Foodgasms.

Every bored and financially-straitened housewife-and-mother combo needs a restaurant buddy, I have decided. I am now in the enviable position of having one myself. A good friend who likes to feed me seriously good meals and talk about books and intelleckshooal stuff, not related at all to kids or household budgets or school. Awesome.
SO yesterday I was entirely and lavishly spoiled by a totally brilliant meal at a most fabulous restaurant.

It started with a lovely drive through the beautiful scenery of Ku-Ring-Gai national park to the Hawkesbury – Cottage Point Inn to be precise.

I had a little bit of trouble at first, working out exactly where down this hill I was heading, but soon found the restaurant and felt definite glee. It is right on the water and there is a superb view of the hills, the river, cormorants, snakebirds, sea-planes, boats…

We were at possibly the best table there, which is always gratifying.
I had looked at the menu online (and winced at the prices – however – that’s just me, straitened circumstances and all that- and resolutely turned my eyes away from them…) but the menu was a little different on the spot so I had to read it a bit more closely.
(I reckon online menus do need to consistent with on-the-spot ones, apart from specials of course – it’s awkward for picky people like me who need to look at menus in advance to make sure that there is something at least that I can eat.)

The waiter (maitre d’?) approached to see if we wanted to order – and was a bit of a surprise as he looked and sounded like a slightly louche grizzled beachcomber or castaway, with grey stubble and wild ringlets – and this extremely gruff, staccato delivery. However he really knew his stuff, and I had a strange mental image of my brother (the apprentice chef and wine enthusiast) doing exactly the same type of job in later years.

Anyway.
After we ordered, a waiter brought us an amuse-bouche which amused the hell out of me, because it was colcannon soup. I found this particularly amusing, because of the idea of coming to an expensive restaurant to eat a pureed version of a tiresomely regular poor-folk’s meal that I ate endlessly as a child and teenager. Delicious, yes. But. Not precisely what I think of when I think ‘Fine Dining’.
(Colcannon is generally boiled potatoes sauteed together with bacon and shredded green cabbage, with lots of pepper).
It did actually work extremely well as a soup!

Then they brought out some home made rolls or sourdough, and some extremely good olive oil and salt flakes. The olive oil was green gold and fruity and peppery, just as it should be, and the bread, dipped in it was tangy and chewy and moist. *sigh*

I started with pan fried potato and cavalo nero gnocchi, with roast pumpkin puree and green olive paste and burnt sage butter.
I am not a fan of gnocchi in general, because it seems bland  and slightly creepily moist and bouncy.
However – it was one of the few entrees that didn’t have either eggs, oysters, caviar, goat’s cheese or innards in it, and I am picky as hell.
Also I AM a fan of – fried things, cavalo nero, green olives, and sage. And pumpkin.
My friend had some sort of hideous terrine with sweetbreads (GLANDS to the uninitiated)  and foie gras and so on, and cornichons, and pear and ginger pickley, syrupy thing. (Despite my slightly shuddering disbelief he enjoyed every bite, which proves he is a better man than I.)

One thing I have not before experienced, and intend to become extremely rich one day so I can experience it more often,  is being able to say, ‘We won’t bother with the wine list, just bring us what you think would suit what we have ordered.”
…And knowing that one is in good winey hands.

Ooooooh yeah baby. Luxury.

So my starter was accompanied by a rich, full, sweetish and tangy pinot grigio, from…er…somewhere in Australia, and he had a Charlotte Sound sauvignon semillion blanc, both of which were superb.

I took a bite of the crisp, tender, buttery fried gnocchi and nearly passed out with a swoon. Oh Em Eff Gee.
That was just….SO….good. Anyway next bite I scooped a little of the garlicky green olive paste and pureed roast pumpkin onto it, and when I put it in my mouth I died a little. It was explosive. It sounds  so simple and almost ordinary, but it was intense. Seriously, seriously good flavour combining. Zingy. And you know, combined with the wine….it was…just…Oh goodness, I’m tearing up a little.

Anyway. My friend tried the gnocchi, and agreed with my rather incoherent assessment, but I most certainly did not try the scary pink thing full of innards, no matter how allegedly delicious it was.
(I did try his wine though, which is why I know it was superb. I am fairly keen on expanding my palate and knowledge of such things. Hah. Like I said earlier about intending to become rich. *eyeroll*)

I then had a nice break to look at the view and chat before our mains came out.

I had duck leg confit, sous vide fennel, swede puree (who knew that swedes could taste…not like swedes?!) and blood-orange agar. It also had toasted walnuts, this intensely sticky jus, and some sort of a roasted plum type thing.
I was nervous about approaching the agar, as I have an aversion to jelly-like textures, which I am happily leaping in to overcome, especially now!
This was served with a very nice earthy, smoky, berry-fruit-y pinot. From….I can’t remember.

It was so freakin’ superb. The duck was moist and falling off the bone, the fennel tender and sweet, the swede puree earthy and full, the agar tangy and melt-in-the-mouth…just playing with all the different possible combinations on my plate made me soooo very happy.

My friend had grilled mirror-dory with rhubarb puree and roasted beetroot, which you know, is not a combination that would ever have recommended itself to me, but, hell. Swoonworthy.
The dory was light and firm but flaky, with a delicious smoky grill flavour, and it just worked so well with the sweet tangy creamy rhubarb and the earthiness of the beetroot.
While we were waiting for our mains, one waiter asked us what wine we were having, and when she heard that we were going with their recommendations, she brought us the pinot for me, and the pinot gris that I had had earlier, for my friend.
When the grizzled beachcomber came back and asked what we were drinking, he actually took the pinot gris (that had already been sipped) away and brought back an amazingly good organic chardonnay from Mudgee, which he said would suit the dory better, which it did.
Now THAT is service.

(Oh that was good chardonnay – beautiful apricot fruit and incredibly buttery finish…Hey! I almost sound like I have a clue what I am talking about! – anyway it made me realise that indeed (good) chardonnay is not over-rated.)

