Forth trimester diaries…

So apparently the forth trimester is over and we have started using months instead of weeks to describe how old Etta is. There have been good times and lets say more testing times in the first 12 weeks of being a parent and I definitely feel a more confident mum than I did 12 weeks ago. I still don’t feel like I am nailing it…I am not sure you ever do?!

As I type this blog post Etta is asleep in the bed next to me, there are people I have met that will happily tell me we are making a rod for our own back having her in the bed with us so much.  Usually the same people who say carrying them in a sling makes them clingy!

If I have learnt one thing in the last few months it is not to judge other mums, (unless they are walking down the street with fag in hand pushing a buggy). Everyone is coping with this crazy parenthood thing differently and every child is different. The last thing you need when you have had broken/lack of sleep for nearly four months is someone telling you that you are doing it wrong…quite frankly, piss off.

I am taking a bit of inspiration here from the Cheltenhammaman podcast which I have been listening to recently. The good mum, bad mum section of the chat is my favourite bit and it’s always nice to get ideas for good parenting as well reassurance that you are allowed to be human occasionally and not be perfect all of the time.

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With regards to the ‘bad mum’ stuff there is one event which I think will stick in my brain forever (hopefully not in Etta’s) which occurred after our first successful solo Aldi shop. I think of Aldi shopping as an extreme sport and after nailing the speedy packing and repacking of shopping, negotiating car seat to shopping trolley transfers and getting home with no crying I thought we were winning at life. I took Etta into the house, placed her safely into her cot in the sitting room and went back out to get the shopping. The second I shut the front door my stomach dropped to the floor when I realised I had in fact left the keys inside and locked myself out of the house and the baby in the house.

I stared at the wall in the lobby for what felt like an eternity trying to stay calm and think logically, that failing I went next door crying and begging for help from someone currently thinking a lot clearer than me. Kind neighbour firstly made the valid point that no harm was going to come to Etta and we would solve the problem and be in the house in no time (rational thought was escaping me but I knew somewhere in my brain she was right). I didn’t do this by halves as I had also locked my phone inside the house so had no numbers to call anyone who would have a key.

After many phone calls to try to get hold of anyone (all failed) and being told by an emergency locksmith that they could be there sometime that day our kind neighbour decided to call the fire brigade. I wanted the ground to swallow me whole when the great big red truck turned up outside the house (que twitching curtains) and six strapping firemen got out in full gear to help me get into the house.

All was quickly resolved and Etta was non the worse for the ordeal. I was reassured by the fire brigade that they get called out to this sort of thing all the time but I still felt a like a ridiculous human for the rest of the day as I retold the story to my nearest and dearest.

I have lost count of the dizzy things I have done through tiredness, leaving a voicemail on my own phone number is a prime example. I also seem to be incapable of getting dates and times right for things and if I hadn’t had my new mum friends to correct me I would have been stood in many a church hall on my own wondering where all the other mums and babies are.

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Having said all this Etta is thriving and I am loving the freedom of maternity leave, even if I do spend a lot of my days in coffee shops talking baby stuff. I often feel like I can get the end of the day and think I have not achieved anything and need to remind myself that I have kept a small human alive and that is my main job now. I spoke to a fellow blogger when I went to the Cheltenham sling library and she said when she was on maternity leave she saw parenting as a new job she had got and I like the philosophy behind that. It kind of makes you feel better about ignoring the hoovering or the slightly minging bathroom when you can think…well I was just to busy doing my job!

James and I had a chuckle the other night when we described our evening as successful, we had successfully sat in front of the TV with a glass of wine for an hour with the baby asleep upstairs. A few months back a successful evening would have been having friends over for dinner and everyone having a nice time. Funny how your version of ‘success’ can change so quickly.

