Thursday, 29 September 2016

Opening night at The Stable in Exeter

Locally sourced food and drink seems to be a selling point for lots of cafes, restaurants and bars at the moment. So, when I received an invite to attend opening of The Stable in Exeter, I was a little sceptical about how a Dorset-headquartered, growing chain of pizza restaurants could honour its claim to offer quality, local fare in the heart of Devon (aka a foodie's paradise).



However, I was impressed by the obvious dedication to finding the finest local food and drink producers to supply the Exeter branch of The Stable.

Exeter is the latest location for The Stable, which now has a presence across the south of England from Falmouth to Whitechapel.

The opening night was absolutely rammed, no doubt thanks to the free-flowing cider and copious amount of pizza being offered for free. However, it was a fantastic opportunity to try the menu and meet some of the local suppliers, including Quicke's Cheese and Green Valley Cyder.



The pizza menu also reflects The Stable's commitment to local fare with names such as The Guildhall Grazer (potato, blue cheese, spanish onions and spinach), The Cathedral Clucker (chicken, roasted red peppers and field mushrooms) and The Ten Tor Tingler (spicy chopped pork, naga chillies, garlic, red onion, basil leaves and field mushrooms) nodding to local landmarks and offering a twist on traditional pizza toppings. My absolute favourite was The Fresh Hawaiian, which features avocado and chilli as well as the usual ham and pineapple.

I really enjoy hot food and the generous addition of different varieties of chilli to lots of the dishes like the Blazing Saddle (slow roasted pulled beef, bacon, caramelised onions, roasted red pepper, sour cream and jalapeƱos) and The King Crabber (West Country crab meat lightly infused with red chilli, garlic and lemon, roasted red peppers and fresh basil leaves).


Opening night can be a fraught affair as new staff get to grips with their roles, but at The Stable, everything seemed to go swimmingly. The pizza came thick and fast and, despite the huge crowd over two floors, there wasn't long to wait until we were offered more slices of the pizza to try.


Elliot, my 9 year old son, is a big pizza fan and I love proper cider. With The Stable located so close to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), the main shopping area of the city and Exeter Central railway station, I can guarantee we'll be back. After all, I was very restrained and only tried the Black Rat Perry.

Have you been to The Stable? What was your favourite pizza?

DISCLAIMER: I was invited to the opening night event to try the pizza and cider for free. However, I was not paid to write this post and all opinions are my own.


Monday, 26 September 2016

A birthday pizza at Ode&Co True Pizza

For his 9th birthday, Elliot wanted to go out for his favourite food: pizza.

Rather than visit a pizzeria, an Italian restaurant or one of the big pizza chain restaurants, I wanted to take him somewhere a bit special. I wanted to take him somewhere that serves quality food made with local produce. And I wanted us to celebrate his birthday in stunning surroundings.

This was the perfect excuse for me us to try Ode&Co "true pizza", which opened earlier this summer at the nearby Coast View Holiday Park.

Ode&Co delivers on all those fronts. It opened earlier this summer as the latest offering by Tim Bouget, who runs the award-winning Ode Fine Dining in Shaldon and Cafe Ode.



The first thing that struck us when we walked into Ode&Co was the stunning view over Lyme Bay. We took a seat by the window as, despite the sun in the picture, we had arrived in a rain shower and more were forecast.

View over Lyme Bay from Ode&Co

To take full advantage of the uninterrupted view of the sky, the outside balcony features a telescope for star-gazing at night. So obviously we'll have to return for tea in the winter to try it out!


The pizzas are made on a sour dough base and cooked in a wood fired oven and the menu takes full advantage of the variety of local produce available to offer something different that your regular Hawaiian and Margerita offering. Which, caused a slight problem when Elliot looked through it and panicked that he couldn't see his favourite sort of pizza: pepperoni. Luckily, because everything is cooked to order and the staff are so accommodating, they were happy to turn the 'Sharpham Brie, Shaldon Figs and Dorset Salami' into a plain Salami pizza, which went down very well indeed.


I had the same, but with all the toppings and Mr SeasideBelle had the 'Day Boat White Fish Calzone with Dill, Red Chilli and Black Pepper'. He said that it was the first time he'd had fish on a pizza, but that it was really tasty and that the slight kick of the chilli gave it a good edge.

