Lizzy and Larry Lobster’s Yuletide Jacuzzi.

Lobsters

Lobsters (Photo credit: Foomandoonian)

Christmas is at our place this year, and MM’s age-old fear has resurfaced… Cooking For The French. My stomach is turning somersaults at the idea of cooking for my in-laws (or “the Outlaws”, as I fondly call them).  Don’t get me wrong: they are adorable with me, and reassure me that my food is wonderful -(in other words, edible-) every time I cook for them.

The problem is mine, and mine only – my gastronomic inferiority complex sticks to me like Spotted Dick and custard to last night’s dishes. Just the thought of getting it wrong paralyses me. Wondeure Woomane, my nemesis, manages to simultaneousy slip into something feminine, clean the house and set a table with matching napkins, individual name settings and decorations made by Tibetan monks. She somehow manages to control events in the kitchen (presumably via thought transmission to the cooker) whilst she perches delicately on the sofa with her glass of Crémant, beaming like the Bell Rock lighthouse as she modestly accepts praise for her Christmas tree, then discusses poverty and hunger in the third world in hushed tones as her foie gras and smoked salmon chill in the fridge.

I, on the other hand, am wild-eyed and dishevelled as my guests arrive, having stuck my finger through my tights, my dress covered with smelly dog’s hair, and gravy stains on my top. Later, as my guests await the starter in the living room, I can be found entrenched in the kitchen, glugging down a large glass of white wine as I stare dismally at a main dish that has either done a Phoenix on me or is so undercooked that it could make a break for freedom off the plate.

Despite my doubtful track record in the festive gastronomy stakes, I pulled out my 1940’s cookery book this week – the cookery bible that PF’s great-aunt Renée gave me many years ago. I treasure it. As I turned the pages, the memories of her and the “oldies” inevitably tumbled out, and a lump big enough to remind me of my run-ins with bechamel sauce formed in my throat. Then I remembered PF’s granny’s comment at our wedding, and toughened up. “Make sure you feed my grandson properly,” she had whispered in my ear as she meaningfully pressed a cookery book into my hands. Welcome to the family, kiddo.

I was looking for a fish recipe to please PF, who had been gnawing on his favourite festive bone of contention: seafood. MM doesn’t cook seafood, and he knows it – it’s the Holy Grail of Gallic gastronomy, and as such, is unattainable for our family table. So like any self-respecting (-albeit big-) kid, PF demands it every year. This is how I found myself reading page 262 of Renée’s recipe book and wondering if I’d picked up a guide for budding torture fanatics by mistake. I gawped in horror at the recipe: “Take six small, live lobsters. Cut them energetically into slices (not too thick) and throw them into a pan containing boiling butter and oil”.

Now let’s get this straight. I’m no Brigitte Bardot as far as food is concerned. Living in France has knocked all cute bunny sentiment out of me, and I have absolutely no issues with eating Bambi, Thumper or the handsome Prince (-before his transformation, obviously-) with whatever sauce and sides are on the menu. I can munch snails, look on as the butcher decapitates pheasants, and even gobble baby boars marinated in wine with as much enthusiastic grunting as Obelix. But the idea of sawing Lizzie and Larry Lobster into bite-sized chunks and chucking them into boiling oil makes me feel like a seafood fiend. Halibut Hindley – the domestic equivalent of Hannibal the Cannibal.

Later, at the fish stand, I stared at the semi-comatose lobsters stranded on a bed of ice. As they semaphored SOS messages at me with their frozen little antennae and legs and blew bubbles of distress, all I could think of was this:

A French housewife pointed at Larry and Lizzie the lobsters on the fishmonger’s display, had them sealed in a plastic bag sarcophage then drove them home for their sad demise, no doubt orchestrated with the help of a woman’s weekly magazine recipe page and an axe. MM turned her back on the sorry scene and went home.

I  trawled the net in search of humane lobster sacrifice technique. Top French chefs on Youtube recommended throwing the live lobster into a vat of boiling water and cooking it alive. The image of Larry and Lizzie swirling in a boiling jacuzzi decided me: there would be no live lobsters coming here for Christmas.

So MM has copped out and bought two packets of frozen lobster tails. Call me yellow-bellied if you wish, but life’s hard enough without having a torture session on my conscience too.

