How To Survive A Moth Invasion

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My friend Sabrina is scared of butterflies and moths.  I have to admit, I have not always thought this the most rational of phobias. Sabrina has held my hand as I've yelped my way through turbulent flights without batting an eyelid, but I've seen her shudder at a butterfly motif on a purse.  I now think she was on to something.  

My story began six weeks ago.  I was looking for icing sugar at the back of (my incredibly well stocked) food cupboard.  My hand came across something webby and sticky.  I immediately thought...tarantula!.. and had fleeting visions of it scampering up my arm and under my jumper.  The fact that tarantualas neither scamper nor build webs was irrelevant.  

Unwilling to leave the tarantula colony in the food cupboard indefinitely, I had a cleanout.  I found an ancient opened packet of peanuts that appeared to be covered in small cocoons.  I had a little peep in and a few small moths fluttered out and into the kitchen. Relief washed over me.  Moths are fine, I thought.  I can totally do moths.  Oh, the stupidity. 

Obviously, I threw out the offending peanut package and transferred anything already opened into those airtight lockable plastic containers.  I bleached the cupboard and off I went on my merry and vaguely smug way. 

I saw a few moths the next day, maybe one or two.  I dispatched them to the moth-afterlife.  The following day, I found a few more buzzing around the kitchen and then the next day, even more.  I decided I needed to call a man with some kind of moth death chemical...so Ayi and the insect man were left to sort out the problem while I went out for a walk with Snugglepunk.  I really thought it was that easy…and that I would arrive back to a moth-free apartment. It never occurred to me that I can’t always just hire people to fix things for me. Apparently there are some things I need to sort out myself. Is that the moral here?…Although you have to wonder what Beyoncé does when she has pantry moths.

On reflection, leaving Ayi with the insect man was a bad idea.  He just sprayed some 'medicine' in the cupboard and said that my food was too old and needed to be thrown out.  When you have spent six hours surfing the internet in Chinese for a packet of self-raising flour, you are reluctant to then part with the self-raising flour unnecessarily and without a good fight.

But the moths kept coming.  I took each container out of the cupboard and checked the seal and contents for moth eggs, or cocoons or anything.  I took all the dishes and plates out and put them through the dishwasher.  But every time I opened that cupboard I would find small moths hanging out on my Le Creuset ramekins as if they were beach loungers.  

And then they started popping up in other parts of the kitchen, in other cupboards, cupboards without any food in them.  I went to Google for answers.  Mistake.  I was inundated with desperate accounts from people who were losing the battle with pantry moths, who had to sell their houses or gut their kitchens.  I started panicking.  

As I panicked, the moths kept coming.  Little A and I would chase them around the house swatting them with tea towels.  Mr Oh knew there was a problem when, one evening, Little A (who has eyes like a hawk) shouted "Moff Mommy!  Kill it!! Kill de moff! Look, Daddy, moff dead".  I got a stern look and was forbidden from further involving the toddler in my pursuit of moth genocide.  

The moffs were everywhere.  I wouldn't see any all day and then could walk into the kitchen at about 5pm in the evening and count ten or so on the walls and cupboards.  Sometimes Mr Oh would come home after the children were in bed, and find me perched on a stool in the kitchen with the tea towel in hand as my eyes flickered from wall to wall, cupboard to cupboard.  Sometimes he would come home to find me taking apart the whole kitchen and stuffing everything that would fit into the dishwasher and spraying everything else with bleach.  But the moths kept coming.  

Then about two weeks ago, I gave in.  Broken by the moths that would not die, I agreed to get rid of all my pantry items.  I cried as I poured hundreds of euro worth of hard-to-find grains, flours, seeds and other dried goods into the bin.  I felt a little bit better about it when I found a moth cocoon nesting in the organic baby pasta I had hand carried back from Ireland in my suitcase (luckily had not fed it to Snugglepunk yet…)

We put everything through the dishwasher again.  Ayi was confident that the moth problem was over - she had been harrassing me for weeks to throw out the grains (she just doesn't appreciate how hard it is to find almond flour in China).  

She was wrong though...the moths kept coming, although they weren't in the food cupboard anymore.  They were somewhere else but I don’t know where…I had cleaned and washed everything. I even cleaned each slat in the window blinds, one by one. Every cupboard and surface was emptied, it’s contents washed and its surfaces bleached.  

I killed every single moth I saw, on sight.  Little A would shout "Chongzi!" whenever he saw one (Chinese for insect) and then I would have to usher him out of the kitchen while I "helped the moff to sleep".  