You can actually see the pizzas being cooked in the open kitchen and I had told Elliot that it only takes 40 seconds to heat the pizzas in the wood fired oven. Of course, he had to test my theory out and apparently, it actually takes 43 seconds.



To top the pizzas, Ode&Co serves a wide range of oils, and I added a gentle chilli oil, which really contrasted with the sweetness of the figs.

We also ordered a couple of starters, including a wood-fired venison chorizo with honey glaze and a tomato, mozzarella and torn basil salad.

Ode&Co has a very well stocked bar and as Mr SeasideBelle was driving I had a blush cider while he had an organic cola and the children enjoyed apple juice.

Because I mentioned that it was Elliot's birthday when I booked, we were invited to bring a cake if we wanted and the staff were happy to light a candle and bring the cake over with a knife and some plates and join us as we sang Happy Birthday, a really lovely added touch.

Another added touch that made us feel really welcome, despite being a party with 5 children aged 17 months to 9 years was the basket of books for the children to look at while we waited to order our food and eat.

To find an amazing pizza restaurant, with good quality ingredients, a stunning view and such relaxing surroundings so close to home just brings it home to me how lucky we are to live in this neck of the woods.



If you're ever in South Devon, I definitely recommend you pay a visit. You might also want to try CafeOde in Shaldon, which is next on our list to visit.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Recipe: courgette and cheese fritters

Getting children to eat vegetables is not easy, well not in my house. However, last night, I tried something new and it went down a storm. Everyone asked for a second helping!


I made courgette fritters. And the best thing was that they were so easy to make. So, I'm sharing the love with you. I'm not sure if renaming them as mini pancakes helped my cause - I opted to remove any reference to courgette in the title when describing them to the children to avoid any preconceptions about the taste.

 I got the recipe from BBC Good Food, but added some grated cheese.

 Ingredients: 


  • 50g plain flour 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 grated courgette 
  • 1 tbsp oil 
  • a couple of handfuls of grated cheese 
  • sweet chilli sauce (or tomato ketchup) to dip 

Method: 


  1. Sieve the plain flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre.
  2. Break the eggs into the well and gently whisk the eggs and flour together. 
  3. Slowly whisk in the milk to make a pancake batter. 
  4. Add the grated courgette and the cheese and mix together. 
  5. Heat the oil in a pan and spoon in the mixture, flip when the base is browned and firm. 
  6. Serve. I served the fritters with a poached egg on top and some sliced chorizo on the side, to give it a Spanish tapas feel. I also added some baby spinach leaves to my plate, for extra greenery and added some sweet chilli sauce. The children opted for tomato ketchup instead of the sweet chilli sauce. 


This is a really easy and quick midweek supper and it's definitely something I'll make again.

What are your go-to recipes for quick and easy after school meals?
Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Saturday, 3 September 2016

When sleep deprivation sends you to the edge of insanity

Six years of chronic sleep deprivation has really hit me.

Three consecutive (and overlapping) non-sleeping children has impacted my ability to live a normal life and robbed me of my personality. It's left me questioning who I am and sent me to the edge of madness.

You expect a small baby to be up feeding several times a night. And I have, at times, loved the precious midnight hours as we've forged a deep connection - just us - as the rest of the family have slumbered. But when weeks turn into months and months turn into years, sleep deprivation can send you right to the edge.

I realised things weren't quite right when I had to stop the car on the way to work because I could hear the baby crying and I panicked that I had forgotten to drop him at the childminder and was bringing him to work with me. Sometimes I would wake at night and hear crying, but when I went to the baby's cot he would still be asleep. I often heard an irritating, low buzzing noise that stopped me from getting back to sleep. Then there was the time when I was convinced I could see rats running along the side of the road. I probably wasn't really safe to drive, but you can't exactly call in sick every day because you're over-tired. So I carried on, telling myself it's just part of motherhood, you just have to suck it up.

I became short-tempered with the rest of the family. Little things would irritate me and I occasionally struggled with my temper. I struggled to be the mum I desperately wanted to be. It was an effort just to get everybody out the door for school and on my days off and at weekends, I struggled to leave the house. I stopped taking them to the park and it was a real effort to get out to any baby groups, days out or activities.

