‘Tis the Seaon for Art (yes, and to be jolly)

Contrary to conclusions one could (justifiably) come to based on my recent posts, my life is not just about my latest, nor my next, chocolate fix.

I have spent the last two evenings hob-nobbing with local Hackney artists and have switched poison: from chocolate to alcohol. Which, fyi, also rocks.

Friday night I went to the opening of this weekend’s open studios at the invitingly named Chocolate Factory in Stoke Newington. I saw some brilliant ceramics by a French artist, had an inspirational chat with a man who creates sensory spaces for children inside schools (unfortunately not in Hackney), and had my eye on a neon-coloured print of a camera for the boyf. I drank red wine, ate pleasingly salty peanuts and crisps, and even a few dark chocolate digestives.

Last night I was at the opening of a pop up shop at The Old Dentist’s surgery (now an events and exhibition space) on Chatsworth Road. As the story goes, the “dentist” who once practiced there was taken to court for a minor offence of some sort and it came out during the trial that he wasn’t a properly qualified dentist after all. Apparently when the current owner of the space took it over, it had blood spattered on the ceiling. Although my Little Shop of Horrors version of the story is at least third hand, it only adds to my suspicion of dentists.

The night: Fairy lights, a Xmas tree, hand crafted jewellery, prints, cushions and cards, guitar strumming and lots of fizz and mince pies. A perfect evening (without children) to warm the soul and get into the Christmas spirit.

We need to source a Christmas tree. I am hoping we can find a very big one to bring the smell of Christmas into our house.

Pomanders, Christmas wreaths, shiny decorations, prepare yourselves. I’m coming to get you!

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The End of the Chocolate spread. Phew

Thankfully, I have now completed my demolition-of-the-chocolate-spread project.

The final chapter was played out over dinner this evening and followed a serving of Waitrose’s own Fresh Chorizo and Manchego Cheese Ravioli (fyi currently on a two for £4 special offer). If you haven’t tried this ravioli and are ever stuck for something which should please both adult and childrens’ palates (our kids at least), this is a bloody good choice.

We just drizzled it with olive oil and a bit of fresh basil but I think if you had more time than we did this evening, a fresh tomato sauce would also complement it really well.

I digress (albeit for a worthy cause).

The naughty little chocolate tooth wasn’t quite satiated after the ravioli and then I remembered the chocolate spread (again…déjà vu?). There was nothing pretty about what happened next. It involved the jar’s entire contents (chocolate with hazelnut, lemon and coriander), and a knife. The three-year-old got in on the act (she has plenty of time to grow up and learn that this is not how you eat at the dinner table) and so did a jar of organic crunchy peanut butter.

I also had a one hour Pilates class this evening and am back on the body-temple tip. At the very least I’d say it cancels out the naughty thing that happened with the chocolate. Right?

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Breakfast: more glam than porridge, and much tastier

I was stumped at breakfast.

Before my tonsillectomy, every morning of every day, I used to eat of a couple of tablespoons of porridge oats and another couple of granola (Waitrose do a really good nutty one), covered in some Alpro pouring yoghurt which, if like me you’re not into dairy, is a pretty good replacement for the real thing. Sometimes, I would add a chopped pear, apple or banana but usually that was it. It was healthy and filling and I loved it.

Since getting the tonsils whipped out and eating next to nothing for over a week, I am finding it hard to get back to my good old breakfast habits.

This morning, I thought I would take charge and get back to it. But as I watched the boyfriend pour himself the last of the granola, I knew it was not to be. Granted, we had porridge oats, but no fruit and frankly, I was not tempted.

And then I remembered this (below) amazing chocolate spread my Dad brought over from Paris at the weekend. I reached into the cupboard for it, and a teaspoon.

Oh dear (in a good way).

Image

If you can’t read the small print, it is from l’Atelier Du Chocolat in France which has several branches and, if you like chocolate as much as I do and are ever over there, is probably worth a visit. If you want to buy this stuff (WARNING: you risk an accident such as mine this morning) and can’t read French, it is chocolate spread with hazelnuts, coriander and lemon.

This delectable spread is a step up from Nutella and although the coriander and lemon flavouring is pretty mild, it is also probably what saved me from eating the entire pot. Phew.

And my breakfast plans for tomorrow? Well, I doubt I will have time to pop to Waitrose and pick up some more granola by then. At best I have almost 24 hours to carefully come up with a chocolate-free menu and at worst I’m pretty sure there are some kippers in the freezer.

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The Truth about Waitrose (and chicken livers)

I could write a long list of brilliant things about where I live (in Hackney) and hopefully I will get around to compiling that list soon.

One thing I have mentioned in several posts – and would definitely feature – is the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford. It is only a mile away from our house, I know exactly where the best parking spots are and, goddammit, it is (according to itself) the biggest shopping mall in Europe.

While these attributes may not do it for all of you, let me tell you one more thing that you will surely agree makes Westies count as a pretty special place.

Waitrose.

Since Westies opened about a year ago, supermarket shopping has, for me, become a breezy, social affair: I get to rub shoulders with like-minded local foodies who are relieved there is life after the grotty Asda at Leyton Mills or Tescos at Hackney Central.

Even the son-of-a-trade-unionist boyfriend has finally admitted that Waitrose rocks and that it is not, contrary to popular belief, ridiculously expensive. I sometimes catch him in debate with one or other of our would-be neighbour-converts, using every argument in the book to win them over.

I love a good bargain even more than he does. I also love the challenge of cooking a cut of meat or fish I never have before. And, yup, those two things combined make Waitrose le supermarché de choix. Pour moi, anyway.

Case in point: I picked up organic chicken livers that were reduced to 99p. They went into the freezer for a few weeks while I pondered what to cook with them.