Now let’s get that recipe sorted. I wish you all a calm, relaxing and fulfilling Christmas with those you love. And when you tuck into your turkey tomorrow, spare a thought for Lizzie and Larry…

And the winner is…

The Expats jury is out, after careful reading and vote counting. MM has come out with a bronze award to pin on her blog – all thanks to you guys. Thank you for putting up with my belly button gazing and otherwise narcissistic nagging for attention. It could be explained by the fact that I never won any medals for sport at school (with the exception of my self-inflicted shame of the year award, when I managed a minus score on shot-putting).

So as promised, here are your Smarties.

English: Smarties

I am now off to battle with the hoover, and sniff out enough matching wine glasses for five people.  I will try to get back to you before Christmas with a blockbuster on cooking for the French. Watch this space…

In the meanwhile, I wish you all a wonderful festive season. Love, laugh and make merry – and that’s an order!

Big nuggs

MM xxx

MM NEEDS YOU!

English: Uncle Sam recruiting poster.

HAVE YOU VOTED? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s time for a brazen, unabashed plea for help. Yup, I know, I need help.

Today is the last day for voting on the Expats Blog writing contest. Thank you, thank you, thank you to those of you who have already taken the time to read and comment on my entry. I will love you all for ever and ever.

Anyone who missed my previous pleas for help: I will, of course, also love you for ever and ever. But you can still put a vote in by clicking on this link before 21h GMT tonight, and I’ll share my Smarties with you too.

http://www.expatsblog.com/contests/832/ten-beret-good-things-to-know-about-france-and-french

Daily Prompt: Vice.

I love listening to seagulls. The way they cry in a blustering winter sky can reduce me to tears – it takes me right back to my childhood, when I woke up every morning to the sound of their plaintive call above my attic bedroom.

But in town, they are awful creatures. They crap on everything, whether it moves or not. They attack tourists eating fish and chips, beat up postmen on their rounds, and have even been rumoured to pick on small dogs.

Today’s daily prompt asks for photos showing vice, and I immediately thought of my seagull pals. Here are a few snaps showing how lofty (haha), arrogant, self-important, proud and defiant they are.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

PS. If you haven’t been yet, please head over here and support my entry in the Expats Blog writing contest, “Ten Beret God Things to Know about France and the French” before it’s too late!

Ten Beret Good Things to Know About France and the French.

This is the title of my entry in the writing contest run by Expats Blog, which has just gone on-line and closes at 21h GMT on 20th December. To get your dose of MM fun today, please click on the link below.

Ten Beret Good Things to Know About France and the French.

Although I don’t generally run after trophies, I must admit that if my little blog was awarded a gold, silver or bronze award, I’d be a very chuffed cookie. So if what you read there floats your boat, I would be eternally grateful (and tell you lots of stories, and share my sweets and playmos with you at bloggers’ playtime for ever and ever, amen) if you could leave a comment in the little box below the article – success is directly dependent upon the number and quality of comments for each entry. There’s an email verification on comments, so if you comment don’t forget to confirm that it’s really you who wrote.

Still wondering how important it is for MM that you take part? It’s this important.

My Letter to Father Christmas.

... Mitzi Gaynor flaunts her tree!

MM waiting for Father Christmas (Photo credit: x-ray delta one)

Dear Father Christmas,

I know I’m technically too old to write to you, but if you add the two numbers in my age together it makes nine, so please hear me out.

You noticed me last weekend. I was peeping anxiously through the frosted panes of your wooden cabin, and talking in hushed tones with my daughter, Little My. You were trying to reassure a little boy who was screaming uncontrollably on your knees and beating hell out of your shins with his heels. His eyes were wide with terror, whilst yours were watering from the pain. But you managed to force a smile, and his grandmother laughed and took photos with her telephone. I bet she has a coat made of Dalmatian puppies at home.

As I watched children wander in and out of your cabin, I wondered if Mother Christmas has to serve you a large whisky and several mince pies to get over your emotions when you kick off your boots at the end of each long day spent in that artificial winter wonderland of tinsel, spray snow and canned music. Although you must get lovely children coming to visit, I reckon you have a fair deal of spoilt brats too, and there must be times when you have an overriding desire to let a rabid Rudolf loose in the shopping centre on a seek-and-destroy mission.

