Books, Food, and the Dangers of Combining the Two

I’ve hurt my back (again) so for the last two days I haven’t been able to do much. I wasn’t even sure I was okay to drive, so yesterday my partner Chris worked from home, and today my father-in-law brought the kids home after school.

Today was a whole lot better than yesterday, pain-wise, and I even did a teensy bit of cautious cleaning (on the level of kicking dirty washing from the hallway into the laundry).

As my father-in-law left, I noticed a book Louisette (5) had brought home from school. One of those kids’ cook books. My heart sank.


Louisette brought it out of her bag (dangit, she remembered she had it) with smiles and requests to read it, and “make everything in it”. I had a look through (approving of the simplicity of the recipes) and said I’d think about maybe making something in it. She wandered off, and I had a look through.

It had ten recipes (not, as the cover proclaims, FIFTY*)

We had too many kiwifruit, which was worrying me (I have many fruit-related anxieties**), so I thought, “Let’s make that kiwifruit smoothie” (but, ya know, in the thermomix and with some frozen raspberries in it too). Kiwifruit is soft enough that I had the kids cutting it up—Louisette cut off the skin (along with two-thirds of each fruit…. well, we DID have too many…) and then TJ cut the remainder into smaller pieces.

This was a grand success, and I rode the high and proclaimed we’d make popcorn too. Louisette has a thing for popcorn and I’d secretly bought some microwavable stuff, so THAT was easy.

I’d already said we could maybe make the tart things for dinner (my own plan was frozen nuggets and chips…. bad back, remember?) since I knew we had a single sheet of ancient puff pastry in the freezer, and I’d also discovered some Chris-made pumpkin soup from a month or so ago, so I thought maybe that’d already count as one of the recipes too. So I took a photo: two happy kids in aprons with smoothie (in a jug to save for Chris), bowls of popcorn, and a freezer container of pumpkin soup.

They’re looking sideways due to watching TV. Mum is boring.


One thing led to another and thoughts happened in my head along the lines of, “Hey, we have to cook dinner anyway!” and “I can re-use trays” and “If I start now, I can…”

So naturally I decided to do all eleven recipes… using healthy versions where available, and using only what was already in the house.

  1. Smoothie (specifically, kiwi and raspberry, sweetened with maple syrup). Kid involvement: chopping kiwifruit together. Taste: Excellent. Healthiness: Pretty good. Kid response: Delighted. Mum cheat: thermomix.
  2. Popcorn. Kid involvement: Listening to popping (what else is there?) Taste: Excellent. Healthiness: Pretty good. Kid response: Delighted. Mum cheat: Microwave popcorn.
  3. Vegetable Art. Kid involvement: chopping various things. Taste: Vegetables and cheese. Healthiness: Excellent. Kid response: Delighted. They even ate most of what they made. Mum cheat: Using only a few ingredients (carrot, cucumber, cheese, mini crackers, and 2-minute noodles). I made a hill at sunrise; Louisette made a racing car (it looks like a train to me), and TJ proudly proclaimed that he had made “A Mess!” This also kept them entertained quite well while I prepped various other things (bread dough a la thermomix, roast vegetables for soup, stuff for “Pasta and Sauce”).




4. Pasta and Sauce. Louisette begged me not to cook this at all (not a fan of tomatoes) but it was far too late for moderation now. Kid involvement: I forced Louisette to stir the sauce for ten seconds so I could take a picture. Taste: Very tomato-y but actually rather nice. Healthiness: Excellent. Kid response: Begging for the sweet release of death. Mum cheat: I reverse cheated on this one: I actually added zucchini (pulverised with butter and onion in the thermomix) and fresh tomato. With grated mozzarella on top (we keep grated mozzarella in the freezer).


5. Bread. Thermomix bread is pretty easy (and we have dried yeast on hand) so I used the thermomix ‘basic bread’ recipe, made a small loaf out of most of it and let the kids make fun shapes from the rest (which I knew would also cook quickly, being smaller). Top tip: Don’t let kids knead bread. They’re terrible at it, and it always ends up really heavy. But they love it.

6. Soup.

At some stage I remembered we had a pumpkin in the fridge and lost my mind completely. I did a fast-and-dirty roast of pumpkin, carrot, sweet potato, onion, zucchini, and potato and then basically shoved it all in the thermomix. The next pic is Louisette modelling for me….. Louisette doesn’t like soup.

