Donal and Me (Part 3 of Julie and Julia)

As described in my post: Working-Mom Problem No.1: Feeding the Hoard this winter I have decided to work through my hoard of cookbooks in an attempt to find new family recipes that I can cook quickly in the evenings that are both delicious and nutritious.

One thing is very clear – the Donal Skehan of 2011’s Kitchen Hero and the Cathy Clarke of 2015 live very different lives. Donal’s book which hopes to bring the cooking back home is not for a family feeder like me, it’s for the people who are hoping to bring the party back home. He has many hip little recipes for nibbles, quaint twists on lunch bites, but I had to combine at least 3 of his suggestions to make an actual meal that would fill an adult from dinner to breakfast the next day – there will be no midnight feasts on my watch.

vodka penne

The first one I took a swing at was the Vodka Penne, and it was delicious. On the negative side there was the unpleasant moment where the vodka was being burnt off and my kitchen smelt like a junior disco, and I had to add chicken because there was no meat, but on the positive side the toddler could feed himself and the adults were very curious as to what the heck I was serving them for dinner, which prompted them to wander into the kitchen which allowed me to assign them tasks, so even that alone gets an extra bonus point. It was a good meal that tasted very nice the next day for lunch and will definitely go into my family favourites list.

I’d give this a score of 8/10.

fish cake

But that was the only ‘meal’ I could find, so I started to combine others. I tried the Zingy Thai Fishcakes with Sofies’s Squashed Potatoes, and my own recipe for Mediterranean vegetables. The potatoes were fine, nothing to write home about, but grand. I added pine nuts to give them a bit of texture. The fish cakes were a whole different ball game – these were a disaster. I could not get them to stick together – I think I should have used two eggs maybe? So I ended up with fish lumps on day 1, and then what looked like minced fish on day 2. A disaster.

lemon spuds


Wobbler* food on the go

wobbler on the go

My son is a feisty, determined one year old and feeding him is like trying to shove Chaos back into Pandora’s Box; it would make the world a much happier place if I could complete the task, but it is near an impossible challenge.

He ducks and weaves in the high chair like a Premier League footballer, while I aim the spoon at his mouth like a heat seeking missile. Sometimes the food lands on target, sometimes one of the arms flailing like an Italian arguing with the ref intercepts and food flicks into the waiting open mouth of the dog.

The only thing that helps this four-times a day battle is a distraction. My son is fascinated by people. So if ever we have an occasion to be out in public near feeding time, I bring a big bag of food and shovel it in as he stares at the people passing by.

One little recipe that I have found easy & quick to make while being nutritious and easy to transport is a chicken pasta mix.

Now I won’t insult anyone’s prowess in the kitchen by giving you the instructions on how to make this dish as though it was anything more than firing random ingredients that you find in your press/fridge into a bowl with pasta and a sauce. However, for those who’s cooking skills are more like mine than Vicky’s (the other writer here at AHMBC) this is how I make the dish:


  • 2/3 breasts of chicken
  • Veg: 1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper, 1 packet mushrooms (or any veg can be substituted for these – in the winter I throw in about a half bag of frozen peas/carrots instead, to give it a more winter feeling dish)
  • 200g of pasta (about a third of the bag – that will save you looking for the scales)
  • store bought tub of carbonara sauce (you could definitely make your own here and win huge domestic goddess brownie points – but sometimes life is too short for that).


  1. Place the pasta in a pot of boiling water to cook as per instructions on packet
  2. Into a wok put the chicken to cook.
  3. When the chicken is cooked through – add the veg to cook.
  4. Pasta is normally ready at this point, throw it in on top
  5. Pour over sauce and cook as per the instructions on packet

This dish usually takes about 20/30min to make, depending on how many times between each step I have to stop and tend to my son. It is great hot, but actually just as good cold. So if you are going somewhere with a microwave get then to zap it for about a minute and a half. If not, then the little pasta shapes, chunks of pepper and chicken are an ideal size for little fingers to pick up and feed themselves while staring at the world go by.

