Posted in Family Life, Rare Disease

Living Without A Label

It’s been ages since I posted, mostly because I’m a slightly ambivalent blogger (does anyone really want to know more about my life?). However, I’m motivated to post today because of the comments I’ve had about this article I wrote for The Mighty.

It’s #autoinflammatory awareness month, when we try to raise the profile of this group of rare diseases, and I decided going public about my experience as the parent of a child with an unspecified periodic fever syndrome would be my contribution to the cause. So many people and parents have already said how much this piece echoes their own experiences; it’s wonderful to feel connected with other people going through similar situations.

I thought sharing it here might open it up to other parents who are in similar situations–there are more of us hiding in plain sight than I ever imagined. If you want to learn more about autoinflammatory syndromes, or would like to donate to the organization that advocates for us, please visit http://saidsupport.org.

Also, isn’t the cover art at the top gorgeous?? It’s not mine, obviously–the artist is named at the end of the article: Thinkstock image by amoklv. I kind of want a print to put up in our house.

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Posted in Cooking, Family Life

Rhubarb Bars: The Verdict

This afternoon, I harvested five stalks of rhubarb from the garden and whipped up the rhubarb bars I mentioned in my previous post.

 

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One leaf disguised a particularly large garden pest…

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I wound up using the crust from this recipe since I didn’t have any cream cheese, but it’s very similar to the one in the original link. Here’s the rhubarb stewing away before being pureed:

 

Then I added the other ingredients, including several splashes of natural food coloring (beetroot extract):

And finally, the finished product:

The verdict: yummy, but I found the curd a bit too thick for my taste–I like it a little bit gooey. Next time I might make more rhubarb puree or aim to keep it a bit runnier with one less egg and/or less cooking time.

Also, my pest turned out to be a helper later on:

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Posted in Cooking, Family Life

Sometimes food is NOT for sharing

The general sentiment around cooking and eating is that it’s a lovely communal activity, something we should share with those we love to enrich our lives and our souls. Usually this is true in my household, too–most days, we all eat together as a family and isn’t it messy, noisy and chaotic lovely.

But not today. Today, I wanted a big, fat, sugary American cinnamon roll and I wanted it without a side of whining children who are eager to send me round the bend help. My husband took the kids to the park so I decided it was a great time to whip up a cinnamon roll for one: bring on the mug cake recipes! This food is not for sharing.

The link above takes you to the instructions for this delicacy. Before we begin, I’m going to tell you a few other things this blog/blog post is NOT: it is not a blog that uses phrases like “guilty pleasures”–you might find my recipe for pink goop below disgusting, but I still don’t feel guilty about making or eating it. It is not one of those food blogs with professional photos–I rely solely on my trusty iPhone and terrible sense of framing. It is not a gourmet blog where everything is the best thing you’ve ever eaten–I make food in my teeny tiny kitchen, with minimal implements and regular ingredients. It is not a lifestyle blog where everything is super healthy all the time and I look amazing and live a picturesque life.

This is a blog where, if I really need a sugar hit first thing on a Saturday morning, I make a cake in a microwave. It’s a place where, if I haven’t got powdered sugar, I substitute marshmallows melted in said microwave with a teeny bit of butter and a splash of milk (stir and you get a super sugary, glossy pink “icing” as per the pictures). It’s a place where you’ll find honest reviews of a mug cake recipe: even though this isn’t the best cinnamon roll I’ve ever had, it is pretty good and makes it possible for me to stop contemplating an expensive plane ticket home to Texas just because I need good junk food now (sounds like an oxymoron but trust me, it’s not).

So, to the cooking: I followed most of the instructions and found them accurate. I didn’t feel the need to be vegan today, so I did use regular butter to grease the mug and I spread a very thin layer of butter on the dough before sprinkling the cinnamon sugar (I used regular, not coconut). I cooked the cinnamon roll for the full 1 min and 10 seconds, but in hind sight, I’d shave 5 seconds off of that time. The dough is definitely not the same as a regular cinnamon roll, but it’s a good substitute, and on the whole I was happier eating this microwaved treat than some rubbish substitute I could find at the store (the Brits bake lots of nice things but when it comes to ridiculous excess, they struggle to match us Yanks).

