A Winter Picnic

I admit that I’d been getting The Dread a bit as the Christmas Holidays drew to a close. If you have a young child and a helpful family, you’ll know why: Christmas means two blissful weeks of extra hands to entertain and cuddle your beloved spawn while you can relax with a book/a blog/ a glass of wine here and there – not to mention have a moment to actually look your partner in the face.

So it was with some reluctance than I waved Him Indoors out the door on his first day back to work.

It was a bright, cold day, and I was set on seeking company to ease the jolt back into the daytime world of Lone Parenthood. So I texted a local pal, Bex, suggesting we find somewhere for our children to stretch their legs together, if she was free.

When it comes to matters of Mumsing, Bex is a rock. Her and hubby Chris invited us round and armed us with tips, tricks, Hypnobirthing CDs and a Haynes Baby manual back when Eva still resided in my tummy. And, somewhere in that fog of days following her birth, sitting dazed on the sofa with newborn Eva hung off one boob, I remember Bex zipping round like a whirlwind, armed with a delicious, wholesome lunch, not to mention a cast-iron will to wash-up, check the fridge, make tea, check my mental state.. all in about ten minutes, while her daughter Flo amused herself calmly.

‘Crikey, how can any Mum be that organised??‘ I remember asking myself through a haze of post-partum hormones (Nearly two years later, I’m still asking it, though with less frequency, you’ll be relieved to hear!).

… So, yes, Bex is a star. And, as luck would have it, a star with some spare time and two dogs to walk that morning. I headed over to hers where we concluded that St Martha’s Hill was the place for us. As well as being the only female Blacksmith I know, creator of all sorts of unique sculptures and ornaments, Bex is a rather nifty and healthful cook, and whizzed up a lovely packed lunch for our walk while I kept Eva and Flo amused  – or was it the other way round?

Blacksmith Bex at Work – click to learn more…

St Martha’s Hill

After some finishing touches to the picnic – and several attempts to mediate the sharing of toys between two toddler girls! – we headed to St Marthas, convoy-style. It’s less than ten minutes from Merrow and a good spot to know about, with a bit of parking at the base of the hill and a short walk to the top. It was really lovely, wandering slowly up that hill with the frost crowning everything, and fellow walkers and their dogs greeting us.

‘Hey-yow Phoebe! Hiya!’ Eva exclaimed mistakenly – and totally endearingly – as a brown and white English Setter breezed past. If you read about little our slumber party over Christmas, you’ll know the ‘real’ Phoebe is lives far away, with Granny. I was tickled, given that it was at least 10 days since we’d left, that she even remembered the dog’s name. Children’s memories never cease to amaze me – even more so now mine is becoming ever worse! Anyway… um.. what was I just saying…..?

Along the way we had friendly chat with a stoic Mum who was battling a pram up the hill accompanied by her chatty toddler (another Phobe, just to add to the confusion!) and many dog-walkers. Eva was thrilled to have dogs passing from all directions, and a little companion in the form of Flo – she currently adores older children with an almost stalker-like intensity! Overall, it was one of those relaxed, picturesque pitch-perfect walks that have you glad to be a resident of Planet Earth.


Eva is not a speedy tot, but has oodles of stamina, and nearly managed the upwards climb completely unaided – though she flagged a little towards the top, at which point I regretted not bringing the Ergo. At the peak is St Martha’s Church and from here, the view is great. Yep, it’s a lovely spot alright. But also, we both agreed, f**king freezing. So we found a bench by the Churchyard and Bex unwrapped the packed lunch in a hurry.

Warming Winter Picnic:

If you think Kale, Marmite and Maple Syrup sound like a match made in hell, think again. First on the menu were some homemade Kale crisps that were really flavoursome. I can’t find the recipe Bex used involving marmite, but I’ll take a guess that you could substitute a half-teaspoon of the stuff for the salt in this recipe and get similar results. Thinking about these crisps weeks later is still making me drool. Seriously. I just had to wipe my keyboard. Eva did struggle with the texture of these crisps though. More on that in a moment.


