley Rodriguez about ‘how do you do it all’ with kids, a question that they rejected and turned into ‘what don’t you do?’

I really like this idea: that instead of sharing our ‘tips’ for ‘having it all’ or ‘making it all work’, we should share more often what things we choose *not* to do as parents, to make time for the things we want or need to do. It feels like a more human and achievable way to make progress.

So, in that spirit, a list of things I deliberately don’t do. I’m not proud of all of these, but they are all conscious choices that I make in order to fit in the things I want to do. I’m also aware that some of these are luxuries that I am very fortunate to be able to afford.

  • Cleaning – I have a cleaner who also does the ironing. This makes an incredible difference. 
  • Tidying up – Our house is full of clutter. All surfaces are covered in paperwork, unopened post, and magazines I can’t bring myself to throw out (even 6 month old copies of The Economist).
  • Cook dinner every night – I do prioritise cooking from scratch, because its something I enjoy, but lots of dinners are assemblies of previously cooked things, and lots are just bread and cheese and maybe soup. Or beans on toast for those in the house who will eat them.
  • Work past 9:30pm (most days) – I aim to be at the office from 9:30am – 4pm. I make the best possible use of my 1 hour commute in and out, but I am usually off-the-clock from 5pm until whenever my daughter is in bed. That usually means I get an hour to an hour and a half of work in the evening – unless there’s something that needs urgent attention. 
  • Books – I no longer read books that much. I listen to podcasts when I’m travelling to and from work. I Instapaper lots of articles and blogs to read when I have some spare time, but I never get time to read as many as I bookmark. Part of me is sad about this, but it’s the right thing for me for now. 
  • Follow the news – I don’t watch/read/listen to the news. This is sometimes a bit of an issue for work, but I don’t read newspapers (although I sometimes buy them for the food section). I no longer really listen to radio news, except sometimes in the car.
  • Go out in the evenings – It might go without saying, with a 2 year old, but I don’t go to the pub, bars, the cinema, the theatre, restaurants in the evening. This is a bit of an exaggeration, and it’s not completely child-induced: we did relatively little of this before she came along too. And I scarcely drink, so it’s not a big sacrifice.
  • TV – Again, I’m not proud of this, and it’s not a high-minded stance. I don’t watch TV. Again, that’s not completely true (and I watch plenty with E), but I don’t watch box sets or TV series. I don’t know what’s happening on Masterchef. I have never seen an episode of Game of Thrones or House of Cards. I didn’t make it all the way through The Wire.
  • Go shopping  – this isn’t a big sacrifice for me, as I was never a huge fan of shopping-as-leisure activity. But everything is ordered online now – groceries, jeans, kids clothes, stationery. My last visit to a shopping centre was probably 6 months ago. 

The other side of this is that there are a team of people behind me helping me do things:

  • My amazing and supportive husband
  • A cleaner
  • An amazing nursery that looks after E three or four days a week, 8am-6pm.
  • My parents and parents-in-law, who are always ready to step in and cover the inevitable gaps that emerge with one-off work events, travel, illnesses and the like.

I don’t have a nanny at the moment, but one of the things reading lots of other women’s stories has taught me is that it can be an important way to make things work when you are working. I am well aware that I am extremely fortunate to be in this position, and to have all these resources to draw on. But I think it’s helpful to be honest about how things work from the inside, what it takes to keep things on the rails. Only by being honest with each other can we set realistic expectations.

So it’s not that I’m ‘doing it all’. I am deliberately not doing things. And I am part of a network of support, so what we do, we do together.

Inspired by:

There are lots of blogging mums that have helped me figure out what I want my parenting life to look like. This post was particularly inspired by:

Anna Whitehouse a.k.a Mother Pukkaher ‘I quit’ post was a great description of what it looks like when it’s not working, and how even well-meaning companies can make parenting incredibly hard.

Rachel Jeffcoat at Make a Long Story Short is one of my favourite I-will-read-anything-she-writes writers and her post on kicking smug parenting to the kerb is a great encouragement to be honest, and to be understanding of however other parents make it work. 

