Friday, May 30, 2008

Engaged and palpable

Last night's dinner was lovely. My two girlfriends gave me lots of tips on birth and life with a newborn. And I cooked so much chilli that I had more than enough to freeze in preparation for Little Planet's arrival when we may not want to cook as much.

This morning I saw my doctor. He checked baby's heartbeat and proclaimed it steady and strong. Then he palpated my belly and confirmed that she is in an excellent birthing position - her back to my tummy and head down. In fact, he found that my baby's head is very close to being fully engaged into my pelvis. He could only feel 2 finger-widths of the base of her head above my public bone ("2/5th palpable"). This means she's nearly ready the greet the world. My belly has been looking different this week: it used to be high and taut; now the top is soft and the bump has really dropped downwards; my stomach has room to stretch out now and is gurgling away with (too much) freedom.

I got very excited as my due date is 3rd June, but then he said this doesn't necessarily mean labour will be fast and baby can still come late, especially in first births. I'm next due at the antenatal clinic on 4th June where, if labour hasn't started, I am sure they will do a membrane "sweep" to kick start things. Still, I ate alot of pineapple today and felt rather sick - silly me. I will bounce away on my birthing ball this weekend to further assist gravity. But... not before trying to see the new Sex And The City movie tomorrow in town.

It's the weekend, yipppppeeee!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tuning out, tuning in... and chilli con carne

I'm really tuning out of the world right now as the big day approaches... retreating into my own space and deeper still to Little Planet... trying to tune in with her even more, encouraging her with thoughts and love to be calm and gently move ever downwards into my pelvis... listening more and more to my birth preparation hypnotherapy meditations and imagining my cervix as a tightly coiled flower that slowly and surely opens up its petals one by one... trying to think of contractions not as painful in and of themselves - because of course they are painful! - but as part of the journey that will bring Little Planet into our lives, into the world... focussing on my breathing techniques... breathing deeply through painful twinges... trying to give Little Planet much more oxygen through my breath to help her on her journey... taking lots of naps, for hours on end... spending alot of time snuggled in my duvet... not really being interested right now in the outside world and the concerns of others...

Except for tonight, when I will host dinner for M and two of my closest friends D and J - a couple, two women, who have three children together and whose civil partnership ceremony a couple of years ago I was witness at. There is a huge pot of chilli con carne bubbling on the stove as I type this, and I will serve it later tonight with basmati rice, tomato salsa, guacamole and sour cream. It is 5pm and raining outside, but I'm okay, because I am tucked safely inside, retreating from the world... for another few hours at least.

Chilli con carne, for 4 big portions

Olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
1 large red pepper, diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1kg lean minced beef
25cl red wine
2 x 400g tinned tomatoes
4 tbs tomato puree
2 heaped tsp red chilli flakes
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
4 sticks cinnamon
4 good shakes of Worcestershire sauce
1 beef stock cube, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste
2 x 400g red kidney beans, drained
2 small squares of black chocolate
1 bunch coriander leaves, chopped, as garnish
Wedges of lime to serve

1. Gently saute the onion, garlic and red peppers until translucent then stir in ground coriander and cumin for a few minutes
2. Add meat and fry gently until browned
3. Stir in tomatoes, wine, puree, red chilli flakes, Worcestershire sauce, cinnamon sticks, stock, salt and pepper, chocolate and a little extra water to cover
4. Stir mixture in thoroughly, bring to the boil then lower heat to a gentle simmer for a couple of hours, checking water level and stirring occasionally
5. Towards the end of cooking time, add kidney beans and a squirt of one lime and test if mixture needs more salt or chilli.
6. Sprinkle chopped fresh coriander over the top before serving

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Extra special days

Now I am on maternity leave, the concept of weekends and public holidays shouldn't really make a difference to me as every day is a holiday, pre-baby. But days morph into extra special days when I have company. So my special week began on Wednesday night in the company of my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and husband for dinner, when I cooked them a hearty chorizo stew with spinach, garlic, smoked paprika, whole cumin and chickpeas and served it with hot crusty Turkish flat bread.