Click for Kale Crisps recipe


Click for Soup recipe

Next on the menu was some lovely thick butternut squash soup. The ultimate winter warmer, though I was silently worried as Eva has been rejecting squashes and sweet potatoes lately, despite previously loving them (that’s toddlers for you!). But I need not have – the Thai-inspired trinity of lime, ginger and coconut milk was also in on the act, giving this a lovely gentle heat but also a creaminess, and Eva wolfed it down like there was no tomorrow.

The Serious Business of Eating.

Next to these lush offerings, passing around my porridge fingers felt rather inadequate. There is no great trick to these. I make them every time Eva has porridge by doubling the usual amount, then slinging the leftovers into a silicon muffin tray and baking them for 20-30 minutes at 200ºC.  I usually add a small segment of mashed banana and a finely chopped date to the initial mix – a little of each of these goes a long way. Once you’ve loaded the leftovers of that into the muffin tray, the result is definitely more a ‘porridge disc’ than the conventional finger, but its all good. They are super-simple and can be jazzed up with raisins, cocoa, blueberries, ground mixed spice, you name it.

Porridge Fingers – sorry, ‘Discs’!

I used to microwave them as finger shapes and Eva didn’t mind.. but they looked so floppy and unappealing I switched to the baking. My general consensus on children’s food is that if I wouldn’t want to eat it myself, I try to avoid serving it to Eva. And if you’re worried about all the wasted oven heat, you could always bake some veggies in there at the same time – butternut squash for instance!



Gagging vs Choking:

Now after that feast, I’m sure the last thing you want to read is a word about choking. But here it is anyway, because at worst it might save you some worry, at best, a life.

Eva had some trouble chewing the kale crisps, unsurprisingly; they were a little floppier than planned and She of Little Molars has always struggled with leafy things. At one point there was plenty of loud gagging involved… even to the extent that she regurgitated some of the soup. A joke about choking from Bex got me thinking once again about Baby Led Weaning and the difference between gagging and choking. In the paranoid world of Mumsing, most of us seem primed to mistake the two, and it’s worth knowing the difference, not just because it should ease weaning worries (especially if you are following the Baby Led Weaning method) but because you’ll want to know if your child really is choking, right?


So, the good news is, gagging is not choking. If your baby suddenly starts to retch while eating –  and believe me, babies and toddlers do plenty of that – it can sound quite alarming, but it should be fine. Just keep an eye on them and it should pass. The gag reflex is very far forward in young children, and gradually moves back. So, just to reiterate: it doesn’t sound great, but there’s no need to panic.

Actual choking is a silent business. My sister started choking on a lump of steak once and afterwards described a complete inability to do anything but drum her feet. This was during a beach BBQ and, to her eternal gratitude, someone happened to pass by who knew the Heimlich manoeuvre [see diagram above].

Similarly, a Mum from my online support group recently described the terrifying experience of her daughter starting to choke on a marshmallow at a party (note to self and other Mums – apparently marshmallows score quite high on ‘chokability’ so be aware!). The little girl made no sound but her lips started to turn blue – the Mum immediately shouted for help, and a friend rushed over and slapped her girl hard on the back. Out flew the ‘bastard marshmallow’ (as she rightly described it!) and the little girl, though shaken, recovered quickly, you’ll be glad to know.

So, just to reiterate. Gagging is loud and harmless. Choking is silent and deadly. 

Here’s a little more on the subject, including some first aid tips:

Anyway, with that serious bit out of the way..

If you’re looking for a lovely winter’s walk with gorgeous views consider St Martha’s Hill. Just to reiterate, it could be worth taking a sling for the hilly bits if your wee one is still quite young. And something warm to eat at this time of year. Just FYI it doesn’t stop at the church… you can amble way past it and into the distance if you so fancy (There’s a pleasant pub in nearby Albury if you’re looking to ‘warm your cockles’ afterwards, too).

So get out there with a pal, some soup, some waterproof trousers on your little person, and enjoy that winter weather! Oh, and make sure you do a nappy-change before setting off.. Call me crazy, but I don’t think the church on the hill has baby-changing! ;0)

Photo credit: mikepeer.com

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