The Incompetent Chef & the Legendary Hippo Cake

Last night, I cooked meat and I didn’t kill anyone.

The truth is that every time I cook with meat of any kind, I’m convinced that I am endangering someone’s life. When it comes to cooking, I am insecure, unconfident and a generally a klutz. It’s as if my hands turn into giant lumps, unable to coordinate, cut or stir with precision. Timing several items to be ready simultaneously causes me to break out in hives.

The fact that I am married to a professionally trained chef just makes matters worse. “Just make a roux,” he’ll suggest. Like I know how to make a roux and what you do with one? “That’s the wrong knife!” is a common complaint. Scuse me, it’s metal, it’s sharp, it cuts – so what is wrong with that? Also, I need to improve my stirring technique, apparently.

Unlike my husband who is very patient with me and who can whip up a gourmet meal in a jiffy without breaking a sweat, I need the following conditions in place to even attempt cuisine success:

  • A recipe to follow, preferably with 4 or less ingredients and steps
  • A timer – and plenty of time for mistakes and do-overs
  • No husband within 10 metres
  • Plenty of space for things to spill, get dropped, messed up
  • No children within 5 metres
  • Alcohol
  • Clorox wipes

Many of my cooking miss-haps are now the stuff of legends among family and friends. This one, for example, has become fondly known as the Hippo cake. (It was supposed to be a honey cake.)

The Hippo Cake

I guess only practice can make perfect, right? As long as I don’t kill anyone in the process.

A French Hangover

I have a French hangover. Not the head-splitting, stomach-lurching variety I’d experience on a relatively frequent basis while living in France in the late 90s, preceded by happy, fun evenings spent eating, drinking and partying in Grenoble with friends and colleagues.

(Incidentally, the only time I ever pigged out on McDonald’s in France was the afternoon after a big night out when a Diet Coke and Big Mac were the best way to assuage the effects of a hangover. I’d slink over the McD’s, eyes kept down, desperate not to bump into any of the players from the night before until suitably revived.)

No, this time, my French hangover is less physical and more metaphysical. Four brief days spent in Paris and Grenoble last week have rekindled the spark that originally drew me to the country and enticed me to stay for three years. Four days of speaking French has reinvigorated parts of my grey matter that have laid dormant while living here in the US. And, like a wheel that keeps spinning even after the initial surge of energy, it is still in motion, presenting me with words and phrases first in French, before the usual English. Making me stumble. Making me yearn to carry on speaking in French and to feed that still hungry part of me.

I was left wanting more. Four days is simply not enough time to pig out on all the croissants and cheese that I really want to eat. This visit briefly skimmed the highlights of Paris and flirted with the enormity of the Grenoble mountains.

Reconnecting with my French friends, in spite of the years, was a joy. Time does not appear to have made an imprint on their faces or characters, though everyone’s lives have propelled forward – spouses, families, new jobs, new homes.

They say the grass is always greener on the other side. While I love my life in Boston, a big chunk of me will always be entwined in France, its culture, landscape, music and the French language.

Fortifying The Mommy Shield

One evening last week, within less than an hour of us all coming home from work and after-school activities, I managed to make both kids cry.

Without boring you with the mindless details, in each case, I snapped. In the first scenario, I expressed my disappointment with a situation which caused my five-year old to break into tears, lamenting her sorrow that I had hurt her feelings. In the second, I yelled loudly right into the face of my eight-year old who was tuning me out in favor of messing around like a clown when he should have been getting ready for his bath and I had already asked him more than three times. The shock on his face was blatant, followed by a fierce onslaught of hot tears and accusations.

I hate myself when I lose it with the kids.

I’m supposed to be the one that lifts them up, the one who makes everything silly, who keeps everything marching forward smoothly. Not the one that bears down on them with outbursts of negativity.

The good news is that this really does not happen that often because I try to work hard to fortify my Mommy Shield. It’s the Mommy Shield that stops you from driving off the road when the kids are squabbling at high-frequency in the back seat of the car. It’s the Mommy Shield that makes you take a deep breath and calmly reach for the paper towels when your kids spills his or her milk for the gazillionth time. It’s the Mommy Shield that helps you sit quietly on the couch while the kids run around and around and around with increasing velocity and volume and you know that, any moment now, someone could get hurt but they are having so much fun. It’s the Mommy Shield that lets you know—most of the time—which battle to pick.

But there are days when my Mommy Shield is frail and easily penetrable  Days when I pick the wrong battles. Days when I can’t take a deep breath. Days when yelling at them actually feels really, really good (at first.)