Thursday consisted of a gentle stroll around Finsbury Park (above) in the glorious sunshine with my mother-in-law, watching babies, identifying trees and taking lots of breathers on park benches. We then lunched at Ottolenghi in Islington, where I ate pork and beef meatloaf with roast beetroot salad and roasted peppers, and my mother-in-law ate salmon with broad beans and roasted aubergines. We finished our meals off with fluffy, sticky meringues. I love lunching here - the ambience is so relaxed and minimalist and friendly. The place is renowned for its salads and desserts and was founded by a Palestinian and an Israeli Jew. They've recently published a cookbook, which I promptly bought a signed copy of.

My mother-in-law then left and later, back at home, I cooked a dinner of orecchiette pasta with a sauce of pancetta, freshly marinated artichokes, garlic, fresh tomatoes, green olives and freshly grated parmesan (above) for M and we followed it with M&S lemon zest cheesecakes in front of the disappointingly anti-climactic season 1 finale of Dirty Sexy Money. Now that I am going out less, I am getting the time to watch more TV and DVDs, which (at the moment) is a real treat.

M had Friday off. While he ran errands, bought provisions and checked out a few art exhibitions in town, I spent most of the morning having my hair done at the Aveda Institute on High Holborn. Such pampering will be my last chance before Little Planet is born so I wanted to make the best of it. However, in the middle of my blissful treatments I received the texts that two of the women from my antenatal group whose babies were due end of May had already given birth. The news brought my 3rd June due date hurtling towards me and I was consumed with a tense mixture of excitement and fear: I really want to meet Little Planet face to face but am obviously afraid of both the birth and how I will look after her; I am also a little sad that what feels like a holiday – a self-indulgent period of me-me-me time – is coming to an end.

M met me afterwards and we lunched at our favourite Korean restaurant Bi Won, where I had my favourite bi bim bab bowl - a stew of vegetables, beef and chilli paste on a bed of rice and a raw egg broken on top, and served sizzling away in an earthenware bowl (above). This is comfort eating of the highest order and for me ranks alongside buttery mashed potatoes, thick, salty, hand-cut chips, and Alphonso mangoes in the comfort eating stakes. M slurped a kimchi and tofu soup. Then we strolled through a vibrant Russell Square in full, pink bloom (below).

Back home, M prepared the dough for pizza and did laundry (my hero), and then took a nap while I chilled under a blazing sun in the garden with my new favourite magazines - Parenting, Parents, Real Simple, Dwell and Junior. For dinner we ate the pizzas topped with our favourite tomato, mozzarella and artichoke toppings (with additions of black olives and anchovies for M) and then ended the night watching the gripping and complex Heroes, season 1, on DVD.

The Bank Holiday weekend was spent at home as I am too weary and heavy to do much out and about now as I enter my 39th week of pregnancy. M went for a run around the park and then to the gym. When he returned he planted coriander, parsley, thyme, sage and basil in pots in the garden (above). In the evening he cooked a mouth-watering Vietnamese meal of beef stewed with tomato, star anise and lemongrass from Andrea Nguyen's Into The Vietnamese Kitchen, which he served with stir-fried water spinach from a local Vietnamese supermarket that has recently opened and brown rice (below); and on a rainy Sunday he roasted lamb with rosemary (from our garden) and garlic for dinner and served it with asparagus and mashed chickpeas. We had Ben & Jerry's phish ice cream for dessert - my first time - yum!

We whiled away the rest of the rainy Bank Holiday chilling in the kitchen reading the weekend papers (below), reading novels (I've started Carol Shields' Duet - wonderfully descriptive evocation of the apparently mundane lives of two sisters - one a biographer, the other a poet), baking muffins filled with lemon zest and sultanas (recipe below), blogging, surfing the net, preparing and then taking delivery of our Ocado order (life-saving at this stage in my pregnancy when I can carry hardly anything), checking and re-checking my hospital bag and baby's things, checking we knew how the infant car seat works, and reading up as much as I can about water births as I am booked in to have one if all progresses well. And Bank Holiday Monday finished with M cooking Singapore prawns for dinner, made with fenugreek, fennel and tamarind (below). Hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend (at least those of you in the UK and US!).

