Monday, 20 February 2017

Still here, and still Meal Planning: Monday 20th February 2017

I promise that meal plans have still been happening in the Pantry, It's just since Christmas, between coughs, colds, infections and now Hand, food & mouth I don't think we've had a week where all of us have been healthy at the same point in time. It's ghastly, I do feel like all we need is a holiday, some sunshine and some proper family time. Pipe dreams though.

Breakfasts: I made porridge over the weekend, of late I've been starting the day with crumpets and marmite, and really enjoyed something that felt a bit healthier, so will be attempting to continue with that. I say healthier, it was topped with a hefty spoon of dark, soft brown sugar

Lunches: I've completely fallen off the soup wagon, but have been enjoying pilaffs, noodles and other quick and easy lunches.


Monday - Leftover sausage casserole, with brocolli

Tuesday - Butternut squash and spring green curry with rice

Wednesday - Leftover curry with roti

Thursday -Emergency pizza

Friday - Breakfast for dinner

Saturday - Gammon, egg, Slimming world chips, peas and sweetcorn

Sunday - Tomato pasta bake

I was going to say no baking this week as I've fabulous birthday cake to eat up, but then I remembered that mean I need to bring cake to bible study on Friday, I suspect I'll make my Apricot and Cherry banana bread as it's dairy free so the children at creche can have some too.

Have a good week - it's back to our normal routine after half term for us, so toddler groups aplenty.

As always, I'm joining up with Meal Planning Monday - do be sure to have a look at what everyone else is up to:

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

We went for a walk in a deep, dark wood... Gruffalo spotting with the Forestry Commission

A few weeks ago we had an exciting day out with the Forestry Commission - Harry, one of his friends, M and I went Gruffalo spotting.

Like so many of our friends' children, Harry is a huge Gruffalo fan, we read both the Gruffalo and the Gruffalo's child pretty much daily, and I can now recite both stories (that's clearly a skill left by a long forgotten Drama degree). Our day out was to test the Grufallo spotter app, taking the lovely Gruffalo trails to a new level with the use of Augmented reality.

On a sunny but bitingly cold February day we donned snowsuits, puddlesuits, welly boots and thermals, ready for adventure to begin. The woods at Wendover are lovely and definitely somewhere you may find a Mouse going for a walk... Off we went, phones in hand (we downloaded the app beforehand), looking for clues that might help us find our Gruffalo.  As we wandered through the woods we found markers telling us we were getting closer to each character, then footprint signposts - holding the app up to these brings up a wonderful image of the relevant character that blends into the woodland, and excitingly, which your child can be a part of. That said, Harry struggled a little with the concept and desperately wanting to see the character while he was in the picture so there was a lot of running back and forth! It didn't diminish our day in the slightest, but I suspect older preschoolers would understand that better.

Harry loved Gruffalo spotting - and we're going to be heading back to Wendover in March for a return expedition. I would say that the trail is fairly long for a toddler - Harry walks everywhere these days but even he wanted his buggy by the end. And the sturdier your buggy, the better - whilst it's not an incredibly challenging trail, there is one significant hill and a fair old amount of going through woodland paths. When we were on Brownsea Island a year or so back, we borrowed a fantastic all terrain pushchair which would have been perfect for Wendover.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The lighter side of being an allergy mum: 10 things I now know

 I've been an 'allergy mum' for a little over 2 years, and in that time we've dealt with what feels like so much. However - and no one prepares you for this - it just keeps coming. Things to learn, to teach Harry to manage himself (and that's a whole post in itself), new allergens, attitudes of others - be they people who mean well, or people who just don't get it. And I don't think at that appointment on the 25th November 2014 I really understood that. It was such a relief to have a diagnosis that didn't involve me being a rubbish mum that it didn't cross my mind that this was something that was going to continue growing far, far beyond excluding dairy and soya from my diet. That sounds terrible doesn't it? But aside from supporting Guides with food allergies (which I always took seriously - but, as we oh so often joke, I get to give them back at 8.30pm) I had really had no idea of the road we were heading down.

Anyway, I thought today I'd post a slightly tongue in cheek view of what we've encountered and learned thus far...

