Tuesday 23 February 2016

Hush Little Baby

There's a lullaby I sing Bertie, you'll know it:

Hush little baby, don't say a word;
Mama's going to buy you a Mockingbird,
and if that mockingbird won't sing
Mama's going to buy you a diamond ring...

It's all very commercial and about possessions being the thing that will calm your baby. But, it is sweet and the tune is addictive.

Then I found an American version by Sylvia Long. She changes all the bought items for things you can find in nature, or things you might do with your child. I use her board book to sing this to Baby B all the time, and think it very beautiful to sing about the natural world. It begins....

Hush little baby don't say a word,
Mama's going to show you a humming bird.
And if that hummingbird should fly,
Mama's going to show you the evening sky.
As the night time shadows fall,
Mama's going to hear the crickets call.
As their song comes from afar
Mama's going to search for a shooting star.......
Now, my husband says that these lyrics are lovely, but too American, and maybe I should compose new ones that reflect the view from our window and the things we do together.

Hush little baby don't say a word,
Mummy's going to show you a small blackbird.
And if that black bird flies away,
Daddy's going to show you an oak tree sway.
If that oak tree falls to the floor,
Mummy's going to show you a red kite soar.

If that kite goes out of sight,
Daddy's going to show you the firelight.
As the fire embers burn,
We will hear the rooks return.
As they settle to their nest,
we will count ourselves as blessed.
Robin, he will come to play
at our house at break of day.
Hush little baby don't you cry.
Mummy's going to sing you a lullaby.
And in the morning when you wake
A new adventure we will take.

I keep changing it, looking at all the things we see each day. It has become my infinitely adaptable lullaby. I long to draw the pictures to match the different versions composed for each day. Maybe one day I will.

Maternity Leave Cooking

I adore being on Maternity Leave with our beautiful son. Each day is a new adventure in growth, giggles and development. Each day I have faced new challenges and, together with my husband and little one, made it to bedtime in one piece. Each day I have felt blessed when I look upon my husband and son tucked up cosy, warm and peaceful.

I'm not about to turn this blog into a mother's forum for talking about her baby. Although, I could talk about Bertie at great length if called to do so. This blog was always a place to talk about religion and food, so I aim to keep it that way.

This was the first Ash Wednesday in my adult life that I have not marked the beginning of Lent by attending Mass. Motherhood makes church going challenging. Bertie and I marked the day quietly at home with a little bit of peace and quiet, whilst I explained what it was all about to him. Not that, at three months, he is particularly theologically adept, but that he likes the sound of me nattering on, and vocalising the significance of the day forced me to pay it due attention.

I was not fasting either. Breastfeeding a baby really does use every ounce of energy you have, and if I fast I would be inflicting that same behaviour on my baby boy. Not on, thought I. So, this morning with Bertie happily watching me from his bouncer I made peanut butter cookies. I have been baking a lot recently. I developed a very sweet tooth after Bertie was born. Mostly I send the goodies to work with G. His office colleagues are very happy about this. And, sending a few sweet treats with G help him through the day, especially if sleep has been lacking!


8 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
1 free-range egg yolk
50g/1¾oz butter, softened
icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180C. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and use a knife and your fingers to bind them into a sweet dough. Knead a little until you are happy with the texture. Pull walnut sized pieces away and roll them into a ball. I then squished mine with a little star cutter, but you could use a fork. Place on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes until golden brown. Once cooled, dust with icing sugar.

Actually, I have been really into cooking and baking since I have been on maternity leave. I enjoy using those spare precious minutes making something that all three of us can enjoy. I'm not particularly health conscious, but eat a fairly balanced diet. My only 'food fad' is that I hate the idea of chemicals or weird additives in my food. So, cooking things from scratch is a way of ensuring that what goes into me, and then into Bertie's milk, is known to me. Sometimes, if Bertie is awake, he helps by holding a carrot or stick of celery and waving it. I put his bouncer on the worktop so he can see what is happening, and we do a little running commentary to each other about the proceedings. I've had a few little triumphs, and I hope to share with you some of the recipes in due course. I record them here to remind me of what I've been up to.

