Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Five Bits of Fluff

I think memes are the popcorn of the blog world. And since there are five kids in my sitting-room, eating popcorn and watching Free Willy, I’m going to indulge in some fluffery of my own. My friend Loren, a food blogger from San Francisco (the US city I most want to visit) charged me with the Five Things meme. I have done this a few times before, but, like popcorn, it’s a meme that’s moreish.

Five Fluffy Things About Me:

1. Having just seen the Sex in the City movie, I am currently working my way through all six seasons of the TV show. My favourite of the gals is Miranda, Charlotte makes me laugh and I am sooooo jealous of Carrie’s legs. I’m not mad about Samantha, but I like the way she embodies female desire. On that topic, Mr Big is far and away the hottest man on the show, but I’d give Steve the bartender the time of day. In the movie, the scene between him and Miranda on the bridge made me cry so hard that my nose ran.

2. I really like dancing. At a party, I am guaranteed to be first on the dance-floor. And I’m a cheap drunk, so basically, I’m great value.

3. The tree pose always reminds me of my past life as an Indian yogi.

4. If I had to choose between having an uninterrupted hour to write or eating the best chocolate in the world, I’d take the hour.

5. If I were a house, I would be chintz. And proud.

Now I am supposed to tag five people, but I don’t do that anymore. So I’m stealing from YogaMum. Consider yourself tagged if:

1. You have had a conversation about Sex in the City in the past week.

2. This makes you feel like doing silly dancing:

3. If you have done the tree pose today.

4. If you have refused chocolate in the last hour.

5. If this looks like heaven to you.


Alcoholic Christmas Muffins

Has anyone else noticed how much fun Christmas is for the children? They’re the ones getting stockings filled with treats, presents under the Christmas tree, and, if they live in Germany, daily mini-treats in their Advent calendars. Children get to decorate the gingerbread men, decorate and eat the Christmas cookies and in our house, they even get to decorate the tree. The grown-ups don’t get a look-in.

Here’s a German muffin recipe to console the grown-ups and bring them a little Christmas cheer. It contains amaretto and dark chocolate and is not for children, unless they have very sophisticated palates.

Amaretto and Chocolate Muffins:*

150g flour
100g ground almonds
2 tsps baking powder
1 pinch salt
2 tsps vanilla extract (or if you live in Germany, one packet vanilla sugar)
2 eggs
120g sugar
150g softened butter
2 tbsps amaretto (I doubled this)
60g dark chocolate shavings

Heat the oven to 180°c.
Prepare a muffin tray with 12 muffin cases.
Pour yourself a generous glass of red wine and commence sipping.
Sift the flour, baking powder, salt.
Have another large sip of red wine.
Beat the eggs with the vanilla extract, sugar and amaretto till it’s creamy.
Slowly beat in the softened butter.
Mix the wet and dry ingredients.
Taste, with bare finger.
Taste again, to ensure it’s adequately alcoholic. If not, add more amaretto.
Mix in the chocolate shavings.
Eat the leftover 40g of chocolate.
Fill each muffin case two-thirds full.
Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
While you wait, eat any remaining muffin dough and sip your red wine. If necessary, pour yourself a second glass.
Remove the muffins from the oven. Allow to cool (about a minute will do) and then eat with your red wine.

I had one for breakfast this morning with coffee. I think I have a hangover.

* Apologies for the metric measures.


News of The Week

There is news, dear readers. The first is, of course, that Doris Lessing has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The news itself has has been bettered by darling Doris’s reaction to it. She climbs out of a taxi outside her London home and an enthusiastic hack who has been camping there asks her if she knows. “What?” says Doris, all long grey hair coming down and slouchy blue cardigan. “You’ve won the Nobel Prize for Literature,” the hack tells her. “Oh Christ,” says Doris, putting down her shopping and looking very irritable as if she’d just had a rough time down at Tesco’s.

Watch it here:

We felt almost as irritable as Doris this week when we heard that poor poppet Sting had laryngitis and had to cancel his Mannheim tour date, meaning that I’m having to watch him on YouTube instead of live.