After the tears are dried, hugs squeezed, apologies offered and everyone is happy again, I try to figure out what I could have done differently. Often, it’s not about the heat of the moment but the events leading up to it. When I feel that, at any moment now, the Mommy Shield is going to blow, I try to deploy one few of these tactics to change the energy and hopefully reduce the odds of my snapping:

  • Playing loud music to drown out their shrieks or whining or squabbling.
  • Taking a bath. They can duke it out to their heart’s content without me in the room.
  • Wine. Takes the edge off.
  • Sending them outside.
  • Sending myself outside.
  • Using Facebook/Twitter to vent/distract.
  • Breaking into a silly dance.
  • Look at photos of them when they were babies.

How do you fortify your Mommy Shield?

Coffee or Wine?

Your dental hygienist knows a lot about you, I’ve discovered. During my first few years here in the US, when I was either single and partying, or dating my soon-to-be-fiance, or enjoying the life-before-kids times, my dental hygenist would often remark about the red wine stains on my teeth. “Hey, I’m young (ish) and having fun,” I’d retort. And yes, I’ll brush more thoroughly, I’d promise as she hacked away at the stains with her evil implements.

(On a side note, may I just say that dental hygiene here in the US has been a real revelation to me. Y’all are way more serious about having sparkly whites that we were/are back home in the UK. I now feel it a necessary part of my acceptance into American society to have remarkably white teeth. But I digress.)

Dental visits over the last eight years have painted a different story. In large part, because the red wine stains on my teeth have mostly been replaced with coffee stains. Strong, black coffee stains. My dental hygienist always points this out and then, with an almost nonchalant non-sequitur, asks “So, how old are the kids now?” She knows, she gets it.

The thing is, my relationship with red wine has changed. Flash back to 1997-2000, three glorious years living in France when the wine was abundant, cheap and good. I became more knowledgable about wine regions and my preferences but, quite frankly, if it was red and in my glass, I’d drink it. Lots of it. No matter how much it cost or where it came from. And then I went and married someone in the wine industry. My supply of good wine became perpetual! Hoorah! And I became better educated and much more picky and wines I like and wines I don’t.

And then I had kids.

Child birth will do strange things to your palette (among other things.) After kid #1 was born, I went off red wine altogether, much to the chagrin of the husband. Fortunately, after kid #2 “popped out” (hahahaha) my desire for wine slowly returned and, in the almost six consequential years, has remained. But with new terms and conditions, namely:

  • I only drink the wines I like
  • I can only drink when eating
  • No more than a glass and a half or I get heartburn and/or an upset stomach
  • There will be wine on Friday evenings when I crave it most—or else
  • Cheese = wine

On the flip side, my relationship with coffee has remained consistent. While red wine is a select pleasure, enhancing specific moments, coffee is my lifeline. I cannot start the day without coffee. It is the very first thing I think of the moment I awake. I cannot exist without a large steaming cup of strong black coffee within approx 10 mins of my neurones firing up.

I was pondering my absolute and profound need for coffee the other morning and comparing it to my relationship with red wine. If I had to, I wondered, which would I give up? The answer was quite simple. But, just to be sure, I thought I’d conduct a brief poll with a few of my Twitter and Facebook pals. So I lobbed the seemingly innocuous question out there. Within nanoseconds—maybe even less—I was met with a barrage of visceral reactions! Before I share them, here was the final count:

  • Votes to keep coffee: 5
  • Votes to keep wine: 7
  • Undecided: 4

But it was the comments that cracked me up the most, including:

Are you kidding?

Is nothing sacred?

What am I being threatened with?

If my world no longer included those things, it wouldn’t be much of a world ;)

I feel like this is a trick question somehow.

I don’t know this Samantha but I don’t trust her ;)

I plan on giving up both…shortly after I give up oxygen.

So, you, yes you over there sipping your Sunday morning coffee – which would you give up, if you had to: coffee or wine?

P.S. Get your teeth cleaned.

J’ai Envie

J’ai envie d’entendre les voix de mes ami(e)s francais(es)

J’ai envie de voir, promener dans, et respirer les montaignes

J’ai envie de cueillir et sentir l’aroma des chanterelles

J’ai envie de gouter les croissants, recemment cuits au four

J’ai envie de boire du bon vin rouge dans un bistro ou bien dehors

J’ai envie de manger que du Saint Marcellin avec une baguette pour le diner

J’ai envie de voir les champs pleins de tournesols ou lavendres

J’ai envie de promener les grandes avenues de Paris, ainsi que les petites vieilles rues de la Marais

J’ai envie de faire les achats au marche, le dimanche matin

J’en ai marre de rever en francais; je veux y etre.