One of my passions before the arrival of Etta was cooking at home for a crowd, something that I have had to re-evaluate a little since her arrival. I now think in terms of speed of cooking and ease of eating with one hand. One recipe which I would do again which I would recommend was veggie lasagna  basic recipe as follows- IMG_0548

I sweated down onions, garlic, mushrooms, peppers in a pan then added tomato puree. After adding two tins of chopped tomatoes I also threw in fresh bay leaves, oregano,basil,  thyme, red wine vinegar and a teaspoon of Marmite (trust me here), salt and pepper. I let the sauce reduce to a fairly thick consistency before allowing to cool. 

To make the bechamel sauce I make a roux before adding milk to create a fairly thick sauce. When smooth I added some Dijon mustard and an egg yolk to enrich. 

I then layer half the veggie mixture on the bottom of a casserole dish,  placing a layer of lasagna sheets over the top. Followed by a layer of bechamel sauce, veggie sauce and then more lasagne sheets. To finish a final layer of bechemal followed by a generous grating of mature cheddar cheese. I baked for 30 minutes on 180 and leave to stand for 10 minutes or so before serving. 

It’s really easy and also meat free which is something we are trying as a house to do more of. The leftovers are great too, nothing better than being able to dig something tasty out of the freezer that’s not pizza or fish fingers.

Forth trimester, you have been amazing…bring on the next stage (and hopefully more sleep!).

Life with a newborn- a week of recipe ideas…

It is twelve weeks since our baby girl Etta arrived and although it is great to be able to reach for the pre-cooked meals, Deliveroo and frozen pizzas with a newborn baby there are also times when you fancy a nice home cooked meal.

With limited time and energy at the minute I thought I would share a few newborn baby friendly meals I have cooked in the last few weeks with the hope of not only inspiring a few others but possibly gaining a few ideas back!

All the recipes are quick, easy, fairly cheap, have some veggies (you can’t unfortunately live on carbs alone) and are one handed eating friendly. I’m not a chef and I don’t profess even to be an exceptionally good cook, I just love eating tasty food that is easy and fuss free. I have included some amounts and weights but there are no rules really,  e.g. if you like garlic add more, if you don’t like it add less or none at all! I would love to hear any feedback you have and if you have any ideas along the same theme then let me know. Here are the meals we have eaten in the past week with basic recipes-

1. Pesto, chilli and courgette pasta – I love pasta, I would do this with pasta that looks like shells (and its also very easy to eat with one hand).  I know the yogurt is a bit random but its something I tried and like!

  • Ingredients for one portion- 1/3 jar of pesto, 150g pasta,  1/2 courgette, chilli flakes, natural yogurt, lemon, olive oil, salt, garlic, Parmesan, basil leaves.

This is such a quick and easy meal but really delivers on flavour.  Put the pasta on to boil in salty water and then fry the courgette in olive oil. (I find about half a medium sized courgette per person), when the pasta is nearly done add the garlic. Transfer the pasta to the courgette pan using tongs and add a splosh of the pasta cooking water, then add the pesto, basil and chilli flakes tossing through the pasta. Check for seasoning then serve. Squeeze over 1/2 a lemon, drizzle some olive oil, grate some Parmesan cheese and add a dollop of natural yogurt on top.

2. Tomato salad (more filing and tastier than it sounds trust me!)

  • Ingredients- tomatoes, mozzarella, baby spinach, parma ham (preferably all room temperature), one slice of bread per portion, olive oil, dried oregano, balsamic glaze, basil leaves, salt and pepper.

Chop the bread into chunks and fry slowly in olive oil, add dried oregano, salt and pepper as it starts to crisp up.  Arrange a handful of spinach leaves on a plate, followed by the tomatoes, mozzarella chunks and parma ham. Top with basil leaves, croutons, balsamic glaze and a drizzle of olive oil.

3. Smoked haddock kedgeree with poached egg and yogurt

  • Ingredients- Smoked haddock (about 120g per person), curry powder, frozen peas and sweetcorn, basmati rice, onion, eggs, olive oil, chicken stock cube, butter, chives, natural yogurt, salt and pepper.