Another essential piece of news is that next week is Chocolate Week. From Monday to Sunday, chocolatiers and choc-fans will be attending tastings, talks, demonstrations and launches of new chocolates, while admiring chocolate fountains and chocolate sculptures. Shops will be featuring exquisite artisanal chocolates. People will be gathering to taste them and buy them and take them home and eat them, or put them on specially-made chocolate shrines, if that’s what they do. And this is all happening in London. Where I am not. I am not remotely bitter.

However, I am extremely well-placed for visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is where I am going on Sunday. Me and 35 000 sausages. If I’m really lucky, maybe Doris will be there.


How to Go On Holiday and Gain (X) Kilograms

First, go to France. Go directly to France. France is the land of flaky delicious pastries, and little flans, and yummy custard things adorned with fruit, and tartes, and all number of things you don’t know the name of but at which you very successfully point. France is also the land of baguette filled with cheese, sundried tomatoes and the world’s best salami. It’s the place where you stand drooling in the yogurt aisle of the supermarket, trying to make a decision about whether you should have coconut or lemon yogurt for your mid-morning snack. It’s the land where you eat moules mariniere within sight of the blue sea, bobbing white yachts and dark green pine trees. The land where you eat a herb omelette served with green beans and artichokes on top of a mountain, while smelling the perfume of rose and lavender. The land where you lick at a cone filled with purplish fig ice-cream while you traverse the alleyways of a famous yellow fishing village. The land of ice-cold pink rose, of nougat and black olive tapenade with its sinewy undertow of anchovy.

Then, you should be lucky enough to have the world’s kindest hosts, who are not only interesting, well-travelled, charming, open-minded and welcoming to you and your large family, but who can cook superbly. We ate duck breast with hasselback potatoes, and slow-cooked Easter lamb with root vegetables, followed by an enormous Pavlova adorned with strawberries, mango and kiwi-fruit. Thanks to Sig, Tittin and the three princes for opening their hearts and their home to us, as well as introducing us to their beautiful corner of France. It was wonderful meeting you at last.

Then you should conjoin two families of five for the Easter weekend, and ensure that the mothers don’t talk in advance about the amount of chocolate both are buying, so that the Easter lapin (Tittin and one of the princes) had an enormous sack of chocolat to distribute under the lavender bushes and lemon trees. Have one mother seduced by SIZE of chocolate rabbits and the other mother seduced by VOLUME of chocolate ladybirds so that the combined AMOUNT of chocolate is enough to keep small children – and their mother, freshly out of chocolate rehab – bouncing off the walls for some days.

Bid farewell to your lovely friends and repair to a beach resort where there are three beach restaurants offering pizzas, pastas and numerous tempting desserts in easy walking distance. Actually, make that easy crawling distance, if you have drunk too much rose while watching your children cavort outside your beach hut. Make sure that these are casual places where you can eat barefoot and where your small, squeaking children are welcome to be as small and squeak as much as they want to.

Then, bring on the bad weather. Closet yourself in a beach hut the size of one of your bedrooms at home with your children and the remains of the chocolate stash. Finish the chocolate stash, firstly ably assisted by your kids and later, by your husband and a bottle of rose, once the babes are sleeping.

All this eating, and the sudden onset of summer here in Germany (30° today) has made me self-conscious about the need to lose some weight. It was a lot of fun putting it on, but now it, and the remainder of the Christmas speck which doesn’t seem to have got the message yet, has to go. Lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables are on the menu chez Charlotte’s Web from here on.

While we were admiring the crowds of Saturday shoppers in Antibes, where human X-rays were buying huge custard-filled tartes and legs of ham to take home to their no doubt enormously fat husbands, Lily made a lovely remark. She said, “I am looking at all these ladies, and they are not very pretty. Not one of them is as pretty as my Mummy.”

Kids. You have them for a reason, you know.


I Bid You Adieu

I have been to collect a daughter from a birthday party where I was offered – and gratefully received – a glass of Sekt. I don’t usually have a drink until my children are in bed and dreaming, so tonight it was strange doing our nighttime routine with a little alcohol buzzing in my veins. Somehow, it was rather … pleasant, went very … quickly, without the attendant Mama Bear grumpiness that happens to me after long hard day with my beloveds. I remember a friend once saying to me that she always had a glass of wine while her kids had supper, because it “took the edge off things”. I’m not sure if I want the edge taken off every single night, but tonight it was appropriate.