Anyway so I drooped and swooned throughout that course as well, occasionally craning my neck around to look at a bird, or indeed a plane.

Then we thought, what the hell, dessert.

So we both ordered the warm baked golden delicious tart with vanilla icecream, rosemary syrup and apple caviar.
They recommended a botrytis affected semillion ( I think?) from Rutherglen.
to go with. Oooh and it did.
I have a small bone to pick with how restaurants serve desserts – partly because I am an icecream fiend – but I always think they need LESS of the cakey, puddingy stuff, and more of the icecream. That might just be me though. I just never quite think that the balance is right.

However. The apple tart was utterly succulent. Beautiful toffee-like sweet warm unctuously mouth-filling, soft but slightly firm apples, on a crisp, short pastry biscuit-type base, with the spicy rosemary syrup and smooth luscious home made icecream.
The apple caviar were little slippery chewy tender pearls of appliness. I don’t know how they made them but I suspect they made a very firm jelly with apple stock or juice or concentrate or some such thing, and dripped it into iced water to set into little irregular spheres. Anyway. They were delightful, and have further dented my anti-jelly stance.
The sticky wine was sweet and rich and golden and superb. Have no other words. (I don’t have a wine taster’s vocabulary, but you know, one day maybe!)

Om nom nom nom nom.

After all that I needed a coffee which was strong but expertly made – a proper flat  flat white, with very rich, dark roasted coffee, and perfect crema floated to the top…really delicious, and served with a melty dark chocolate toffee ganache truffle.

And then we had another bottle of water between us. (During lunch we drank about 750 mls each of water, as well as ALL that wine. And yes, I am an exceedingly cheap drunk, although I should add that I prefer to be a cheap drunk on a couple of glasses of really good wine instead of on a lot of mediocre or actively-bad wine. Just in case, you know, anyone feels like buying me wine. Just sayin’.)

So after all of that I did not feel excessively full, but perfectly balanced and with something of a glazed look about me and perhaps an unsteady gait.

If anyone feels like having a totally, completely, superbly sybaritic luxurious gastropornographic, foodgasming experience I can totally recommend the Cottage Point Inn.

Bolognaise sans tomatoes

I made a big batch of tomato-less bolognaise sauce on Saturday, and  will attempt to remember how I made it, should anyone be interested in making a similar thing. I always think it is really useful to have a few ideas up one’s sleeve in case one develops an allergy or intolerance OR in case one is cooking for others with food intolerances.

Anyway I started by dicing three onions, and starting them sauteing in olive oil. I then diced about three large celery sticks (including their leaves) and I think I recall about 5 medium carrots. (Ok, so it was a big batch of sauce.)
I added them to the onions, along with five chopped cloves of garlic, and let it cook slowly, stirring occasionally until it was a beautifully-caramelised mirepoix.

I tipped it out into a mixing bowl, and browned one kilo of beef mince. When it was about half-cooked, I sprinkled it with about one heaped dessertspoon of sugar, and kept stirring it until it was nice and brown. (Yep. Cheated.)

Anyway once it was brown I sprinkled it with a good level dessertspoon full of a general Italian dried herb mixture, stirred it up, drizzled in some GF soy sauce and a LOT of white wine. Semillion Sauvignon blanc if I recall correctly. (Whatevs, anyway. Any kind of ordinary drinking wine, red or white, will work just fine.)

So I added the mirepoix to the winy mince, and also added a diced red capsicum and green capsicum, and a couple of diced zucchinis. I ground in a lot of pepper, threw in a GF stock cube, and a lot of paprika, which is a handy sort of spice for a sort of general savoury richness.

I stirred it all up, and diced a chunk of kent pumpkin, simmering it until tender.

While it was simmering I pulled out the secret weapon in my tomato-less arsenal. A jar of roasted capsicums in vinegar. I have to confess – if I wasn’t going to be using them in the way I did, I would have been mighty peeved, because the previous ones I have bought of that brand were superb – big bright red tender slippery capsicums, perfectly peeled apart from a few flecks of charred skin. These ones were smaller, not charred, and completely unpeeled. Tchaaaahhh!

Anyway as it happened it didn’t actually matter – I emptied the jar and rinsed them. I know the GF cookbook I read said that even grain vinegars contain no gluten, but I thought I would rinse them anyway, although of course that would not probably have done much as they were saturated in it.

So I food-processed them for some time into a bright red, sweet, fruity, tangy puree, which of course is the exact flavour profile we want with tomatoes.

I poured that in and watched with dismay as it completely disappeared into the general melange.

Damn. I had hoped it would make more of a difference to the look!

So I drained and mashed up the pumpkin, and stirred that in as well.

I have to say here that I am not a massive fan of the texture there. I added it because the person I was cooking for had suggested it. It was pleasant, but to me made the texture too reminiscent of chilli con carne with beans.

Anyway. I simmered it all together for a while, and it did end up with the nice rich red-brown look that one wants, and when I tasted it, it tasted terrific. Seriously wouldn’t guess there were no tomatoes in it.

Oregano helps too, I think, as well as wine, from a wanting-to-have-a-traditional flavour perspective.

So! Worth trying, I think.

The most amazing funeral I ever experienced.

It’s taken me a long time to get around to this one – some people will have already read this description, but not here. This is a description of my sister’s funeral in April this year. She died unexpectedly and we all miss her so very much. She was our firecracker.

I wrote it less than a fortnight after she died, so it is a bit disjointed and infused with grief. Which affects one’s grammar.

I had never been to my sister’s town. She lived in Karratha, in NW WA, and I had never been able to afford to go there. In fact, a dear friend even paid for my airfares to go to the funeral.

It was very, very strange going to my sister’s house in her car and her not being there to meet us.

Some of her friends had made up beds for us (it was kind of like a dorm..!)
My nephews were wonderful and lovely, they have grown up into really fantastic (and terrifyingly well-paid) young men. Her ex-husband had very kindly come over and removed the mattress that she died on…that hadn’t occured to me to be an issue, but my other older sister was really upset about the possibility of everything still being the way it was.
Thinking about it later I realised it was a lot less confronting seeing a semi-dismantled room that no longer looked as though she had just walked out of it.

