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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

We Could Have Had It All...

My almost-two-year-old is going through a rather exasperating phase at the moment. Exasperating for me that is. He isn’t exasperated at all. Oh no.  In fact, he’s cool as a cucumber chilling in the crisper.

While I’m pretty much done pulling my hair out. Tomorrow, I’ll be bald.
So, the phase – friends, mummies and countrymen – is not eating.

(My blood pressure’s rising even as I write the words)

Seriously – he is not eating.
Simply not.

I’ve tried everything. Absolutely everything.
Tried and Failed.

And so our thrice-daily mealtime exchange has become roughly thus:

I offer him food.
He offers me (in a strictly ordered sequence): head wagging, sticking out of the tongue, spitting out food, horrifically loud wailing, arms being flung in every conceivable direction, concluded by (grand finale) a truly blood curdling shriek. As if he’s Chicken Little and the sky’s falling.

I can’t take it. I just can’t.

A child of mine, refusing food?
Is this even possible?

And I don’t even have any hair left to pull out!

Imagine the sheer extent of my bafflement when I go to pick him up at school this afternoon and I’m handed a “report card” that says – “Lunch: All x 2”

“Whaat?” I ask pointing to the said line in dumbfounded disbelief.

“Oooh” the teacher says coolly, “he liked his lunch so much, he asked for an extra portion and ate it.”

I stare at her in silence.

“Winifred’s a great cook!” she adds happily.

My next few actions are a series of disoriented blurs.
Much to her amazement, I mutter a hurried thank you, pick up my child and run out of the premises like a crazed ballerina with her tutu on fire.

Outside, I place child in pram, hastily fasten one strap, ignore the other (I’m a baaaaad, baaaad woman – don’t be like me) and telephone the father of said child.

“They’re saying he ate two portions of lunch,” I say with great passion, the words coming out in a single rapid sentence without pause.

I am met with an eerie silence.

Hello, hello, helllooo? I shriek.

“Ams, Ams, I’m very much here. Can you please stop screaming and gasping and talking all at once?”

“Yes, yes, ok” I say breathlessly. Then I hold the phone away from me and take a few shallow breaths. When I’m a bit calmer, I bring it back to my ear and try again – “They’re saying, at school, that he ate all his lunch. And then he asked for more lunch. And then he ate all his lunch. Again.”

“Oh wow, that’s great” says a cheery voice on the other end.

This is NOT what I want to hear.

Once again, I hold the phone away from my ear and much to the amusement of another mother walking her child home from (very same) school, give it (the phone that is, not bystanding child) the scowl of death.

Then, I take a breath. Another one.

“Honnnney...” I say, in sugar coated (alright, alright, honey-coated) fakeness, “I think you are missing the point!”

“What pray,” he asks, “is the point, my love?”

“Well. Let’s see, shall we? I get ‘bueeeeaaagh’ (stick tongue out please for accurate rendition of intended sound effect) and Winifred gets lunch x 2? Just where is the justice in this world? Can you please point me to it? That, I think, is my point.” I finish indignantly.

“Well...” he starts to say...
But I cut him off. Because my anger’s given way to sadness and suddenly I want to cry.

“It’s meeeee. Isn’t it? I’m a baaaaad baaaaad mother!!”

“Oh God, Ams! Get a grip. You’re NOT a bad mother.”

(I do have a flair for the dramatic)

“Well, then what?” I challenge.
I’ve gone back to being angry. Being sad is a hopeless exercise.

“Maybe you should ask to spend an afternoon with Winifred...” he suggests.

That’s it.
I’ve heard enough.

This is the last and final straw.

I say something that sounds like “Grrrrr....”
And hang up.

I am furious.

I’m furious with everyone. The phone, Sid, the teacher, Winifred, myself. And most of all with the cheeky monkey grinning back angelically at me.

“Oh no, you don’t,” I say, hands on my hips, stamping my feet for emphasis (right there in the middle of the road).

“Don’t you smile at me like that!”

(I continue)

“Just you watch, Mister. Tonight you’re going to eat what I cook. Times 2. Times 4 in fact. Or Times however many that’s needed for Winifred to want to spend an afternoon with me.

“And that is Because I Said So.” I conclude with a flourish.
(Not that he asked or anything).

In fact, he’s looking at me with his big brown doe-eyes. As if he understands none of the soliloquy I’ve spouted so articulately.

I narrow my eyes to slits and glare at him. "Oh stop looking so innocent. Don't think you can fool me."

I turn my attention to the “report card” to see what the one-who-won’t-eat has eaten twice over.

And – before the sheer curiosity of all of this kills you as it did the poor old cat – the culprit, my friends, is (drumroll please) – Penne Carbonara!!

Ha! Who would have thunk it?