The feeling of Sekt buzzing in my veins is a great metaphor for the feeling of knowing that I am about to go on holiday. Tomorrow we pack our team in the Familiewagon and head for the South of France. We’re hoping for warm weather so that we can take them to the beach, and allow them to build housing developments in the sand while we work our way through many glasses of wine big piles of books.

We had to come up with a quick rationalisation of how the Easter Bunny would know that the Otter family are not in Germany, but in France on Sunday. While I was still stumbling through an explanation that didn’t sound rational even to Ollie, Lily explained that there is an Easter Bunny for each country and that the German Hase has probably already communicated with the French lapin, who knows to expect three chocolate-loving Otter children in Antibes on Sunday. I’d better warn the lapin to make sure there is extra chocolate for Mama Otter, who will be allowing herself sugar again. And Papa Otter could do with some fine red wines when he breaks his alcohol fast. I guess we’ll be hitting a French supermarche with a large trolley at some point on Thursday. Doing our bit for the global economy.

The bunny stuff reminds me of a story another friend of mine tells. Her husband’s family tended to spend all their holidays at the game reserve and one year their mother forgot to pack the Easter eggs. Instead of fashioning faux eggs from elephant dung and decorating them with red dye sourced from beetle’s wings, as any normal mother would, she just told them that lions had eaten the Easter bunny. The children were apparently traumatised for years.

I hope to return in 12 days’ time with untraumatised children, a slight tan and a couple of extra kilograms from eating chocolate and lovely French food. I plan to take a blogging break, so will see you all then. Bidding you adieu, and I hope that the Easter Bunny arrives intact at all your homes, bearing shed-loads of your favourite chocolate.


My Favourite Drug

I have given up sugar for Lent. I think the goal for Lent is to give up the sin you love the most, so, as I am a dull, nearly middle-aged German Hausfrau and don’t have any sins apart from reading in the bath at 3am so I wake up the next day crabby and use my outside voice with my children (bad), nearly knocking over cycling German pensioners who I forget have right of way over me, my car, any pedestrians or passing ants (worse) or indulging in a high-octave gossip session with one of my South African girlfriends (about a two on the scale of nought to sinful), I’ve had to resort to giving up my favourite drug. Oh I love sugar, I just love, love, love sugar.

At the same time, I have taken up my favourite weight-loss regime, the Shangri-La Diet, in order to shed the avoirdupois which I have gained in the Season from October to now. (Avoirdupois sounds so elegant, rather like “Won’t you have some more peas?” or “Avril du Pois was a lovely girl”, so you can almost forget you’re talking about fat and imagine you’re talking about something glamorous and otherworldly and French. Germans call the extra kilograms that creep on in the Christmas months Winterspek (winter bacon) which is whole lot more basic and frank, and not quite as charming.)

So, in order to separate myself from my winter bacon, I am back on the Shangri-La, which involves drinking a tablespoon of sugar in a litre of water twice a day. Contradictory? At odds with my Lenten fast? No. Let me tell you how.

First of all, I always give up sugar for Lent. It’s tradition: my husband gives up alcohol, I give up sugar and we spend a few weeks staring soberly and sadly at each other. When the deprivation gets too bad, I have a glass of red wine for him and he snarfs a chocolate bar on my behalf. This is a chance for us to show our love for each other. We do it well.

Secondly, the Lenten fast is a test of my moral fibre. Can I resist chocolate, ice-cream, cake, biscuits, yogurt, cereal, random sweets, delicious German bakery products? Can I resist them for weeks on end? Can I bake for my kids and not eat one drop of the cookie mixture nor sample one crumb? Can I resist them without turning into Deprived Sugar Junkie, shouting for the finest cakes known to humanity and mugging little old ladies so I can ravage their handbags for their secret peppermint stash? You betcha.