*What the heck is a wobbler? This is the stage after being a baby but before becoming a toddler, this is when your little darling is starting to get up on their feet doing a mixture of coasting, standing or even maybe taking hesitant steps. They are probably parroting back sounds that could be words if you listen in the right way, and they are starting make their choices understood through gestures and movements. However, they do not yet have the assured stride or language of a toddler. They are getting there and at this stage they are a little wobbler.

“But is she though?”


I think once you have been guilty of hiding a pregnancy until week 12, the stigma of that crime does not leave you until menopause. I find no matter where I am, anything I do has to prefaced with “I’m not pregnant”.

Now it’s all “I’m not pregnant, I sometimes I just get sick in the morning, because, you know, I’m sick”. Or “I’m not pregnant, I have just decided for no apparent reason to avail of the health benefits of a sober life.” Or “I’m not pregnant, it’s just that I realised smoking twenty a day was ageing my skin”. Or “I’m not pregnant, I always hated shellfish and soft cheese, especially as a combo.” Or “I’m not pregnant, I have always been a hormonal mess, and have always cried at the Andrex puppy ads.” Or “I’m not pregnant, I just like cake and hate jogging.”

And I can tell that half of you here at the bottom are thinking “-but is she actually pregnant”.

It’s a crime that never leaves you.

Summer Food for a Toddler: Fish?

B1 Raw ingredients

My darling son has just come to that age where he likes to be independent and doing things for himself. He no longer needs a mama to help him. He’s got this. He’s grown. After all, he is one year old now.

This new attitude is most visible at dinner time, where he wants to be eating what everyone else is eating. This was fine when we were eating shepherd’s pie, stew, cottage pie, risotto etc. The winter foods that you can easily share with a curious boy. However, now that the weather has realised that it is meant to be the summer and we are getting some sunshine, the adults want to eat salad and steak, or salad and chicken, or even just salad by itself. This is much harder to share, because try though he does, it is clear that he thinks eating lettuce is like eating some grass flavoured paper.

So I had a conundrum as to what to do – I needed a summer dinner that the whole family could share. The solution … fish!

Yes, I was surprised as you probably are, and from here I can see the raised eyebrows and furrowed brows from here and the ‘really?’ hovering on your lips, but actually, yes, it turns out there are some fish he loves – go figure?

The two which have been most well received were oven-baked salmon and hake.

Smoked mackerel was point blank refused (and I know, present it to him twenty times in a row and eventually to curb the starvation he will eventually accept it, but, sigh, sometimes it’s just too much effort at the end of a busy day.) While the cod I bought had too many bones to be safe, so I plan to buy that better in future and try it again. From the little I did give him, he seemed to enjoy it.

To prepare this meal is incredibly simple. I put one curious son in his walker and while he chased the dog around the kitchen calling ‘Good Boy’, I wrapped the fish in a tinfoil envelope, placed it on a roasting pan and into a pre-heated 180 degree oven for 20 minutes.

While that was steaming away, I quickly chopped salad that the whole family (including a little boy) could eat – that was cherry tomatoes halved, cucumber into chunks, pepper slices and some previously-boiled-now-cooled baby potatoes. The adults’ dinners I dressed with a vinaigrette.

Little boy was placed in his high chair, bib on. Dog in the back garden because the little boy’s new favourite trick is to give any new food to the dog to lick first to ensure it’s not poisonous before popping it in his mouth. Disgusting.

The fish now cooked, I removed the flesh from the skin, called the family to the table and served.

Start to finish, including preheating the over took 25 minutes, leaving plenty of evening time to play before bedtime.

B1 End Result

When are you having the next?


If there was such thing as Maternity Ward bingo* this would be the big winning square in the middle – that is, how soon a mother is asked “When are you having the next?” after giving birth.