My sisters, mother, nieces and sister-in-law sorted out her clothes, shoes, jewellery and cosmetics and pretty much divided them up amongst ourselves, which was strange and sad, dismantling her life like that. But it was very good to be with my family.
ALSO my oldest nephew really wanted us to do it, he wanted all her things to be used and accepted, not thrown away. (Karratha is not noted for its expanse of op-shops or recycling facilities either.) And so we were actually making it easier for him as executor not to have to sort it all out himself. We all now have at least one pair of Birkenstocks (even Craig) as my sis was rather…a collector. And me and Craig and my sister G wore them to her funeral.
After doing some sorting out, while my wonderful niece-in-law went to the hospital to dress and make Elanor up, which I have to say was one of the kindest and most brave and generous things she could have done for her mother-in-law and for us, we went to the viewing. I kept expecting her chest to rise and fall; or her eye to crack open and her to say, ‘Why are you all staring at me?”
My father read the instructions to the newly-deceased soul from the Tibetan Book of the Dead as my sis was a practising Buddhist and preferred the Tibetan brand. (She shook the Dalai Lama’s hand once)
We all cried, and said goodbye, and listened to Dad, and cried some more. My middle nephew’s girlfriend had very sensibly armed herself with boxes of tissues and she handed them round at regular intervals.
I had to lay a hand on her arm to really believe it. And I still don’t.

It was hot and dry there, and there were frangipanis everywhere and lots of red earth. Everyone turns their air-con to freezing and then use blankets.
The next day we did some more sorting and then dressed for the funeral.

We all wore hot-weather clothes. A lot of the attendees wore bright pink in her memory – Elanor had been dressed in her favourite bright pink tie-dye singlet to show her tattoos (There were a lot of tattooists at the funeral!) and some of her favourite jewellery. She requested burial rather than cremation, on the grounds that she didn’t spend all that money on tatts just to have them burnt.

The service was very nice. We all walked in to the graveyard (which had four other ‘residents’ at that stage) behind the rather beaten-up grey station-wagon-type hearse.
There is no caretaker for the graveyard, and no organisation, which is something Elanor was campaigning to fix up – she was a member of the tourist board and the Chamber of Commerce. It is really a ‘frontier’ town, but expanding rapidly. From the air it looks like a couple of Canberra suburbs unaccountably washed up from the sea on the West Coast, surrounded by vastness and red earth and salt pans.
So her sons and her boyfriend chose a site under a beautiful tree, dug a grave, and then planted a garden next to it, with frangipanis, windchimes, succulents, a garden seat and two statues of the Buddha.
We were followed in to the site by the largely-Maori motorbike club (Bikers United Against Child Abuse or BUACA) of which my white, non-riding sister was a member. (Seriously. I cannot imagine anything more bizarre, but it is so typical) My husband now has her Harley Davidson vest, which her partner wore to the funeral, but asked one of us to take afterwards.

After them came hundreds of people on foot.
My nephews and my ex-brother in law and El’s partner organised a marquee for us soft Easterners and also esky after esky of cold bottled water for everyone. (You can’t really drink the tap water for long in Karratha – it is so mineralised and full of industrial waste and salt that it gives you kidney stones)

The funeral was ‘celebranted’ by one of Elanor’s colleagues, whom she had helped to achieve her celebrancy. Elanor is her first funeral service.
Her sons spoke, and then my father told us some things about my sister’s beliefs. My mother spoke about Elanor’s life and cried at one point, but continued to speak. She told us all that Elanor was born on the last ‘Cracker Night’ in Sydney. Very appropriate. People said later that they were amazed at how calm Mum and Dad were. It was all on the outside.
I sang, (through my AWFUL cold) and apparently sounded good – I sang a voyaging song in Irish, from a cd that Elanor taped for my when I was in my mid-teens. My niece sang ‘Fire and Rain’ and everyone pretty well lost it during the ‘But I always thought I’d see you again’ refrain.
Elanor’s sons and partner, and two of my brothers were pallbearers, and we scattered frangipani petals and Sturt desert peas over her pink coffin.

Afterwards people talked, and cried, and then left for the wake. Those of us left cleared up all the half-drunk water-bottles and poured them over her newly-planted garden.
During the wake we spoke to her friends and colleagues. I was hugged a lot as I suppose I was a very obvious target – especially with my currently-peroxided hair I look a LOT like Elanor did.
We watched a slide-show of photos of Elanor from all throughout her life.
And then, which was a little strange and heartwrenching but also beautiful, we watched a video of her in cable car in Spain with two of my brothers and my sister-in-law K. K now has Elanor’s scarf that she was wearing in Spain, and will treasure it and take it travelling with her too. They became very good friends while they were travelling together.
It was so strange hearing Elanor laugh again. They were seriously just crapping on about all kinds of things – politics, people, fart-jokes…all broadcast to 2 or 3 hundred people in a mining town on the other side of Australia.

That night E’s youngest son shouted us ALL pizza and icecream. (Yes, $45 worth of icecream from a servo – four tubs. Very generous.) and we sorted, and sorted, and sorted some more. And then the next day we flew home again. One of the enduring memories of the flight was when we came into Sydney the plane was turning and I watched the wing go up…and up…and up…and then there was the full moon next to the point of the wing, above the dark expanse of the sea.
(I love flying I have discovered…I love take-offs, and the wheel bumping on landing, I love turbulence, and watching the ailerons and flaps do their work, I love seeing the wings vibrate and flex…I wanna be a pilot when I grow up! Oddly enough it seems to be one of the very few things I am NOT afraid of.)

I am wearing two of Elanor’s rings and two bracelets (one of which I had to firmly ask Craig to give back to me, although it actually looked amazingly good on his hairy masculine weld-splatter-scarred arm) and also a pair of her Heidi Klum sneakers – I don’t want to take off her jewellery as it is a tangible link with her. I can’t believe so much brightness and courage has gone.
(One thing that Elanor used to say to her friends… “I won’t be here forever, but my hips will. They’re titanium.”)
So was her spirit.