This is a really warming, hearty dish and can also be used for left overs the next day. Poach the haddock for five minutes in a deep saucepan, remove and place to one side to cool. Place a chicken stock cube in the pan and add the rice to cook (around 75g per person or half a mug).  While the rice is cooking, in a large frying pan saute the onion, then add the peas, garlic, curry powder and sweetcorn to the pan and fry gently for a few minutes. Add the drained rice to the pan and stir gently until all the rice grains have the curry powder colour. Flake the haddock into the mix and stir again gently to not break up the haddock too much. Serve with a poached egg, topped with chopped chives and a dollop of yogurt.

4. Salmon en papillote

  • Ingredients- Frozen salmon fillets, potatoes, courgette, mange tout, baby sweetcorn, tomatoes, harrissa paste,  lemon, olive oil, butter, salt and pepper. 

Lay out on a baking tray a piece of foil and then on top place a piece of baking parchment which is slightly smaller. Inside lay thinly sliced potatoes, a dollop of butter, salt and pepper, the veggies and then the salmon. On top of the salmon spread your desired amount of harrissa paste and sliced lemon. Drizzle with olive oil and then wrap and seal up before putting in the oven at 180 for 30 minutes. Super easy and also saves on the washing up, always a winner in my book! You can use pretty much any fish, I like the frozen fillets because of convenience and it also means the potatoes get chance to cook without over cooking the fish.

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Salmon en papilotte
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Mushroom and bacon spaghetti
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Kedgeree
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Tomato, basil and mozerella salad
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Sausage casserole
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Fajita pizza and sweet potato fries

5. Garlic, bacon and mushroom spaghetti

  • Ingredients- Spaghetti (150g per person), mushrooms of your choice, I like chestnut but in the picture I used oyster because I was growing them at the time. Streaky bacon, garlic, thyme, basil, olive oil, lemon, Parmesan, salt and pepper.

In a large pan of boiling, salted water place your spaghetti to cook, fry your bacon until crisp and set to the side of your pan to fry your mushrooms in the bacon fat. Add the garlic and herbs at the last minute before using tongs to add the cooked spaghetti. Spoon some starchy pasta water into the pan to create a nice loose pasta dish and then a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Serve immediately with Parmesan cheese. This really is a simple dish but I love the taste of bacon and mushrooms and with the herbs and lemon it really is delicious.

6. Sausage and cabbage casserole

  • Ingredients- Sausages, onion, savoy cabbage, mushrooms, garlic, thyme, honey, ginger, chicken stock cube, butter, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Fry off the sausages in olive oil until they start to brown, the more patient you are (or the quieter your baby is) at this stage then the better the gravy sauce later. Once the sausages are a nice brown colour then add the onion and fry until they have a little colour, add the cabbage and mushrooms, I usually add a little butter at this stage just to add a little richness. Add grated clove of garlic and 2 cm square sized piece of ginger and thyme. Allow to cook in butter for a few minutes then cover with stock adding the honey also. Allow to simmer with lid off until cabbage is cooked and the sauce is a nice consistency and not too thin. Salt and loads of black pepper is nice when added at the end of cooking. I usually serve with mashed potato but boiled spuds would work just as well. If you have any red wine vinegar then a sometimes slosh a little in as I add the stock. The ginger may seem random but I think it adds a nice bit of zing as long as you don’t over do it!

7. Cheats pizza with sweet potato fries and avocado dip

  • Ingredients- Fajitas, tomato puree, spinach, Parmesan, chorizo, basil, oregano, sweet potatoes (one per person), avocado, chilli flakes, natural yoghurt, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Slice the sweet potatoes into wedges and lightly cover with olive oil, salt and pepper, place on a non-stick baking tray and oven bake for 30 minutes at 180, turning halfway through cooking. On a fajita spread a thin layer of tomato puree, sprinkle some oregano, grated cheese, chorizo slices, spinach leaves and olive oil. Place in the oven for the last 7-8 minutes of cooking (keep an eye because it will burn quickly!). To make the dip mix 2/3 well mashed avocado with 1/3 natural yoghurt, add chilli flakes, salt and pepper to taste.