Kid involvement: Posing for photo, under protest. Taste: Pumpkin-y. Pretty good, especially considering I forgot to add stock (I added thermomix-and-butter-fried garlic before the rest, and had sprinkled herbs on the roasting vegies along with sprayed oil). Healthiness: Excellent. Kid response: NOOOO WHYYYYYY/Yum (TJ finished his). Mum cheat: Thermomix rather than saucepan (and I know from experience that you should always roast the vegies rather than cooking them any other way – and cover the pumpkin with foil so it doesn’t burn).


7. Tarts/Flans: I made savoury cheese flans plus two jam tarts (both just pastry with stuff inside).

Kid involvement: Louisette broke eggs into the bowl (twice, since the first time she did she added water “because I wanted to make it more healthy”), and both kids helped use the circular pastry cutter, then added scrap bits of pastry to the top of the tarts. Taste: Exquisite. Seriously. I think using the same containers brought in some delicious features from other dishes that did something wonderful to what should have been an omelette with pretensions. Healthiness: Pretty good. Kid response: All the nope, which luckily meant Chris and I got to eat more. Mum cheat: Frozen (and badly freezer-burned) puff pastry instead of shortcrust. I also added ham and avocado because they’re yummy and healthy.

[darn it, I’ve run out of free wordpress image space.]

[picture of muffin tin with tarts/flans because kids were no longer interested in this weird obsession.]

So for dinner we had tarts/flans, fresh bread, fresh home-made pumpkin soup, and pasta with home-made sauce.

Meanwhile, fairy cakes and upside-down puddings were cooking (precisely the same batter, even in the book) were cooking.

8. Upside-down pudding.

Basic cake mixture, in a muffin tin with tinned pineapple, sultanas, and desiccated coconut placed into the pan first. Served upside down (so the fruit is on the top). Kid involvement: Placing pineapple slices inside. Taste: Soap. I have no idea why. Possibly I didn’t clean the tin real well after the tarts. Possibly my body was trying to tell me something. Healthiness: Could be worse. Kid response: Meh. Mum cheat: Cooking fairy cakes at the same time. Genius. Also I’d long since run out of proper flour so I used cornflour. Taste was no longer a factor. The end was nigh.

[Picture of TJ eating his upside-down pudding. I think he actually ate it all, presumably because he was thrown into confusion at this stage of the evening—generally our kids respond to cupcakes with enthusiasm, then eat the top and abandon the rest.]

9. Fairy Cakes.

Same as above, but with paper patty pans instead of fruit. Then flavoured & coloured icing, with all the toppings I could find (desiccated coconut, white choc chips, sprinkles). Kid involvement: Decoration! Much cheering! Also, choosing colour and flavour of the icing (with heavy hints along the lines of “We have lemon flavouring and peppermint flavouring”). Taste: Mmm… artificial flavouring. Healthiness: Nope. Kid response: Delighted with the decorating process, yet strangely unenthusiastic about their ninth course. So this is their dessert-stomach threshold. Good to know. Mum cheat: Dad supervised the brightly-coloured horror of decoration while I did other things (far too hyper myself to panic over the small fingers and food colouring, which would normally be a huge deal).

[Picture of strangely re-invogorated children smeared with chocolate and icing.]

10. Moon rocks (basically lumpy choc chip cookies, but mine turned utterly flat). Kid involvement: Pouring in choc chips. Taste: Cardboard. Healthiness: Fail. Kid response: Glazed. Mum cheat: I had reached a zen-like level of existence where any ingredient vaguely the same colour was a fine substitute, and measuring anything was too hard.

[picture of pancake-like “rocks” melded together.]

11. Chocolate cake.

Yep, for reals. Big finish. Luckily this was a biscuit base with a pure chocolate top. Hello again, thermomix!

Kid involvement: Licking the bowl (Louisette)/showing no interest whatsoever (poor over-fed TJ). Taste: Chocolate. What’s not to like? Okay fine; I haven’t actually eaten any yet. I’m just about to, honest. Healthiness: Hah, lol. Kid response: Too tired to care. Literally zero interest. Mum cheat: THERMOMIX SMASH. Also, Chris does the dishes.

[picture of cake]

I published this post, then went back and tried the chocolate cake. It was excellent. Butter, biscuits, chocolate, then chocolate on top. Rather rich, but easy and fabulous. I shall try to hide it from the kids tomorrow.