Birth – Second time around.

This is the sequel to my last post, in which I described my first birth. So here is the sequel. Son Number Two.

This pregnancy was not only a little earlier that I had planned idly speculated about in a desultory fashion, but also more eventful, as I went to hospital twice with infected gall bladder, or blocked bile duct and what they describe as ‘chemical irritation’, which essentially means my gall-bladder was eating itself. I can tell you now (Spoiler alert!) that neither of my two experiences of labour were anything like as painful as those galling experiences. Ho ho.

Anyway. My last few weeks of pregnancy were fairly eventful, in a slow way – my grandmother died at the age of 93, and so many of my family came and stayed with me because I live some hours closer. This was quite stressful as I did the anxious stressy host thing, and bustled around a lot. I also had a bad cold. And an eighteen-month-old to look after.

So at 37 weeks pregnant I ended up in antenatal again. A&E was funny – a really good way to get through Emergency very quickly is to tell them that you are 37 weeks pregnant and have severe abdominal pains. “Oh,” the triage nurse said, ‘Are you sure you aren’t in labour?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I’ve done labour before; I’ve had cholecystitis before. I can tell the difference.”
“Let’s get a doctor to see you right now.”
“Just give me morphine. I don’t care how much it makes me throw up.”
A doctor came to see me, and said that they would whisk me straight to delivery suite.
“I’m not in labour.”
“Are you sure? Any contractions?”
“Really. I’m not in labour. I know what it feels like, and what it feels like is not like cholecystitis.”
SO they whisked me to delivery suite.
An anaesthetist came to see me. “Are you in labour?”
“No. I have cholecystitis. Please give me drugs.”
“Where do you work?”
“Er…I bake biscuits and cakes. Why? Does that have something to do with my condition?”
“No, I just thought you sounded really familiar with medical terminology and I wondered if you worked in the medical industry!”
Just give me morphine

Anyway I finally got to see a midwife, I had a CTG, I was finally believed that, indeed, I was not in labour. My parents-in-law visited me feeling anxious as they were flying to America next day. My husband had just started a new job and couldn’t really get time off. My dad doesn’t drive. My mum was in Finland talking about social capital with a bunch of European statisticians. Luckily my mother-in-law rang her lovely and wonderful sister who agreed to drop everything and come over from the Blue Mountains and look after Son Number One for  an indefinite period. (She ended up staying for two weeks, and then leaving a few hours before my Mum came up from Canberra.)

So that was kind of a relief – I hadn’t wanted to ruin my in-law’s trip to America.

Anyway I spent some time in that sort of hospital limbo – being fed..oh no – NOT fed. I was on nil-by-mouth and saline, morphine and antibiotic drips for days.
A surgeon with long yellow teeth and a long yellow face came to see me after a few (I really can’t remember how many) days of endless dehydration and morphine headaches, vomiting constantly and begging the midwives for icecubes to suck. It was a nightmare.
He cheerily told me that they wouldn’t bother seeing if they could induce, they would just keep me doped up and wait for the stone to move, or the pain to go away, or whatever. And then after the baby was born they’d operate. I burst into tears and said that I couldn’t bear more days of nil-by-mouth, headaches and vomiting constantly, I just couldn’t.
He sneered and said, as he turned away, ‘Well you’re in no danger of wasting away.”
Ouch. Even the wardsperson was a little stunned by his casual rudeness. I was 37 weeks pregnant, so noooo not a sylph. (Not that I was anyway. But I weighed the same at the end of my pregnancy as I did at the beginning, which I would have thought that fat-hating doctors would be pleased with at any rate.)

Hospital food was surprisingly good after days and days of nil-by-mouth, followed tentatively by clear liquids, followed by ‘free fluids’. It’s a good way to make mass produced menus designed by a nutritionist who has been beamed directly from 1953, more appealing. Starve people into submission first. Also – in Maternity and Antenatal – no menus. You gets whats you’re given.
One day in antenatal ward the woman opposite me was picking through her breakfast tray with her lip curled in disdain – I asked her if she would like my fruit as it was a banana and I don’t like them.
“Oh,’ she said, slightly embarrassed, ‘Actually I know it’s a bit weird, but I only like bananas when they are still bright green.”
“Well!” I said, ‘You’re in luck today!”

Anyway after the stone moved and my gall bladder stopped dissolving itself with digestive enzymes (an amazingly painful process) I was able to go home, but was asked to come in for another delightful cervical exam. I had had one a few days earlier only to be told that I wasn’t ‘ripe’ yet. Nooooice.

I went home and frantically made masses of cakes and biscuit dough for the freezer – enough for about 6 weeks running of our market stall. My husband’s aunt stayed to help me out and look after Number One Son as I was feeling a little battered.

I then went into hospital again for a cervical exam – they told me that I was ready to go and they made an appointment to have me induced two days later, on Sunday morning.

Aunt went home, and a few hours later my deliriously-tired mother arrived – she had arrived back in Australia a couple of days earlier, got a lot of work done, and rushed up to help out. For which I am still endlessly grateful.

In the middle of a nice chat I had a contraction. And then ten minutes later I had another one. Ah, I thought. Cervical exam FTW! No need for induction!

Anyway I spent the evening talking to Mum, giving Son Number One cuddles, and then trying to sleep in between ten-minutes-apart-like-clockwork contractions. At exactly five hours after they started, they switched over to five minutes apart. SO I rang the hospital, who were extremely lacklustre about my miles apart contractions until I mentioned my previous two-hour labour. That galvanised them into interest. “Why yes indeed, do come on in,” they said.

I organisedly woke up Mum, told her we were leaving, calmly picked up already-packed-bag, calmly walked down two flights of stairs in the dark, and got into the car. In between five-minutes-apart contractions, of course.

I calmly went through the after-hours entrance to Delivery, which entails walking through what would appear to be a large maze. Ok, maybe being pushed in a wheelchair though what would appear etc etc.

