Mary, about those fishcakes…..

Now Mary, before I start…..let me just say that I do really like you. Everyone does, don’t they? I like your floral jackets, your pink nails, the way you stand (or stood, I suppose I should say) with your hands in your back pockets during Bake Off; the cheeky glint in your eye when you talk about enjoying a glass of wine in the evenings.

I love that you admit that life is too short to make your own puff-pastry.

I put up with the fact that the producers of your latest series, Mary Berry Everyday, milked the vintage/floral/cutesy/twee clichés for all they were worth; because….well because I like watching you. I like your sensible advice, and your food always looks delicious.

But Mary, it was the fishcakes that made me switch off when I was catching up on Episode 4 last week. Don’t get me wrong, Mary – they looked amazing. They really did. They looked perfect and crispy and had that amazing sauce oozing out of the middle. Yum.

And you tucked into them, knowing how amazing they were going to be and said something like ‘mmmmm, now those really are special. Do you know, I think that really is the perfect everyday supper.

Everyday supper??

EVERYDAY SUPPER????

The thing is, Mary, I find fishcakes a bit fiddly at the best of times. Even just regular fishcakes, let alone your extra special fishcakes. But here you are, popping your beautiful piece of smoked haddock in the oven, making your white sauce, merrily flaking the fish and mixing it with your already-cooked mashed potato, dividing your mixture and forming four perfectly round balls, making a little hole for your oh-so-indulgent filling, spooning in your sauce, folding over the tops of your fishcakes, dipping each fishcake into egg and flour and panko breadcrumbs (this bit, which is awkward and fiddly and always leaves my kitchen covered in egg-y, floury breadcrumbs; just looks so EASY and NEAT and TIDY when you do it Mary), then frying them until they’re beautifully golden (oh, but if you have time, you should also CHILL them for 30 minutes before you fry them so that they don’t fall apart…..you’ve already spent 5 hours on these fishcakes so what’s another 30 minutes?!), and THEN…..FINALLY putting them in the oven.

And after all that – the shaping, and the spooning in of the sauce, and the dipping and the frying and the baking; all you’ve got is a fishcake for your tea! I mean, they do look amazing and everything but surely you need more than a few leaves to go with your fishcakes don’t you, Mary?

All those steps, Mary – so many that I’m not even going to count them all – mean that your amazing fishcakes just aren’t going to work for me. Or for so many mums, dads, and people with normal jobs and normal lives. People who have to travel home from work and get in, tired and hungry, at 7.30 or later. People who have children to get to bed, work to catch up on; or just don’t have all day to spend preparing fishcakes.

For an everyday person, this is not an ‘everyday supper’.

Let me just explain a little bit further, Mary. My ‘everyday supper-time’ scenario usually looks like one of the following:

Scenario A:

Cooking a speedy after-school tea for the family because daddy will be home from work early, so we are all eating together at 5pm. One boy is having a meltdown because I won’t allow him to use knives unsupervised, another boy is forming a human bridge as he attempts to lie across two chairs which are currently placed some distance apart; and a third boy is astounded that I don’t automatically know who finished in the top five in the 2001 Premier League table. As I frantically try to cook and answer questions and keep my offspring away from sharp knives; I know that at least one boy will soon declare that he no longer likes a key element of the supper that is about to be served up to him.

Scenario B:

Making my way downstairs at around 7.45pm, ravenous but knowing that the last thing I want to be doing is chopping, stirring; or indeed anything that involves standing up. Worn out and beaten from at least 90 minutes spent getting my children washed and tucked up in bed. From fighting with a grubby boy who doesn’t want to get IN the bath, then fighting with the same now-slightly-cleaner boy who doesn’t want to get OUT of the bath. From playing let’s-hide-under-the-duvet-before-stories and remembering the order in which I’m supposed to do and say everything…..’go out of the room, now come back in, now lie on the bed, now say “where are those boys?”, now say “oh look, it’s a laughing duvet” ‘. Saying night night, sleep tight, see you in the morning, then saying it all again, and again; then taking a boy to the toilet once more, then giving another cuddle, another kiss; and then another one and another two because apparently this boy’s had more cuddles than that boy. Then answering questions about how long it is until morning, and what day it is, and what we’re doing tomorrow, and when we can go to Italy. And Portugal. And France. Then reading with the eldest boy, and saying perhaps it’s time to turn your light off now darling; you have done a lot of reading….. And the thing is, mummy really needs to cook the tea, sweetheart. Mummy is tired out and mummy is REALLY HUNGRY. 

And so Mary, tempting though your fishcakes look, as I stumble down the stairs at almost 8pm craving something quick and tasty and preferably cooked for me; the last thing I have in mind is coating my amazing indulgent fishcakes in panko breadcrumbs before chilling them and then frying them and then popping them in the oven.

I won’t hold it against you Mary, I still love watching you in your floral jackets. But perhaps in the next series, ‘everyday’ could actually mean ‘everyday’.

Mary Berry

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You’ll find mummy in the kitchen. Eating biscuits.

I’m often in the kitchen…..usually eating biscuits, polishing off leftovers, licking spoons clean or frantically scraping any leftover food from the bottom of a pan. I will happily flit between sweet and savoury and then back again without a thought.

No-one ever warned me that once I became a mum I would feel hungry all the time. But I do. I feel like I can’t get enough calories in me.

Back when I was breastfeeding, I felt like the constant eating and the treats were justified. I had absolutely never felt as hungry as I did when I was feeding small babies – I could practically feel the calories being drained out of me. And then when I was feeding twins, even the doctor told me to eat some more Mars bars (she actually did).

I thought the hunger would go away when I stopped breastfeeding, but it never did.

