Same S@*t, Different Year

“Stop flapping about and flinging raw octopus juice everywhere!”Me

“Can I put my hand inside its head?”Ted

Ted stirring fish stockI’m kicking off 2013 with a rebooted devotion to expressing my motherly love through the medium of seafood cuisine. So, I’ve got my hand up an octopus’s arse.

I know, I know – they don’t really have an arse. Actually, I can point you to the beak, funnel, suckers and eyes like a pro. I’ve had to get clued up, as Ted’s brain grows bigger and he thirsts for more knowledge to stuff it with.

After washing the octopus, I wanted to run screaming to a Swiss clinic and decontaminate myself with a raw juice diet, but instead I let Ted do some sharp knife cutting, stock-mixing, garlic-crushing and whacking in of broccoli and pasta. How hands-off, am I?

I like to think I’m a non-smothering, all-round good motherly egg, but – in reality – the sooner he can do this s@*t himself, the sooner I don’t have to hose down a cephalopod.

As he chewed delightedly through a mass of rubbery tentacles – hope I’m not on bog duty when that resurfaces – the table talk focused on hen and stag parties and what they consisted of.

He’s a long way off finding a life partner, but Ted’s decided on a key celebratory element already: “For my stag do, I’m gonna go with my mates to a seafood restaurant and eat all kinds of fish.”

Same Shit, Different Year_2If Ted’s Best Man of the future is perusing this blog for merciless wedding speech jokes, take note of his wishes. (And no poor taste jokes about the groom’s mother and her false teeth…)

Miss-Da Crabs

Dressed crabIf ever you think you’ve got a kid into a groove – you’re certain to find yourself sadly mistaken (the little buggers really love to keep you on your toes).

Take crabs – the kind you catch and eat, not catch and itch.

Ted’s been bit-champing keen to try crab and I’ve been equally eager not to cook one. My Grandfather was mad for crabs and we always had to bring him back a fresh one if we went within sniffing distance of a seaside.

Grandad was a skilled cook of traditional Yorkshire fayre. Many times, he demonstrated the prepping and cooking of crab. But, as I’ve always been a pussy when it comes eating seafood, I only ever watched – wincing – through one half-open eye.

On a recent trip to Anglesey with friends, Ted and I headed to Stanley Butchers in Beaumaris and bought a dressed crab. “The crab box will be ticked without me having to even touch it,” methought. Methought wrong.

Child eating crab clawWe unwrapped the crab – I saw what was coming, but hoped against hope. The brown meat of a crab is mushy soft – an unacceptable texture on Ted’s list – and there was way more brown meat than white.

God, that boy tried harder than I’ve yet seen him try to like something. Usually one lick of the tongue on a green bean and it’s straight back out. But four or five, hard-fought, mouthfuls in, Ted confessed: “I only like the claws and the meat, not the mush.”

So, poor Mr Crabs languished largely uneaten, though his claws were greatly appreciated.

I’m rueing the day I told Ted that Great Grandad Jack showed me how to cook crab – the pestering’s started already. I’ve just looked up crab-cooking on Delia – frankly, I’m bricking it…

The Octopus Cometh

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Ever considered becoming a testicular surgeon? Buy and gut an octopus – it’s a wincingly close substitute, I reckon.

After much procrastination – I faced my fears, defrosted that slippery little fucker sucker (see earlier) and wrestled it into a sauté pan. In the interests of being frank, I report that I whimpered and retched pretty much the whole time.

On Rick Stein’s advice, I turned it inside out (gag), pulled out the innards (horror), rinsed it all over, removed the beak (please, make it stop) and was left holding something akin to a discarded scrotal sack.Image

I chopped the head into rings, crying out when I realised I’d sliced through an eye. Then I separated the tentacles – use a seriously sharp knife or you’ll be hacking fruitlessly all day.

And from here on, I improvised, because no recipe I found catered for the bland and bizarre mix that constitutes my son’s dietary delectations.

I fried the octopus in garlic oil, lengthily and gently, so it didn’t burn or stick – tentacle-encrusted cookware is not a good look.

I added spring onions, some broccoli (doesn’t he ever get sick of it?), some fish stock (a cube, natch) and a few noodles. I then simmered ‘til cooked.

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I needn’t have worried he might reject the eight-limbed sea monster – Ted was stealing hot tentacle before I could plate up. “Delicious. So delicious,” he repeated many times.