Did you know that one female pantry moth can lay up to 400 eggs?   No?  I did.  So when I saw two moths getting it on, on the ceiling above my fridge last week, I was overcome with fear and rage.  I stood on a stool and swatted at them.  They tumbled together behind the fridge.  I imagined 400 moth cocoons colonising the dusty spaces behind my fridge. Mr Oh and I moved the fridge and used flashlights to search for the remains of what Mr Oh had at this stage dubbed the Romeo and Juliet moths. We hoovered and bleached.  No sign of the love-moths.  Eventually they were spotted (still engaged in procreation) on another part of the wall.  They are no more.  My home was saved from their particular plague of offspring.

Was that the end of the moths?  No.  The moths kept coming.  But they came less and less frequently.  I haven't seen any in two days now (will probably find six tonight just because I said that).  

So, the moral of the story is keep all your dried goods in air-tight containers and don't make fun of your friends who have stupid phobias.  If you ever see a small moth in your kitchen...kill it, throw out everything you own and bleach the bejaysus out of everything else.  Or move house.  


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You Are Where You Eat

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I have never bought meat from a wet market in Shanghai.  I'm not sure if that's something to be proud or ashamed of.  I think it's just sensible.  Our wet market is pretty nasty.  There are flies and foul odours.  I have it on a reliable source that there are rats too.  I have been warned never to look through the windows of the market at night.  Teeming with life - apparently.  

Meat is a pretty dodgy substance in China.  I imagine it's injected with everything going...steroids, botox, concrete.  In Guangdong, they injected lamb meat (so just lamb I guess) with dirty pond water.  True story.  You can see why I'm not too keen on the wet market.   I don't even buy my vegetables there anymore but that's ever since they told Ayi that I had to pay more because I'm a foreigner.  I've been boycotting.  I don't think they've missed my business.  

The longer I live here, the more careful I get about where our food is sourced.  Like most things regarding safety here, my standards sway depending on my mood (which are directly influenced by the pollution levels and the amount of public spitting that has taken place in my immediate vicinity).  Some days I will only buy food that has been hand-picked by a Nicaraguan virgin and air-flown to China in a hermetically sealed chamber lined with pink Swaraovski crystals.  Other days, I'll eat something grown in China.  

So, I often end up in the foreign butcher weeping over the price of Australian beef or Norwegian salmon - neither of which we have eaten since arriving here because it's just too expensive.  If we're lucky, I buy chicken or pork but even they cost double what you'd pay at home.  

They call this 'sticker shock'.   It's when you nearly pass out in the supermarket because they want to charge €3 for small baguette.  And it's not like the bread is expensive to make or imported.  It's just the kind of things that foreigners like and those things are always expensive.  That's Mr Oh's theory anyway.  He says it explains the price of dishwasher tablets and toilet roll (the locals use toilet paper too, it just doesn't come on a roll).  

Speaking of toilet roll, the first week we were in China, Mr Oh paid about €15 for six rolls of toilet paper.  He said he bought it because there was English on the package and he knew what it was.  I calmly said "NEVER BUY ANYTHING WITH ENGLISH ON IT. USE YOUR EYES TO SEE WHAT IT IS. WE DO NOT NEED OUR TOILET PAPER TO BE IMPORTED".   (Mr Oh slinks silently off with the €15 toilet paper under his arm.)

So, first I decided that we would go vegetarian because meat is too expensive.  That didn't work out so well because I almost bankrupted us buying a small tub of ricotta for the creamy vegetable pasta.   The mistake, I thought at this point, is that I'm trying to cook western food when I should be cooking Chinese food.  It was a lightbulb moment.  I scuttled off to get my Ken Hom Simple Chinese recipe book. I picked out a nice noodle dish and spent the next three days trying to find either water chestnuts or gai-lan in China.  You'd think that it being Chinese cookery, you should be able to find the bloody ingredients in China.  Not so.  

So I picked out another recipe that didn't involve either gai-lan or water chestnuts.  It did involve Sichuan peppercorns though and Sichuan peppercorns are not called Sichuan peppercorns in Chinese, so I couldn't find them.  Eventually, I had to enlist Ayi.  I googled a picture of all the unfamiliar ingredients and did some kind of pathetic translation attempt and Ayi worked out the Chinese name for me.  She thought it was pretty stupid that we call Sichuan peppercorns Sichuan peppercorns when their real name is 'Hua Jiao' or 'flower peppers'.  Having translated for me,  she went to the market to get them for me.  I would have gone myself but I'm boycotting the market, as discussed.  

Eventually I have all the ingredients Ken Hom says I need to make Northern-Style Cold Noodles.  I've got the Sichuan peppercorns - I've even roasted them and hand ground them into a fine powder as Ken requested.  I'm standing in the kitchen yesterday afternoon making my noodle sauce as Ayi looks disapprovingly at me. 