1. Cutlery, crockery, glassware, sippy cups - HOW many do you go through? I've always been hot on food hygiene, but me and potential cross contamination are not friends. Everything gets washed in the dishwasher on the hot setting. Chopping boards, knives, wooden spoons and spatulas all head that way if I'm in the least bit unsure. Whilst most of what we have in the house is safe - M and I do have dairy ourselves, more often than not, when Harry's not around. With the exception of milk in tea that is, no alternative milk has ever managed to make a proper cuppa.

2. There is nothing more likely to have me demonstrate my (non existent) athleticism, hurdling chairs and toys at playgroup in a bid to remove a stray biscuit from Harry's line of sight. Not a drop of grace is present in any of my limbs as I fling myself between Harry and the offending objects. And while we're talking about that...

3. Food in soft play, playgrounds etc. How often I want to be wildly unreasonable, and remove biscuits, chocolate, pretty much anything gripped in another toddler's sweaty paws before they're allowed to smear or spread said item around the play area. I know it's unreasonable, I do, I really do. But sometimes it would be nice to just be able to relax a bit.

4. It's not just nut allergies! From our standpoint - schools, nurseries, playgroups etc... all 'get' nut allergies. Which is awesome. If you have a nut allergy. We don't. Add to which a non-instant, reaction and I feel a bit like my explanations are falling on deaf ears.

5. People don't always have just one one food allergy. Lady in the cafe it's great that you can cater for someone who has either a dairy, egg, soya, strawberry or sesame allergy. But we have them all, and you can't do that. Which is fine, but then let me give my son his packed lunch.

6. And while we're at it a gluten free option is fabulous - it's not the same as a dairy free one! Which is also not the same as a lactose free one, although I'll let you have that as they're so similar.

 7. There are some fabulous sources of calcium that aren't dairy based - but sardines and kale aren't up on Harry's favourite food lists - of course they aren't, why would they be?! So I spend hours on the internet, with recipe books, and pottering around in the kitchen trying to find palatable ways of hiding foods that will help him. It's not that he's a particularly fussy eater - he's just a toddler and if the day has a y in it, he'll find something different that's not being eaten today, despite being last week's food of choice. Peas, I'm looking at you.

8. The trials of allergy testing - in our PCT, until the age of 3, allergies are tested via so called 'Challenges' - you either try your child on something with a small amount of said allergen in, and build up to foods with greater quantities of that allergen. Basically, as a mother, I get to potentially give my child a food I spend most of the rest of my time avoiding for him, in order to challenge his allergy. There is little I enjoy less.

9. And I know I'm going to alienate a HUGE amount of people here, but some of those food writers- you know the ones, heavy on the use of buzzwords like wellness, clean eating, healthful and nourishing - who talk about intolerances because dairy makes them a bit bloated, or gluten is acidic, or sugar the devil... whatever the current default is. Those people make life SO hard for anyone with an actual food allergy by making them seem faddy and in turn making others take them less seriously. As soon as you see the heavenwards glance, the unsubtle eye roll, the sigh of despair when asking if there's soya in bread, it's time to leave. Because whilst you know it'll give your toddler eczema that bleeds through his pyjamas, projectile vomiting and nappies like something out of The Exorcist - that's not what people think of any more. And I know that some people have found a more balanced lifestyle following that kind of eating, but for us and so many families like us food allergies aren't about posting heavily edited photos of us doing headstands in the golden morning light. It's so that we don't see our child writhing in pain, we don't watch them come up in the hives that we're told can precede anaphylaxis, we don't want to have to prop their cot up so that the burning acid reflux stays in their tummy.

Well that one wasn't so lighthearted was it. Oops.

10. And the combination of pride, sadness and confidence when your toddler can say no to a biscuit because it might make him "poorly" or tells a friend he can't have "sova, mik, 'trawberries,egg" For me, that moment was at once heartbreaking and reassuring. And he can also now tell you that if Mummy gets bitten by a bee she needs her epi-pen.

And much like my post on 10 things I've learned in 21 months of breastfeeding, I couldn't just leave this at 10...

