For six languid days we shared a house in Ubud with our friends, Lozzie and John. The house was perched precariously on a steep slope above a rivulet that was so far down we couldn’t see it. The surrounding gardens clung to the slope and and were full of the soothing ribbiting of frogs and birds and geckos. Once I’d grown accustomed to the worrying amount of steep stairs and my (completely rational) fear that the house would slide off the slope if it rained, it was wonderful. I gave up wondering how on earth they had built any of it in the heat and settled in.
This was the part of our holiday where we forgot what day it was.
There was a cooked breakfast every morning served by our hostess, Ketut. Hotels that we later stayed in, tended to serve a blander, rolled version of bananas pancakes. But Ketut’s were the ones that Lozzie and I raved about. They were deliciously lacy, served flat and topped with freshly grated coconut mixed with a little salt. Even Glenn, who doesn’t care much for pancakes for breakfast, succumbed to their buttery banana goodness.
Ingredients (makes 8 pancakes)
For the batter:
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1 pinch salt
1 tbsp melted butter
2 bananas thinly sliced
1/2 cup of fresh grated coconut mixed with half a pinch of salt
Honey (for drizzling)
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add the rest of the batter ingredients and mix til smooth. Cover and rest for at least 30 minutes.
To cook, have your banana slices ready. Stir up the rested batter. If it seems too thick, add some more milk. It needs to be thin enough to spread in the pan when poured. Use a non-stick frying pan over a moderate heat. Add 1/2 tsp of butter. When the butter foams, use a serving spoon to pour mixture into the pan. Let it spread a little, then place 6 – 8 slices of banana evenly across the pancake. When you can see that the mixture is just about cooked through, use a large spatula to flip the pancake over. Let the banana side sizzle for a minute and then remove.
Serve banana side down, topped with the grated coconut and drizzled with runny honey.
One childhood memory that won’t ever leave me is the time a shitty little neighbourhood kid had me utterly convinced that his real parents were aliens. He told me they were due to come back for him at any moment and would probably blow up the earth when they left afterwards in their spaceship. I believed his story. The way a child truly believes in Santa and lucky dips.
It was the middle of summer and we were sitting in a cubby which was actually an empty water tank. It was unbearably hot in there but I was terrified that if I moved I’d get zapped by the approaching alien parents. The smartest strategy seemed to be to stay out of their line of vision. Even if it meant not breathing fresh air for an unspecified amount of time.
And then Mum called me inside the house to eat spring roll pancakes and I instantly forgot to be scared and ran off to join my family for dinner. The point being, your favourite foods can distract you from anything – even impending alien attack or the end of the world.
Spring roll pancakes (warning: some waiting required)
3 cups plain flour
1 1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons peanut oil
Combine in a large jug or bowl. Blitz with a hand mixer until smooth. Cover mixture and leave to stand for at least 4 hours. Mix again. Add more water until the mixture is the consistency of thin cream. This is important. The mixture needs to spread easily in the frying pan to create large thin pancakes. Like crepes, only stronger and able to hold a decent amount of filling without breaking.
Cook your thin, crepey pancakes in a non stick pan on one side only. If you have a crepe maker, use that. Set aside.
500g chicken thighs (thinly sliced)
250g peeled green prawns
1/2 cup dried Chinese mushrooms soaked in hot water for an hour and then chopped
500g bean sprouts
1 bunch spring onions chopped
4 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine
2 teaspoon sesame oil
half teaspoon cinnamon
2 clove minced garlic
pinch white pepper
1 teaspoon raw sugar
Marinate the sliced chicken for at least two hours. Use a large frying pan or wok to fry chicken slices until almost cooked. Add prawns and chopped mushrooms. Stir until prawns cooked then add spring onions and beans sprouts. Keep tossing the sprouts through the mixture for two minutes or until the bean sprouts are cooked but not soggy.
Take a thin pancake and place a heaped tablespoonful of filling in the middle. Wrap like a parcel and place folded side down in a pan and shallow fry on both sides in peanut oil. Mum actually used to deep fry them briefly in a wok. Either way is very very good. Don’t be alarmed at the size. The filling is delicately flavoured and the pancakes make them weighty enough to have for dinner.
Even before I was a parent I was fascinated by the idea of the special toy. The Chosen One. The one subjected to the kind of love and attention that other toys can only dream about. I enjoy the look of them. These well travelled, precious companions whose bodies have been wrung limp by the passionate grips of toddlers.