"Too much spice", she says in Chinese, pointing at my large spoon of chilli bean paste.  I'm like "the recipe says I need to use a tablespoon".  Ayi says  "you foreigner, too much, ah-la-la".  I reduce the amount, mostly to stop her grabbing the spoon off me and taking over.  The recipe called for four tablespoons of soy sauce, Ayi only let me put in three.  
Me - "The recipe says four spoons, Ayi".  
Ayi - "Ayi says three". 
Me - "This is Ken Hom.  He's Chinese.  He's famous.  He knows" 
Ayi - "Ayi is Chinese. Ayi knows.". 

Turns out Ayi did know.  The noodles were delicious, the spicy level just right.  I now call it the Ayi Hom Noodle dish.   If cooking vegetarian Chinese food is going to involve so much collaboration though, I'd be better off just asking Ayi to cook instead.  I know she thinks we'd all be better off if I did that too.

(Apologies if you’re offended by the photo at the top of the blog. It’s of chicken feet at our wet market. I’m offended by it too…that’s why I don’t go there).

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Omniblog

I’m back. I’m sorry. Turns out that pregnancy is exhausting. Chinese is exhausting. Toddlers are exhausting. When given the choice between sleep and writing…I chose sleep. Ok, sometimes I chose watching Borgen. After two seasons of Borgen, my Danish vocabulary now includes the words for ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’ and ‘Prime Minister’. I have a long way to go before I’m conversant but the Danes seem to have lovely English so I might just learn the word for ‘bacon’ and leave it at that. I don’t actually know very many Danes and I’ve never been to Denmark so I’m thinking I should probably stick to the Chinese considering the fact that a) the Chinese do not have lovely English and b) I live in China. This may necessitate replacing my new hobby of watching engrossing Danish political dramas with something more conducive to Chinese language learning. Watching Chinese tv perhaps? I could get into a Ming dynasty Chinese soap opera? Or a talent show looking for the voice of Chinese folk singing? They appear to be my only two options.

So, update on life. I am now 33 weeks pregnant and I finished my exams last week. It all got a bit uncomfortable towards the end. Not even stealing the better chairs from neighboring classrooms could make sitting through a 4 hour lecture on Chinese grammar bearable when one’s inner child (actual inner child) is kicking one’s bladder. It also became increasingly difficult to navigate the squat toilets when one’s legs were not capable of lifting both one’s self and one’s inner child back up from the squatting position. A few times I had to hang onto the wall for support and, if we’re honest, the last thing one wants to do in a Chinese university toilet is touch the wall.

The excellent news is that I passed all my exams with flying colours. It’s all a bit suspicious though. I managed to get 95% in my oral exam despite not actually being capable of speaking on my randomly chosen topic (‘the benefits and disadvantages of the internet’) for more than one out of the five allocated minutes. I think, given the Chinese approach to pregnancy, I got 90% just for turning up at the exam in such a clearly advanced state of pro-creation and an extra 5% for saying “Ni hao”.

Whether I deserved it or not, it’s now over and I am positively rolling in free time and unallocated minutes. The only problem is that I’m now almost entirely devoid of energy, mobility and comfort. Also I installed this game on my iPhone called Two Dots. Don’t do it. I haven’t been this addicted to a game since the Angry Birds Christmas Special. I need someone to delete it from my phone and then change my App Store password before I can re-install it (“Mr Oh, this is a hint”).

In other news, as well as an incredibly successful Chinese scholar, online gaming addict and immobile penguin…I am also now a diabetic. It is a well known medical fact (statistically proven) that every time I go for a pre-natal check-up without Mr Oh, they find something wrong. So when I rang him from the hospital telling him that I’d failed my glucose test for gestational diabetes, he actually thought I was just playing a nasty trick on him designed to elicit maximum guilt and sympathy. Even I would not sink that low - well, I would but on this occasion there was no need as I actually did have diabetes and, as my doctor put it, ‘not even the borderline kind’. I failed spectacularly. My body apparently has just given up processing sugar. It now courses wildly through my bloodstream straight into the arteries of my unborn child.

Thankfully, gestational diabetes is both temporary and not really that bad. I have to test my blood sugar levels four times a day and eating has become a complex game of beating the numbers but at least I don’t have to take insulin. I’ve discovered multiple ways to cheat diabetes. For example, I can eat dessert if I slip it into a meal laden with protein and fat e.g. avocado, ice-cream, Babybel. Yum. Spoon of nutella, spoon of cashew butter. Yum-yum. When I finish with the diabetes, I may have coronary heart disease.