11. Having said all of the above - the utter joy at an evening on Pinterest discovering wonderful recipes (that you may or may not ever make) that are safe for your child is wonderful. The moments when you can tell that the allergen has finally left their system and finally breathe a sigh of relief. The weigh ins at the baby clinic when you're told that your tot has finally put on weight, or is finally tracking a centile line. The joy of finding a safe food or recipe that your child inhales. The relief when a mum from NCT or a playgroup leader goes out of their way to be inclusive and ensure there's a safe alternative to whatever food the other children are eating. There is a litany of small moments that as an allergy mum bring me joy, restore my faith in other people and make this whole journey we're on seem manageable, feel less isolating, and give me the confidence to keep on keeping on.

I'm adding this post to Free From Fridays this week, over at Le Coin de Mel

Le Coin de Mel

Monday, 2 January 2017

Meal Planning Tuesday: 2nd January 2016

A new year. A new sense of vigour in the meal plans? Well, a bit. This week for us is a bit of a transition one - we had our Christmas on the 28th so are still clearing leftovers, but as you'll note at the end of the week, we're hitting our stride with some lighter food, punchier flavours and more than a nod to Vegan-uary. 

I'll be talking more about self-care and food later this week, as I'm trying to change my relationship with something that is so fundamental in my life not just as a fuel, but in my writing too. So instead of joining the queue at Slimming World or Weight Watchers, I'm going to be trying to think myself slimmer. But as I say, more to come later this week. 

We've had a few issues allergy wise over December - having eliminated suspect allergens beef and sesame, we had a much more settled time, until someone mugged another toddler for their biscuit. In the Wendy house at crèche. Great! That reaction seems to have passed, but as it does each time Harry goes through a big reaction, he's limited the foods he'll eat. It's a little like a food aversion - the vomitting, upset stomach and acid from the reflux make him so uncomfortable, in a way to control that he will pretty much only happily eat a very small selection of foods. As the reaction passes, he widens his choices again. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I'd doubt a toddler could do that. But he does. 

Anyway, without further ado, on to the Meal Plan: 

Breakfasts: Porridge. All the porridge! With lots of fruit added for me. 

Lunches: Soup. All the soup. I've made some turkey soup, and have frozen all but what we need today - and then I'll make a batch of carrot and lentil soup this afternoon, but I'm procrastinating right now. 


Monday: Leftover Turkey, mushroom and leek pie with braised red cabbage and baked potatoes

Tuesday: A dear friend has offered to babysit Harry so that M and I can have our first date night since July which is a huge blessing as we've really missed time together. 

Wednesday: Spaghetti, tomato sauce and meatballs

Friday: Leftover curry

Saturday: Gammon, egg, potato wedges and peas 

Sunday: Freezer surprise, I know there's some smoked haddock in there for Harry and I, but I suspect M will have some of the portioned off chilli that's languishing. 

We've not even cut into the Christmas cake yet, so don't need any baking this week! 

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year

2017: A fresh page in the planner of life. Time to start anew, to throw back the curtains and holler "Here I am!" Or perhaps, like me, you take a peek, make a list of things to do, before cautiously and carefully welcoming the New Year in. 

I know that lots of people will be writing the ubiquitous 'New Year. New you' posts, or those waxing lyrical about detoxes and diets. I'm afraid you won't find that here. Not least because isn't January the worst time to try to change anything and everything about yourself? It's cold, wet, dark and grim, the odd glorious winter morning overshadowed by the need for thermals, waterproofs and everything in between. I find myself more inclined to start changes in those early days of spring, punctuated by daffodils and brighter days.

Whatever mood you're in, however you're approaching 2017, or how life finds you today - here at Penelope's Pantry I wish you a Happy, Prosperous and joy filled New Year. 

Personally, I favour New Year attired in purple penguin pjs with a glass of prosecco, and possibly a board game or two. However, and with whomsoever you celebrate, enjoy. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Spreading a little kindness

Kindness elves and Penelope's Pantry don't necessary sound like a natural match. Although, if you've been reading the blog for a while, you'll remember the Random Bakes of Kindness that my Guides carried out one Autumn term - each girl baked something of her choice to give to a woman who inspired, cherished, loved or supported her. The girls loved spreading kindness and I must confess it warmed my heart a little week by week.

I've challenged my Guides to do a reverse advent this year. On Tuesday they were asked to bring (between them) at least 25 items we can pass on to our local food bank to share with those in need over the festive period. The girls did brilliantly and filled 2 calendars worth of goodies that we'll be dropping at the food bank tomorrow.

