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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On giving up beating myself up

Today I realised something.

I realised that I am the one who is making life difficult for myself. As of today, I have had enough of beating myself up over trivialities, of going over things in my head time and time again trying to work out what I should or could have done in certain situations. I have realised that I’ll always be able to tell myself that, on any particular day, I was too strict, not strict enough, too quick to lose my temper, unable to give enough time to my children; that I should have done more crafts, should have got the paddling pool out, shouldn’t have got so annoyed that someone spilt their juice again….. You get the picture.

I will always be able to convince myself that my best just isn’t good enough, but by giving myself a hard time I am just using up valuable energy and making myself a bit miserable. So I am admitting that yes, there are days when I don’t really enjoy being a mum. No, of course I wouldn’t change it, but there are mornings, evenings, sometimes entire days when I hate it. Boys – if you are reading this somewhere down the line, that is not at all a reflection on you. What I hate is the fact that I am responsible for you but feel like I don’t really have the skills, capacity or patience to make a good job of it. I hate not having a clue how to handle the challenges. And anyone who has had children knows that there are plenty of those.

I owe a thank you to the friend who texted me yesterday and said ‘I often think I hate being a mother at the moment, do you?‘ It reminded me that it’s ok to feel like that sometimes; because children are unreasonable, unpredictable, take all their frustrations out on you and, by the end of the day, leave you feeling like a shadow of your normal self. But my little boys get three meals a day, get cuddles at bedtime, go out to new places and have parents that yes, get frustrated, but couldn’t love them any more than they do. So hopefully, even when mummy’s sitting in the corner with her head in her hands having a little cry and quietly wishing all the noise would just stop, they will be fine.

Us mums give ourselves a hard time. We give ourselves a hard time over keeping house, cooking the tea, being there for everyone who needs us, remembering all upcoming events and trying to remain calm when we are actually losing our heads. We look things up on parenting forums to try and work out what we’re doing wrong and how we can be better…..and there is always someone there telling us a better way of doing things. But, if you’re a perfectionist mum you’ll drive yourself mad. You’ll drive yourself mad thinking about all the things you could have done differently and, what’s worse, how these things might affect your children for the rest of their lives.

So I’m going to stop driving myself mad. I am accepting that I love my children, I do my best, but occasionally they do my head in. And that’s normal. I deal with it in the best way I can at the time, which often isn’t the actual best way but motherhood doesn’t give you the luxury of time to think things through.

We sometimes have bad mornings, we sometimes have bad bedtimes. Sometimes we have a whole bad day. We are not perfect, but we are mainly ok. And from now on, I’m going to try and content myself with that.

boy under a blanket

This isn’t me. But it is often how I feel.