Essentially, I’m living off guacamole, natural yoghurt and cheese. There are worse ways to pass a few months. My inability to eat anything other than dairy products and chickpeas has led to a complete cessation of weight-gain. The baby is gaining weight which is good but I’m not which means that the part of my body that will remain part of my body after the baby has exited my body is getting lighter. I was concerned initially that I should surely be gaining some weight in pregnancy but my doctor tactfully reassured me that I put on more than enough weight in the first two trimesters to sustain a litter of baby elephants through the final few months.

So, there you have it. Life update complete. Also I shaved Little A’s head when Mr Oh was having a lie-in one morning. He now looks like a mini Navy Seal. It suits his commando personality. Nice haircuts are for toddlers who don’t pretend to parachute jump off the highest piece of furniture they can find on every given occasion. Nice haircuts are for toddlers who don’t smear mushy be-honied Weetabix on their heads as a primitive signal to their mother that they have finished eating. Nice haircuts are for toddlers who will sit in a chair long enough for their entire head to be evenly cut by a man wielding scissors - toddlers who don’t throw a tantrum halfway through the process and emerge with an asymetrical mop reminiscent of 1980s underground pop culture. Nice haircuts are not for Little A.
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Food

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I stopped writing. I didn’t want to. I didn’t intend to. Like most Irish people, I blame the EU. 2013 brought the Irish Presidency of the EU and Mr Oh’s hours got longer and later. There was no-one to hold the baby as I tootled away on my keyboard.

This coincided with another unfortunate development - Baby A started to eat food. What began as a relatively simple procedure (pour baby rice into bowl, add milk, shovel into baby’s mouth) became increasingly time consuming as Baby A realized that he wanted to eat everything, all the time. I spent my few free moments peeling, steaming and pureéing vast quantities of fruit and vegetables as Baby A sat in his highchair shrieking at the top of his lungs and throwing handfuls of mashed avocado at the wall. He ate every single thing I put in front of him (apart from bananas), making loud gobbling noises as he went and occasionally trying to push the pulverized mush through his belly button, as if that might be a faster way to get it in. Kilos of carrots, piles of apples, absolute mountains of sweet potato - it was all suctioned merrily into his tummy.

Suddenly, I didn’t have just one meal a day to cook but four. One for Mr Oh, and three for his hungry boychild. Every taste, every new flavor and texture was a revelation to him. The first time he tried a croissant he was so overcome that he lay flat on his back for about twenty minutes afterwards lolling happily in a pool of flakey crumbs. After months of doing baby sign language in the hope that he would be able to communicate lofty thoughts at a young age, the very first word he signed back at me was ‘more’. Six months later, it’s still the only word in his repertoire.

He swiftly graduated from steamed mush onto more sophisticated tastes - chicken curry, spaghetti laden with garlic and herbs, olives, baked pasta dishes, oriental stir fry i.e. adult food. The upshot of this is that I no longer have to cook separate baby meals. He just eats what Mr Oh eats…and about the same amount too.

I’ve been trying actively to introduce new flavours in preparation for today. At 7 months I started adding coriander to his food, at 8 months onion and garlic, at 10 months chill pepper and then, just after his first birthday we moved him to China and fed him dumplings. So that, essentially, is what we did today - we moved to Shanghai and gave Baby A dumplings for dinner. He seems remarkably unfazed. I like to think the hint of coriander in his puréed sweet potato all those months ago is making the transition easier.

I’m not entirely heartless though. I let him have a croissant for lunch - just to ward off the culture shock.

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21st Century Nesting

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I have heard it said that pregnant women often go through a manic period of spring cleaning in order to prepare the nest for the impending arrival. I have taken to my bed.

I have been here for three days now - only venturing afield (i.e. downstairs) for cooking and biscuit hunting. It may not look like it, but I am nesting. I am preparing my technological environment for the dramatic changes afoot. In fact, to look at me, you would be forgiven for thinking that I am attempting to remotely coordinate the global satellite network from my bed. That is if you can see me at all, so ensconced am I in a hedge of wires, plugs and Apple logos.

I have here in bed with me my new 15’ Macbook Pro - most beloved of inanimate objects. I also have my old Macbook, an iPad, two 1TB external hard-drives, an iPhone, an iPod and a pork pie (with some HP sauce). There also appears to be a calculator under my left ankle but I think Mr Oh left this there earlier when calculating my tax credits.

I have been organising my tax affairs, arranging photos into events, purging my iTunes of Bruce Springsteen albums, researching online photo storage/sharing options (I’m thinking Smugmug but would welcome views), downloading episodes of Game of Thrones and, once again, comparing my unborn child to vegetables (this week baby Hu is the size of a butternut squash). This is 21st century nesting. When my hard-drives are in order, I will be ready for baby.