Monday, May 26, 2008

Zesty lemon and sultana muffins

It's been a while since I've posted a recipe on Planethalder, which is ludicrous really considering how much we cook at home and how much time I've had to post since I've been on maternity leave. To atone for my laziness, here is my recipe for 6 zesty lemon and sultana muffins, which I made this wet and windy Bank Holiday Monday afternoon. The basic muffin recipe has been honed (for example, I used to use 100g of ground almonds but found adding, instead, 50g of ground almonds and 50g of plain flour lightened the muffin considerably while still keeping it moist). And you can then add any variety of filling or flavouring to this. If you add frosting or icing you have a cupcake! So versatile.

Basic muffin mix:
150ml natural yoghurt
3 eggs, beaten
175g caster sugar
140g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
50g plain flour
175g unsalted butter, melted
Pinch salt
Half tsp vanilla essence

Zest and juice of two lemons
Large handful of sultanas

1. Pre-heat oven to 190C/170C Fan/Gas 5
2. Line 6-hole muffin tin with paper cases or use silicone muffin tin
3. Mix together yoghurt, eggs, vanilla, melted butter, lemon zest and juice
4. In big bowl, mix together all dry ingredients, including sultanas, and make a well in the middle
5. Pour in wet ingredients into the well and quickly but gently fold with a metal spoon or spatula taking care not to overwork it
6. Spoon into the muffin tin (each hole will be quite full) and bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden, risen and springy to the touch
7. Take out of the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes. They are lovely eaten warm but they can be cooled completely and frozen or eaten within 3 days if left in the fridge

Friday, May 23, 2008

New beginnings

I'm sitting in the Aveda Institute on High Holborn having sublime things done to my hair when I get some texts. Two of the women in my antenatal group whose babies were due 28th and 29th May respectively have already given birth. Early. Unexpectedly. I am next in line at 3rd June. But it could obviously happen any time. Gulp. I am very nervous and a little frightened to be honest. About the birth, of course. But also about how dramatically my life as I've known it is about to change...

Monday, May 19, 2008

38 weeks

In direct contrast to a previous post, the last few days have been much, much better. I have had more energy and fewer naps. I don't know what it is - perhaps it's the cooling of the weather.

...I have eaten cupcakes bought home by M from Candy Cakes in Covent Garden and then been inspired to bake my own vanilla cupcakes dressed with butter icing and violet flowers (above) as well as butter scones, which we demolished over the weekend.

...I have slow-cooked ratatouille for my mother-in-law and sister-in-law and enjoyed an evening eating it with them before they crossed the waters to Portugal for a week's spa break.

...I have slow-cooked a courgette, cherry tomato, ricotta and lemon sauce for orecchiette pasta for M.

...I have eaten a scrumptious Indian meal cooked by M from Madhur Jaffrey's comprehensive Ultimate Curry Bible: Cauliflower gosht (above) and lamb in a mustard seed sauce.

...I have spent many an hour preparing our bedroom, as it is shaping up to be a Zen haven with a lovely corner just for the baby (above with moses basket, baby changing unit, and armchair and footstool for holding and feeding her and singing to her), for she will sleep in our room for her first few months before we move her to the nursery. I can see myself and Little Planet spending most of our hours in this heavenly corner.

...I have finished reading Mavis Cheek's witty and sardonic Yesterday's Houses and started reading Penelope Lively's City Of The Mind; I have thrilled to both Boy Child and Climate Of The Hunter by Scott Walker, whose sexy deep vibrato seems to always set Little Planet off, and have also been enjoying Madonna's Hard Candy and Nick Cave's Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!; and I have swooned to Katherine Hepburn in the magical movie Summertime.

...I have hosted a coffee morning for some of the mums-to-be from my antenatal class and enjoyed the company of these women who range from civil servants and researchers to TV and music producers.

...Here's my bump at 36 weeks - 2 weeks ago. I don't know why my wrist looks so strange here; must be the overhead lighting...

...I have perused online for terracotta pots and herbs to grow in our garden, plus ideas for growing a Japanese garden.