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As mentioned, I also made up a ridiculously pink goop icing to top the whole thing off. I’ve made marshmallow fondant before, so I knew I could probably whip up a decent “sauce” using a handful of these. I’m happy to say it worked well: teeny bit of butter (so they don’t stick to the dish), splash of milk (a tablespoon? maybe two), and a generous handful of marshmallows, microwaved for about 20 seconds, then stirred vigorously.

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Otherwise, I followed the recipe, and I pronounce it solid. I ate the entire cinnamon roll in my silent, sunny kitchen and loved every bite.

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Now I’m off to enjoy the remaining moments of solitude with a book. Happy Saturday!

Posted in Cooking, Family Life, London Life, Uncategorized

Rhubarb, Blue-barb

It turns out gardening in England is much easier than gardening in Texas. In Austin, I planted a small rhubarb plant and promptly watched it shrivel up and die, despite watering it daily. Here in London, it’s about to sprout legs and walk around! My eldest little calls it “blue-barb” and we were planning to combine the lovely stalks with homegrown strawberries, but the boys keep eating those straight off of the vine:

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Anyway, I’m planning to harvest the first batch of blue-barb tomorrow, so naturally I spent a good chunk of today looking for tasty new recipes on Pinterest. Here’s what I unearthed (check out that pun):

  1. First up will be these rhubarb bars. I love lemon bars and rhubarb’s tartness should make a great change–in fact, I wonder if I could whip up a tart au rhubarbe…check out the finished product and review here.

2. Then I might make this old-fashioned rhubarb pudding cake, just to see if it actually works (magic pudding cakes are so much fun, although I find they don’t keep well).

3. Finally, to stick with the theme from my last post, here’s a vegan raspberry rhubarb crisp that uses nuts for extra flavour and crunch. (I haven’t made it yet but based on experience of cooking rhubarb, I’d double the sugar.)

And while I didn’t grow much in Texas, I did grow these carrots–I think it’s time to update the phrase “two peas in a pod”:

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Posted in Austin, Texas, Cooking, Family Life, Uncategorized

(Wo)man in the Mirror

After Trump’s decision to leave the Paris accord, chatter has increased about what individuals, cities, states, and companies can do to abide by our pledges. This article from Forbes has a clear list of ways all of us can help. I already do a bunch of these things: the majority of my wardrobe is secondhand from charity shops (I love Savers in Austin, TX–can’t wait to go there whenever we visit next!), we have a car but only use it a few times a week as we prefer walking and public transportation, and we buy as much organic, local food as we can afford (hello, weekly farm box delivery).

But I still think there’s more we can do. In particular, I’m going to renew my focus on eating vegetarian and vegan meals at least 2 days/week (or six meals in total). My husband and I were both vegetarians for a long time before we met, and while we do eat meat now, we work hard to minimize the amount of animal products we eat while also paying attention to what we replace them with (e.g. more fruits and veg, rather than highly processed substitutes).

Cooking from scratch takes time and energy (and usually adds to the workload of women/moms), so when I find pretty easy recipes that are also vegan/vegetarian and yummy, I hang on to them for dear life. While I like cookbooks, I actually prefer recipes from bloggers because I find them easier to replicate in my own kitchen. Here are three of our favorite vegan (or easily made vegan) recipes from other bloggers:

Sweet Potato Taquitos: This recipe is our newest addition and my current favorite! I use a blend of sweet potato and butternut squash, but you don’t have to. I find them easy to make AND super easy to freeze, so I always double or triple this recipe and save the extra. We eat them with guacamole, black beans, and rice.

Slow Cooker Morrocan Eggplant: Super easy to make, and while you do have to hunt down the spice blend depending on where you live (in the US, I’ve found it at HEB, Central Market, and Whole Foods; in the UK, our local Sainsbury’s and Ocado both carry it), it lasts for ages. We like it with couscous.

White Girl Dahl: Easy and so, so delicious. This one is my husband’s fave out of the three. Pick any butter substitute (we just used veg oil) for the start of the recipe and skip the added butter at the end to make it vegan. We had smoked paprika roasted cauliflower on the side (chop up a head of cauliflower, toss in a couple tablespoons of oil with plenty of smoked paprika, salt and pepper to taste, roast for about 20-25 min) and naan.

So there you have it: three ways to be a climate activist. New recipes welcome in the comments section!