Cup of Jo has a short series of interviews with mums making it work for them.

Selfish Mother is a great desintation for all sorts of articles on realistic parenting. This one is on redefining having it all. 

The Dualista is a blog that doesn’t seem to have kept going but the whole premise of its short life was to interview women combining the home and work parts of their lives.  What switched me on to this was an interview with the brilliant beauty writer Sali Hughes

Sunday food links – 15 May 2016

Eurovision baking

One of my close friends had her first baby this week. It made me cast my mind back to those early newborn days. Of course, these are such a blur of feeding and sleep deprivation that it’s very hard to remember accurately. I did make an effort to write some thoughts at the time, and I also went back and culled my private mum’s Facebook group posts at some point, so I could try and capture the feelings at the time.

3 weeks: “Today is a day when it’s hard. Can’t sleep, can’t do anything else useful, feel weird and overtired, don’t want to eat anything but sweets and junk. Feel like a milk-generating zombie today.”

There were also better days:


4 weeks: “Objectively, she’s been trouble today – feeding every hour or more, seldom sleeping, and crying much of the time in between. But for some reason, today I can mostly just see big blue eyes, sweet, strokable hair, chubby cheeks and tiny fingers. As we keep saying, more with love than frustration, “it’s a good job you’re cute!””

I am reminded that very small victories were important, and built confidence. I went after them very deliberately in those first weeks: a walk to the park, a drive to the breastfeeding clinic, making it out of the house on our own for a walk. Little bits of progress that were enough to hint at changes to come, and give the idea that all of those would pass.

Now the changes come more slowly, but seem to creep up in a more unexpected way, ambushing you when you feel unprepared. Today she seems suddenly taller, leaner and more capable. She has been ‘taking care’ of us recently – asking if we are alright if we cough, patting us to send us to sleep. It’s a lovely glimpse into the little girl she’s trying to become, but also a reminder of how much baby has already disappeared.

This week’s eating was mainly quite simple, to minimise the complications swirling around us at the moment. A very quick but delicious coconut curry from Anna Jones. A slow cooker pot of beans. A few bits of take away. And then a good baking session on Saturday night, to go with Eurovision. I like to think the rye flour theme was a nod to the Swedish hosts.


Without a recipe:

  • Beef ragu and pasta (the ragu created from some frozen beef shin stew + passata + roasted tomatoes)
  • Quesadillas – leftover butter beans, with cheese and avocado
  • Franco Manca take out pizza




Sunday food links – 8 May 2016


Today is my gran’s 104th Birthday. Here she is, fourth from left, on a sunny holiday in Jersey with her sister. She says she felt ‘set free’. And here she is when she turned 100:


It’s hard to remember how remarkable she is, as she’s still so much herself, the Gran I’ve always known her as. She had brothers who fought in the first World War (she was the youngest of nine). Her husband spent most of the second World War in India, while she brought up their son at home. Before she married, she helped run the office for the family business. She cajoled one of the employees into teaching her to drive on the firm van! She has seen the arrival of television, microwaves, video recorders, the internet. We often use FaceTime so that she can see Ellie playing and say hello. She still lives on her own (albeit with lots of support from my mum and dad), cooks a little for herself, and reads voraciously.

Where do you even start with celebrating a 104th birthday? It gets harder every year to think of presents. But what she really appreciates is seeing us all, so we all came down to Somerset to celebrate, with food and cake, and E insisted on adding balloons too. She’s pretty clear that birthdays are all about balloons. She also insisted in opening all her cards and presents on my Gran’s behalf – she’s helpful like that. It was lovely to spend time all together, and for her to see some more of E in person: she’s changing so fast at the moment. I hope she remembers her Granny May, but even if she doesn’t we will have so many stories to tell her.


Without a recipe:

  • Supermarket pizza
  • Oven fish and chips
  • Steak sandwiches, with chutney and cornichons
  • Pasta with beef ragu, roasted tomatoes
  • Baked chicken with fennel, lemon, garlic and potatoes



Sunday food links – 24 April 2016

It's not really until tomorrow, but the party is today, so we have cake. Happy Birthday, little E 😊

A busy week. For the first time since I returned to work, I have done a four day week (instead of three days); I have filled in for colleagues, adding a few extra layers to the workload; and then there was the birthday party – the busy-but-fun bit.