The baby is almost fresh from the womb, being cleaned and the family notified, when some idiot pipes up “oh you can’t leave them on their own – you’ll have to get them a little brother or sister, a little friend.” As if you can pop down to Argos and order one over the counter.

Right now, I would rather buy my son friends than have to grow him one. I would rather spoil him rotten, buy him every crazy gimmick, every overpriced toy that comes along, so all the other kids with several siblings want to play with his new toys and hopefully by extension him (in this plan I’m hoping he won’t be that bright, so it might take him several years to figure out that these are not real friends).

I have a friend who has three under the age of five, and before I had mine I had no idea what a feat of human resilience she was exhibiting on a daily basis by not hiding under her bed and hoping they would all go away. Watching her with those kids is like watching someone walk a tightrope – it’s amazing, it’s death-defying and I am definitely not having a go.

Every so often I think, maybe we could have another when my son is out of nappies, or maybe when he starts school, or maybe after he does his communion or confirmation. And then I realise that I will be too old at that stage to be even worrying about it. Worrying about how I would survive if I got a second non-sleeper, or how would I keep track of an energetic toddler while lugging around a big pregnant belly, or how would I survive another mind-numbing maternity leave?

And then I look at my son, curled up asleep, and think ‘ahhhhh aren’t babies so cute …..’

*Maternity Ward Bingo – if it’s not a thing, I’m going to invent it – a million dollar idea if ever I’ve heard one!

This article originally appeared on

Baptism: What to Expect on the Day


Army Recruitment Officers often patrol shopping malls and teen hangouts hoping to round up lost souls promising then a new adventure and a brighter tomorrow. In the Baptism scenario my mother was the ARO and my son’s soul was the one at risk. She encouraged us to sign up for a tour of duty promising several fun days out and salvation in the final days.

In hindsight she was very sketchy about the actual details. It had been over two decades since she had been in the trenches, so she told me to toddle into the community centre after Mass, where someone would show me the ropes.

If any of you have ever seen any army recruitment film you know that this is the part where the unsuspecting newbie gets an earful from a ruthless Staff Sergeant.   That didn’t actually happen to me, but only because I happened to meet a very nice lady down in the church who helped me with everything. As far as my mams help was concerned I could have met Platoons Staff Sergeant Barnes, and had a very different outcome.

Just in case the personnel at your local church are a little on the psychotic unhelpful side of religious leaders, here is a little information to help you find your way.

The process is as follows

  1. Ring up the baptism committee (number is on the parish website usually) – they will arrange a meeting to meet you and the baby and get some details from you (like the birth cert). Both parents can attend, but are not required. Godparents do not go.
  2. The baptism committee arrange a welcome meeting for you and the other babies getting christened that month. It’s a meet & greet with a prayer. Both parents can attend, but are not required. Godparents do not go.
  3. The Christening is scheduled at a date and time, and the Welcoming is scheduled at a date and time.
  4. The Welcoming is where you introduce the baby at a regular mass to the rest of the congregation (because the baptisms these days are just the families). This is usually the Sunday before the Christening.
  5. Day of the Christening:
    1. What you need: 1 white candle, 1 white shawl, 1 baby
    2. Show up to the church early – the baptism committee will explain how things go that morning, so being there early helps that
    3. The parents and godparents sit together with the baby up at the front, the rest of the family sit together further back
    4. Priest welcomes everyone and does a bit of mass. The only things you need to watch for are
      1. Priest puts oil on the baby’s head and chest
      2. Godfathers are required to light a candle
  • Priest calls the parents to the baptismal font for the christening
  1. Godmothers drape the Christening shawl afterwards
  1. It’s totally fine to feed the baby, amuse the baby, change the baby during the ceremony (the facilities are usually around the bathrooms). Anyone who thinks otherwise has clearly never met a baby – they don’t wait for service.
  2. Delegate photography duties to somebody sensible. You do not want someone who thinks this is their chance to create that abstract portfolio they always wanted, or someone whose finger will be in every photo. You also don’t want someone who will get in the priest’s way, or who has other duties to preform (such as being the parent, godparent or grandparent).
  1. Afterwards one parent has to fill out a book giving the details of the baby, parents and godparents. This is usually the time a ‘voluntary donation’ is given – going rate seems to be between €50 – €100.