After slurping up tentacles, rings of octopus head and spoons of fish stock, he gnawed on a token bit of broccoli, semi-begrudgingly ate some noodles and told me he, “never wanted spring onions in this recipe again.”

Point taken: I must add even fewer complementary flavours next time.

Now, surely I’ve earned serving up at least one meal of beans-on-toast for all that effort..?

Delaying Tactics


You know when you set a well-meaning reminder on your phone, then repeatedly snooze and reset it for a day hence, because you really can’t face the task at hand?

My ‘octopus’ alert’s been going off for almost three days, but I’m in no way ready to tackle that slippery, little sucker yet.

So, because most days in our house involve some kind of seafood – and Ted would actually eat fish for every non-breakfast repast, if I allowed him to – I would like to introduce you to my most culinarily-daring dish… Tuna Pasta!

I think it’s foul, but it’s the only menu item still standing from Ted’s early toddler days – a time when he ate the nutritionally-balanced pies, stews, risottos and bakes I once slaved over.

Whack olive oil, onions, crushed garlic and a pinch of herbs into a pan. Add frozen peas and a tin of tuna (in spring water – no pissing about draining the oil). Tip in a carton of passata. Simmer it. Add two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar, half a teaspoon of sugar, some salt and pepper. Gently cook. Take it off the heat while you cook your pasta – that tuna gets bloody hot.

Serve it up, feeling righteous but not knackered, and (if you hate fish, like me) tuck into your own – rather tame by comparison – tomato and basil sauce. But you don’t need me to tell you how to cook that, right?

This recipe was adapted from a meal my least kitchen-oriented friend once cooked for Ted and her son. She says her Mum used to cook something similar for her. My Mum never did so for me – I would have burst into tears at the mention of it.

In fact, I haven’t eaten tuna since 1989, when I forged a mental link between the tinned variety and skinned Alsatian. At the time, I was listening to a ridiculously tall tale about a Chinese takeaway, while eating a tuna sandwich.

Still, the kids go mad for Tuna P and no one under five has rejected it yet.

Have I killed enough time to get away with not cooking that octopus for another week? Next, I will conquer my squeamish, tearful fears and wrestle it into some kind of cooking utensil. Wish me luck!

Digesting Less

Is there such a thing as a ‘Summer Vomiting Bug’?

Each member of our household’s been hit by the galloping trots and copious upchucking this week. Nice. I’ve felt less like purchasing, gutting and cooking seafood than ever.

But, when Ted – the first to fall victim to the vomits – had completely voided his system at the weekend, he said: “I’m really looking forward to eating that octopus next week.”

“Yee gads, cut me a break”, I thought – sloping out vomit from what used to be our salad bowl. Motherhood!

The boy made a quick recovery and resumed his own unique take on the Atkins diet. I was relieved for a past moment of motherly organisation, when I’d purchased frozen giant prawns and frozen pollock fillets (pollock from the Sainsbury’s Basics range, under two quid, about eight pieces, what a bargain). This meant I’ve only had to chuck stuff in a pan and serve it up. Hurrah! ‘Cos even a potato waffle’s been a food group too far for me since being ill.

Today, I poached a pollock fillet in milk and water for seven minutes and served it up to Ted with plain pasta and peas (you’re getting used to the peas now, right?).

He loved it, asking: “Take a photo of me with the pollock. I want to see what we look like together.” The verdict was a resounding “delicious” on the fish, but a serious maternal f-up on the peas. Oh dear. “These are the peas, I don’t like,” he announced. Weeping and wailing followed rapidly, thereafter.

“Clear your plate, or there’s no pudding, etc, etc” I repeatedly huffed, before a moment of dawning realisation. I cooked the wrong peas! On still-dehydrated autopilot, I’d reached for the cheap stuff the adults in our house have. But Ted only does Bird’s Eye best – such a refined (pampered) palate.

He took my apology well, but held me to my earlier promise of ice cream. I hit him with a knock-off version of a Nobbly Bobbly. He was stoked – cheap peas, pah! But cheap ice cream? That really is da bomb…

Time and Plaice

I’ve set a one-word phone reminder, timed for 13 days hence: ‘Octopus’.