Thirdly, at the end of every fast comes the inevitable reward. How apt that at the end of my sugar fast comes Easter, the festival of chocolate and hot-cross buns and marzipan and Simnel cake and tiny little adorable pastel sugar eggs that are so cute you want to kiss their dimpled little shells before you inhale them and Nusszopf and other delicacies. Easter Sunday is possibly my favourite day of the year. And if anyone feels the urge to send me some See’s chocolates with which to end my fast, then give in to that urge … you, and I, will feel so much better if you do.

It’s also a chance for me to reveal my backbone. I may be a dull, nearly middle-aged, German Hausfrau with three kids, a washing mountain, and a dangerously addictive blogging habit, but I am Made. Of. Steel. If you put me in the jungle with no rations and a bush tucker challenge consisting only of toad’s eyes, maggots and the roe of the deadly piranha fish, I would voluntarily starve to death. That’s how strong I am.

Tradition, love, moral fibre and backbone are all very well, but fade in consequence when compared to the state of my Winterspek. It has to go, and as a veteran of almost every diet known to humankind, from WeightWatchers to the colic diet to that weird one where you eat beetroot and cheese for three days, I can honestly say that the Shangri-La Diet is the easiest, most effective and sustainable diet I have ever attempted. Best of all, it removes nothing from your diet, only adds a couple of tablespoons of sugar. Yummy, delicious, pure, white, granulated sugar, which you add to water and sip slowly over a couple of hours, with the delightful after-effect that your appetite goes away. So I am drinking sugar in order to not eat sugar, and it is going very very well. Really I can recommend it. It’s the way forward. By the time Easter comes, I’ll have no appetite left and won’t be able to eat those chocolates you sent me.

P.S. I had some of my husband’s favourite drug tonight – can you tell?


Bad Day at Grumpy Ranch

Actually, it started quite well: Lily eagerly going back to school, Ollie having a fabulous two-hour morning nap so that Daisy and I could do puzzles and draw each other princess pictures to colour in. It was still going well when Lily flung herself through the front door exclaiming joyfully about how wonderful school was. Daisy was pleased to have chilli con carne for lunch (note to self: I make this far too often. Mince may be a good cheap way to feed a big family but we’ve had spag bol, macaroni pie and the aforementioned chilli once too often this winter. I mince no more.). Lily opted for the rice in a bowl with chopsticks (she’s going through a Chinese phase) and Ollie was none too keen on the mince or the rice. Perhaps the mistake was giving everyone chocolate for pudding – there was a brief interlude of happiness, and then on came the grumps.

Lily developed a headache and had to lie on the sofa and listen to The Twits. Ollie and Daisy joined her; he kept getting stuck in the little corner behind the radiator where all the vital cords and wires live that keep this household permanently tuned to the glory that is the world wide web, I kept getting him out, and he kept kept clambering back in. Daisy lay on the other sofa from Lily, but UNDER the rug that covers the holes in the leather, where she kept putting her toes and fingers and other extremities into the holes, which, along with Ollie’s extreme attraction to electrics, was starting to cause Mama’s nerves to fray.

Then Lily gave up on The Twits and went upstairs to her new desk to do her homework, thumped down again to say she felt sick and thumped up again to have another go. This time she was followed by Ollie, who did his best to climb onto her chair with her, which is endearing but not when you’re trying to write “Ei. Ei. Ei. Eis. Eis. Eis” over and over again in your best German handwriting. She managed to get rid of him, and I told her she was allowed to shut her door.

While all this was going on, I was doing nine loads of laundry, then carrying it up two flights of stairs and packing it away. The laundry is in The Dungeon, so it’s a place to escape when things are getting hairy. Which they were. Daisy was in Lily’s room, scolding her for shutting her door. Lily was screeching that she needed to be left alone. I was screeching up the stairs to say (a) Please leave your sister alone, she’s trying to do her homework, (b) I told her she could shut her door and (c) You are not Lily’s mummy. Shortly afterwards, Daisy mentioned she would like some food, and I said “I am sick to death of food preparation, please help yourself to a piece of fruit” (note to self: when things are escalating, it is important for the grown-up in the house to remain calm and not make dramatic statements). After packing away the next load, I found Daisy at the dining-room table hacking away at a half-loaf of stale pumpkin-seed bread with a butter knife. I relented and made her a piece of toast. During this time, Ollie visited the cords behind the radiator about seven more times, climbed up on his high chair and tried to hug the window-pane and Lily huffed up and down the stairs a few times, the last time to mention that a wheel had fallen off the leg of her new chair and that she was coming downstairs to finish her homework.