This dinner feels naughty and is good to have on a Friday or Saturday night when you fancy a takeaway pizza but your maternity leave budget says no! Its also a lot healthier than the real thing and you can put anything you want on it.

 

 

A baptism of motherhood fire…

So we are three weeks and five days into this parenthood whirlwind with the baby, us and the dog alive and fed….as far as I am concerned that means we are currently winning at life.

I wanted to write about these first few weeks as parents not only to share the experience with other expectant couples but also to have as a memory bank to read again in the future. So many people have told us you forget so much about the first few weeks in such a relatively short time. I also think that there is a lot of information out there on pregnancy and the birth but those first few days and weeks are from my experience not as well covered or discussed.

Etta arrived on her due date at Cheltenham birth centre and the whole experience was exactly as I wanted, following my birth plan. I heard so many scare stories when I was pregnant it is nice I think to hear that it can in fact work out exactly as planned with no interventions apart from paracetamol!

Etta’s first sight of the world was in the birthing pool. I picked her up myself allowing James and I to be the first ones to meet her, if that feeling in that moment could be bottled and sold it would be priceless. I am probably the most impatient person in the world so having to wait nine months to see her face or even to know if she was a he was tough but totally worth it. She was perfect and were were left on our own in the room to stare at her in our new parent bubble for an hour or so before she was weighed and checked over.

We left the hospital eight hours later that afternoon and arrived home to begin our new life chapter with this tiny human that came with no instruction manual. Dinner that night was frozen pizza in front of the TV and then we went to bed absolutely shattered. Etta slept for three hours or so at a time and I breast fed her when she woke, James changed her if needed and then she went back to sleep. The odd thing was in those first 24 hours neither of us felt like this was strange or scary to have her in the house,we just sort of got on with it and muddled through. It almost felt like from my point of view anyway that it was something I had been waiting to do and yearning for, maybe that’s just my hormones talking but it definitely felt ‘right’.

I think you can often read too much and get bamboozled with information when expecting a baby and I am by no means advocating going into parenthood with no support or education but there is a lot to be said for natural instinct.  If she is hungry I will feed her, if she has a dirty nappy then we will change her and if she is cold we will  put an extra layer on her. Apart from that we just cuddle and stare at her a lot…and I mean a lot.

 

There are a few things that despite doing NCT and lots of reading surprised me in the first few weeks…

  1. How you feel down below after giving birth. Nobody mentions that it feels a little bit like your insides might fall out when you walk about for a while, the trauma of birth coupled with still having the weight of the uterus causes this feeling that for me lasted just over a week before it began to subside and the swelling reduced. A nice soak in the bath every morning and starting pelvic floor exercises as soon as I could made me feel better.
  2. How amazing the post natal midwifery care is (again I can only speak from my experience) but they were just lovely. They came to the house in the following days to check up on us also the birth unit were on the end of a phone 24/7 if we had any questions and we felt totally supported.
  3. How painful breastfeeding was to start with. When you get the knack it is a wonderful thing to be able to provide your baby with food whenever they demand it and it is so convenient, but my gosh it can be frustrating and painful. I have gone through two tubes of nipple cream, attended every breastfeeding support group in Gloucestershire and have a breast feeding councillor on speed dial. Nearly four weeks in and I feel like we have finally cracked it, less pain and a baby whose face is no longer permanently shiny with sticky nipple cream.
  4. How much newborn babies feed. Yes the guidelines are every three hours and if she does happen to sleep for a little longer you find yourself wondering if you should wake the her for food but mostly she feeds more often than that. Sometimes every hour, sometimes for ten minutes, sometimes for an hour.

Once the first few days had gone by we muddled our way through the first few weeks and by 12pm (ish)  we were up, washed and had some sort of outfit on that was reasonably acceptable for the odd visitor. We had close friends and family only in the first few weeks and I enjoyed their visits and the communal baby cooing. I tried to sleep in the afternoons and have found it definitely helps get through the nights if you have a top up sleep during the day. I also downloaded BBC iPlayer and ITV hub to my phone which made the night feeds more bearable, knowing I have Love Island to get up to has helped drag me out of bed I am ashamed to say!