All of this explains the lateness of this post. Although I also thought that as my meal planning cycle is Sunday to Saturday, it might be good to switch future posts to Sunday as well.

The busyness of this meant I once again handed over catering responsibilities to my mum for most of the weeknight dinners. So most of the recipes here are for the dishes for the birthday party weekend. There were sausage rolls from Yorkshire, my mum made a quiche and some little galettes with the cream cheese pastry I had in the freezer.

The weekend was mostly catered via Nigella recipes – my go-to whenever I’m catering for a crowd. Feast is a good starting point, but there are good menus in most of her books, and a guides to children’s party food in How to Eat, Feast and Domestic Goddess that I expect I will be turning to for many birthdays to come.

The Birthday Party menu


  • Cheese scones, sausage rolls
  • Butternut squash and caramelised onion quiche
  • Spring vegetable salad (see below)
  • Parma ham, bresaola, salami


  • Oven-roasted chicken with lemon and garlic – Nigella’s Forever Summer
  • (more) sausage rolls and leftover quiche)
  • Jersey boiled potatoes
  • Green veg

Other recipes:

  • Malteser cake cupcakes from Nigella’s Feast (for the cake ‘mane’)
  • Buttermilk birthday cake (from Domestic Goddess) and Meringue Buttercream (from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet) to make the lion cake.
  • Soft white rolls – from Feast (to have with pulled pork)
  • Smitten Kitchen green slaw (ditto)

Without a recipe:

  • A spring vegetable salad: baby carrots, sugar snap peas, asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli, and radishes – all blanched and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.
  • Oven fish and chips
  • Slow cooker pulled pork


Are recipe boxes the answer to easy weeknight cooking?

“Quick cooking rarely comes from a recipe so much as it does from intuition built over the course of hours and hours mucking around in a kitchen.”

Elizabeth G Dunn, ‘The Myth of Easy Cooking’, The Atlantic, Nov 2015

Last year, a piece appeared in the Atlantic called ‘The Myth of Easy Cooking‘. I recognised a lot of the emotions in the article, and the idea that ‘easy’ recipes are often anything but. It was thinking about how to make weeknight meals easier and yet more interesting that led me to try out ‘Hello Fresh’ a couple of weeks ago.

I have been curious about this model of cooking for a while. Some time back, I tried out the Riverford recipe boxes, which are based on a similar idea: deliver recipes, along with all the ingredients to cook them, in the exact sizes needed, so there is no wasted food. Hello Fresh have been conducting a very intensive marketing campaign, so that I can’t seem to open a magazine, a parcel, a newspaper or a browser tab without seeing a promotion from them. Finally, I succumbed and redeemed one of their vouchers to see what it was all about.

The three recipes I chose for this week (with their Classic box, you can choose three from five recipes – the others have no choice, but you can change boxes or pause a box) were Firecracker prawns with chinese leaf, butterflied chicken with leeks and feta, and a Jamie Oliver recipe for stir-fried steak with broccoli and noodles.

My experience with the recipes themselves was not bad. The cooking times given were generally accurate, and the results were mostly good, although not that interesting. It was useful to have things like chili bean paste premeasured and in a small portion, when normally that’s the sort of thing that ends up with yet another jar taking up space in the fridge.

However, far from making cooking easier, I feel like these sorts of meals are more effort than I normally make on a weeknight. They generally involved 25-30 minutes of continuous cooking. I think that if you bought these as a novice cook, and followed along, it might give you confidence that you could follow other recipes. But it also might give the impression that an ‘easy’ evening meal should involve 25 minutes of non-stop work. And I don’t think that’s fair.

Most of my evening meals require much less intensive effort than that. Perhaps it’s the same amount of preparation and cooking time, but with long periods of things being left unattended in the slow cooker or the oven.