I told Little My that it’s a good job you’re not on the same contract as Tinkerbell, or you’d be a gonner by now, with all the kids who have said they don’t believe in you. I met a six-year-old recently who had already cracked the Christmas Code. My cheerful enquiry about what she had ordered from you was met with incredulity, and disdain dripped off her like fat off a spit-roasted duck as she coolly enquired, “Didn’t you know that it’s the grown-ups who buy the presents?”

Like many other primary school children, she is gunning for a gift from the mean team that hangs out in the fruit bowl  – Blackberry, Orange and Apple. She did not appear the slightest bit sad that your warm, reassuring light had gone out in her young existence, and I was flummoxed; when Little My realised that you didn’t exist, hot tears of frustration had poured down her face as she whispered, “Can we rewind to yesterday, please?” I felt so badly for her, torn between wanting to grow up and retaining the comfort of childhood.

You interrupted my thoughts and smiled at us through your beard, beckoning graciously to my daughter with a white, glove-clad hand. Except it wasn’t Little My who was hesitating about coming to sit on your lap. It was me. And although Little My was encouraging me to go and talk to you, I decided I wouldn’t show her up (or break your legs).

The last time I sat on your lap and asked you for something, it was in 2009. (My age at that time was 41: adjusted age 4+1= 5.) You listened patiently, nodding your head, then gave me a piece of gingerbread. Your kind eyes sparkled as you said that I hadn’t reversed PF’s car into a street bench on purpose, and that the evil detector on the car had no doubt deliberately omitted to tell me that the bench was there, just to get me into trouble before Christmas. Then you let me down gently, telling me that your elves didn’t know how to make bumpers for cars, and that even if they did, it would be too big to fit down the chimney. But I felt better, and I had a sneaking feeling that you enjoyed having a big girl sitting on your lap for a change.

Gladys looked through the instructions for the part about ramming the Hoover down Robert's throat. (image  Jaes Vaughan, Flikr)

Gladys looked through the instructions for the part about ramming the Hoover down Robert’s throat. (photo credit: x-ray delta one)

You may have noticed that for the moment I have not asked you for anything: as a (fake) grown-up, I now have the liberty to buy my own playmobils. Apart from that, with age I have come to realise that the important things in life cannot be bought or made by elves and put into a Christmas stocking. They must be earned and maintained: love, laughter, trust and respect being just a few.

I do however have a few Christmas wishes. I don’t want any Domestic Goddess accessories, so feel free to give them to someone who will actually use them. However, If your old magic still works please could you sort out the following:

  • Health, happiness and serenity for everyone. Please bring good news and a peaceful, joyful break for those who have uninvited guests called Illness, Uncertainty or Sorrow for Christmas.
  • An intravenous drip of lucidity, humility and common sense for the leaders of nations who are slowly but surely stifling freedom of expression and reducing human rights for their citizens, and a well-aimed kick in the nether regions of any religious representatives, whatever their persuasion, who use their position to extol the virtues of hatred and preach intolerance under the guise of Godly goodness.
  • The long-term loan of a few elves during your low season (ten months) to do the housework, clean the car and go to the bottle bank. They would have full board and lodgings, and be able to play in the garden in the summer. That way you’ll have time to get your head around next year’s delivery schedule. It’s a win-win situation.

Thank you for reading, Father Christmas. A very Merry Christmas to you.

Love,

MM.

Stone-Age Mamma and the Mystery of Everybody Else’s Parents.

If I rubbed my teapot one day and the Yorkshire Brew genie popped out to offer me three wishes, it’d be easy. My first wish would be to kick cancer’s butt off the face of the earth. The second to pay off my mortgage. And the third would be to finally meet “Everybody Else’s Parents.”

Our kids all have the same friend, although bizarrely the gender and age varies enormously. Said friend is called “Everybody Else.” You may have met Everybody Else, but never his or her mysterious, generous and philanthropic genitors. Everyone Else lives in a childhood Nirvana – a teenager’s heaven where his or her every wish is the adult’s desire. Strapped for cash? Need a ride to the cinema? Feel an insatiable desire to respond to that Pavlovian reflex set off by the announcement of a new Play Station? Look no further: Everybody Else’s parents are ready and willing to grant their child’s every wish.