Neither myself or my siblings had any such attachment as children. In my case I put it down to sheer laziness. I didn’t have the dedication that it takes to commit to that kind of relationship. None of my toys had the fur loved off them unless you count the Barbie dolls I cut the hair off. I was faithless and careless with all of them equally. I remember being aware though, that such exclusive friendships existed. Inspired books such as ‘Dogger’ and ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, I made a few feeble and short lived attempts at playing favourites. But as much as I might have wanted it, I could never make it stick.
How are these honorary members of the family chosen? And how long does it last? I’ve been introduced to favourites who have survived long enough to accompany their owners into adulthood. Others eventually get lost or tossed away, living on only in family folklore.
Any parent can tell you that the favourite toy becomes both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because that toy now has, let’s face it, magical powers. The power to soothe and induce calm and with any luck, sleep. At a time when you need every baby settling tool you can get your inexperienced little hands on, it can be a valuable addition to your armoury. That said, it can also screw you. Lost property boxes are full of favourite friends who have been left behind. Or you can forget to pack them for daycare and then you’ve screwed the daycare staff too. My sister has tried to get around this problem by purchasing five (essential) Hello Kittys. Another friend, whose child likes pieces of material, cut the silk into a number of smaller pieces, so that he never need be without.
At my baby shower I was given one of those popular French rubber giraffes called ‘Sophie’. I loved it and quickly decided that this would be his favourite. It was my plan that G and Sophie would be inseparable. This was both super wanky and naive. Sophie is a posh squeaky chew toy probably best suited to a small dog. She’s about as cuddly as a tube of toothpaste. However, I kept popping Sophie next to G in the pram, feeling sure that they would soon be besties by default. One day she was unceremoniously dumped out of the pram and never made it home. Point taken.
A few weeks later G had his first really bad cold. He emerged from this period of extra napping and snuggles, with a firm preference for a toy called Duckie. We don’t know how it happened. And even now that G can talk he can’t explain it. It’s just Duckie. He loves him. I didn’t get it at first but I do now. Now the floppy little duck with one lost eye replaced (by Glenn) with a black press stud, has charmed me. The nearest you can come to understanding the attachment is watching this child rub his sleepy face into grotty old Duckie and inhale the (dubious) scent as though it’s freshly baked bread. That and the way he will march right up to anyone game enough to touch his beloved pal, pluck him deftly from their hands and whisk him away to a safe place faster than you can say “Hey, that’s not sharing…”.
For five years I have waited for the relationship with Duckie to wane and it hasn’t. Duckie has outlasted the train phase and the Octonauts phase and is currently laughing in the face of Lego. Puh-lease, says Duckie, your kid can’t sleep with Lego.
Duckie no longer accompanies us on day trips though. And we stopped sending him to daycare a long time time ago after he was accidentally packed away in one of their toy boxes. By the time they rang to let us know he’d been found I was already putting the panicked finishing touches on a bunch of “Have you seen this Duck?” posters.
Basically he’s just so ridiculously special that I don’t know that we would feel if we lost him now.
Glenn and I now have one proper honest-to-God birthday party under our parental belt. The kind where you invite the whole kindergarten class because you can (and so you do). The kind where you get overly ambitious about how much goddamn fun they will have thrust upon them and enlist your visiting in-laws to help you cut out large cardboard glider planes, for each little guest. A back breaking and seemingly endless task that possibly made them wish their son had married someone a little less bossy enthusiastic.
Almost everyone in G’s class RSVP’d a big fat yes, which thrilled us. Except that when I did the maths we realised that with at least 16 kiddies, multiplied by parents and younger siblings, plus our family and friends– we were looking at somewhere about sixty people or more. Whoa. We had hired a local playgroup hall for the event. But food was still going to be an issue. If only the gazillion cardboard glider planes had been edible we would have been set.
When this happens to you, don’t panic. Just make an absolute shitload of these pork and apple sausage rolls. This is a modified version of Glenn’s recipe. I have to mention this otherwise someone will call copycat.
You will need:
1 packet of puff pastry (4 sheets)
4 Granny Smith or Pink Lady apples (peeled and chopped)
400g pork mince
400g of sausage meat (you can either buy a tube or use the filling from good sausages)
1 bunch fresh sage
1 bunch thyme
2 grated carrots
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
3/4 cup bread crumbs
4 tablespoons sesame seeds (for garnish)
Chop the herbs and put everything in a large bowl. Wash your hands and get in there and mix it up. I won’t lie, this is not at all enjoyable. It’s cold and sticky but over quickly and you don’t have to haul out the heavy mixer.