I don’t think that cooking has to be this hard. As a way of trying out new ingredients and cuisines, without having to invest in lots of new bottles and jars, it seems like a good approach. But for someone who cooks fairly regularly, this just makes my dinner preparation more frantic, not less, and gives me lots of individually portioned things that I generally already have in the kitchen.

So if recipe boxes might not be the answer, what are some other strategies for weeknight meals?

Batch cooking at the weekends

Dinner tonight: meatballs, rice and spring greens. I've been thinking about what 'easy' weeknight cooking looks like. This fits the bill for me: meatballs made last night and finished in the oven this evening. A microwave pack of brown rice. Spring greens

There is no shortage of advice on this tactic, especially from American food blogs, where giant freezers seem to invite this sort of approach. Take a look at pinterest, and you will see lots of examples of recipes you can make in advance. More generally, this approach works well for any soups, stews and pasta sauces, especially those that you can dress up in different ways with different side dishes and accompaniments. I tend to find a degree of boredom sets in if I stash too much of the same thing away, making me reluctant to get it back out again. What does work well is to freeze curry, bolognese, meatballs and soup.

Weekly ingredients prep

Lunch prep

This is what Tracy at Shutterbean calls ‘meal prep’. Not quite preparing all the meals, but doing a lot of the chopping, cooking some grains or pulses, and boxing up snacks and salads for the week ahead. This gives a lot more flexibility than traditional meal planning, and boxing up snacks is a good move for kids. Some things that are easy to prepare in advance in this way: burrito bowls, big salads, soup and roasted vegetables.

Slow Cooker

White chili from the slow cooker ready for dinner - both baby's and ours.

The thing about slow cooker food is that it doesn’t often look pretty…

When I bought my slow cooker, I thought there was a risk it wouldn’t earn its place on the worktop. I am very happy to have been proved wrong here. It is invaluable for hands-off cooking, and the ability to have hot food ready as soon as I get in from picking up E at nursery is brilliant. Things that work best are large pieces of slow-cooking meat: pork shoulder, beef shin – and pulses. I’ve found it’s not necessary to brown things in advance in most cases. Depending on the amount of liquid you add, you can get some browning in the pot, and things like mince or bolognese don’t seem to suffer much from not having the meat browned, especially if you use pre-caramelised onions (which can also be prepared in the slow cooker!). I do sometimes chop onions, and get out ingredients the night before, to minimise the time needed in the morning. Even having a few cans and tins set out on the chopping board can remind me of what I need to do before leaving the house.

Tray bakes


You don’t have to do a lot of preparation in advance to cook a hands-off dinner. One easy strategy is to put everything onto a large baking tray and cook it all together in the oven. Start with the protein if you’re using meat – a couple of chicken breasts or thighs, maybe sausages. Then add vegetables, tossed with some oil and vinegar and seasoning. Add leafy vegetables towards the end, and fish or prawns will just take a short time. Some variations on this theme: broccoli and prawns; fish and sliced potatoes; chicken with potatoes, rocket and yoghurt sauce; sweet roasted courgettes with crispy chickpeas.

One pan pasta

Starting as I mean to go on with @rachelaliceroddy 's broccoli pasta. Lick-the-bowl-clean good.

By the same token, you can cook vegetables and pasta in the same water and drain it all together. This works spectacularly well with broccoli, but you can also use an absorption method of cooking to put all the pasta sauce ingredients into a pan with the pasta and just enough water to cook it, and heat the whole thing until the water is absorbed and the pasta cooked through. This requires more attention than the other methods, as you need to keep stirring as the water reduces, to stop it sticking. Martha Stewart’s One Pan Pasta is the most famous/pinned version. Food52 have a range of variations, as well as the story behind the Martha Stewart version.


Reading in 2015 – food, family and feminism

What sort of a year has it been? A good one, I think. I went back to work. I think I even managed to do some useful things, in between nursery drop-offs, pick-ups, repeated toddler-borne colds, holidays and all the rest. I started putting E into nursery for an extra half-day, to give me a morning to myself each week, which has worked brilliantly. It gives me a slot to run, that I really can’t miss, or there are no other opportunities. And I can get household admin and errands done without a toddler in tow. We have had a lot of good times as a family, and have had more meals with friends than the year before, simply by setting a schedule in advance where we would make time for a Sunday lunch.