Went into Delivery and struck it unlucky with the room with the old CTG monitor. So I’m sitting up on a hospital bed, one arm out one way while the nurse tries to canulate my arm (remember last time when I had to have antibiotics in case I happened to have a strep infection which might transmit to the child while in the birth canal? Same thing again)…which ended up not working. I prefer my right arm to be stuck full of large needles for…well…hygiene reasons, but I had been draped in drips for two weeks and my poor veins were a little tired, as well as being full of holes. (I think I had eight canula scabs at that stage.)
Also I had to actually hold the CTG monitor on my tummy, as it was an old one without velcro straps. I was sitting there with one arm out being stuck with needles, the other arm holding a monitor to my tummy, while I was having my blood pressure tested as well.
When the baby’s heartbeat sped up I said, ‘Hmmm, we’ve got some good acceleration there.” To which the midwife made a face at me and said, ‘You’ve been here way too long!”

I was getting bored. I was sitting there, contractions after contractions, almost merging into each other, but nothing was happening. There was no bloody show, my waters hadn’t broken, my constant hints of ‘Goodness, my back really hurts,” were being ignored. (I later found out that one has to specifically request drugs, as they won’t offer them unsolicited. I just assumed that they had some Higher Purpose and thought I was coping without. So I thought I had better not let them down, or something.)
I even said to the midwife what was wandering in and out of the room (I was sharing her with the labouring woman in the next delivery room), “I just don’t think anything is happening!”

I am so impatient. I mean, for crying out loud, I’d been there for maybe 40 minutes? After the previous 5 hours of fairly painful but relatively-untroubled labour. Not what anyone would define as a marathon, or anything.

However, being impatient, I was actually eager for her to give me a cervical exam to maybe give me some indication of how long I might expect things to last.

(Actually eager for a total stranger to stick her hand  up to the wrist in my lady-parts – it’s amazing the horrible places parenthood will take you.)

The next little while was a little rapid and confused. Firstly I said, ‘I’m glad you are giving me an exam, because I just don’t think anything is happening!”

Next she said, ‘Oh….kay…..you’re…only…seven…centimetres…dilated, so…it…will…be…quite….a…while…yet…OH MY GOD! That was your membranes rupturing! OH MY GOD! THAT’S THE HEAD! Quick! [to my husband] Press that button on the wall! No THAT ONE! I need another witness!”

*Pop!* *Slither*

That took two minutes. Literally two minutes from the time she told me that I was seven centimetres dilated, to the midwife handing me my baby.
Then she said, ‘Heheh, ‘I just don’t think anything’s happening!’…hahahha!”

Sarky.

Anyway my husband went out to the car to get some of the carefully-packed market biscuits and cakes – we weren’t going to make it to the markets that day we decided…to give to the midwives on duty, and he overheard her boasting about my lightning delivery on his way through. Ha!

No tearing or stitching either! Just a lot of canula wounds! (Of course, as seems to be inevitable, the baby wasn’t in the birth canal long enough to be affected by a potential strep infection, so again the antibiotics were a complete waste of time and extra nuisance for me – ever tried breastfeeding when you have less flexibility in one’s wrist due to a big canula needle stuck in it? Not to mention snagging the damn thing on everything. Ugh. Still – I suppose I deserve some inconvenience after my absurdly easy births.)

Unlike Baby Number One who came out asleep and wouldn’t feed properly for ages, Baby Number Two came out yelling and demanding food, and hasn’t really stopped in four years.

And that is definitely the LAST TIME I ever do that.

(Oh, and yet again I managed to give birth while in the half-sitting up, knees apart, soles-together cervical exam position. At one point in that two minutes, the midwife said, ‘You can move your legs now, you know.”
“UGH NO I CAN’T URGGHGGGHHHHH.”)

Birth. My first one, that is. And quite possibly TMI.

I tell a lot of people in gruesome detail about my pregnancies and births. I think I may have to join the group, ‘Oversharers Not-Really-Anonymous’. Anyway I had not thought of actually writing any of it down (although Mum said I should) until I was reading a blogpost somewhere else with all the gory detail, and I laughed a lot, and thought, maybe I should do this. I even conducted an unofficial questionnaire on Facebook. The response was ‘Yes’.

Something that is a recurring theme of both pregnancy and birth, in my experience, is slime. I had my first ultrasound, the transnuchal screening, at 12 weeks, and then another at 20 weeks. The sonographer puts a lot of slime on your tummy, after tucking rather a lot of rough scratchy industrial paper towel into the pulled-down waistband of your pants. Then they play slip ‘n’ slide all over your tummy with the ultrasound gizmo. To properly see the foetus in there they have to have one’s uterus pushed up by a nice full bladder of wee, upon which they lean rather heavily. One acquires one’s full bladder by following their instructions – drink a glass of water an hour before, and don’t go to the toilet. Clearly this does not take into account the presence in one’s digestive system or the REST of the water, and the cups of tea, etc.

This prompted possibly the worst thing that anyone ever said to me while I was pregnant…
“Hmmmm – your bladder is a bit full. Do you think you could go and get rid of about 20 mils?”
Did I think I could, while busting for a wee, wipe the slime off my tummy, pull my pants UP, go into the toilet, pull them down again, wee out twenty mils (and how to measure it, one might ask?)…and then stop. Yes – then stop weeing, wipe, pull up pants, walk back out, still busting, get back on the table, pull down waistband and repeat whole paper-towel-and-slime procedure. Apparently a quick count of ten (and not one that slows down in a relieved manner) should let out the required over-fill.

All I care to say more on this subject is that I have pelvic floor muscles of steel.

I once asked my GP whether I would know if I was in labour. She chuckled dryly and said, ‘Oh, you’ll know.”
How wrong she was.

