So Blue turned 11 on Monday in a whirl of Lego, lemonade bottle rockets, Jonny English, a sleepover notable for reminding me (as the older sister of 2 brothers) exactly how much hilarity farting causes a group of pre-pubescent boys, the now obligatory cinammon buns and a roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding dinner that was memorable if nothing else for absolutely the best Yorkshires I've ever made: beautifully risen, light, fluffy, golden. Yorkshire pudding of dreams. But I digress (although there is a point to me telling you that.)
It was a busy weekend, and in the interests of stocking up in advance, I made a smoked fish tart for the Husband and I to eat on Friday evening, with a view to leftovers that would feed us quickly and easily should the need arise.
I took the opportunity to delve into 'Recipes from a Normal Mum' by Holly Bell, which I acquired via a Facebook competition run by the lovely Crumbs . Suffolk Smokehouse Tart falls in the 'Food for the Great Outdoors' section - mainly because it's inspired by Holly Bell's summer holidays on the Suffolk coast. Very good it was too. I must admit to buying the pastry, but I'll make it again with the pastry included in the recipe because I like the idea of the addition of the ground mustard seeds. How the tart turns out depends on the strength of flavour of the smoked fish you select - I used what turned out to be quite mild flavoured smoked mackerel I tentatively picked up in Aldi - and it was totally delicious - warm from the oven and cold over the weekend, a big hit.
I have to say I wasn't sure about this book. Firstly, I have to say that the title put me off slightly. Normal Mum?? Who is the Normal Mum here? Not me that's for sure. But then I guess "Recipes from a Deranged, Sleep-deprived Mum" might not have the same attraction, and any way, I doubt Holly Bell is deranged or sleep deprived in that desperate way you can be after your first child - she has 3 kids - she's an old hand. But you know what I mean - 'normal mum'. Is anyone 'normal'?
Rant over, and on to the second reason for my hesitancy: it's not because I didn't think the recipes wouldn't be any good, because the Smokehouse tart shows they most definitely are, but because I'm not sure it's a book I need any more. I know that saying you don't NEED a cook book is a bit of a heresy in these food blogging parts, but hear me out. In some ways, this book takes me back to the dark days when I was a deranged, sleep-deprived mum. The days before Blue became ill when I would weep at his refusal to eat the salmon fishcakes that Annabel Karmel assured me he'd love, and then weep a second time when I allowed him to smother said fishcakes in ketchup to get him to eat them... and then when Blue was ill and Pink arrived and I sleep-walked through my days, going from one meal to the next in a total fug of confusion, panic and indecision. That culinary rut when you feel you should create delicious and tempting meals for everyone, but either because you've gone back to work, or the second child came along or for some other reason, you feel completely and utterly devoid of the ability or energy to do so. Or was it just me? (Please, please say it wasn't just me...)
Anyway, this is very much a book to get you out of that rut, and to get you to remember that you can absolutely cook interesting food for your kids and the adults in your life - that the 2 aren't mutually exclusive, and it doesn't need too much effort. It's also a good mix of sensible, nutritious food and the treats and quick fixes which, I'm sorry, but everyone needs, and never more so than when you've got small children. Mini mash ups is a genius idea for small kids, and well, Banoffee Hazelnut Cookie Crumble anyone? Hmm I thought so.
The book is divided up into sections aimed at the different scenarios you might be called on to cook in - feeding a crowd, feeding kids, feeding your partner... and although I haven't tried anything other than the tart, there are a number of recipes that I'm mentally adding to my meal plans: I love the sound of the Guerilla Gardner's Baghdad Beef Stew, the garlic mushroom crackle pie and Stew's keema matar - all the slightly more 'adult' recipes. The specifically children's recipes are great - just the sort of thing I'd have wanted to cook when the kids were smaller - but not now.
And to be honest, I think that's where I am these days. I am mostly out of that rut. Blue's requested food for his birthday weekend included chilli with all the trimmings (guacamole, hot salsa), and the delights specified at the outset of the post. A testament to the fact that the weaning days, the fussy days, the days of meals for them and meals for us, the days of food-related despair. I can cook pretty much as I choose - and if I need to adapt a recipe slightly, I have the confidence to do that. I have Nigella to thank for that, and to a lesser extent Hugh. Tana Ramsey also helped. But if it had been around when I needed it, I think Recipes from a Normal Mum would have done the job too.