The rest of the afternoon’s events are a bit of a blur but involved a fight over a small black Ferrari, Ollie tossing all his crayons onto the floor several times, Lily crumpling up a drawing Daisy had made for her, Daisy and Ollie breathing heavily over my shoulder while I tried to address cards and fill envelopes with photographs of the children for relatives in England (note to self: do jobs like this at night), while I persevered, getting more and more irritable until I flipped and said things like I can’t wait for bedtime, and I’ve had enough, and you three are driving me up the wall, and so on.

This made everyone very sad. Ollie had a big cry. Lily drew a picture of a heart crossed out and sad faces and an arrow showing that she would like to leave this family. Daisy did the same, but upped the ante by going upstairs, packing her penguin roll-on suitcase with some skirts, nighties and drawing materials, clomping downstairs and announcing that she was leaving. Lily cried and I did some crisis management, telling Daisy that, while things were not so wonderful at home today, there was no place in the world where she would be more loved than here. During these negotiations, Ollie also went upstairs, gathered Lily’s crocodile roll-on suitcase and dragged it down again, indicating that wherever Daisy was going, he was going too. We persuaded them both to stay, had a philosophical conversation about how horrible it would be to be “a norphan” and put on the pasta for supper.

Addendum: When I told my husband this story over the phone, he laughed. Later he sent me this:

I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the house; and how good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard works, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment! Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb.

Jane Austen


TechnoPeasant Uploads …

… some heaving boots and a lantern. Sadly for Ollie, his boot is very small so Sankt Nicolaus the First (aka Mummy) wasn’t able to get much into it. However, Sankt Nicolaus the Second came home very late from Birmingham and added a small red London bus and a Postman Pat book to his stash. He was mightily impressed, as were his two sisters. Our fridge is still full of their St Nic chocolate, which was kindly added to by our lovely Frau M and the local Schlecker. The temptations, they do not go away, and it is only the 9th of December. I am visibly swelling and am actually looking forward to the privations of January.

And now to thank my agents …

This is a result of my first foray into Flickr, which I achieved after some kind encouragement from Megan. Her blog is worth a browse for its combination of lovely photos, beautiful writing and gorgeous crafts (after reading it, I said to St Nic II, “I think I want a sewing machine” and he said, “Write your novel first and then you can buy your own!”).

I’m feeling very proud of myself since I am already evincing my aim to move from technophobe to technophile. There be podcasts (admittedly, all the technical expertise there was JP’s, and I was merely the talking head). Anyway, since I’m no longer ‘phobe but not yet ‘phile, I’m taking on the moniker of techopeasant (for which I have to thank Jen), but only for a short while, mind. Soon I’m going to be scaring you with my technical wizardry.

And my final thanks go to Kerryn for the lovely swag decorating the bottom of my December posts.


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Nice Girl Food

Mr Pomo is sulking because this is my second post of the day. A few of you have said you wouldn’t mind hearing what I had to eat, so I feel compelled to oblige. My dearly beloved is in Nice, forcefeeding the troops a three-course meal of gourmet French food in order to get them ready to shake up some HR directors tomorrow. Nicely, of course. In his absence, I enjoyed some girl food. This is the food you would never contemplate giving your husband for supper, things like, say, popcorn and apples, or Nutella sandwiches, or children’s leftovers. My menu for tonight is: organic vanilla yoghurt, green tea and some Lindt chocolate.

(Mr Pomo: Hah! SOME chocolate! She ate a whole bar.)

An email exchange with the dearly beloved:

He: Nice is nice

Me: Bring me something nice from Nice?

I am hoping it will be food, preferably of the dark variety. Something packed with those essential anti-oxidants to keep my strength up in these looming autumn days. And now, with my strength at its fittest and fullest, I bid you all Bon Soir.


A Meaningful Relationship

(Mr Pomo warns: Includes references to poo.)