And then it came to me as I was watching my (currently) fave programme Masterchef The Professionals. As a skills test, the contestants were given what looked like a huge hulk of fat but was actually a beef kidney to prep and cook into a dish. As ever, the stern but brilliant Monica Galetti made it look easy as pie, effortlessly digging past the fat to reveal the unappetising kidney (fyi raw chicken livers don’t look too good either) which she cooked in lots of butter and then, using an assortment of other ingredients including Marsala wine, cream and mustard, served up on sliced brioche. It looked bloody delicious and made Gregg Wallace salivate on camera (he is ever so good at doing that).

Anyway, there you have it. My inspiration for chicken liver pâté (the healthy butter-free version).

Half an onion, chopped and fried in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with a bay leaf until golden brown. Chicken livers added, heat turned up to seal them and cooked for a few more minutes (I’d say about 4 but use your instincts). Some Marsala wine (a small glass) added and allowed to bubble and reduce by about half. Bay leaf removed, salt and pepper added and the mixture whizzed up and put into ramekins and then the fridge. Served on toast with mini gherkins (my preference is with Maille’s mini cornichons which I bring over from France), this pâté is lip lickingly délicieux!

Even my petite Madame, at the tender age of three, loves it.

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Food: a good day

It is almost 24 hours since my food choice catastrophe. I can now term it as such because I think it truly risks spoiling my future relationship with food.

What I didn’t say in my corned beef blog last night is that I made a second food faux pas yesterday. As if greasy spoon and corned beef weren’t enough, I then (out of desperation-I do know better, honest, but we had no white) used (excellent French) sweet rose wine in the fish and chorizo stew that I made for dinner.

It was pretty bad.

The boyfriend thought it was delicious but he was either A. too hungry to realise it was not, B. trying to make me feel ok about it, or C. is deluded. I don’t have a hunch about which.

As I already said in my corned beef confessional, I ate a Gu After Dark Hot Chocolate Soufflé (accompanied by some soya ice cream) last night in a bid to forget all about the badness of the day. But, despite my love of all things chocolate, it did not cancel out my memory of the day’s decisions.

However, we just had smoked salmon and soft boiled eggs for breakfast. With delicious Poilane bread brought over from Paris by my Dad this weekend.

The (only) good thing about a low is that a high usually (eventually) follows. There is light at the end of the tunnel and my relationship with food might just stand a chance.

Time for the nursery run.

A tout à l’heure!

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Corned beef resolutions

I took the girls to our local greasy spoon for lunch.

My unfortunate decision to do so was not exactly what I could describe as my fault. And yet it would be untrue to say I was taken there under any form of duress.

My daughters’ friend and mum asked if we wanted to go after we picked the kids up from nursery. And it felt somehow antisocial to turn down the invite. Plus, I have to admit I was strangely intrigued about having lunch in a greasy spoon (to my mind the kind of place reserved for the worst kinds of hangovers). So off we went.

But…It was raining heavily. I had no rain cover for the buggy, no brolly, no handbag (so no wipes, nappies, bribes, nor lipstick) and I knew immediately that we should instead be heading home. This was a stupid idea and the alternative prospect of an afternoon of CBeebies suddenly had genuine allure. But the mum might think I was a weirdo if I changed my mind mid-way. And Madame would no doubt have a tantrum. Not worth it.

Rain…

So there we were, sitting in the greasy spoon. I had little sis on my lap but she was wriggling around and crying, clearly desperate to be toddling around. I was pretty soggy and looking to the unappetising menu options for inspiration. And of all those options, I made the most bizarre decision to order a corned beef salad. Bizarre on several levels: I have eaten corned beef maybe twice in my life, and salad would hardly be a usual greasy spoon choice. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I ate it all. Plus quite a bit of big girl’s over-zealous order of sausage, egg and chips.

Needless to say I have been feeling a tad unwell for the rest of the day. Not even the Gu After Dark Hot Chocolate Souffle I had this evening has properly cleansed my tastebuds.

I will only make good food choices from now on.

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Jingle Bells

As a stay-at-home mum, I sometimes forget which day of the week it is. No disrespect to my own brain cells nor indeed those of any other hard working stay-at-home parent. Quite to the contrary, the job is full time enough to overshadow seeming irrelevancies such as what day or date it might be.

Yesterday was a Saturday. Which turned out not to be so irrelevant after all.

Before embarking on future shopping trips to my local (much loved) Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, I must remember to check. Especially in the run up to consumerism-heavy Christmas.

Believe what you will about the current economic crisis. Westies was packed, and not just with window shoppers. Even the tills at the brilliantly staffed John Lewis department store were heaving. I was/am still recovering from a tonsillectomy (sorry to go on about it but yesterday was only day 11 of the much publicised two-week recovery) and what I suspect to be withdrawal from the Tramadol pain killers and I should probably have known better than to visit a busy shopping centre with the boyfriend and two kids on a Saturday afternoon.

Needless to say we spent a hellish couple of hours during which Mademoiselle, our one-year-old cried pretty much non stop, her big sister demanded lots of pink stuff, and we didn’t even manage to find shoes for either of them which had been the whole point of the expedition. I should add that the arduous nature of the visit was made worse as it followed an exhausting morning comprising the weekly ballet class, a children’s birthday party and heavy negotiations over lunch with the girls.

I wished I had never agreed to come.

And then, as we were wandering around the lingerie department looking for a new post-breastfeeding bra, someone with a big beard, a big belly and a loud laugh came and made everything ok again.

It was Father Christmas accompanied by one of his elves.

The elf was carrying a basket of sweeties and gave our big kid and I a lollipop each. Santa promised to bring us all toys for Christmas, as long as we were good until then.

I promise to be very very good indeed. As long as that doesn’t mean staying away from chocolate.

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