There has, however, been one disturbing element of nesting that I cannot attribute to modern mothering. I have been absolutely convinced that this child cannot be born until I know how to make custard. It has been something of an obsession for the past week. Mr Oh is not complaining - he considers custard to be stand-alone food group. I bought vanilla pods and cream and golden caster sugar and rhubarb (you need something to eat with custard). I whisked and stirred and cooled and simmered. I made perfectly nice custard, but it wasn’t right. It wasn’t the right colour, it wasn’t the right texture and it wasn’t the right taste. I think it needs another egg yolk.

In my experimentation I came across an unfortunate truth - the perfect custard does exist and it’s made by Marks & Spencer. I am now going through a crisis of pre-motherhood. Do I
really need to be able to make my own custard when it’s so laborious and awkward and unperfect and M&S do it better? I have a feeling that this issue will shape many of my future mothering decisions. I have resolved to continue to try to make my own perfect custard - anything less is substandard parenting. (I suspect this parental zeal (and possibly all types of zeal) will have exhausted itself by 2013 so I might as well be a martyr to perfection while I still have the energy and will.

Incidentally, on my quest for perfect custard, I came across the perfect cherry pie (also made by M&S). I have no intention of learning how to make cherry pie and am therefore delighted with this find. Mr Oh was reluctant to buy the cherry pie at first. He said he didn’t like cherries. It turns out he just doesn’t like cherry-flavoured Jolly Ranchers which is hardly the same thing. Now that he has unearthed a deep-seated love for M&S cherry pie and M&S custard, my star is waning. Luckily M&S is not carrying his unborn child, otherwise I might find myself surplus to requirements.

[Mr Oh has subsequently assured me that he will not leave me for M&S but cannot rule out the possibility that he will leave me for S&M] [or M&Ms].

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Cupcakes

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99% of the time, living with a compulsive tidier is a wonderful thing. Bins are emptied at regular intervals, yoghurt cartons are washed and recycled, the tupperware is stacked in size order, dishes never pile up in the sink and everything is put away in its place (this does often lead to confusion as ‘its place’ is usually the last place I look for something).

It is fascinating to watch Mr Oh function and I am perpetually amazed by his constant zeal for order. I, on the other hand, try really hard to be tidy but, for the life of me, cannot seem to bring myself to put clothes on hangars when there’s a perfectly good floor right beneath my feet. Things remain where I drop them regardless of whether this is a suitable location or not. My headphones often seem to be in the fruitbowl, snaked around a satsuma. My earrings are in the pen drawer. My hairbrush is on the bookshelf. My socks are under a cushion (or at least one of them is). Once every few months, I will ‘deep clean’ my life, put everything back in a logical place, feel redeemed, washed, spiritually at ease and wait until - one by one - my headphones creep back to the fruitbowl, my tweezers into the hall, my teacup into the bathroom.

Mr Oh knows where everything is. His clothes are folded neatly. Actually, mine are folded neatly too because he takes them all off the clothes rack when they’re dry, and folds them into impossibly symmetrical shapes. He knows that I would leave them on the clothes rack for weeks and take each piece off as I needed to wear it, leaving behind random and progressively larger voids until the clothes rack was sufficiently empty to justify another batch of washing. He never gets cross about my lack of tidiness and he never gripes. Occasionally he looks shocked (and perhaps slightly traumatised) by the randomness and completeness of my clutter but he never says anything. He just tidies around me. This morning I watched as he shuffled my haphazard tower of bridal magazines into a neat, size-ordered stack. I would never have bothered doing it, but feel much happier now that it’s done.

When we were travelling in China, I would ask Mr Oh every few days to ‘OCD my life’, which meant he would take everything out of my backpack, organise it and replace it in such a way that I could find things again. It brought me immense joy.

This is not to say that I’m a terribly unclean person. I colour code everything. I put seeds, herbs, nuts and things into tupperware and write the contents on the side with CD-pen. I enjoy removing all the bobbles off my clothes with the little de-fuzzing machine. I have a fundamental appreciation of order - I just have no discipline. I get tired and overwhelmed. I put the headphones in the fruit bowl because I can’t remember where ‘its place’ is. When I fold clothes, they look lopsided.

In general, as I said, it is a wonderful thing to live with someone who enjoys tidying and organising and tilting things slightly to the left to make them look symmetrical. There is only one time, as far as I can tell, when living with a compulsive tidier is bad, and this is when one is baking.

I decided that we were going to make cupcakes for mother’s day. I have never been much into baking but thought that - as an impending mother and wife - it might be something in which I should obtain some degree of competence. (Ok, mostly I just had a craving for cake smothered in buttercream).