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo

My mojo seems to have left town (along with my abs, but that’s another topic.) If you’ve been following along the last few weeks of our staycation and then my poor hubby’s sickness, this present state of affairs won’t be much of a surprise. I’ve been dragging my lazy ass around for a few days now. I sat at my office desk for 2.5 days last week and achieved nothing and contributed nothing. I’ve been feeling tired and bla every day, going to bed early and waking up exhausted.

I understand this is a temporary lull; usually my mojo is quite active and pumped up, ready for silliness, primed for a giggle. So I need to get it back – stat. I started the quest to unearth my mojo from wherever it is hiding yesterday. It felt good but we’re definitely not there yet.

So I asked some friends to let me know what they do to re-find their mojo. I’ve meshed their suggestions with several of my own re-mojo-activating tactics to create what could possibly be The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo. Here’s hoping that by Monday morning, I’ll spring out of bed, rested, with my mojo fully restored, ready for action.

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo

  • Lie on the couch and watch re-runs of Friends, Ally McBeal or whatever show or movie takes you to your happy place. Do not watch any weepies.
  • Play music that makes you happy. Or in my case, music that makes you groove. In fact, I think I’m going to create a Mojo Playlist. Today, I’ve been shaking my booty to some newly discovered tracks including Calvin Harris “The Rain,” and Fun “We Are Young.” My other mood-and-groove-enhancing favourites include Abba “Dancing Queen,” Bee Gees “Night Fever,” Stevie Wonder “Living for the City,” Katy Perry “Firework,” Jackson 5 “I Want You Back” and The Pretenders “Brass in Pocket.”
  • Read (I often return to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist to set me back on the right track. Or anything by Bill Bryson for his laugh-out-loud travel experiences and wry observances of human nature.)
  • A good chat with a good friend; try picking up the phone and calling someone you’ve not spoken with in a while (Annemarie, you’ve been warned.)
  • Work up a good sweat (pick your poison: dancing, exercise, sex, weeding, pillow fight ….)
  • Get a mani/pedi – or some other indulgent spa treatment. (I am sporting some freshly polished, vibrant purple toe and finger nails!)
  • Write (a letter, a blog, a to-do list, some goals – by the way, this would be a good time to plug my pal Matty P’s great new book Goals Gone Wild.)
  • Clean/organize something you’ve been putting off – might sound weird but it feels really good to finally get to it.)
  • Sit on the deck and listen to the soundtrack of nature.
  • Imbibe – whether it’s coffee to give your system a jolt, or a large glass of wine or sangria ( my latest addiction)
  • Shoe shopping.
  • Do something nice for someone else. It feels good to be both the giver and the receiver, believe me.

So there it is, the formula I’ve already started using to hunt down and rekindle my joie de vivre. What do you do to find you’re mojo when it’s left town? What would be on your Mojo Playlist?

(P.S. If you happen to find my abs, could you kindly return them – much appreciated.)

(P.P.S Here are some links to some other good mojo-finding blogs and resources:

Have You Lost Your Mojo?

How to Give Your Mojo a Boost

Finding My Mojo

10 Ways to Get Your Groove Back )

I’m Just Not as Young As I Used to Be

Stamina has always been my Achilles heel. As a school child, staying awake to complete hours of homework was a challenge; I usually had to wake up early to finish it and to study for tests and exams. As college approached, I embarked upon the opposite of sleep training so that I could stay up late and party.

This morning, as I was awoken by noisy, happy kids (is that better or worse than the alarm clock, I’m not sure?) I felt like I had been hit by a truck. The day prior was spent flying to Atlanta and back for a three-hour business meeting – my day started at 4am and ended at 10pm. It occurred to me, as I groggily  got up and meandered through my work day feeling spacey, wan and unproductive, that I just don’t bounce back like I used to. That I used to be able to withstand stressful, long hours at the office, then go out to drink and party – and still wake up the next day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, able to operate like the PR ninja that I am.

Not so much today.

The sad reality is that I’m just not as young as I used to be. And when I think more about this, the signs are clear and staring right at my ever-so-slightly wrinkly (those are laugh lines) face. Because:

  • Wearing heels more than 2″ high doesn’t just make my feet sore – it makes my hips and back ache.
  • A stressful day or a late night makes me feel hung over – without any of the fun.
  • More than two glasses of wine gives me heartburn.
  • I can barely see straight when I drive at night.
  • To put mascara on, I have to get really, really close to the mirror.
  • Thoughts come into my mind and then ….. oh wow, I have no clue what I was going to write ….
  • I get into the car bum first, then swing my feet in. And in reverse to get out.
  • Songs I love are now referred to as “oldies.”
  • Fashions I used to wear are now either retro – or making a comeback.
  • The belly pooch is here to stay, no matter what.
  • Several of my work colleagues are technically young enough to be my offspring.
  • Policemen are getting younger and younger (that’s a British expression, I think.)