At that stage, my husband and I were doing a market stall in Sydney on Saturdays, which pretty well meant we were destined to have a baby on a Saturday (Which didn’t actually happen until next time, but it was a close call).
That meant that we got out of bed at 4.30 on Saturdays, drove down to Sydney, spent 2.5 hours setting up, spent the day until 4 standing on our hind legs making and selling coffee, tea, milkshakes, cakes and biscuits, iced tea and so on, then spending 2.5 hours packing up and packing the car and trailer and then spending 1.5 hours driving home, then doing some more market washing-up and getting dinner. It was a very long day.

I stopped doing the markets when I was 38 weeks pregnant and still shudder with the memories of the prostrate-in-bed-with-exhaustion-headache every Sunday for weeks.
(Also a number of people asked my husband where I was on the two Saturdays that I wasn’t there before the baby was born  - he would tell people that at this stage of the pregnancy, I thought I had better not risk coming to the markets. A few people said, ‘Oh yes, what is she now, four or five months?’ Um, no, nearly nine months actually.
But worse than they were the ones that said, ‘Is Rhiannon pregnant?!”
No, no, just cultivating a large beer gut.)

Anyway the second Saturday that I did not do the markets, I had lined up a couple of other people that could take me to hospital if I went into labour before Craig could pack up the stall and bring it home. As it happened, they were all either in Sydney or drunk that day, so lucky I didn’t.
I did a lot of tidying and cleaning, and made a delicious chicken pie for dinner. I was talking to a friend on the phone who had rung me to tell me that a friend had just had her baby after an agonizingly long labour, so that cheered me right up. I asked her if this odd sort of tightening feeling I was getting across my back were contractions, or just Braxton-Hicks ‘false’ contractions.
She couldn’t say.
By the time my husband got home I was getting these little back pains every 8 minutes, so I asked him if he could do the market washing up in case I needed my strength for some sort of marathon labour event, and also could he ring the hospital and ask if I should come in. Did I need painkillers? No. Were the pains bad? No. Every eight minutes…nah. Come in if they are every 4 minutes. I then pointed out that as far as I could recall, the baby hadn’t moved for some time, so they said, ‘Oooh in that case, come in and have a CTG scan.”

So Craig and I hopped into the car that I had thoughtfully put a large folded-up towel into (apparently not only does amniotic fluid or ‘Lie-quor’ as the midwives call it, smell like a swamp, it also corrodes upholstery fabric)(And it is full of hair) and drove to the hospital, little bands of pain stretching across my back every few minutes.

I had cooked us a multi-grain English muffin to eat on the way as we were leaving the aforementioned delicious chicken pie at home.
Natch, as soon as the baby got a hold of those delicious blood-sugars, he picked right up, and by the time I was strapped into the CTG monitor, I was only getting tiny weak (albeit suspiciously regular) contractions and there was a lively baby jiving on down in there.
“Nothing’s happening- it could be days – nothing’s going to happen for AGES.” they said at 9.30 PM-ish.

So we got home at 10, ate our dinner, went to bed at 11. My husband had been up since 4.30 and done a lot of work and a lot of driving, and he was totally stuffed.

I was dozing between increasingly painful back twinges. Until at about 1.15 I sat bolt upright yelling “FAAAAAAAHHHHHHHCKKKKK!”

My husband blearily said, ‘Wha’?’ as I leapt out of bed like a startled deer (although, you know, a little more ungainly) and raced to the bathroom swearing rather a lot.
I turned the shower on hot at full pressure and while it was heating up (a slow process as our hot water heater is upstairs) I went to the loo.
Um. Interesting. You see, earlier in the day I had had some of what I had thought to be what they call ‘bloody show’, which is the mucus cervical plug that sort of protects everything in there. When the cervix starts to dilate, the plug falls out, or so they said in the books.
So when I had some slimy blood-streaked mucus I thought, ‘Oh ok, this is it.”
Well no. It was some sort of preliminary, let’s-get-you-softened-up-for-true-horror mucus. Remember what I said earlier about slime? Bloody show is, without a doubt, the single slimiest thing I have ever experienced.  And there is loads of it. So much…so very much slime. And then a great big huge lump of mucus. Just what you want when you in pain, waiting for the shower to heat up, and feeling very ill. I briefly turned around, vomited up all the delicious chicken pie from earlier, and sat down again. I didn’t really NEED to go, but for some reason I kept getting this feeling like I needed to push something out. (Um, not that I was in labour or anything – they told me at the hospital only  4 hours earlier that nothing was happening and it could be days.)

I got under the shower and realised that now I had all that lovely boiling water scalding my back (actually, not. Our hot-water-heater is set to responsible parenting temperatures) that I would never be able to get out of the shower, ever again, unless I had something equally hot to replace the shower with. SO I was yelling to my husband to get me a hot water bottle, which of course he then had to hunt for as it was December.

I later found out that this stage, transition, was characterised by nausea, disorientation, and irregular painful contractions. However, I thought that this was labour JUST STARTING and I was in for 24 hours more or some such, so  was slightly nervous. I had somehow missed the entire first stage of labour, which proved my GP wrong, as I genuinely had had no idea.

Getting dried and dressed and lacing my shoes up, in labour, with a hot water bottle clamped to my back was no picnic. I hobbled out to the loungeroom and thought, ‘Shit. Next time I don’t have a contraction, I had better get down our two flights of stairs or I will be stuck here forever.”

My husband was just thinking of taking a chair down the stairs so that I could have a little sit down on the landing, when he looked out and saw me half-way down, so he grabbed what he could (not including camera or mobile phone) and raced after me.

The whole time it took to get to hospital I was muttering to myself, “They are not sending me back home this time, I’m not going back up those stairs, I’m not.”

We pulled into Emergency and he grabbed me a wheel chair as I could barely walk at that stage – the people on reception wouldn’t listen to my husband, and just kept talking over him, telling him to move the car until he said, ‘YES! I will move the car – if one of you could please take my wife up to delivery, she is in labour now.
“Oh, well then, of course.”
In the lift I felt something horridly damp and said that I thought my waters had broken.
When the reception nurse had wheeled me into Delivery, the exact same midwife was there whom I had seen 5 hours earlier – ‘Looks like something might be happening now,” she said laconically.