When the baby woke, yet again, in the night I would drag myself off to feed and if he wouldn't settle, I would sob to my husband that I couldn't do this anymore. On several occasions, I just wanted to wander out of the house in my pyjamas and wander down to the beach or up on to the cliffs to breathe in the fresh, cool night air and be free of the shackles of breastfeeding constantly through the night. Luckily, I never did. The fear of being locked up in a mental institute and depriving my baby of my milk was the only thing that stopped me.

I was completely overwhelmed by life, by all the stuff I had to do. I just wanted to curl up and sleep for a week, and for life to stop while I did so, because I didn't want the children to miss me and I didn't want to miss a day of them growing up.

It was at this point that I decided to get help. My emotions were swinging wildly and I had stopped socialising with friends. Invitations to occasional nights out, that I used to look forward to, were declined because I was just too tired and too miserable. I just felt so horrible.

So I saw the health visitor. I was frightened. My exhaustion was so bad that it was making me paranoid that if I admitted to how bad things really were, that social services might take my children from me. But they were lovely. I started getting weekly visits so I could talk about how I was feeling. How down I was about the dark place I was in. We talked about ways we could help the baby sleep and we put in place a very gentle sleep training system which was based on trying to ease him away from associating the boob with sleep. My husband was a massive help. He realised I was massively struggling and he took over the first night waking so I could get a bit more sleep.

The health visitor gave me a questionnaire and the score suggested I had postnatal depression. She suggested I visit the GP and consider taking anti-depressants. She also referred me to counselling. I declined the anti-depressants - I couldn't face the thought of taking drugs and having to wean myself off them. I didn't want to feel fake happiness - I wanted to feel real happiness. I was already tired of faking to everyone that everything was fine and I was coping brilliantly with four young children when in reality I was falling apart at the seams.

So I opted for the counselling. It was a disaster. At the first session, I was asked lots of questions about family life, money, work etc and started to think that I really shouldn't feel the way I did because financial issues, bereavement, work weren't an issue (except that I didn't feel like I was performing as well as I could at work because of the exhaustion). She then gave me a sleep diary and a book on insomnia.

I didn't need a book on insomnia or the relaxation CD to help me get to sleep. I didn't have a problem getting to sleep and it wasn't my issue that was waking me up several times a night. It was absolutely no help for someone who was having to wake up all the time to deal with a non-sleeping baby.

At the second session, I told the counsellor that the sleep information she had given me was completely useless. There was nothing else she could do, so we stopped the sessions.

And then a miracle happened. Yesterday, I woke up for the first time in six years feeling refreshed. It was as though I had been having trouble with my eyesight and put on a pair of glasses and could see clearly again. I had gone to bed a 9pm and when I opened my eyes to look at the clock it said 5.45am. All was quiet in the house. I had woken naturally and baby was still asleep! He woke 20 minutes later having had 10 hours of solid sleep. I felt wonderful. I felt human. I felt alive for the first time in over half a decade! I relished every minute of the day, knowing it would never last. It would be a one-off.

But then, today, I woke up at 7am after another full night of sleep.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. I'm on the road to find the real me again. I can start planning life again. I feel like I can look forward.

I hadn't expected this to happen so soon. It took Bea four and a half years to manage a full night of sleep. I'm delighted. I just hope it lasts!

The last six years have taught me a few things. Mainly, that while lots of mums get help and understanding in the early days, it's when the child is older and still not sleeping that they really need the help. I was OK in the early days, adrenaline and hormones pushed me through. It was as my children got older and still didn't sleep that I could have done with some help. Practical things like taking the children out to the park so I could sleep or maybe dropping round a dinner to heat up in the oven would have been very much appreciated. I didn't ask. I was too proud and too embarrassed. But if you every see a mum who is really struggling with sleep. Don't just sympathise or, even worse, talk about when your child slept through the night! Offer some practical support and a friendly, non-judgemental listening ear.

And if you are struggling with chronic sleep deprivation, there is light at the end of the tunnel. You're not going mad and you're not losing the plot. You might just need a good night of sleep. Hang in there! And don't be afraid or too proud to ask for help.