I had never made cupcakes before so I really wanted to get this right. I spent a week researching recipes on the internet until I found one the right one. I went to Kitchen Complements and invested in a cupcake tin, cupcake cases, cupcake glitter and little sugar bumblebees and ladybirds. I dragged Mr Oh around Superquinn painstakingly assessing different types of flour, the consistency of yoghurts and the saltiness of butter. I enlisted him as a sous-chef (more successfully this time), made sure he was in bed early the night before and woke him up at the crack of dawn on Mother’s Day to embark upon our inaugural foray into the world of baked goods.

In the style of a true television chef, I decided to make sure that all my required ingredients were prepared in advance in the correct amounts. I put on an apron. I cut things and weighed them and put them into tiny glass bowls. When everything was set out and I had welcomed my imaginary audience to my Sunday morning baking show, I began - with the help of my sous-chef - to make cupcakes. This went very well and within minutes, the cupcakes were goldening nicely in the oven.

I turned my attention to the white chocolate buttercream icing. I had chocolate. I had icing sugar. I had soft room-temperature butter...except that I didn’t because in a compulsive tidying fit, my sous-chef had put the butter back in the fridge. I took it out again and turned my attention to melting the chocolate. When this was finished I looked around to find the butter once again missing. He had put it back it the fridge again! He had to be distracted with chocolate and tea long enough for the butter to reach room temperature - luckily he is also easily distracted.

Ta da!

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Nom, nom, nom….doh!

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Pregnancy is a constant battle between trying to do the right thing and retaining a modicum of common sense and perspective. It is a condition that panders to the fears and small dramatics of those pre-disposed to hysteria, hypochondria, paranoia and low-level insanity. As I have been periodically guilty of all these things to a greater or lesser degree (usually greater) I am at greater risk than most of losing the plot entirely. Luckily, I seem to be hanging on in there, possibly because when I’m about to careen over the edge of crazy Mr Oh slaps me across the face (metaphorically) and puts me on the naughty chair until I regain composure (only kind of metaphorically).

Mr Oh has had to ban me from Googling every single thing I eat, drink and do in advance to see if it’s safe for the baby. It surprises me though how the most bizarre stuff seems to have reams of information already available. You can Google everything from ‘Will eating fish make my baby a better swimmer?’ to ‘Does wearing the colour pink during pregnancy lead to birth defects’ and be guaranteed that someone has both asked and answered the question before.

Where there is a risk that something might not be good for an unborn child, the general approach of the internet is not to say ‘that’s ridiculous’ or even ‘while there’s absolutely no evidence to prove that eating Percy Pigs when pregnant will make your baby ugly, if you’re concerned about it, you may wish to abstain from the delicious treats until after the birth’. Rather they say ‘Yes, it is absolutely possibly that eating Percy Pigs in pregnancy may indeed be linked to an increased incidence of ugliness in babies. While there is not yet any scientific evidence - or any evidence at all - supporting this admittedly random hypothesis you should not eat any Percy Pigs when pregnant...just in case. If you ignore this warning and your baby does indeed turn out ugly, it will be your fault and the child should be taken away from you”.

There are some things that you probably shouldn’t eat/do when pregnant. Take class A drugs for example. Nobody wants their baby to be born addicted to crack-cocaine. Smoking is another thing that is probably not a great pastime to be at when pregnant and it makes me very uncomfortable seeing heavily pregnant women standing outside the maternity hospital puffing away. This said, I think people generally need to lighten up a bit - for some women who would have smoked heavily before pregnancy, giving up entirely may be practically impossible. They may occasionally cave and have one or two cigarettes. It’s not great but there are far worse things that women do during pregnancy that are judged much less harshly by society. Stress, for example.

One of the worst things you can do to your baby is be stressed. The stress hormone is passed to your baby through the umbilical cord and no one really knows the harmful effects that consistently increased stress levels have on a baby in the womb. I don’t imagine it’s good, though, considering the hugely destructive effect stress has on fully grown adults. If having a cigarette occasionally or a glass of wine reduces stress in the mother, there is a good chance that there is a net benefit to the unborn of this action. Also, overwork and lack of sleep. There were a few weeks last month where I was doing 10-12 hour days most nights in work. It really wasn’t good for me and I was exhausted and drained which can’t be an optimal pro-creating environment but because it wasn’t stigmatized as ‘something bad mothers do’, no one really said anything to me except in a kind of congratulatory way e.g. ‘look at you working so hard even though you’re pregnant, aren’t you great’....when all I could think was ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, I need to go home, lie down and eat Percy Pigs’.