“My waters have broken, and I am wearing a new skirt!” I said, irrelevantly. (Hey, I had taken the admonitions that amnio rots material very seriously!)
When I took my undies off, the midwife could see by the sodden maternity pad that there was meconium (foetus-poo) in the water, so she said that the baby might be in distress and to get up on the bed and have a cervical exam straight away.

I hate cervical exams. I mean, I really hate them. They are worse than pap-smears. I’m sure midwives and nurses don’t much like them either.

So there I am, knees apart, feet soles-together, with a midwife-hand stuck up there, and she says, ‘Oh. Well, you’re fully dilated, any time now.”
Oh-kay. I hope my husband gets here in time.
He walked in and the midwife said, ‘Just in time!”

Meanwhile, as I had had a strep infection way back in the first few weeks of the pregnancy, duty-of-care means they have to stick a canula in my wrist and mainline antibiotics into me in case the infection has randomly come back.
Even though they were saying while they jabbed my wrist with a big fat needle ‘This is too late, of course – the baby won’t be in the birth canal long enough for this to have taken effect. ” JAB JAB.
The fact that I was gripping the edge of the mattress with my wrists twisted around the whole time they were jabbing needles and taping up tubes into my veins made it rather more painful than perhaps it should have been, but it paled into nothing compared to my surroundings.
I had read the sort of baby book that wittered about how ‘these days’ maternity and delivery suites were decorated in a nicer, homier style, friendly, calm – not like a hospital at all.
Well, I guess if glaring bright yellow walls and a big poster directly in front of me with the charming slogan in 3-inch high letters -
If it’s not Mud in your eye, it’s Blood.’
is your idea of nice and homey, then…well…um…you’re welcome to it.

Anyway, my husband kept looking at the business, end, which I’m glad I could not see, and telling me ‘You’re doing really well!”
I have such a sense of occasion, I merely accused him of reciting the list-of-things-to-say from the ante-natal classes, and went back to groaning a bit and worrying about how would he hold up with so little sleep?

About 50 or so minutes after I arrived at hospital, and when I had a moment between taking off clothes, getting cervical exams, CTG monitors, and canulas, I basically gave a little push, and they said, ‘Oh, you’re crowning, now a few nice big pushes, that’s the way AAAARGH!”
A big push (and realised that the expression ‘trying to shit a watermelon’ is dead accurate) and out came my baby’s head.
“Was that it?” I said, to probably universal condemnation from anyone who has had a difficult labour.
“Yes, that was the head! Argh! We barely caught it in time!”
“Oh. Unnnghhhh.” and out slithered the rest of the baby. My goodness, nothing feels quite as….slithery…as the rest of a baby. It’s like pulling a squid out of one’s lady-bits.
I had a little rest for a minute while they all rushed around hoovering mec-stained amnio from out of the baby’s mouth and nose, and I casually pushed the placenta out as they handed me the baby, or ‘purplish-white squiddy-thing’ as he looked like.
(My husband swears he was beautiful from the first second. I disagree. He was covered in vernix, the white waxy stuff that protects the baby from becoming totally waterlogged in there, and he was purple and squashed-looking.)

Anyway, that whole process took an hour from the time I got to hospital, and he was born almost exactly 2 hours after my first agonised ‘FAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHCKKKKKKK!”

(BTW they said they could tell I was not a smoker from looking at the placenta. Apparently smoker’s placentas are all grainy-looking. Ugh.)

My husband was asked if he wanted to cut the cord. ‘No way!’ says I,’That’s disgusting!” “Of course I do!’ he said, ‘It will be wonderful!”
He certainly got into the spirit of things more than I did. He even asked to take the placenta home. I objected. A lot. He swore it would be buried with tree planted on it before came home. It was. The second one however….

Anyway, they took my as-yet-unnamed baby off my to wrap him up and put him under a heat lamp, as apparently the whitish-purply-squiddiness and the fact that he came out asleep and hadn’t properly woken up yet meant he needed some extra warmth so I gratefully jumped (slowly) up and had a loooooooooong hot shower with loads of soap.
My one objection to home-births (for myself) is – in hospitals you can bleed on as many towels as you like and just throw them in a  linen bin, to be dealt with by someone else.  And boy, did I.

Baby Number One spent the first 12 hours in Special Care nursery with various indifferent and/or bossy midwives telling me what I was doing wrong, so I was most grateful to escape to Maternity where the midwives were nice and caring. They ALL told me different things though. ALL.

Anyway that was my first birthing experience, apart from having been born myself, and I rate it – not anything like as bad as an infected gall bladder.
Second one in a later installment!

Update
I forgot to mention – when the midwife was cleaning me up after the birth, I asked nervously if I needed stitches, as I had pushed him out as quickly as I could to get it all over and done with. She ummed and ahhhed and told me that I had a little tear, about a millimetre long, and she would check up in a little while to see if she thought it needed a stitch. It didn’t. When I hear the horror stories of nine-month’s vomiting, 36 stitches, emergency caesareans – I am soooooo incredibly grateful that my body just seemed made for all that  - almost no morning sickness, easy labour, easy birth, no real tearing issues – it took me nearly a month to really get the hang of breastfeeding but even that turned out to be very uneventful for me. Very grateful.
I recommend bellydancing!

10 things.

This is a chain-blog-post that I was inspired by from News With Nipples at  http://newswithnipples.com/
I
 tell you 10 things that I love, and all my legions, nay hordes of regular commenters may even tell me ten things, or one thing, or whatever, that YOU love.

1. Books. I just love books way too much. I read when I feed the kids – I read when I watch tv – I read while I mend things (I’m quite good at holding books open with my toes). I have a book on a bookstand in the kitchen, and look up and read a paragraph here and there while I’m doing something easy, or a sentence here and there in between chopping!
I get a massive buzz finding a book I like in an op-shop. My first date with my husband was to a second-hand bookshop. I cannot go anywhere without a book in my handbag. I don’t even buy handbags without making sure that they will take a trade-paperback or hardcover.