If this really is the start of some proper sleeping through, I think I might actually miss our night feeds. How mad is that? Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com
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Sunday, 21 August 2016

My Sunday Photo

August seems to be flying by and as each day passes, we're getting closer to Wilf starting school.

This week we picked up his school uniform and tried it on for size.

Suddenly, my little pre-schooler looks more grown up, despite the Darth Vadar mask, which I persuaded him to move slightly so I could get a decent photo. (It's on his head, if you were wondering about his head gear!)


I had hoped that I would be able to use the school uniform Elliot has outgrown, but Wilf is a lot smaller, so I've had to buy everything new.

In just a couple of weeks, I'll be taking a photo to mark his first day at school!

Photalife

Saturday, 20 August 2016

We need to tackle our own sexism in sport

One of the things that has struck me most about the Rio Olympics is the fact that in 2016 sexism is still rife in sport. When a male athlete wins a medal, the media focuses on his ability. But when a female athlete excels, often commentators refer to her husband, male coach or even pass judgement on her body.

Much as you'd like to think that this sexism is limited to the media, it's actually symptomatic of our society in general: even at grassroots level in encouraging children to participate in sport.

This week Elliot and Beatrix took part in a Exeter City Football In The Community (ECFITC) football summer holiday course. Beatrix was one of only two girls. She's been before and been the only girl.

Now, there are a few non-feminist reasons she goes to the football camp:

  1. It's easier for me to have children doing the same activity as it means I'm not wasting time picking up and dropping off in multiple locations.
  2. It's local. There are other activities and other sports available, but they tend to be further afield.
  3. I think physical activity is important for children, it teaches how to be a team player, about winning and losing. It also helps to develop spatial awareness, balance, ball control and improves her confidence in what her body can do. 
  4. And most importantly, she enjoys it. This week she won a medal because she was part of the winning team in the football tournament they played on the last day.

    Showing off medals from the Exeter City Football in the Community summer holiday course
And with my feminist hat on, I like her to go because I want her to believe that being a female shouldn't restrict her life choices.

Sadly, the lack of girls on the football course suggests that not everyone thinks the same way and that sexism in sport is firmly entrenched in people's thinking. Another parent expressed surprise that Beatrix was at the camp and said she hadn't realised the football camp was open to girls as well as boys.

Marketing


It was an innocent comment, but it's been bothering me ever since. Why would someone not think girls could go to a summer holiday football course? Is it because the marketing is wrong? I went back to the ECFITC website to have a look. Nowhere in the text does it suggest the courses are for boys only and the images clearly show boys and girls enjoying the activities. The only thing I could think of is that, in a bid to encourage girls to take part, the football club offers girls only sessions. Perhaps this attempt at reverse discrimination has only served to reinforce stereotypes?

I'm not sure that's the case. I think it's a wider issue that affects pretty much every area of life where gender stereotypes are formed from an early age and reinforced with gender stereotypes: pink is for girls, blue is for boys and the separation of boys and girls with gender specific toys, books etc.

It's up to all of us to change society's thinking


There have been huge strides in women's equality over the past century: we can now vote, we are supposed to have equal pay. But the Olympics and my own experiences show there's still a way to go. It's up to all of us to keep on challenging gender stereotypes and to encourage children and even our peers follow their dreams and do what they enjoy no matter what their sex.

So next time you find yourself thinking, oh - that's just for boys/girls. Stop and challenge yourself to make a stand against entrenched sexism. And, if you can, lead by example. Last year, I started playing rugby again: because I enjoy it. I really, really hope my daughter will see me enjoy playing and training and be confident that being a girl isn't a barrier to whatever sport (or any other activity) she might choose.

Have you encountered sexism in sport and how have you tackled it?

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Siblings Project | August 2016

I find it incredibly difficult to capture all four of my children in a photograph where they are looking in the right direction and smiling. But somehow, this month, I managed it!

We were at The Bear Trail just outside Cullompton in Devon at our first Devon Bloggers Meet.

We'd been around the assault course twice and were spending some time in the younger children's play area so Ossie could have a play on equipment more suited to a toddler.

Beatrix was sitting on a tyre (because she was tired - excuse the pun) and was holding Ossie. So I invited the two other boys over for a photo and was shocked when even Wilf, who normally avoids the camera like the plague, came over and posed.

Here's the result:


The Me and Mine Project