Right, you’re ready to roll. Cut one square of defrosted puff pastry in half. Spoon a good strip of mixture length ways across the pastry. Fold pastry over. Roll and seal gently. Roll again so that the sealed edge is underneath. At this point you can cling wrap and freeze if you like. Otherwise cut into 6 – 8 even pieces.
Place on a baking tray on a sheet/baking paper, daub with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake in a moderate oven for about 35-40 minutes or until golden.
Pop them out on the party table with some relish and say goodbye!
Makes about 60 sausage rolls. Triple the recipe for outrageously large birthday parties.
You know what I’m talking about. You need bread/milk/wine badly. No time or desire to dress properly. That takes effort. And anyway you want to shower nicely later when you can, so what’s the point getting dressed now? It’s early, but not quite early enough to risk pyjamas for the mission. Or maybe it’s actually late and you’re already undressed for the day and no way are you putting your bra back on. No. Fucking. Way. So what do you do?
You get fake dressed.
This is a lot easier in winter. A good coat can make pretend dressing a breeze. However, summer time yields the footwear advantage: thongs and other slip-ons. You get extra points for these because you don’t have to bend to put them on. It’s all about minimal effort for maximum effect. And the effect we are after is: “nothing to see here”.
This morning I got faked dressed to drop Glenn off at work, with the idea that afterwards G and I could do some super quick Lego shopping. The Lego shopping would enable me to have a lovely proper shower later as G would then stop driving me crazy asking me about the desired Lego item and be blissfully preoccupied for a time while he put it together.
So this was the fake outfit: hair left as is but could possibly pass as purposely tousled ‘bed hair’ if you didn’t look too closely and see that it was completely flat on one side from being laid on and ever so slightly dandruffy. Hooded and (crucially) zipped coat covered no bra no undies ensemble of very old and holey (not holy. Holey) singlet and leggings that I slept in. No socks. Resisted the delicious lure of Uggs and slipped feet into elastic sided ankle boots. This feels very weird with no socks. That’s ok. If you do this, you’re passable. You can now leave the house and get the chocolate, I mean milk, without being actually dressed. Carry a large bag. It looks more convincing. Walk fast.
Admittedly, fake dressing is made easier for me by the fact that in winter I tend to sleep in tank tops and bad track pants. Like many people, I change into this outfit as soon as I get home. If it’s warmish I can just add a hoodie and thongs to be fake dressed. And then maybe someone might be fooled into thinking my messy/greasy hair is due to a sweaty workout. And that I’m fresh out of a hard core Bikram yoga class and not just fresh out of Kit Kats and making the dash for more.
I told my friend Rosebud that I was writing about this and she said that fake dressing for her is leaving the house in the track pants she slept in with the addition of “blush and mascara and a lovely scarf”. Blush? Her theory is that people will think that if she’s gone to the trouble of putting blusher on then surely she has applied the same sort of effort to the rest of her person. Admirable logic. I imagine people scanning her, Terminator-style, up and down when she’s in line at the checkout. Their gaze comes to rest on the blusher. Conclusion: this person is fully dressed. Move along.
We agreed that you can’t get fake dressed in patterned pyjamas. That’s not fake dressing. That’s just going out in your pyjamas. Unless you actually rolled the pyjamas up above your knees and concealed them under a thick dress or coat. But that’s a bit too much effort which is completely against the rules of fake dressing. It’s not done. It’s also actually just a tad crazy. Which we’re clearly not.
I am definitely these two things: impatient and a little bit clumsy. I’m also constantly starving for pot sticker dumplings. If you’re anything like me you probably love dumplings, but wince at the thought of creating those beautifully pleated edges. Solution: Pot sticker wontons. Approximately one billion times easier to wrap and just as delicious. Add some cold beer and some dipping sauces and you’re on the way to true dinner happiness.
These also freeze beautifully and I can tell you there is nothing like being on the tired bus ride home after work and remembering that you’ve got them tucked away in there, ready for a quick defrost and a frizzle in a hot pan. Nothing. It will make you smile to yourself for the rest of the bus ride. Call ahead and get someone to put beer in the fridge. And warm your slippers.