This is a committed one. Really, really deep. Life-long, practically. It’s a relationship that is not good for me; the type my mother warned me against. She said, “Avoid the toxic ones” and she said “Be careful of addiction. It’s dangerous.” And of course, she was right. She’s my mother after all, and she knows. This relationship is one I can largely control, but at certain points, I lose it and fall right back in. My husband knows about it, and swears I prefer it to him. He’s wrong, but there’s nothing like swimming against a tide to weaken an addict’s resolve. And this time of year is the most dangerous of all, because it’s less of a tide and more of a tsunami.

I’m not talking red wine here, either. I have to ‘fess up to the rather girly stereotype of being a chocolate addict. “Chocolate” was my nickname at school, and certain friends still call me “Choc”. Worse still, I had a boyfriend who called me “Poo” (sickening, I know, he also gave me fluffy toys which is why that one didn’t last), so for at least two years I was also called “Chocolate Poo”. You would have thought that would have been enough to put me off, but no.

Largely, I manage to restrict myself to a small amount of chocolate every few days, if I’m being astonishingly controlled. But like any addict, one trigger and I’m off and running. Here’s the thing – I’ve just been triggered. In our town, there’s a tea and chocolate shop. It’s been open for a year. I have NEVER been into it, because I know it is very dangerous territory for me. However, my mother-in-law has been visiting, and, in order to source some of her favourite brand of green tea we wandered in. We purchased tea and two bars of chocolate – beautiful dark chocolate, one studded with grilled almonds, the other with orange peel. We shared the chocolate over a period of a couple of days. Then we went to some outlet shops near Stuttgart, and while MIL bought sensible things like tank tops and T-shirts, I found the Lindt factory shop and did the Lindt pick ‘n mix. Small but lethal.

Now that retailers have decided it’s officially Christmas, chocolate is bloody everywhere. Since my MIL left (yesterday), I have purchased two more bars and eaten one and a half thereof. I’m sinking fast, sinking into chocolate oblivion. It’s got to stop. There are seven weeks till Christmas. I can’t carry on. Every shop I go into has twinkling displays of foil-wrapped chocolate delights. My favourites – the Milka marzipan bar, the Lindt cinnamon and coriander Christmas special – are in every supermarket. Which ever way I turn, there they are, winking at me.

And so today, I staged a chocfest of my very own, which hopefully should get it right out of my system. It’s been a binge, from which I will wake up tomorrow older, wiser and ready to start afresh. I have inherited the world’s best chocolate cake recipe from my mother. It’s stunningly easy to make and fudgily delicious to eat. I doubled the recipe and make 42 chocolate fudge muffins. I enjoyed the gloopy mixing and stirring, the pouring and the melting. I enjoyed the icing and the decorating. I allowed myself the full delight of spoon licking.

But don’t fear, gentle readers, I haven’t eaten the lot. Twenty-five have gone into Tupperware for a festival at kindergarten tomorrow evening, six went in the stomachs of children for afternoon tea, one went into me. The remaining ten are sitting on the cake stand, waiting for me to wake two little girls tonight for a surprise midnight feast. The menu is muffins and hot chocolate (possibly also wine for Mama). Thereafter, I call this latest binge to an end. I draw a line. I wait. I rest. At least till Christmas.

Granny Toni’s Easy and Astonishingly Fudgy Chocolate Cake:

100g butter

1 cup water

1/2 cup oil

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup best cocoa

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla essence

1/2 cup buttermilk (this is the key to the fudge)

1 tsp baking powder

  1. Set oven to 180 degrees
  2. Grease and line cake tin
  3. In a large saucepan, boil butter, water, oil and cocoa
  4. Take pan off heat, add sifted flour and sugar
  5. To the this mixture, add the two beaten eggs
  6. Add vanilla, baking powder and buttermilk
  7. Pour into tin and bake

It should be ready after 30 minutes. Start testing from 20. Sometimes it can take up to 50. There’s no knowing, but put in a skewer (a piece of spaghetti will do) and when it comes out clean, it’s ready. While it’s baking, mix the following ingredients together to make an icing which you pour over the hot cake:

50g butter

2 tbsps best cocoa

2 and 1/2 tbsps buttermilk

1 and 1/2 cups icing sugar

(Apologies to American readers for the metric weights and Celsius temperatures.)