After many saucer-eyed entreaties, I’ve capitulated and bought Ted an eight-legged/armed betentacled (dead) sea creature for a princely sum (see pic).

Rick Stein says freeze octopus for a fortnight, or bash the shit out of it on a rock, before cooking – otherwise it’s like trying to masticate a flip flop. It’s only a diddy thing, but it is a full octopus. The idea of prepping and cooking it is already haunting the recesses of my mind – I’m highly suggestible, so I’ll probably be having full-blown, octopus-based nightmares as the cooking day approaches.

A wet-behind-the-ears lad bagged it up for us down Morrisons way – why have they got rid of their apostrophe? He looked somewhat horrified on witnessing the lip-smacking delight on my son’s face. I explained that, standing before him, was a child who’d already eaten whole squid, cuttlefish, swordfish, mussels, clams, prawns and a variety of filleted fish in restaurants on holiday. The ‘fishmonger’ winced with disgust – possibly not a face to pose up during the next anthemic Morrisons TV campaign.

But the octopus’ delights are to be relished in the future. Today, Ted selected a whole plaice fillet (I nearly puked when it was bagged up and I realised the spotted grey skin was still firmly attached to the underside).

“The fish is looking good today, isn’t it, Mummy?” Ted observed with glee. “Mmmm,” I weakly agreed. Our fish counter operative smiled sympathetically.

Later, in the animal cadavers section, Ted chanted: “Meat, meat, meat!” I wondered whether I am taking the right motherly direction with my young charge. “If I had a shop, I would sell only meat and fish and I would eat it all and give the bones to my cat,” Ted said. I remained silent (but mildly horrified – am I raising a cave troll?).

Back home, I conducted my customary nasal inspection of said plaice. I sniff meat, fish and eggs like Gollum hunting for snacks in the Dead Marshes – I am compelled to check the produce isn’t off, even though getting so up close and personal with something once alive gives me the heebie jeebies.

I pan-fried the plaice in butter. For the first time in my so-far brief fish-frying career, I did not burn it. I served it up with plain noodles and boiled broccoli (none of your flavoursome sauces, oils, herbs or spices for Ted, thanks very much).

He devoured it, announcing: “This plaice is absolutely delicious!” Job done, mother – I thought. Job done.

Motherly Love

Ted eating sardines

“I would like to try all the creatures of the sea” and “Are you allowed to eat penguins?” Just a couple of things my four-year-old son, Ted, has said to me in recent months.

Now, I am a squeamish eater – I declared that I would no longer eat fish at the age of 11. I was a vegetarian for years as an adult. Until recently, I would only touch raw meat with a fork when preparing a meal. I can generally only stomach chicken breast or certain cuts of pork and it is my idea of hell to have a whole, baked fish sitting on a plate at the same table as me, nevermind being asked to actually eat the damned thing.

But I’ve got a boy who hungers for anything that once had a heartbeat. He loves swimming in the sea and then sitting down to a nice plate of barbecued sardines (see above) that he’s watched being gutted. He’s hoping to eat a clown fish, a walrus and a whole rabbit one day.

So, what do I do? Well, when a kid really loves something, it’s only right to encourage them and open up a whole new world for them, right? I’m having to overcome some of my deepest-held food weirdnesses to buy and cook food that seriously grosses me out. I even try the bloody stuff sometimes – gotta show willing, how else will I get him to eat vegetables? I take a VERY small mouthful and wash it straight down with something liquid and preferably alcoholic.

And, just so you know, Ted’s a very picky eater and I’m definitely not an űber Mum. He takes a packed lunch to nursery – he’s too fussy to try the cooked offering. He’ll only eat potatoes in crisp or chip form, picks from a limited selection of fresh fruit and veg (broccoli, sweetcorn, strawberries and orange segments ad infinitum), doesn’t like cheese or cream (how weird?), loves egg white but won’t touch the yoke, hates anything with a sauce or ‘bits’, detests pizza and will not countenance any kind of onion anywhere near his food.

I try to feed him well, healthily and without having to spend two hours preparing every meal beforehand, but sometimes – frankly – I really cannot be arsed. I also regularly distract him with lollipops, hit him up with a selection of Haribo and let him have chicken nuggets at McDonalds. Life’s too short to be perfect!

I’ll be sharing the parental highs and lows of cooking way outside your comfort zone in future blog posts – bon appetit!