You will need:
1 large non stick pan with a fitted glass lid
1 packet of wonton wrappers (these are the thin yellowish square ones and they’re available in Asian grocers and some good corner stores. Normally frozen)
400g of pork mince
150g peeled green prawn meat
1 small bunch garlic chives
1 good slug of soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 small can water chestnuts
1 bunch spring onions (for garnish only)
Peanut oil (for frying)
Warm water in a cup
Your dipping sauce of choice (brown/black vinegar/oyster sauce/soy/chili)
I use the above as a base and then add whatever other variables I have at the time. Dried Chinese mushrooms are nice. As are grated carrot and other veggies. I sometimes add grated ginger also.
Put all ingredients ( bar the peanut oil and spring onions) in a food processor to combine. Don’t overwhizz. You still want to see some chunks of water chestnut.
Scoop a teaspoonful of the mixture into your waiting (defrosted) wonton wrapper. Dip your finger in the warm water and dab each corner of the wrapper lightly. Draw opposite corners together and overlap like a little parcel. Place on a large tray or board covered with grease proof paper. The mixture should get you between 35 -45 wontons depending on how generous you are with the filling.
Heat a drizzle of peanut oil in large non-stick pan over a medium heat. If it’s too hot the bottom of the wonton will burn before the rest of it cooks properly, so watch your first batch carefully and adjust the heat accordingly. Place about ten of your little parcels folded side down in the hot oil. Then right away add a 1/4 cup of water and put a lid on the pan to seal in the steam. Wait five minutes. After five minutes the bottoms should be golden crisp and the tops should be cooked and wrinkled.
Serve immediately with the chopped spring onions and dipping sauces.
A note on dipping sauces – Dave suggests infusing the brown/black vinegar (like Chinkiang) with some of the spring onion, chilli and ginger for a bit beforehand.
Happy face stuffing! x
ps- I sent this post to my editor (aka Pip) to have a bit of a read and she kindly pointed out that wonton was spelled incorrectly. Startling news, seeing as I have always until now thought that the correct spelling was… wanton! Wonton just looks weird to me now…
Someone said that their five year old has already stopped holding their hand and I was horrified. It was like hearing that someone had just lost all of their teeth. You can never get those back. Not your real ones.
I’ve taken to carrying G more than I need to and savouring the lingering babyness. I squish-kiss his face and already loathe the time ahead when he won’t want this.
From behind he now resembles a tiny actual man with Glenn’s long torso. It’s less like having a cute, foreign creature in the house who doesn’t speak a word of understandable English, and more like having a little friend, albeit a very loud, self-centred friend, who rules me, does no laundry and doesn’t lie politely when you cook something awful. An adorable housemate who is maddening but fortunately loveable. Who unfurls all the toilet paper onto the floor and pretends that it fell. Who strokes my face and declares he will marry me. This is both disturbing and strangely sweet. I’m assuming he won’t still want to when he’s twenty but I will definitely remind him.
It’s mostly a treat that he can now tell us, in no uncertain terms, exactly what he thinks. Upon being told that TV watching is being temporarily relegated to weekends, he informs us solemnly that we are making him very sad. Other things we do to make him very sad include not allowing him to eat pineapple flavoured jelly whenever he wants. And making him shower at least every other day.
Going out for dinner with him is no longer torturous (yessss). I wouldn’t say it was a breeze yet, but certainly not torturous. Sometimes now when we hear a baby going off its head, we exchange a happy relieved glance and a mental high-five that we’ve passed that phase. Sorry about that.
He has started school and now knows people that I don’t know. He’s been in trouble for hanging with the older boys and when I ask him about them and whether they’re good or naughty, he says naughty with eyes shining happily.
I’m still astounded we have made a person who now talks and mostly makes sense. He’s long winded (like his dad) and says things like, “Mummy, at some point we’re going to need some more cereal”.
No more high chair and melamine dishes or packing a complete change of everything when we leave the house. We don’t have the space to hold on to many old baby things, I’ve kept some funny spaceship pyjamas and some tiny shoes and that’s it. Everything else has gone to make room for the bigger G.
I’m a little wistful, because we won’t have any other children. But I’m also clicking my heels gleefully as we give away the high chair and other trappings of babyhood, and use the last of the wet wipes to clean the bathroom.
My son is almost five, which means that I am almost forty. I remember wondering how I would feel about this when he was born. Him turning five and me turning forty. Because forty seemed like a lot then. Now I round my age up so that I can get used to the idea. But I will never do this with him.