Alcohol is probably the most cointreauversial pregnancy related issue around and one that very few people (apart from the French) are capable of having a sensible approach to. My doctor warned me about the dangers of getting wasted but seemed unconcerned by everything else. American websites are positively militant in their approach ‘No alcohol...no way...not even a cherry liqueur bon-bon...BAD MOTHER!!...the shame’. I imagine that having a glass of wine while obviously pregnant in an American restaurant may well carry with it the risk of public stoning. Even in Ireland, I hate to say, I’m at the stage where I’m reluctant to have a glass of wine in case people give me dirty looks, or worse...say something! God forbid - I’d be mortified. Luckily though, Irish people are so terrified of mistakenly assuming that someone is pregnant when they may just be a bit pudgy that I reckon you’d have to be crowning in the pub before they’d suggest that you might want to put down the pint.

The French apparently drink wine in moderation all throughout pregnancy without any negative effects (other than being born French). My approach is that I will drink a glass of wine or two when I feel like it and when the wine is suitably expensive. I don’t risk public humiliation for plonk.

The list of things you shouldn’t consume doesn’t stop there. Soft mould-ripened unpasteurized cheeses are apparently out because of risk of listeria but there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about this. I heard from the people in the cheesemonger (experts surely?) that pasteurised or unpasteurised is irrelevant and what is important is the age of the cheese. Anything under 9 months could carry listeria. Anything over that will be safe. This means that most soft cheese are risky but that stilton is back in the running (hooray!). Also anything you buy in Tesco is safe because it’s generally been whipped to within an inch of its life by a processing machine and listeria couldn’t survive near it. But the key thing about cheese is that, if it’s hot, listeria is killed so bring on the deep-fried brie!

Salami is another baddie, and actually any cold deli meats because they are uncooked and could also carry listeria and other things. The listeria thing would also apply to all salads, fruit, raw veg, deli items that you hadn’t washed yourself or that weren’t served hot. By this rationale, pregnant women should not eat any store bought or restaurant/deli-made sandwiches or salads. You could risk it....but you’d be a bad mother for putting your baby in danger.

You’re also a bad mother if you drink herbal tea which hasn’t been clinically proven as safe. Even camomile may have a negative effect on baby. All regular tea or coffee and soft drinks are very bad because of the caffeine. Raw fruit juice also may harbour listeria.

Salmon, tuna and swordfish contain mercury. Liver is totally out in all its forms because of harmful levels of vitamin A which can cause birth defects. All forms of paté, whether made with liver or not, also on the listeria risk-list (unless hot). Shellfish - bad. Any raw meat/fish - bad. Homemade mayonaise or mousses made with raw egg - bad. Soft-serve or homemade ice-cream - bad. Eggs that aren’t hardboiled - bad. All salad - bad. Anything with processed sugar - bad. All meat that’s not welldone - bad.

This basically reduces the pregnant woman diet to boiled rice, steamed broccoli and hot water. It’s unpleasant and also, I think unnecessary.

I had a craving for sushi on Friday (actually my craving was for raw salmon smothered in soft blue cheese). We went to Yamamori Japanese restaurant and I explained to the waiter that I couldn’t eat raw fish but still wanted sushi so could he recommend anything. He said I could have a California roll (cooked crab and avocado) sushi. Although this was ‘technically’ still on the no-go list because the ingredients were cold I decided to order one. He then told me - somewhat hesitantly in case I freaked out - that all the pregnant Japanese women in the restaurant had no problem eating raw fish sushi. I sighed.

I know this to be the case. In the same way that French women drink lots of wine while eating cold brie and American women eat salad in restaurants but would rather be consumed alive by ants than touch wine....Japanese women eat raw fish. None of this illicit activity effects their babies in any measurable or quantifiable way. Listeria is incredibly rare and I’m convinced that the stress of being obsessed with everything you eat is more likely to make your baby neurotic in later life...but once I know that eating raw fish could be dangerous, I can’t risk it because then I’d be a bad mother and it would be my fault if anything happened. I should never have Googled any of this in the first place.

There are other things that bad mothers do. They sleep on their backs. Apparently this squishes some artery which deprives your baby of nutrients. Most mornings I wake up on my back and silently panic for ten minutes until the baby kicks and tells me that despite my evil unconscious back-sleeping habit, he’s still ok in there. Bad mothers also use mobile phones which can cause ADHD in babies. I reckon that my baby already has ADHD (inherited from Mr Oh who is incapable of sitting still) but have moved the phone its usual position (under my pillow - oops!) to a drawer. Bad mothers have hot baths and showers (overheating can cause birth defects). Bad mothers have contact with reptiles (I’ve had our pet cobra put down). Bad mothers eat junk food. Find me a woman who did not eat an unusual number of Big Macs/chicken nuggets/cheese nachos during the first three months of morning sickness when nothing else would stay down and I’ll show you a woman with selective memory - or one who didn’t really have morning sickness at all. Bad mothers drink tap water (we’re a San Pellegrino household).