This articles originally appeared on

Baptism 101: The ‘What to Wear’ Part


The baptism is usually the first formal outing for Mammy and Baby after the birth. The urge to go old-school and get the hair did, nails polished, face painted is understandable, that’s how you always got ready for an event in those hazy lazy pre-baby days. But now there is a severe lack of time, interest and energy on your side, plus a baby for organise to the event too. So here are a few things to consider as you plan the outfits.

Clothes for junior

In my opinion the baby should wear some actual clothes. Babygrows are fine, but it’s a big day out, you will probably get a new guna, so it’s nice to get baby spruced up into some actual clothes. Nothing too adventurous but a jumper and trousers or cardigan and skirt could be cute.

White is traditionally what babies wear. There is no rule or restriction, just a guideline, which you can break if you like, but most people don’t. At our son’s christening one little girl had pale pink tights under a white dress with a white cardigan and a pink bow in her ‘hair’, super cute!

However, what shocked me at our son’s christening was the number of babies sporting flouncy satin numbers which would rival a wedding dress for the amount of lace and sparkle – and these were on the boys. I know they sell them for boys, I know Prince George wore something similar, but seriously, no boy-child will thank you for this in the future. A jumper and a pair of trousers are fine.

If you happen to be in Dublin christening outfits are sold in Freckles, 1 Liffey Street, D2. Behind the communion dresses and satin hazmat suits are some cute little options for boys and girls.

One thing to bear in mind while choosing the outfit is that it has to be something that you can keep a tight hold of. Your baby is dangled over a stone christening font for several minutes and there is a certain amount of wriggling when the water is poured, make sure there is nothing restricting your grip. With the whole family watching, this is not the time for a mishap.

Also, the priest needs access to the child’s chest and head to put oils on them, so make sure access is possible.

You will also need a white christening gown or shawl. This is a glorified white blanket that goes around the baby after the actual baptism. Ours was meant to be a family heirloom that has been passed down through the generations, but we couldn’t find it on the day (typical) so I used a knitted blanket instead. It was perfect.

Clothes for you

It’s nice to get dressed up, and it’s nice to look pretty, but keep in mind that you will spend most of the day standing and holding the baby, so make sure whatever you choose allows you to do this freely.

During the ceremony you are required to bring the baby to the font (up and down steps) and to stand holding the baby. So although it is tempting to return to your former fashions (particular if you have lost the baby weight) on this day you may have to stay in Yummy-Mummy mode.

The idea is to impress without having to put in too much effort while being comfortable all day. My body shape changed entirely after having my son. I am much bigger than I was before, I have boobs, a belly and junk in my trunk. Styles that were nice on me before now don’t suit me at all. So give yourself plenty of time to try things on when shopping. I found that if I went to shops in the middle of the week, early in the morning, they were quiet enough to drag the buggy to the cubicle with me, blocking several cubicles around me. I would never have tried this on a busy Saturday.

Also I was not shy about asking shop assistants for help. They know their stock and they can see your shape, sometimes they have great suggestions. Plus on a dull mid-week morning they are happy to do anything to kill time to their next break. I would recommend making an appointment with a personal shopper, but I would have found it difficult to arrive on time on any given day in those early months, so sometimes it’s just about keeping it simple and getting the help you can when you eventually get to the shops.

As a side note, unless you are extremely confident in heels this is not a time for stilettos. You will be required to walk on all sorts of surfaces with a wriggling baby throwing you off balance. Why add the further complication of walking on your tippy-toes.

This article first appeared on