Here are some of the things I read and enjoyed this year.

The Silicon Valley Suicides – a daunting read, about high school and normalising the pressure kids are under from parents and from each other.

This piece on stereotype threat from the MIT Admissions office blew my mind, and continues to influence me each day, especially at work. Are we priming ourselves and each other to underperform without realising it?

The writing exercise of ‘greening’ or striking out a specific number of words from a short piece is an appealing one, although I expect very hard to acquire.

To mark the anniversary, the New Yorker republished a huge essay on the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. It’s a stunning piece of work, detailed and engaging and manages to personalise a tragedy on an epic scale.

Oliver Sacks died this year. This piece on coming to terms with the end of his life is characteristically good-humoured and beautiful.

(Many of these stories I found via the excellent Next Draft email newsletter, that brings me links to some of the best writing on the web every day, without overwhelming me. Not a sponsored link, I just like it.)

On food and cooking:

The Myth of Easy Cooking – argues that cooking at home every day is hard, and we should stop pretending that it takes no effort.

Bee Wilson is a voice of incredible reason in the fad and trend-ridden world of food. I am currently mid-way through her brand new book on how we learn to eat, First Bite.  I loved this piece on whether or not you should stick to recipes.

This piece on a ritual of Friday Night Meatballs inspired our own series of open Sunday lunches in 2015, something we are likely to repeat this year.

Eating Well at the End of the Road shines a spotlight on a food community in a remote Alaskan town.

A debate broke out earlier in the year around Food52’s Piglet cookbook tournament: is it sexist to judge a cookbook by the pictures?

On family, kids and work-life balance:

I loved a lot of Rachel Jeffcoat‘s writing at Make a Long Story Short this year, but special mentions go to this piece on parenting a boy that seems to have a lot in common with you, without transferring your own anxieties; and a runner’s creed, for those who hate it (but do it anyway). She also has a reading and writing round-up of her own.

Shauna, aka Gluten Free Girl, is another writer who writes beautifully and with raw honesty about family and parenting. This is a lovely piece on accepting where you are, in the midst of messy, sometimes scary life.

And this piece of hers about having a rhythm and a ritual to eating each week is probably the food piece I referred back to most this year.

I added Miriam Gonzalez-Durantez to my list of inspiring women this year. Lots of good stuff in this interview, on work, and feminism and family (from before the election).

Via brainpickings, a lovely 1925 article on the rewards of fatherhood.

Advice to a daughter – a chance to revisit advice from mother to daughter, scrawled in a notebook and unearthed later.

New York Times writer David Carr died this year. I didn’t know him, but someone who did linked to his 2008 piece about being the father to twin baby girls while being addicted to crack. It is exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure, and not at all what you might expect.

A former clerk for Ruth Bader Ginsburg on being a stay at home dad.

Brilliant and down-to-earth make-up columnist Sali Hughes being interviewed on how she balances work, life, kids and the rest.

And if all that wasn’t enough, Bloomberg’s list of the 38 best stories we didn’t write had me bookmarking every other link to read later.

Catering for tiny tyrants – some lessons from feeding a baby

Upside of making @joythebaker Tiny Strawberry Cream Scones - they are perfect for tiny fingers. 😊 (downside: you have to share)

I was listening last week to the Food52 podcast episode “Why you should feed your kids pizza for breakfast” (a series I highly recommend), which discussed cooking with and for kids. This area is such a minefield of conflicting information and theories, and this prompted me to share here some of the lessons I’ve learned with feeding E over the past year or so.

First a disclaimer (one that should come with all baby advice): YMMV – Your Mileage May Vary. Kids are different, parents are different and the combination of the two is unpredictable. What works for me (and daughter number 1) won’t necessarily work for you and your child. That’s OK. I’m not intending here to judge your choices and what you have done with your child. Work out your own rules, your child’s preferences, and find a way through. And remember that as soon as you think you have worked out a pattern, it will change again.