The food preparation I did beforehand has come in handy and although we have indulged in the odd takeaway it is nice to be able to reach into the freezer for some comfort food which can be eaten with one hand, I have learn’t to put a muslin cloth over Etta however as my fork to mouth skills as it turns out are not that accurate and this inevitably culminates in a baby covered in bolognase sauce.

Every day with a tiny baby is filled with heartwarming moments, whether it is listening to James have full (very one sided) conversations with her while I am soaking in the bath, laughing at the ridiculous faces she pulls in her sleep or when she falls asleep on your chest. Comedy moments like the endless whoopee cushion style farts or the projectile poo which travelled a good few metres across the room. Then there is that amazing moment when you are so tired you are not sure what day or time it is and she finally goes to sleep in her moses basket after what seems like hours of feeding, burping and changing in a constant cycle…the quiet creep back to bed is a skill I now pride myself on.

Don’t get me wrong there have been times when I have had a little cry because my boobs hurt and I can’t face feeding her for what feels like the thousandth time that day. Or when James and I have a little grump at each other because we are both just knackered. Our clothes haven’t always been clean and the food hasn’t always been healthy but we have muddled through the days together working as a team and I feel we are a whole lot closer as a couple for it.

Living in the moment has never been so easy and I can honestly say I have never felt so tired yet so alive…happiness does in fact come in small Etta shaped packages.

 

A lovely summer evening at The Railway pub…

You know those lovely evenings out that happen by accident, when you have nothing planned and the sun is shining? Well we were lucky enough to experience exactly that at The Railway pub in Cheltenham a few weeks ago.

Picture a really hot Tuesday and as usual James was doing some DIY on the house (just casually single handedly laying a patio this time) and I was trying to stay comfortable and cool in the heat whilst doing a little gardening at 37 weeks pregnant. We decided late afternoon we had done enough and needed a rest so I suggested a drink in a beer garden somewhere would be nice.

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 A proud man and his patio

Off we toddled just over the road to The Railway, a pub which fairly recently has changed its food menu from sausages to Thai and I had on my list to try one day. We took Jack the dog as he likes The Railway, there are dog rugs to lie on, a nice shady beer garden and treats at the bar. We settled down for our one drink mid afternoon to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere while playing a few board games which are also in abundance near the bar. Now I understand that board games are not to everyone’s taste but it is safe to say that we are fans of a board game night and a pub with a good selection of games always goes immediately up in my estimations!

One drink turned into three and I noticed when I went back to the bar they started serving food at 6pm…so I did the deadly thing of asking for a menu “just to have a look”.

I had heard very good reviews about the food and everything on the menu sounded delicious, we decided that we have nothing in the house to eat that we fancied and why not make a night of it and eat out. So without further ado I ordered pretty much the whole menu and we sat in the early evening sun and stuffed our faces with the tastiest food I have had in ages.

 

The food is served tapas style and comes out when it is ready, with the idea being you can share plates and savour every dish at its best. The food is smoked and BBQ’d over applewood and oak which gives another level of flavour and as the dishes arrived, served with a smile they all tasted fabulous. We had smoked chicken satay with peanut dipping sauce, sweetcorn bean fritters, Koisoi BBQ chicken northern styled yellow curry with Thai picked lettuce, hiosin aromatic duck pancakes, roti bread and spicy prawn crackers.

The chicken curry was a revelation and tasted not to dissimilar to a massaman curry which I think is one of the tastiest things on earth and if I ever had to choose my food heaven it would certainly be up there…..that or a proper beef roast dinner depending on what mood I am in.

We snuck some of the last bits of duck to Jack and left feeling stuffed full and happy.