Mini Bakewells; Lemon Madelines; Plain Cakes; Oat Mincemeat Slices; Date and Orange Slices; Scones; Flapjacks; Chocolate cookies; Lemon Drizzle

Seafood Pancakes; Spaghetti Bolognese; Lasagne; Salmon en Croute; Chilli Tortillas; Chicken Crown roasted with Red Peppers and Olives; Macaroni Peas; Barley Risotto with Lamb; Steak and Kidney Pudding; Giant Cous Cous Peppers

Of Baby, Adventures, Cakes and Being at Home

The greatest adventure of my life to date happened recently - my husband and I welcomed a little baby to our family. There was so much advice and help for us along the way. That was a good thing, but it was also confusing. Sometimes I appreciated the information that was coming my way, sometimes it was pure opinionated fiction. Sorting the wood for the trees has been a constant part of pregnancy and early parenthood.

Here are some of the myths I have come across, and how Mr. Cloister, Baby Bertie and I have responded:

1. Once you have a baby you will not be able to cook a meal: order take away! Cook for the freezer while your expecting! - Every book, blog post and person I spoke to mentioned this. It made me nervous. What would we both be doing? It may well be true that one of us cannot cook, but there are two adults in this team - right? Right. Mr Cloister made me steak, chips and green beans on our first night home with little one. Not a day has gone by where we have sat down, looked at each other and declared 'we cannot cook, we must starve!' Cooking is a life skill that does not disappear. Thank God.

2. You'll not leave the house for weeks. I was honestly frightened of this. It turns out, it is rubbish too. Basically, if you want to go out with your newborn baby, you go out. Yes, you have to think about what to dress your baby in, and how to keep him clean and comfortable, but no one is going to force you to stay inside. In the same week Bertie was born Mr Cloister and I walked round the local farm, went to Church as usual, went to the shops - you know, normal living. That was essential for me, especially post C-Section. Since then, wherever we have wanted to go, Baby Cloister has joined us. Simple.

3. There is a right way to do everything (and you're probably doing it wrong). We have broken all the 'rules'. Baby B feeds when he wants, sleeps on the sofa (before we go to bed) and in our bed (when we are there), hops in the bath with me, goes out in cold weather, and sometimes even sleeps outside too - he seems fine. Meanwhile, we eat what we like, drink as we please and share the many jobs (washing nappies, mainly) - we are fine too. Pah! to rule books. Following our parental instincts and keeping things simple works for us.

Some things have been really important to keep in mind, and I've found them helpful. For example, everything can't be perfect so don't try and make it that way; your family is made of love, keep loving; my husband, my baby and I are all beautiful (and I'm not just being big headed); snoozing in the middle of the day is not only okay, it is essential; sleeping through the night is overrated, the medievals never did it; complaining ruins morale, keep chipper; do nice things for your partner; hug whenever you get the chance.

On sleep, I admit, that Mr Cloister and I love snoozing and so have adapted very quickly to a routine of eat dinner, tidy house and do chores, take peppermint or chamomile tea (wine on Friday's) to bed and listen to audiobook story really rather quickly. We are normally all three tucked in by 9pm, but then we don't worry about being up changing a nappy at 2am. From the cosiness of bed we conduct our evenings, chatting, listening the radio, even folding nappies and laundry when needed!
Well, that's my baby post. I don't think I'll do another - there are too many out there. 

Being at home has its challenges for me, I find four walls difficult to handle. For this reason, Baby Cloister and I have been going out on some adventures. I have asked the other mums I know from antenatal class to let me plan a little walk (with buggies or slings) for them every now and then. They will do the same for me sometimes, I'm sure. Here's a picture of us out and about enjoying ourselves.

Cake is the other essential to motherhood. And lots of it. I make cake all the time, but try not to eat it all myself. I made these mini bakewells to send into my husband's work and they got a good review! Enjoy.

225g / 8oz plain flour
110g / 4oz butter
80g / 3oz sugar
1 egg

Crumb together the butter and the flour by hand, add the sugar. bind the mixture quickly by mixing in the egg, and a little milk if needed, to form a soft dough.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a baking tray with 12 x fairy cake tin. Roll the pastry out and use a round cutter to cut shapes a little bigger than the pattie rounds. Place the round pastry shapes into each space and leave to one side (in a cool space preferably). I cut little star shapes out with left over pastry for decoration later.

Strawberry or Raspberry Jam
150g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
150g ground almonds
almond essence*
1 lemon zested*
flaked almonds*

*all optional

Cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the 3 eggs, whisked, slowly. Add the last egg yolk, slowly. Fold in gradually the ground almonds, almond essence and lemon zest. To your pre prepared pastries spread a little strawberry/raspberry jam at the bottom of each tart. Add a little of the cake mixture to each and smooth out. Add flaked almonds or pastry stars to the top. Bake for 20 - 30 mins, until soft, golden and springy.