...I have been weirdly excited by a phone call from a client who hadn't realised I was on maternity leave. It made me miss work.

...I have craved, just for a couple of days thankfully, bland ready-made curries and samosas and quiches and potato salads and cheap chocolate mousse from the supermarket, which was strange as thus far in my pregnancy I had only craved milk and fruit (perhaps why I have only put on 15lbs in weight to date - I thought I would put on much more, but really the only thing that has gotten bigger on my body has been my stomach).

...I've bought more clothes for the baby from Green Baby (and her first teddy bear from Mothercare)...

...With women in my antenatal class beginning to go into labour now, I have written my birth plan and begun packing my hospital bag just in case.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Post for Ma

My mum wrote me an email in response to my previous post. She said she felt sad that I was feeling bored and unwell and that she couldn't help me. So I emailed her back:

Hi Ma,

Don't be sad. Today, remarkably, I felt much better. I didn't sleep once in fact and had lots of energy. I think it helped that the weather was much cooler today, which makes me feel more energetic.

I think my boredom is mostly due to excitement and impatience - we have bought everything for the baby now and I have read all I want to about birth and looking after a newborn. Now I just want her to arrive so I can enjoy her and begin the next chapter of my life.

Lots of love,

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Let it be noted, that at 37 weeks and 4 days, I am now officially bored of being pregnant. Yes, I am seeing family and meeting up with new friends from my antenatal class, I am dreaming of the baby, I am reading and sitting in the garden and buying baby things. But I am too big, too inflexible, too tired, too hot and too nauseous to enjoy anything now. Today, all I could do was sleep all day and feel nauseous and it was boring. I want M to stay at home so he can keep me company, so he can keep my mind off things, so he can be the person I can whinge and whine to to my heart's content. As afraid as I am of the birth, I just want her to be born now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

37 weeks

  • Saturday was spent wandering around the brilliant China Design Now and Blood On Paper exhibitions at the Victoria & Albert Museum; buying assorted green teas and Indian chai tea and chatting away to the owner about, you guessed it, tea at Postcard Teas; eating masala dosa and nair dosa (filled with a mixture of potatoes, beetroot, carrot, onions and ginger) at Keralan restaurant Rasa W1 next door; shopping for soap at Liberty and food provisions on Brewer Street - Japanese at Arigato, Italian at Lina Stores, salads at Fresh & Wild; stocking up on armfuls of paperback fiction at Waterstone's on Piccadilly - Carol Shields, Mavis Cheek, Ann Packer, Jane Smiley, Saul Bellow, Penelope Lively, Nikita Lalwani and Rumer Godden - to read when breastfeeding, though I'm already engrossed in the Mavis Cheek novel.

  • As lovely and stimulating a day as it had been, it was a relief to get back home, to be honest, and sit down to a lovely meal cooked by M of grilled mackerel fillets and zesty green and red salad. For by the end of the day I was exhausted and realised this was the last busy Saturday I can have until after the birth. Next week I'll be staying closer to home - ideally in my home. My pelvis aches more, I'm getting more frequent Braxton Hicks and period-like cramps, I'm getting looser motions, and frankly it's too hot for me now.

  • As we came home, we chatted briefly with one of our immediate neighbours. They also work in the City and have a 16 month old toddler and the woman was recommending good local nurseries. The best one, apparently, is at the end of our road and though we are in the "catchment area", it has a "strict selection criteria". For nursery. Uh-oh, it's all begun. Now I am worrying whether we will meet the selection criteria, whatever that is, and Little Planet hasn't even been born!

  • Sunday was spent sitting in the garden, reading and watching M do some gardening. We want to plant herbs and jasmine and vegetables so he was weeding and preparing the beds. M spends his weeks (and many a weekend) working hard as a lawyer in the City, but despite the little free time he has, he finds cooking and now gardening (and wandering around galleries) the perfect form of stress relief. Lucky for me. But I did my fair share of cooking last week - aubergines and chickpeas in a spicy tomato sauce, and a red lentil dahl. This week I plan on cooking risotto with borlotti beans, peas and courgettes, a spinach and paneer curry, and some orecchiette with rocket and walnut pesto and cherry tomatoes. To end the day, M cooked homemade pizzas - he even made the base from scratch - with toppings of mozzarella, artichokes, tomatoes and anchovies and we ate them in front of Heroes, Season 1.