These parents are the summom bonum of parenting. They are an ode to educational endeavor; pioneers of parental prowess. They are in synchrony with their kids – so much so, in fact, that they seem to know what their offspring need before they even know it themselves. Walk into the Everybody Else household, and weep: these guys are in osmosis to such an extent that they are inches from melting into a pulsating, lime-green pool of happiness.

Caveman Couple
MM and PF, stone-aged parents, on their way to the butchers to buy a pound of mammoth for dinner (Photo credit: San Diego Shooter)

Now for a little history. Everybody Else’s Parents have been out doing us mere mortals in the parenting stakes since Neolithic times. At that time, PF and MM’s forbearers still had callouses on their knuckles from ambling along on all fours and forcing their kids to be self-respecting, independent hunter-gatherers who checked the pelt of the bear for parasites before they attempted to kill it with their home-made daggers. In the cave next-door, however, Everybody Else’s parents were already at the cutting-edge of flintstone parenting. They were the first to have a cart with square wheels and a matching turbo-charged dino parked outside their cave entrance. They ordered take-out mammoth every weekend and sent their kids to flint-chipping workshops at the local geek’s cave, dressed in the latest designer bearskins. The entire family watched blockbusters like “Menhir Black” on their stone tablets, and were the first to tote the stone-age ancestor of Steve Job’s technological wizardry – the iStone.

Throughout the ages, MM and PF’s ancestors kicked out against consumerism as a basis for parenting, and refused to keep up with Everybody Else’s Parents. Perfection being in the eye of the beholder, our creations are only too happy to point out that although we have progressed to communicating, standing upright and eating with cutlery, we have not evolved as much as they would have liked.

The iStone, little-known ancestor of the iPhone.

I have been measured with Everybody Else’s parental yardstick since my kids were old enough to clamour their indignation about our parental decisions. We are the most unhip, untrendy, tight-fisted, screwed-up old parents in the whole damned universe. If Victorian parents existed in France, that would be us, with a twist of Dickensian malevolence for good measure (I have a real Miss Havisham side to me, letting them see their cake but not eat it, whereas PF is a more Fagin type, forcing his kids to help out around our family hovel).

Now. Everybody Else is a charming kid, despite an upbringing with all the laxity of a eucalyptus suppository. He is never tired, despite the fact that his ultra-cool parents allow him to go out drinking late on school days, and always does his homework late at night in his bed because they allow him to exercise his thumbs on the Play Station soon as he gets home until well after dinner. Everybody Else’s girfriend has been sleeping over for the last three years and has even been encouraged her to come and live with them.

In comparison, of course, we do not cut the mustard.

We do not stand by the door jangling our keys when our kids want to go out to a friend’s house, whereas Everybody Else’s parents are generally scratching at the door like beagles that have picked up on the scent of game as soon as their teen twitches a Prada-clad toe. My general reaction is to ask them to look down, and show them the cheapest and healthiest method of transport ever: feet.

Beef Up Foreign Food Inspection

Trying to convince MM that frozen IKEA desserts are edible (Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com)

Food is another bone of contention. Whilst I am no Nigella Lawson, I scrupulously read the ingredients on the rare cakes and biscuits I buy. The rule of thumb is that if you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t eat it. This puts my children in a different world to Everybody Else, who is rumoured to open the kitchen cupboard on his return from school to choose from overflowing shelves of chocolate, snacks and sweets that no doubt glow in the dark. Everybody Else’s Parents allow their kids to slob out in the rooms alone and eat an entire family packet of M&M’s each until three in the morning, whereas we round up all our kids and watch a film or a documentary together. Shock. Horror.

I have kept an eye out for these parents at every parent-teacher meeting, and casually questioned the genitors of other teens, but to no avail. Everybody Else’s parents never show up. I have a possible explanation for this – as they selflessly fund the most recent technology, driving lessons, cars, generous allowances and designer clothes for their fringe-flicking progeny, they obviously work 24/7 – they are probably dental surgeons or lawyers by day, with a sideline in bank-robbing at night.

So until the Yorkshire Brew genie proves otherwise, I will presume that Everybody Else’s Parents are as mythical as the legendary Prince Charming. But that’s another story, folks…