But it is what it is. And because it is, it is what I’m going to be making for dinner. And the whole household is going to eat it, like it or not. And that includes the grandparents. And Mr ‘maybe you should go spend an afternoon with Winifred’


So I run full speed, like a race-pram driver on a mission to win, down the road and to the nearest Waitrose and...

Here’s what I buy:

-       500g penne
-       3 eggs
-       275g pancetta or smoky bacon (optional)
-       50g Parmesan, finely grated
-       60 ml double cream
-       1/2 onion, diced
-       2 cloves garlic, minced
-       An appropriately guilt-quelling amount of veggies cut into bite size pieces (more about this later.) I’m using a medley of broccoli, cauliflower, sliced mushrooms and peas. I’m obsessed with peas right now. That’s my phase.
-       2 tsp olive oil
-       Salt & lots black pepper
-       A small grating of nutmeg (also which I am becoming rapidly infatuated with, but more about this later)

Now, before we go any further, I know I’ve been naughty and just gone and undone two very important claims I’d previously made. Which (in no particular order) stand as follows:
1.    That I’m not going to be cooking for a while
2.    That I’m going to be (very seriously and in great earnest) watching my weight
About the first:
Here’s the thing. It’s simple.
I’d be delighted to relinquish my kitchen to the able and willing hands of my lovely parents when it’s Indian food I want. Or even, Anglo-Indian to be fair.
In those great many instances, I leave them to it and go and get my nails done.
But if I ask this Indian duo to try their hands at Italian food – I fear, my friends, that the result would be most unsatisfactory.
And particularly because this is a dish of such vital significance – I mean, it has the small matter of my entire reputation resting on it – I don’t want to take a chance.
And that’s that.
As for the second:
For those of you who missed my last post – well, my mother called me fat. (“I’m so happy to finally see some meat on your bones,” were the exact words uttered.)
I’m still reeling from it. Really.
And so I vowed to STOP my immoral and profligate gluttony.
And reign in temptation.
And live the life of a Sage (Mrs. Sage), surviving on nuts and seeds.
And now? (precisely 1 day later?)
Now (precisely 1 day later) I peer into my Waitrose bag. And I spy with my little eye...
Double cream and pancetta and eggs and parmesan...
Diet food. Surely.
I’m a baaad, baaaad promise-breaker. Sob.
But what am I supposed to do?
It’s the price one pays for motherhood.
And so let it never be said that I didn’t put the monkey’s interests before my own.
Because – this is the harsh truth, ladies and gentlemen, listen up!
I cannot have my Carbonara and eat it too.
Anne-Marie Slaughter seems to think so: Well not precisely in those words. But, she says, “I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can have it all at the same time.”
Now let’s see.
I can have my Carbonara and eat it too?
Why then is there a niggling feeling in my head telling me that perchance, perhaps and just maaaaybe...if I routinely consume double cream and pancetta and eggs and parmesan...I may very soon have to feed my skinny jeans to the donkeys.
Because one can’t EVER have it all, can they?
This is Life 101, folks.
BUT: (Also Life 101) life is all about options. And what I do have the option to do, is to throw in a stunningly large bunch of veggies. In appropriately guilt-quelling quantities.
Because while I can never have my Carbonara and eat it too – because this is one of life’s intrinsic limitations, and the sooner we accept it, the happier we’ll be – I can make my Carbonara greener. Which will make the Environmentalists happy. If not the Feminists. But sigh! I can’t make everyone happy, can I? Or can I?
Here’s how you do it:

Cook the Penne according to package directions. Oh, and by the way, I’d always thought of Carbonara as going best with Spaghetti or Linguine
But the Nursery cook, Winifred, uses Penne. So Penne it is. I’m not arguing with Winifred!
Right, so while the pasta is cooking, heat a frying pan, add the olive oil and fry the pancetta or bacon until dark brown and crisp.
Remove from the pan, let drain on paper towels, and keep aside.
Now, pour off all of the bacon grease from the pan, but don’t wash it. Place it back on the stove over medium-low heat and throw in the onions and garlic. Cook until golden brown. Now add in all the veggies so they become coated with the flavoured oil, and fry until they start to caramelize. Don’t overcook them – the crunch is a great contrast to the smoothness of the pasta. If you’re not using meat, just skip this step. Fry the onions and garlic and when browned, add in the rest of the vegetables.
To make your Carbonara sauce, take a clean bowl and mix together the eggs, Parmesan, cream, salt and pepper until smooth and creamy.
Now, put it all together!
When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving a cup or two of the cooking water. Toss the prepared pasta in the pan with the veggies. Add in the bacon and mix it all together. Then remove from the heat and slowly drizzle in the Carbonara sauce, stirring the pasta the whole time, so the sauce fully coats each bit. Splash in a little of the hot pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Grate over the nutmeg.
And that’s that done, guys!
It’s just gone past 6pm and I’m going to try feeding the blessed child in an hour. And all I am saying is this: For the love of God (and the Feminists), he has no choice but to “have it all...”

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