I cannot recommend The Railway enough, not only for the amazing food which has been well reviewed by many local food bloggers but for the atmosphere. It is one of those rare local gems which is comfy, cosy and unpretentious but totally delivers on good beer, service and food quality.  A top place to choose for one of those rare nights out with no plans that end up being the nights to remember for a long time.

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chicken with satay sauce

You can’t do epic stuff with basic people….

I have been meaning to write this blog for a while and now I am on maternity leave I can finally indulge and reflect on the whole experience. I have always loved watching grand designs and the journey that families embark on when they are striving to finish a project which has so much invested in it is enthralling to me. Houses are so much more than bricks and mortar and I always hoped that one day I would meet someone who had the guts and know how to be able to do a project like that and who wasn’t afraid to think and dream big….

Passion and creativity are always strong personality traits in the people involved in these projects and I can safely say after a year and a half of observing and helping where I can that the Old School House project certainly required these in abundance.

The story began when we were house hunting around Cheltenham for James’s first property. We looked at all manner of houses, big, small, old, new but when we saw the Old School House it immediately felt ‘right’. It is a lovely old building in the middle of Cheltenham and was converted to living abode in the 1990’s. It is a building that has soul and although it had been converted in a quick, cheap manner James could see the potential to strip it back to its former glory and expose the double height windows and beautiful beams.

The house was purchased on the first of July 2016 and the project began.

We discussed ideas for the house and the purple carpets and flowery curtains were soon removed, walls were dismantled and ceilings were lifted to expose double height spaces in the two bedrooms and most spectacularly in the living room.

Everything was done room by room as we were also living in the property so had to keep some sort of normality as the house was slowly transformed. The spare room was done first in which we then moved all our things while the main bedroom was finished. In both bedrooms there were beams which had been painted black, this took more than a lot of chemicals, elbow grease, sanding and more elbow grease to remove and when they were done revealed a beautiful oak finish.

The floors were also finished in oak and the same floor goes right through the house apart from the bathroom and half the kitchen which are stone flags. Every single aspect of the work was done by James apart from the plastering and some electrical and plumbing stuff. It is something he has never done before and is a testament to not only his self belief but skill that the house is finished to such a high standard and with such care and attention to detail.

 

Downstairs the double height windows were revealed and stripped back to Cotswold stone with oak window ledges installed. The whole house has been stripped back,  insulated and then re-plaster boarded and then plastered. Spot lights decorate the cosy fire area in the living room with the other half being a double height eating area lit by a wagon wheel light fitting also made by James. There are also buttresses which have been exposed in Cotswold stone which are nestled into corners adding a rustic charm to an otherwise perfectly plastered and painted wall.

It was the summer of 2017 that the house really started to take shape and friends and family were more and more in awe of what had been achieved in such a short space of time, a Cotswold stone fireplace and log burner was installed and then we could start planning my favourite part so far …the kitchen!

The house renovation took a whole new turn at this stage though as we found out in true Grand Designs style that I was pregnant, if you watch Grand Designs then you will know that nearly everyone gets pregnant while the house is being built! So while we didn’t have a kitchen I was going through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy feeling decidedly peaky on a daily basis and managing with a makeshift kitchen in the sitting room was something I tried to embrace but I must admit did test my resolve for a few months.

True to James’s word the beautiful kitchen was finished in time for both sides of the family to come round for Christmas dinner and we were again in awe of what this man has achieved. The kitchen is exactly what I wanted, rustic charm with a big range cooker, open shelves and lots of work space. Christmas dinner went down a storm and it felt lovely to finally let the pregnancy cat out of the bag, onwards and upwards to the last room in the house the bathroom.

I was dead set on having a free standing bath and after much measuring and head scratching it was decided that we could not only fit one in but also a separate shower, the bathroom was bought online and James set himself the timescale of February half term to get the whole job done, with the help of a plumber and his dad to get some of the tiling done. This turned into ridiculously long days of meeting deadlines for the plumber etc but true to his word it was done and in working order ready for moving back in after the school holidays.