Posted in Family Life, London Life

Expat Life: Dealing with Family Visits

When I first lived abroad, I looked forward to every visit from family members, and every trip home. Now, after more than a decade of living abroad (and a few years hosting my spouse’s family when we lived in Texas), the novelty has worn off and irritation can easily creep in on all sides. I thought I’d share some of my experiences in the hopes that you might be able to avoid my mistakes. Read on to minimize family feuds annoyances and make the best of your time together.

#1: If at all possible, do not let your family members stay with you, especially if (a) they’re American and you live somewhere that is not America, and/or (b) you have a small house. We live in a 1250 square foot house in South London and it is the biggest property we’ve rented in this country. With two adults and two kids, there’s really not much room to spare. My best friend and her (German) husband and son recently crashed on a foam mattress on the floor for two nights, but there’s absolutely no way my parents or siblings would ever tolerate this set up. Much better for everyone if they get an airbnb or a hotel room (airbnb is always cheaper, plus you can cook). Otherwise, be prepared to put up with a constant stream of comments about how small everything else, how uncomfortable and old-fashioned everything is, yada yada yada…seriously, it was bad enough listening to my mother complain about the washing machine (and lack of separate dryer) at the airbnb property they rented.

#2: Think about local holidays that may impact (positively or negatively) on travel plans. If you live in a touristy city or area, make sure you let your family know if something is going on around the time they want to visit. My parents recently visited for two weeks that exactly lined up with the Easter holidays here, so all of the London places they wanted to visit were super busy. They managed, but it’s worth warning people in advance if there’s a local festival, holiday, sporting event, etc. – especially since it can also drive up airfare and accommodation costs. 

#3: Give your relatives advice, but if they’re anything like mine, be prepared for them not to take it. My brother once flew over for three days to meet his new nephew. I was so flattered that he went to so much effort to come and see us, and delighted that he abided by rule #1 and stayed in a hotel (especially since at that time we lived in a 650 sq ft flat). Unfortunately, he did not listen to me when I told him a single room wouldn’t be big enough for his 6’3” frame, and he spent his three nights in a very cramped bed that was most likely designed for adults from Shakespeare’s time (you know, when everyone was shorter and smaller, right?).

Another example: my parents wanted to take a day trip to Oxford and when they looked up the train times, it said it would take just over an hour to get there on the train from London. Of course, what they didn’t know was that it would take at least another hour just to cross London on public transportation to get to the train that would take them to Oxford. And did they listen when I told them? No. And did they have a nice day out? No. They barely managed to see the spires at all. So like I said, feel free to give your relatives advice, but try not to stress out if they ignore you.

#4: Resign yourself to dealing with tourist cliches. I took my mom to Paris and she wanted American wine. Ha! My dad loves to make jokes about English muffins. Ugh. I’ve taken almost every guest I’ve ever hosted to a red telephone booth and Big Ben/Buckingham Palace/Tower Bridge. Mostly I take refuge in introducing them to one of my favorite pubs at the end of the day. Top tip: try to work in at least one thing you like doing during a day of sightseeing, otherwise you’ll be a miserable tour guide.

#5: Set clear expectations in advance. This one is slightly more serious. Some family members will want to spend all their time with you. After all, if they only see you once or twice a year, they want to make the most of it, right?! Other family members will want some distance. They’ll see you for a bit, but not all day, every day. Other times family members don’t feel comfortable traveling abroad and are reliant on your for everything, while a different group of folks might view you as a convenient stepping stone to expanding their traveling horizons.

It’s best to try and find out how much time they want to spend with you, and be up front about how much time you can offer to spend with them, even before they buy their tickets. This will prevent major arguments and hurt feelings down the line when, say, they’re tired and want to have a night in, but you’ve made plans to take them out for a meal. Or vice versa when they want to spend every waking minute with you but actually you’ve got to work and also it’s your friend’s birthday drinks, etc. Just try to have a conversation about it in advance.

And if this advice sounds totally bizarre and irrelevant to your life as an expat, congratulations: you win the family lottery. Otherwise, feel free to comment below with your own tips and advice.

Posted in Family Life, Teaching, Working Mom

Advice Needed: Transitioning Back Into Work

After four years as a stay-at-home mom, I’m headed back into the the working world. I’ve accepted what is pretty much my dream job: Head of English at a local state school. And there’s more:

  • it’s an outstanding school (that means it’s received the top category during government inspections)
  • it has an existing nursery (translate: preschool) and my eldest son currently goes there for FREE (yay, free preschool!!)
  • and it also has an existing primary school (translate: elementary school), where my eldest son has just been accepted for next year
  • plus, I’m coming on board as they prepare to open up a brand new secondary school (translate: middle and high school), so I get to design the curriculum from scratch!