At home we're learning about kindness too - my focus with Harry has always been on his manners, kindness and thought for others. None of which are easy for a rampaging 2 and a half year old! But, day by day, week by week we're getting there.

One of the things I've spent the last couple of years being more aware of is the Elf on the Shelf tradition - whereby an Elf comes to visit for Advent. House to house, family to family his role differs, but it largely seems to be about encouraging good behaviour via the medium of reporting back to Father Christmas. Without wishing anyone else to feel judged, I just don't like it. The actual Elf on the shelf is scary. And I'm not sure how I feel at all about a child changing their behaviour purely because they're being watched or being given daily presents in Advent. I don't know. Genuinely I feel conflicted about how that sits alongside how we parent for the other 11 months of the year. And then I heard about the Kindness elves from Anna at The Imagination Tree, (which incidentally is one of my favourite blogs) who focus on developing positive behaviours - love, thankfulness and kindness -  which for me felt more manageable, more in keeping with our value base. And I hoped would work for Harry during Advent - a time when so many of us get so much, and yet is a time we should be focussing on giving.

Our elves arrived on the 1st December (I know Advent had already begun) and each day we've had a little kindness challenge to complete. We've made kindness cookies for our Bin men, who without fail wave at Harry every week which is the high point of his Monday mornings. We've donated some of Harry's toys to the charity shop. We've smiled and said Hello to lots of people. We've remembered to say thank you. We phoned Uncle James up to sing Happy Birthday to him and about 9 other things I've forgotten. Much like the Elf on the shelf tradition, Gabriel and Beth(lehem) turn up in odd places, and on 2 days have even brought books with them! When we were poorly with the Winter vomitting virus, they spent the day on the sofa with Harry and I and were kind to us when we needed it.

I think whatever your value base, faith or anything else - it's important for us all to understand that Advent and Christmas aren't just about getting 'stuff'. The commercialisation of the festival does mean that some of the simple truths of Christmas do get lost, and by stripping some of that 'getting' back by focussing on kindness to others I hope we're starting Harry off on habits and behaviours that will last him well into adulthood. Of course he'll be materialistic, want the big toy that everyone else has got, and have a tantrum in the middle of Sainsbury's when I'm tired and rushing - he's a normal child. But if amongst that he can consciously take the time to be kind to others, to give back, to say thank you - then I think our Kindness Elves have done their job.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Pasta Puttanesca(ish) a storecupboard standby

Pasta puttanesca is one of my favourite pasta dishes, the punchy flavours really sing to me, and as it's something M isn't a fan of, it gets relegated to being cooked when he's away or late home. However, this Puttanesca(ish) pasta is a firm favourite of mine, as it gives more than a nod to the original, without  requiring a trip to the shops as all the ingredients are things I typically have in our store cupboard.

I originally blogged this a fair few years back, with a woeful picture, and in the same post as some eccles cakes. I was eating leftovers for lunch today, and thought I'd rewrite it here and give it the benefit of some new photos too.

It's perfect for an entirely unseasonal supper (which so often at this time of year is just the thing you need) - the kick of chilli is warming, and the saltiness of the anchovies provides a lovely savouriness. I find it's best eaten from a bowl on one's knees, snuggled under a crochet blanket. But that may just be me.

Pasta Puttanesca(ish)
Serves 2

2 cloves garlic
1/2 red chilli - I use a nice big one, this is not the place for something that blows your socks off
1 tin anchovies in olive oil, chopped up
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon tomato pesto
Basil to serve

Cook your pasta in a pan, as you would usually - this sauce takes about 10 minutes to cook, so the two should finish almost together.

Drain 1 tablespoon of oil from the anchovies into a small frying pan (the rest can be discarded) and warm through over a medium heat
Add the chilli, garlic, and anchovies to the oil and cook down for 3-4 minutes. The anchovies will start to melt down
Add the halved cherry tomatoes, and allow to cook down for about 5 minutes more, use the back of a wooden spoon (or a potato masher) to break them down towards the end of cooking.
Stir in the tomato pesto and season with just pepper (you have enough salt from the anchovies).
Once you've drained the pasta, put it back into the pan and stir the sauce over, making sure it's thoroughly coated
Sprinkle with basil leaves for a lovely freshness, and serve as suggested above. Crochet blanket optional.


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