A baby is one of the most satisfying and most frustrating people to feed. As I cook, I feel great delight and satisfaction when my baby picks something up in a chubby fist and tucks it into her mouth. Equally, there is a measure of despair that creeps in when you’re tired at the end of the day, and everything you present ends up on the floor. Their tastes are changeable, they have no way of communicating what they need, and they seem to grow in bursts, so it’s a difficult guessing game trying to satisfy their appetite. Here are a few hard-won principles that have kept things relatively sane at mealtime around here.

  1. Make a plan It helps to have a meal plan for the week. I still struggle with this, but usually I can at least sketch out meals for most of the week, even if I end up amending it later. I definitely notice that our eating is more haphazard if I haven’t done any planning. The main thing is to notice when we’re going to be eating something that E can share too, and when she will need something different (which usually means something from the freezer). For me, it helps to have a calendar on the fridge that I write things on, then it’s there staring me in the face when I come to make something to eat. (I use this sticker from Amazon with whiteboard markers).
  2. Get prepped Having some almost ready-to-go foods in the fridge simplifies dinner when I don’t have a plan. It especially makes it easier to provide some extra veg on the side of whatever else is on the table. For us (at the moment), this includes sticks of roasted butternut squash or sweet potato, plain boiled potatoes that can be converted easily into mash and plenty of fruit. I also keep some prepared food on hand: snacks like baby crisps, which I often use to buy me a bit more preparation time, and mini malt loaves and snap pots of baked beans to microwave.
  3. Use the freezer It’s so obvious, but having a stash of meals for E in the freezer saves us from panic-cooking many times a week. I have a stack of 8 cm tupperware pots which hold bolognese, vegetable bolognese, sometimes dal, and various leftovers from our meals. I also have a stack of these spinach pancakes, which can quickly be reheated in a frying pan with a bit of grated cheese to make a quick lunch (and make me feel better when I don’t present another vegetable). But do try something new with your child a few times before making a batch to freeze – there’s no point in sacrificing freezer space for something they won’t eat. I have frozen carrot muffins, vegetable fritters and mini quiches, all of which have been rejected every time.

A food blogger-inspired BLW dinner: braised beans from @wednesdaychef (some mashed) and braised pork (not beef) from @smittenkitchen

  1. Think in weeks not hours If she’s had a lot of fruit at lunch, I offer yoghurt for dessert at dinner. If lunch was mostly bread, I try to give her something fairly protein-laden for dinner. But in general, I try not to worry if she doesn’t get a balanced meal for every meal. As long as we’re getting fruit, dairy, protein, carbs and fat in some combination across the week, I don’t struggle to cram a bit of everything into every meal. Vegetables are (of course) the biggest challenge – there’s some idea that toddlers have a greater sensitivity to bitter flavours, especially those in things like brassicas, which accounts for their repeated rejection.
  2. Trust their tummies There are meals where E will eat only fruit. At others, she just wants bread. I don’t want food to be a struggle for power (at least, not yet) so I try to encourage her to try (or even to notice) all the things she has in front of her, but I don’t press her to eat anything. I try to keep preparing food that is good, and reasonably balanced, and she gets to choose what she eats. This can be really hard when she just doesn’t want to eat much, or feels like eating nothing but cherries. But I try to remember that this will be balanced out at another meal. And she still gets a bottle of milk before bed, so that will help to fill in any hungry gap.

Eating cherries

I’m really looking forward to when E can help cook, and we can bake together. For now, I try to enjoy the cherry juice dripping down chubby arms, the days when she sits on my lap and crams meatballs into her mouth with her fingers, and the look of bliss as she glugs her milk.

One year on

Monkey cakes for little E's first birthday

A year ago, I was just home from the hospital with our brand new baby girl. She was ever so slightly sallow from jaundice, but otherwise perfect, with a big mop of dark hair, and tiny hands which she loved to press against her cheek while she slept.