My official start date is in September but I’m doing a few days here and there in between to prepare – and thank goodness, because I suspect this transition is going to be a big one.

Example: on Monday, I was scheduled to spend a half day at school. I’d reminded my husband several times, but he still hadn’t made any childcare plans the night before (it was his job to sort things out this time). When I asked if he wanted me to get in touch with our babysitter, he said it wasn’t necessary since our youngest would be napping and our eldest would be at school. (He works from home, so we have a lot of flexibility – thankfully!!) When I told him AGAIN that school would be closed, and that I would be gone for four hours rather than the two hours during which our youngest naps, he panicked. *sigh* Luckily, the babysitter was free and managed to help us out.

The following morning I was a total mess trying to entertain both kids and get myself organized. Somehow I managed to deal with the kids, but forgot to (a) eat anything before I left the house, (b) leave behind any cash to pay the babysitter, and (c) check to make sure I had any clean professional clothes. I turned up at work without a minute to spare in a mismatched outfit and with a rumbling stomach. Awesome.

The whole experience was surreal: grown ups were speaking to me, and not about diapers, sleep schedules or playdates. My memory felt unreliable, stretched to breaking point as I reached back years to access relevant examples for a training session. Plus, when it was break time, I got to, you know, take a break. Socialize.

It felt weird.

Also, here’s a strange thought: I’m going to be paid for this time. At some point, there would be a paycheck with my name on it (probably virtual, but I’ll take it). It hasn’t occurred to me until now, but the past four years represents the only period in my life since I turned 16 when I haven’t collected a paycheck. Someone thinks my time is worth money, and this is incredibly validating. Given that I had actually hoped to start work a year ago but struggled to find a job that fit my qualifications and our family’s needs, the impending paycheck feels especially awesome. I think back to the interviewer who suggested that I was too old for a particular job (completely absurd, but there you have it) and feel thankful and not a little relieved to have wound up where I am now.

So I made it through my first half day, and realized that I’m nowhere near as organized as I should be for September. And by “I”, I really mean “we”, because this is a transition for the whole family and you can be damn sure my husband will be picking up some of the slack. I have no intention of trying to be one of these supermom types who does all things professional and domestic. Here are some of the things I’m thinking about:

  1. Food. My husband used to do at least half of the cooking, but ever since we’ve had kids and I quit my “outside” job, I’ve done most of the cooking. And the planning and shopping. We eat a nutritious diet with lots of fruits and veg and about 80% of our food is made from scratch. I feel like hanging on to a high quality diet is going to be hard once I go back to work, especially since my husband and I often disagree about what counts as healthy. (Me: Greek chicken with rice and salad; Him: spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic bread.)
  2. Laundry. I hate doing laundry in London. We haven’t got a dryer and the washing machine is small, so it takes ages to get through all of the dirty laundry. Fortunately, husband has already taken on the task of hanging all the clothes up (possibly my least favorite chore). I’m thinking I need to find a (green) dry cleaners for my professional stuff, though, because he just throws everything in one load with no thought to different fabrics, etc.
  3. Mornings. We will have to get the kids ready while I also get ready. They’re slow, and to be honest, so am I. I used to be a morning person but now it seems to take me ages to get going. I blame middle-of-the-night wake ups.
  4. Childcare. Our youngest will go to a private nursery full-time, and he’s already attending two days a week, so that should be okay. However, our eldest will need care before and after school most days. We’re looking for a child minder (translate: person who is licensed to care for children in their home) to help out with that, but it’s taking a while to find the right person.
  5. Family time: Obviously I’m used to spending a huge amount of time with my family. I’m actually looking forward to more variety and some time out of the house, but I’m worried the change from stay-at-home mom to full-time working mom is going to be extreme – I’ll probably be working 50 hours a week. On the upside, teaching means I’ll have time off; on the downside, I’ll often still have work to do (and kids to entertain). I’m hoping the quality of our family time will still be the same, but I’m worried about feeling rushed and torn between two priorities.
  6. Breathing: Where will I fit this in?!

Advice? Experience? Links to other articles to read? I know the whole work/family conflict is a big one, and I’m hoping someone out there has some tips…