And now I seem to be permanently in need of an energy boost to get me through the next challenge – the school run, another mealtime, bathtime, another meltdown; there’s always something that has me reaching for the biscuit tin. I feel compelled to finish off my children’s leftovers, even though most of the time they have been pushed around a plate for 30 minutes and couldn’t look more unappetising. But I still eat them….. what’s wrong with me?? And, having polished off the remainder of my children’s tea, I can then quite happily eat a normal sized dinner with my husband a couple of hours later.

Yes that’s right, basically two dinners.

On work days I get home ravenous, desperately searching for crackers and dips and cheese and biscuits and anything else that will get me through bedtime. It’s not like I haven’t eaten lunch – I have. And snacks. But I still need more fuel.

My boys now eye me suspiciously whenever they need to entrust any food to me. ‘I need the toilet, mummy’; says one during snack time. ‘Off you go then’, I reply, ‘I’ll keep an eye on your snack’. He pauses and looks at me before saying ‘don’t eat it, mummy’. They know me well, my boys.They know that mummy can frequently be found hiding in the kitchen, pretending she doesn’t have a mouth full of rich teas or pick n mix. They know that mummy has her own treat tin and sweetie stash.

I know I should just have healthier snacks, and I have tried….really I have. I’m aware that scoffing sweets just gives me an immediate burst of energy but will leave me craving sugar again a few minutes later. But all that happens when I snack healthily is that I still feel hungry, and because I’ve just had a healthy snack that means I can now justify eating the less healthy thing that I was trying to avoid eating in the first place. So I just end up eating both.

Right now, while I spend my days running up and down the stairs, breaking up wrestling matches, and chasing small children down the street; I feel like I probably need the extra calories. I don’t know whether anyone has actually calculated how many calories the average mum uses for bath and bedtime, or when trying to get small people dressed and out in the morning – I have a feeling it’s a lot. But the time will come when looking after my boys isn’t, in itself, a work-out. At some point, the constant snacking and finishing off everyone else’s meals will have to stop.

But that time’s not yet. I love being a mum, but my boys leave me feeling beaten, totally exhausted and emotionally drained most days. Cake makes me happy, so I will continue to enjoy it. And my double portions.

I hope I’m not the only one.

Yum.

eat biscuits

One of the best birthday cards I’ve ever received. 

Open letter to family friendly restaurants

Dear generic family friendly restaurant,

Let’s not pretend that eating out with small children is a fun experience for anyone – we are at our table wondering why we ever thought it was a good idea, and you’re wondering when our unruly children will stop unlaying all the tables that you’ve paid someone to lay so beautifully. But we still do it – sometimes out of necessity, other times because we kid ourselves that it’s going to be more relaxing than eating at home, but also because we know that our children need to learn how to behave. And let’s face it, however inconvenient we arerestaurant, you probably make a significant profit out of us; which makes me think you would actually like us (and our children) to return.

So when trying to entice families back to your chain, the thing to remember is this: very rarely do we base our decision on the quality of the food – one pizza/pasta chain really isn’t much different from another. And parents are unlikely to be kicking back with a glass of white and enjoying their meal – it’s more likely that we will be attempting to shovel down some pizza whilst trying to prevent a toddler from clambering onto an adjacent table.

If you have made our eating out experience as stress-free as possible (and we know it’s never going to be completely stress-free) then you will be our restaurant chain of choice. Here are a few ways you could help:

  1. Open at 11.30. Most small children will happily eat an early lunch, whereas adults without children tend to eat at a more civilised lunchtime. By getting the families in early, you could be starting to get rid of us by the time your child-free customers are arriving – surely a win-win situation.
  2. Have some child-ready tables set up, and by set up I mean have nothing at all on them. We honestly do not mind sitting down at a table free of glasses and cutlery – just bring everything as you serve us. This would avoid those awkward moments when the waitress/waiter desperately tries to remove all breakable items whilst children flail their limbs around in a bid to knock everything off the table.
  3. Even better – if you have a room out the back, a basement or an annexe then consider putting families with small children here. William restaurantAgain, we don’t mind being shut away from people who would rather enjoy their meals without finding a 2 year old flinging himself around on the floor next to their table. It makes us feel that maybe this eating out business isn’t so difficult after all.
  4. Have an appropriately priced children’s menu. This is where Prezzo wins hands-down, having one menu for under-5s and another for older children (I have no business interests in Prezzo by the way, I just enjoy the more reasonably priced menu). I resent paying £7.00 each for my 2 year olds to eat from an ‘under-12s’ menu. I’m sure I’ll still resent paying £7.00 for them when they’re 11, but it doesn’t seem so wrong once they’re almost teenagers.
  5. Provide enough crayons (and pots). One pot of crayons between three children is never going to work, even if the pot is stuffed full of crayons. It’s all about having your own pot, especially if you’re 2. Yes, children have to learn to share but a restaurant isn’t the easiest place to be reinforcing this lesson.

And finally, it would be a huge help if you would apply the following rules when serving families with small children:

  • Bring the children’s food first.
  • Do not serve children with scolding hot food. Having asked approximately every 10 seconds when their food will be arriving, children are understandably distraught when their food is finally put in front of them only for it to be immediately removed because it is so hot it would scold anyone’s mouth. Every adult around the table is then frantically trying to cool it down while children are working themselves into a frenzy. We are more than happy for you to leave the children’s meals on the side for a few minutes until they have cooled down to a more appropriate temperature.
  • Do not serve children’s meals on heated plates. When faced with the situation outlined above, heated plates and bowls are less than helpful.

Just a few ideas which would make dining out a slightly easier (but still completely draining) experience for parents – I hope you’re able to use a few.

Best wishes

A very outnumbered mum who’s eaten in a lot of pasta chains. all restaurant