It’s such a cliché that it’s hardly worth saying but this has been a year of changes, big and small. It’s true that for the nine months of pregnancy, you think much more about the few hours of birth than the weeks and months that come afterwards. In some ways this makes sense – you have to learn as you do, and you also have to learn about this new human in your life, and their likes and dislikes: there is a good chunk of nature there being subjected to your initially hesitant nurturing.

I have learnt to stroll slowly with a pushchair, ekeing out a nap, rather than striding with a London-commuter bustle. I have learnt what you really can get done during a half hour nap (surprisingly little) and that sometimes the very best use of that time is a cup of tea and a biscuit. I’ve learnt the value of one-handed food that requires no preparation in the early days (quiche, sausage rolls and cake are excellent supplies to have to hand with a newborn). I’ve just a started to work out a pattern of cooking that keeps all three of us fed every evening without undue delays (the slow cooker and the freezer are a big help).

I have learnt that my sleep and her contentment come above everything else – a tidy house, a blog, reading, cooking. First, put on your own oxygen mask – looking after yourself means you have the resources to look after the baby too.

My daughter is fearless, bold, determined, intensely curious, delighted to be in the world. She knows what she wants, and is increasingly able to communicate it (by pointing, or going after it herself). She loves bananas, yoghurt, bread and bolognese sauce. I couldn’t be happier or more proud of the person she is becoming. I can’t wait for the next year – learning to walk, being able to stand next to me at a kitchen counter, watching the strawberries fatten in the garden. Happy Birthday little E. It’s been the most brilliant year so far, but I’m betting the next year will be better again.

Banana granola

Banana granola

I have always been keen on breakfast. I can’t leave the house without it, and if I am forced, by travel or illness, to miss out, I know I will feel worse for the rest of the day. My pre-baby regime was a bowl of cereal and muesli at home, usually followed by a muffin, a smoothie or a pot of yoghurt and fruit at the office.
Post-baby, breakfast has taken on a talismanic importance. The first meal after a long night, I load up my bowl with as much cereal, muesli and fruit as it will hold, and then hope that baby will sleep long enough for me to finish it!

I tend to eat granola as a sprinkling on top of this bowl, rather than having it on its own. This is somewhat healthier, as well – if you’re going to eat granola, you need to come to terms with the fact that it’s basically another form of biscuit.
This recipe is better than most, with a fairly scant amount of fat and sugar. The bananas provide the additional sweetness and stickiness that is needed for the oats to stick together a little. I tend to use brown rice syrup because I keep it around for another granola recipe (Nigella’s Fairfield granola), and because I find it leads to a crunchier result than either honey or golden syrup.

Banana granola recipe

I got this recipe from Green Kitchen Stories. It perfectly fit the brief of a simple-to-make granola, with the added benefit of using up a couple if ripe bananas. What I wasn’t expecting was the fruitiness of the mix – not precisely smelling of bananas, but a harder-to-place fruit fragrance. Combined with the coconut oil, this is a wonderful scented granola, with a texture balanced between crisp and chewy. It’s the perfect thing to have for an energizing breakfast after a sleep- interrupted night with a newborn.

Recipe lightly adapted from Green Kitchen Stories

  • 375 g rolled oats
  • 150 g flaked almonds (or chopped whole almonds, or a mixture)
  • 150 g pumpkin seeds (or a mixture of other seeds – sunflower, sesame, flax)
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp runny honey or maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp brown rice syrup (or replace with honey/maple syrup)
  • 2 large, very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed

Warm the coconut oil, vegtable oil and syrups or honey until all is combined. (I use a table spoon to measure the vegetable oil first, then the syrup, so it slides out).
Break the bananas into the mix in pieces and mash until smooth.
Mix the liquid with the oats and nuts.
Spread on an oiled baking tray and toast for around 30-40 minutes at 160C/140C fan, or until some of the oats and almonds have become golden brown.