We have spoken about our hopes for the future and I am looking forward to being able to enjoy this house for a few years but I think James has well and truly got the bug now and has shown his talents for renovation in spades. We would love to live in the countryside one day and do something similar on a larger scale, its no secret that I would happily fill the house and any other space we have with children, dogs and any other animals I am allowed.

As I write this post the garden is still a work in progress and there are things I would love to buy for the house but I have learn’t in the last few years to appreciate what you have and to be grateful for what you have been able to achieve.

So the story continues to who knows where, the only thing I do know for sure is that life is never going to be boring or predictable. Yes I do wake up sometimes and wish we could afford to go on exotic holidays or I wasn’t forever cleaning dust, garden debris or concrete off the floor and James would just take a few days off from DIY. The reality is I wouldn’t have it any other way and I feel life is so much richer for it.

The moral of this story is to never give up on your dreams and you just never quite know what is around the corner… So here’s to the future and whatever adventures it may hold for us and our growing family.

 

An East Indian Cafe masterclass…

Last Sunday afternoon I was lucky enough to be invited along with five other food bloggers to the East India Café in Cheltenham. It was to be masterclass to remember with the theme being a celebration of Bengali New Year.

I really had no idea what to expect, the only thing I was slightly concerned about was perhaps it was going to be a bit of a serious ‘foodie’ cookery lesson and I was going to be out of my depth, I had however been told by work colleagues that it was a fantastic place to eat so the bar was set high before I even walked through the door.

I took along my sister Sally as my plus one and we set off on a very warm afternoon to the restaurant which is only a short walk from our Old School House in the centre of Cheltenham. When we arrived we were greeted warmly and received a welcome drink which was a chilled still juice containing lemon, sugar and mint, very refreshing and set the tone nicely…we were in for a treat!

The restaurant itself is small and intimate, with a modern and fashionable Anglo Indian twist on your standard ‘Indian’, there is a beautiful, brick fireplace which caught my eye full of candles lit to create a cosy atmosphere. Across the wall was a large map of India which was refereed to many times during the afternoon as we were guided through the history of our dishes and the culinary journey India has taken over many hundreds of years.

The amuse bouche followed the welcome drink which was a mixture of red pepper, pomegranate seeds, sweetcorn, various types of bean and spices. Like all the best things in food, simple but deliciously subtle in flavour. We gobbled it up before being guided through how to make the perfect gin and tonic (being seven months pregnant was a little of a hindrance here but I will definitely be using the tips at a later date!) We were handed around some Darjeeling tea leaves to smell and were taken aback by the perfumed aroma, cloves were the dominant flavour and an inspired idea to add it into a gin and tonic we thought. Also added to our own gin and tonics were juniper berries, rosemary, thyme, star anise and Turkish delight! I had a less adult version with homemade raspberry concentrate and it was delicious.

The first starter we were served was a guinea fowl dish named Panta Vat, served in a small bowl with noodles, tofu and roasted broccoli. Again the spicing was subtle and delicious, I could have eaten a lot of this one!

We were then set a little challenge of making the Tamarind khata to go alongside the next course, with guidance we mixed and tasted the ingredients given to us in our groups which included tamarind, green chilli, ginger (which I added far too much of!) salt, sugar and cumin. We eventually came up with something that didn’t make us all wince and seemed to semi please the chef so we were fairly pleased with our achievement.

Onto the second  starter and we sat and listened to the chefs talk about the dish they were about to demonstrate called Mackerel Pakora. They explained that they had eaten this dish for breakfast at Bengali New Year since they were young boys and their stories brought the dish alive. It was mackerel served two ways both cooked with Bengali mustard chutney, one piece of fresh mackerel was fried in a light chickpea batter and the other steamed in a banana leaf under the grill. They were served with cold overnight soaked rice which was a new thing on all of us and complimented the fish perfectly.

