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