Foods for new mothers

Little hand

So I am finally ready to emerge from my pregnancy-and-baby blogging hiatus. Since becoming pregnant last summer, I haven’t really had the energy or the urge to write here. I haven’t baked or cooked very much at all – especially not during that queasy first trimester. And my energy was sapped just getting through the day. But now I can actually get a little time for myself, if only with my phone in one hand while she feeds, and writing here feels like a necessary part of keeping my brain working.

I thought I would start with a list of things that have made these first few hectic weeks a little easier. I’m not intending to turn this into a baby blog, but as this little one has inevitably dominated the last weeks and months, this is one way to restart. None of these are product placement, sponsored or solicited in any way. These are just the (food-related) things that have been helping. You might notice that this list doesn’t exactly represent a balanced diet (!). Be assured, we are eating fruit & vegetables too, but breastfeeding is an energy-intensive business, so anything that keeps you going is ok in my book. And when you are trying to compensate for sleep deprivation with calories, carbs & sugar are really what you look for.


One of the things I was advised (by mumsnetters) to pack in my hospital bag was a bar of chocolate, and when we were stuck in the delivery room at midnight, still waiting to go to the ward 4 hours after delivering, I was very glad of it. And since then, I have been relying on a few squares of good chocolate during a feed, or in the evening to give my energy a boost.

Amelia Rope chocolate bundle

Fortunately for me, just a couple of weeks before my due date, I entered a competition on Amelia Rope’s Facebook page, and won a 3 month supply of her chocolate! I was a fan of Amelia’s salt-tinged chocolate flavours before. She combines fruit and citrus flavours with good chocolate to produce some delicious bars and little cubes. I am a particular fan of the milk chocolate, lime and sea salt combination – which sounds like it shouldn’t work at all, but is completely delicious. The salt and lime balance the sweetness of the milk chocolate, making it mouth-watering. And a square of dark chocolate is the perfect mid-feed pick-me-up.

Frozen meals 

Having meals in the freezer ready to re-heat is an essential for a new parent. I prepared a few things while on maternity leave – cottage pie, pork ragu for pasta. My parents and in-laws also provided meals, and some friends were kind enough to buy us a delivery from Cook, the frozen meal delivery service. My advice to those who are pregnant: make sure you don’t just prepare red-meat based things. Things like lasagne, cottage pie and chili con carne are easy to make in large quantities and freeze well, but I started to miss vegetables, fish & chicken. And make sure there is some space in your freezer for donated meals as well!


This is an unlikely one, but in the last 6 weeks at home, the hardest meal to get to is lunch. Breakfast can usually be grabbed while my Other Half is still in the house, and dinner is prepared during naps in the day (even if the extent of that preparation is just to defrost something), and usually eaten in shifts in the evening. But there often isn’t time to prepare lunch, even to the extent of making a sandwich. Quiche can be eaten straight from the fridge, and if it contains a good number of veggies, at least comes close to a balanced meal. A piece of fruit to follow and I can feel fortified for the afternoon. See also: pork pies and sausage rolls, but with less balance 🙂

Food delivery

Supermarket deliveries have been my preferred option for some time, and this has only become more essential with a baby. I use Ocado, with a fortnightly box of veg from Riverford, and tend to order both from my phone. I also top this up with odds and ends from the shops in walking distance – it’s good to have a reason to get out of the house and take a walk with the pram. As an added bonus, they also deliver nappies 🙂


At six weeks in, this isn’t quite so necessary – and in fact, can be a liability – but cake is another thing to grab for a quick energy boost. More importantly, it’s something to have on the afternoons with tea. Not that you will be drinking tea – hard to manage a cup of hot liquid in one hand with a baby in the other. No, the cake is really there for visitors to have when they come to coo over the baby. And as a beneficial side effect, you can scarf the leftovers before heading off to bed, leaving your other half with the baby and a bottle. One of the great presents we received was a cake box from Meg Rivers. This has long been my preferred present for new parents. Most people bring things for the baby, so it’s nice to get something that’s for the parents. Her cakes are made with real ingredients, keep well and are thoroughly delicious.

Over the next few weeks, I am trying to return to cooking and baking a bit more, and will be posting here when I can.