The main course was undoubtedly the star of the show, who doesn’t love a chicken curry? This was called Moddhannor Noboborso and we were again guided through the complexities of curry making by the chefs. It was so interesting to see their skill as each section of the curry was explained to us, including the colour of the onions, how to roast the spices to allow the oils to permeate through and the cooking of the chicken to ensure it is succulent and tender. I would put myself in the category of a ‘proper western curry eater’ and therefore like a good bit of sauce which this did not have but it was no less delicious because of it. We were served the main with rice and carrot (a revelation), red onion salad and a roti. Everyone was offered seconds and thirds of everything if you could fit it in, again the pregnancy thing got in the way a bit here (see my previous blog on eating out as a pregnant lady), head had to rule heart and I declined extra portions as I knew there was desert to come and everyone knows you have to save space for desert.

We were served a mango sorbet as a palate cleanser, which I would have quite happily eaten a bucket of as it was simply divine. It was at this point I felt like I was drifting into a food haze and was feeling thoroughly spoilt and lucky to be being served dish after dish of exquisite food in such an intimate atmosphere…..what could dessert possibly bring?

It will be no surprise to you that we were not disappointed, named Kodhur Nadu it was a quenelled Indian sweet with pumpkin, parmesan, cardamon, nutmeg and chocolate. This was served with chilli chocolate dust and pistachio ice-cream.

We were sent away full to the bursting with a doggy bag containing some of their family recipe garam masala and the dry ingredients to make a chai latte. The whole afternoon was a culinary delight, served up with a dose of culture and history, truly a memorable experience and an absolute pleasure to attend, I will certainly be heading back to eat with the masses soon.

 

 

Eating out as a pregnant lady…

I am currently seven months pregnant with our first baby and we are overjoyed and super excited for what the future will hold.

Over Easter there have been a few opportunities to eat out, this is definitely one of my favourite pass times and like to make the most of every opportunity. By this I mean if it is socially acceptable to eat three courses (i.e. other people on the table will join me) then you can bet your bottom dollar ill be eating a starter, main and pudding.

Now…pregnancy is lovely and there is so much to enjoy about the journey but eating a lot in one sitting is not one of them! I am yet to learn to a) not choose something on the menu stodgey/huge and b) not to eat until I am fit to burst like I would have happily done pre pregnancy.

So when my mum came to visit last weekend and she asked me to book somewhere nice to eat on the Saturday night I saw this as an opportunity to find somewhere I could have an enjoyable eating experience without leaving feeling like I need to lie down (not like that will help due to the delightful acid reflux!).

I did some research and found that Koj in Cheltenham has had good reviews so I booked us a table. When we arrived our coats were taken and we were shown the drinks menu, on which I was pleased to see were some non-alcoholic cocktails and green tea which I drink a lot of nowadays and find it helps digestion.

The menu was small and consists of little dishes to share with a quirky take on Japanese cuisine. The staff were attentive and brought the food out tapas style as and when it was ready. We found the edamame beans an entertaining appetizer as they have a tendency to shoot across the table when eaten, we also had the cabbage and padron peppers which were all fresh and full of flavour.

We plumped for the soft shell crab and duck leg buns which despite the ‘not for sharing’ note on the menu two of us managed to try a bit of both and they were both delicious. A good way to try soft shell crab if you are new to it like me as it is in a bun and covered in mayo so looks less scary.

An absolute revelation for the grazing dishes was the root vegetable and tofu oden with a light mushroom sauce which had a lovely umami taste and was addictive. We also scoffed the fried chicken which didn’t dissapoint and also the Japanese bubble and squeak (who knew?).

The desserts come as small bites and are just what we needed to finish on a sweet note, the sticky toffee pudding was as good as I have tasted (and I have had a few!) and I finished the meal with some green tea.

I left feeling ‘nicely full’ and felt like I had not missed out by trying to be good and order something small and light or missing out on courses. I would highly recommend to fellow pregnant ladies for a special occasion or as the prices are not too steep just for a nice meal out.

As I go through this amazing adventure that is pregnancy and every thing feels like a learning curve you have to hold on to the small victories and visiting Koj was definitely one of these.