So I’ve decided to get a grip and take a less stringent approach to what I eat. No liver. No smoking. No getting drunk. No raw shellfish, fish or meat. No raw egg. No cold, young, mold-ripened cheese (doesn’t sound particularly appealing when you put it like that anyway). I’m undecided about crack-cocaine.

On the pro-active side I will endeavor to go to yoga twice a week, drink lots of sparkling mineral water, work normal hours, not get stressed, get lots of sleep, try to eat in quality establishments where the food is unlikely to be coated in e-coli, and drink at least two glasses of wine a week....in public.

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Dinner for Eight

swan-3


I have learned that when hosting a dinner party for eight people while five months pregnant, there are a number of factors critical for making sure that you are the very best hostess that you can possibly be. Allow me to share some of these with you.

Prepare your menu a few days beforehand and work out exactly what ingredients and equipment you will need.
Choose a one-pot dish that will easily feed your mountains of hungry guests and can be prepared a few hours in advance so as to avoid last minute panics.
Ask for help from friends in bringing other courses. Note: when your lovely friend Eimear jokingly offers to make a giant swan-shaped meringue, best to laugh and thank her for the kind offer and suggest something a bit more low maintenance. Do not dare her to do it.
Go shopping the day before the party and stock up on everything you’ll need.
Make sure you have enough wine. A good tip is to estimate the number of bottles you think your friends will drink....then triple it.
Enlist a sous-chef to help you on the day. Perhaps someone you live with or to whom you are engaged.
Ensure that your sous-chef does not go on an all night bender the night before the dinner party with the result that he (or she, because this could happen to anyone) is hungover, unconscious and useless the next day when the cooking is taking place.
Ensure that your sous-chef does not continue drinking on the night of the dinner party with the result that he or she is hungover, unconscious and useless the day after that when the cleaning up is taking place.

I totally rocked the first six points but sadly fell down on points 6 & 7. In my sous-chef’s defence, it was not his intention to be in an alcohol induced mini-coma when all the serious work was taking place. He didn’t even go out until after I was safely tucked up in bed at 10pm. The next thing I knew, it was 3am and a homicidal maniac with one arm had broken into the house and was trying to kill me with a kitchen knife, or at least this is what I thought when I woke up in terror before realising it was just one of those incredibly vivid dreams that you’re supposed to get during pregnancy. The last crazy pregnancy dream I had was about skiing down a mountain made of soft-whip ice-cream with rainbow sprinkles which was infinitely more appealing (although slightly stickier).

I decided not to risk going back to sleep in case the next dream finished me off so I rang my absentee sous-chef and pretended not to sound like the insane, terrified, emotional wreck I was and calmly asked him when I might expect his return. He indicated that this might be shortly but it ended up being 5.15 am. I know this because I was propped up awake peering through the back window every two minutes for signs of homicidal maniacs.

On his return, the sous-chef was both profound, profoundly uncoordinated and within a very short space of time, profoundly dead to the world. Relieved that I was now safe to continue sleeping, I drifted gratefully back into slumber but, alas, it was not to be. It seems that people who have been drinking until 5.15 tend to snore and don’t wake up when you poke them (or when you kick them, pull their hair or pull back their eyelids and touch their eyeballs). I tossed and turned until 7 when I finally succumbed to sleep. At 7.30am the slumbering sous-chef’s phone alarm went off and he did not wake up to turn it off. I let it go to see how long it would take him to turn it off but after five minutes I gave up and turned it off myself. There was no more sleep and at 9am I hauled myself out of bed to begin the process of preparing a dinner party for eight people, sans sous chef.

Five hours later, a lovely boeuf bourguignon and two types of salad were prepared and my sous chef appeared in time to make me sandwiches and send me babbling and semi-hysterical back to bed for a few hours of rest before the dinner party which went splendidly in the end even though the sous-chef was incredibly hungover and the beautiful meringue swan was decapitated at some point on its journey from Eimear’s house to ours. Giant meringue swans do not travel well (but they taste just as good headless).

I could not stay cross with the sous-chef-who-wasn’t. The pain and misery of his three day hangover was enough punishment (plus I also told his mother on him).

PS - the photo above is what a swan meringue look like when it has not been decapitated. We didn’t take photos of our poor headless swan as it would have been in bad taste.

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