2. I love food. I love reading about it (natch) and cooking. I like mixing spices. I like the smell of frying onions. I like the slipperiness of roasted capsicum. I like punching down dough for pizzas. However I am stupidly picky, so I try to be adventurous in my limited range. I like feeding people and seeing them go back for seconds. (Or, you know, feeling perfectly satisfied with firsts.)
I like writing recipes in the most ridiculously verbose and purple way that I can.

3.*Warning – Self-Pity Alert*
I love silly in-jokes that go on way past their use-by date, although that partly comes from feelings of always being a tag-along and not ever part of a ‘gang’…so in-jokes kind of make me feel like part of one. *sigh*

4. I love looking at my kids when they are asleep, they look so sweet and calm, with their thick eyelashes fanning over their round cheeks, and their hands curled up. And they are so lovely and quiet then, and not making a mess. Does that make me sound as though my ideal kids would be ones in some sort of museum display?

5. I love listening to my kids singing and humming along to songs. Especially when they are singing along to things like Bruce Molsky or Mumford and Sons in the car. So cute! “Oh, Man is a Guinea-Pig’ is a superb example of their versions of songs.

6. I love telling people my brother was asked to do an audition for Circus Oz. It makes up for all the brothers and sisters who regularly get public service jobs. (Of COURSE I am proud of you all too. REALLY.)

7. I love compliments. I like being told I am a good cook, or a good singer, or a good writer, or like the one I got today…
“Don’t even try to come up against Rhiannon in a head-to-head piratical eloquence showdown.”
How good a compliment is THAT.
I like giving compliments too. People should be appreciated!

8.I love the fact that my husband can fix nearly everything. (As in, repair, not ‘I’ll fix YOU.” kind of fixing.) Him too. I mean, I love my husband too, not just his fixing abilities.

9. I love watching birds. I don’t go anywhere specifically to see them, but if I am in Woy Woy and I see some pelicans on lightposts, or cormorants and darters and egrets on the waterfront, or swarms of ducks –  (Yes – it may not be the correct collective noun, but you try eating a pie on the waterfront, and you will see what I mean) it makes me happy. I was pretty stoked once when I was crossing the footbridge on the road into Woy2 and I looked down to see a cormorant diving – I got to watch it swimming around and nosing into weeds and rocks, underwater, directly below me. Awesome!
I like hanging out clothes on my deck and seeing sea eagles soaring past. I like hearing whipbirds and butcher birds. I even love hearing Koels at 2 am on sultry summer nights.
I live visiting Canberra again and seeing crimson rosellas and grass parrots.
I don’t actually like birds indoors though – they smell funny and get tangled in people’s hair and poo everywhere.

10. I like houses, inside and out, and towns and cities in which not everything is new and shiny. I like seeing old painted ads, old sandstone churches reflected in giant shiny glass skyscrapers. I like cast iron lace and wide skirting boards. I like shabbiness. I like waterfronts that look a bit rough and tarry. I like furniture that looks as though a few generations have used it and battered it a bit in the process. I like verdigris’d copper roofs. I like lichened tiles.

What about you?

 

Guest Post from Tom – ‘What Shit’s Worth – Literal Edition.’

Here is another guest post from my brother Tom – which made me laugh very much indeed – it was awfully familiar. (Possibly because I grew up in the very same family) (And have had the same experiences with culture shock and housemates.)
Anyway may I present Tom’s  ‘What Shit’s Worth- Literal Edition.’

“In this article I’m turning my attention to the other end of the hungry/food/me/contented spectrum.

Poopin’.

Now before you click ‘back’ on your browser in a fit of shit-related panic, I’m not concentrating on food waste. More the waste generated by what we as Australians choose to clean ourselves with afterward.

My housemates and I are from differing cultural backgrounds:  They were all raised in loving, supportive families that presumably were concentrating on staying fed, clothed and educated to worry to much about the peripherals, whereas my upbringing involved the sort of love and support that makes you love your family, but tread everywhere with a sweaty, guilt-ridden footstep, hyper-aware of the damage you cause with every footstep, every action, every foodstuff. As you might have guessed, my parent’s belief in education extended to having a thorough knowledge of the political world, and the ramifications of how you live.

So, despite the fact that my dad runs a heater from the first of march to the 30th of November, We clean with safer products, recycle everything scrupulously, turn off lights, shut doors, compost our food scraps, buy local, think about the nutritional impact of our food, the environmental impact of its wrapping, and the footprint our lives make on the world. You know, the things most people do without acting all self-righteous and smug about it.

So I have always wiped my bum with post-consumer recycled toilet paper.

Which brings me back to my housemates: they are great people, and I have few, if any, criticisms. But it was still a bit of a cultural shock to find that not everyone was raised with a view to using pre-loved poo tickets.

Recently I used some of the toilet paper a housemate had bought, A six pack of “Sorbent: Kids”.

First off, I had no idea there was a difference in child and adult toilet paper, but the main difference seemed to be that Sorbent passively teach you about your relationship to the natural world by getting you to smear crap all over pictures of adorable puppies.

The thing I couldn’t shake was a feeling of discomfort made ironically by something altogether too comfortable: It was like wiping your arse on a doona. You couldn’t help shake the fear that whoever owned it was going to come back and be justifiably furious.

But the final thing that got me thinking about what we do to eliminate waste as neatly as possible is log 98 million trees per year worldwide purely for the manufacture of toilet paper.

Given the prodigious amounts of wasted office paper generated worldwide, this seems not only absurdly wasteful, but an extremely flawed business model.

Unfortunately in most cases, making the ethical choice usually means laying out wads more cash to buy a product you can only hazard is as ethical as the manufacturer claims.

But recycled bum fodder is substantially cheaper than its doona-violating brethren, and even comparable in price to the arsehole shredding nasty cousin of the family – the budget toilet paper.

Despite the cheeky (totally on purpose!) pleasure of imagining you’ve destroyed an enemy’s valued comforter, the shocking amount of wasted resources involved means shit is most definitely not worth it.”

(I completely agree)