The good news however, because I like to keep the glass half full is that, despite my age, I am still silly and I don’t take myself too seriously. I can hang with the young’uns at the office and hold my own. I’m down with at least 30 percent of what’s hip music-wise. I will see The Hunger Games and be culturally relevant. I still get checked out from time to time. I’m on Facebook lots (that’s still cool, right?)

And so, despite my advancing years, I guess it’s better to adopt a Mark Twain attitude than complain.

10 Memories of Life Before Kids

Remember when ….

  • There was enough time.
  • You spent money mostly on you.
  • You had a waist.
  • Weekends were lazy.
  • The pre-party was a critical part of going out.
  • It was possible to drink more than two glasses of wine without embarrassing yourself.
  • You could stay awake later than 9pm.
  • You danced around your handbag.
  • 6am was sometimes the end of a great night.
  • Going to McDonalds was a hangover cure.

There’s so much stuff to be nostalgic about. But that was then and this is now.

Now is so much richer.

Pushing Buttons

Many years ago, in the Time Before Kids, I witnessed an argument between my husband and his mother. As they were just getting warmed up with the objections and counterpoints, my husband said something to my mother-in-law that I knew would send her off the charts. Which it did. They went at it with gusto. Went to bed furious with each other.

The next morning, it was as if nothing had happened.

Coming from a family where verbal fights very rarely happened, I found this very strange. I’ve since learned that, for many families, bickering and quarrelling is the norm. It’s just the way they converse, debate, process and eventually resolve things. Tempers may fly, accusations may be made but, in the end, everyone still loves each other. Sometimes all the more for the spa-ing.

That night, after he and his Mom went at each other, I asked my husband why on earth he said the very thing that propelled the argument into the stratosphere.

He replied, “Because I love her and I like pushing her buttons.”

Go figure. He was actually egging her on, seeking out a grand old fight. Because that’s how he and she got it done.

I was thinking about this incident today because my kids were pushing my buttons big time. Bickering with each other over everything and anything. Assuming I would schlep their multiple bags, coats and random art projects from school to car to house. Telling me they don’t like pasta today when they loved it yesterday. Demanding “I want this, I need that, I don’t like this, don’t give me that.” (Insert grating, whiny voice.) Objecting to my every request. Being. Generally. Annoying.

“Why do they push my buttons?!” I despaired to myself.

I’m sure all those child psychologists have a lot of theories on the subject. Stuff to do with boundaries, working through conflict, touch points and all that. However those same psychologists might not be taking into account the long day I just spent at work, the fact that I need a glass of wine (stat) or just that my threshold for kiddo nonsense is running low today.

But I’m choosing to go with my husband’s rationale. Evidently it’s because they love me. And just like my hubs and his mother, I may well yell at them when they push my buttons and they will probably yell back – but tomorrow is another day. It’s all good.

Life Before Kids & Reinstating the Pre-Party

Last evening, a good friend and I were talking about LBK (life before kids.) Remembering wistfully the days when we had the energy to go out – and stay out – beyond 9.30pm. The days before a rushed slap of mascara and lip balm, and tussling your hair as you run out the door, were sufficient for looking and feeling presentable. These days, the reality is that the babysitter usually arrives just as the kids are eating the dinner you hastily prepared while your husband is looking at his watch reminding you that “we have to be there in 15 mins” – which leaves you precisely minus two minutes to get ready.

Think back to LBK. Remember the pre-party? Those languorous 60-90 minutes spent getting ready were almost as much fun as the night out itself.

Moms, I say let’s re-instate the pre-party!! And here’s how:

Option 1: Have the babysitter arrive an hour earlier than you usually do. Surely the extra $10-15 bucks will be worth the indulgence of your me-time in the tub, perusing your closet, picking your accessories, checking yourself out in the mirror, detailed application of make-up, and yes – a large cocktail or glass (or two) of wine throughout.

Option 2: Get your partner/spouse to cover the kids while you spend the time getting ready, before the babysitter arrives. It’s a cheaper, though not always as serene, option. It’ll be important to lay down some rules for the family and for you i.e. they must not disturb you, and you must let the mayhem – I mean dinner time –  happen without your intervening.

I’ve decided to give it a go. Not only will I be in a decent frame of mind for a fun night out with my husband and/or friends, but maybe I’ll even look better for it!

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