  • Now the weather is so lovely, I've been sitting in the garden a lot. I can't wait to spend time in the garden with Little Planet. I can't wait for her to discover the swishing leaves on trees and dappled sunlight for the first time. To see the world anew with her eyes will be such a treat.

  • I realised the other day, that I have spent nearly 9 months building up a picture of Little Planet in my head - how she looks, what her personality is like, based on my scans and her activity within my womb. I have grown to love her antenatally. Soon she will be born and I will have to discover her and learn to love her afresh. Not just one time, I suspect, but over and over again for as long as we will be together.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Summer chilling

Wasn't it a glorious May Bank Holiday weekend? The sun here in London shone and shone and everyone tried to make the most of it by being out in the sunshine and hot air with bare arms and legs.

We spent Saturday hopping from one gallery to another courtesy of many black cabs due to my advanced pregnancy: the voluptuous, almost edible paintings of Howard Hodgkin at the Gasgosian in Kings Cross (above); the haunting, mysterious, highly charged interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe's works at the White Cube Hoxton Square and the atmospheric, dungeon-like interior of the Shoreditch Town Hall and featuring the stellar cast of such luminaries as the Chapman Brothers, Cindy Sherman, Anselm Kiefer and Harland Miller; and the filmic photos of small-town life by Gregory Crewdson at the White Cube Mason's Yard in Piccadilly.

Saturday was also spent ordering big ticket items from John Lewis for the baby, including a red and black Bugaboo Bee pushchair/pram and assorted accessories, a black Maxi Cosi car seat/carrier, a white wooden chest of drawers and matching fitted changing top, a classic wicker moses basket and stand, a digital baby monitor, BabyBjorn sling, breast pump, Baby Einstein activity gym and assorted basic clothes, sheets and blankets.

We lunched at our favourite Fernandez & Wells in Soho and later bought assorted food, including fresh tuna steaks, from the buzzing John Lewis Food Hall. At home, we ate the tuna steaks with a simple salad of rocket, beet and chard leaves and cherry tomatoes dressed in a homemade (by M) orange zest and balsamic dressing. Then ended the night eating Presat chocolates (mint wafers and chocolate covered apricots) whilst watching Heroes, Season 1 on DVD as we never caught it first time round.

Sunday and Monday were incredibly chilled affairs spent largely lazing around at home: laying in bed until late in the morning; breakfasting on freshly ground coffee and bagels with Camembert and apricot jam; reading the FT and Sunday Times outside in our garden; cooking and eating Spanish tortilla with sides of fresh tomatoes and grilled asparagus with Parmesan shavings, and also roast chicken with sides of chicory gently sauteed in butter and a rocket salad; tidying up the garden; doing laundry and hanging it out on the line.

Since yesterday, Tuesday, M is back at work, but as I am on maternity leave I am doing much the same - simply chilling. I have four weeks to go and am making the most of this time off. In honesty, it feels like a wonderful, extended vacation - the kind I've not had since my university days (and even then I usually worked during the holidays).

My favourite moments over the past few days? Feeling Little Planet's teeny weeny foot pressing against the side of my stomach and into my hand. She's head down now - her head in my pelvis, her back against my lefthand side, her legs curled across the top of my stomach and her feet pressing into my top righthand side. She's apparently around 6lbs in weight and is a tiny bundle of energy. I am so much in love.

Friday, May 02, 2008


I've bought the first things for the baby. These are from Green Baby in Islington. When I looked at them hanging up in the store, I thought they were far too small. And then I placed them over my belly and realised, My goodness, babies really are very tiny aren't they! Tomorrow, we order the bigger things... Bugaboo Bee, Maxi Cosi car seat, moses basket, changing unit, Baby Einstein activity mat, basic cotton clothing and sheets etc. But just to prove to ourselves we still have a life outside of pregnancy and babies, we have a list of art galleries we want to visit too. Just like the old days, but then, not quite... Life has changed.