Chris came home from work to find me wild-eyed and bustling, with the children poring over vegetable art and things bubbling, roasting, and mixing all over the kitchen. After a little while, he came to me and said, “Hmm… might you be having a manic episode?”

Why yes, I am!


*While writing this post I tried to come up with fifty “interpretations” of the ten recipes. Some were fairly legit (four different types of smoothie, sure), some were moderately legit (you can make jam tarts by putting jam in the pastry, or cheesy tarts by using this egg-and-cheese mixture), and some were literally a list of “foods that can be eaten from a pot”. I managed to nearly reach thirty recipes by including a list of “other types of tarts that also use pastry” but fifty? Not a chance.

**This is actually true. Weird textures and slight variations in flavour cause me much pain. Don’t get me started on under-ripe/over-ripe fruit.


Party Post-Mortem

Yesterday was TJ’s 2nd birthday party. It was also the family party/get-together for Chris… and my brother. And my nephew.

My brother didn’t actually come, which he probably enjoyed very much.

It all started with the knowledge that my parents were visiting Canberra that weekend. With four family birthdays around the same time, I had a think about the unique challenges of doing something all four (turning 2, 11, 36, and 37) would enjoy, and came up with the legitimately brilliant idea of going to Skyzone trampolining.



The trampoling bit:

My poor nephew is six years older than the rest of his cousins, so he generally has a pretty boring time at any family events. THIS, however, he enjoyed. Epic win.



TJ is pretty easily pleased, but he really, really liked this. Epic win.



Chris injured his back during the night, and tends to get mildly depressed by his own birthdays. That + an attempt at jumping = epic fail. But he had fun anyway. TJ was hilarious.

After taking about fifty photos, I realised that our camera was changing its settings every time it was turned off. That was less than ideal, but at least I know now (and I’d taken some video since jumping pics are tricky at best already).

One of the cousins, looking artsy:



I was really pleased to have all the grandparents there so they knew how TJ handled it (it’s VERY likely that the trampolining will be an annual family tradition). TJ was nice enough to pay special attention to my in-laws who really only showed up for him and Louisette. Epic win.

IMG_9981 IMG_9988

Cost: high ($16/jumper) but ameliorated by saying, “No family presents”. (The grandparents still gave gifts, naturally – I chose most of them, and chose VERY well. Gifts for 2-year olds are so much fun!)

Planning: I asked staff about their busiest times, and chose 3-4pm as a result. It was noisy and crowded, but because almost all our kids were aged 0-5, we were able to go in the “littlies” area, AND have it almost entirely to ourselves. (And we had enough adults that the 11-year old was able to do his own thing and still be connected to the family.) Epic win.

When I found out not all the family would be coming, I decided to combine the “family” and “friends” birthdays, and (after checking it was okay with my mum and sister) I chose two kids to invite as TJ’s best friends. TJ loves them, and so do I (two REALLY nice, cheerful, and chilled-out little boys who are sufficiently flexible/confident to have fun at a noisy trampoline place), and I really really like every member of their family too. Both kids came, with was really cool. And they both had fun*. And I had zero anxiety about inviting a bunch of adults I’d never met before. Epic win.

For my kids, I generally have two special days for their birthday – a party, which is all about community, and a birthday day, which is all about the actual kid. (This mattered much more when they were turning 1. Most 1-year olds cry through their entire party – but “what the friends/family/I want” and “what the kid wants” are still often distinct.)

Surprises: Chris’ back injury wasn’t actually anyone’s fault. He didn’t have a great birthday (it was his birthday day, which was a bit sad – who wants to run a kid’s party on their own birthday?) but he’s taking Monday off for TJ’s birthday (the plan is to give TJ some attention and then ship him off to daycare) which will actually be a great day for him.

The kids and Chris were all quite grumpy all morning. (Louisette and I are always miserable before and after big events, which is unfortunate but at least I know it’s coming these days.)

A random girl decided TJ was in her way and she knocked him over and then was busily pushing him into the path of a pair of bigger kids that had come into our area by mistake. Chris spotted them and ran to intercept, getting there before TJ fully realised what had happened (or was jumped on). One of the four-year old girls with us saw the whole thing, and told Louisette that TJ had been bullied. Louisette immediately came and told me, and I assured her it was dealt with, and that she’d done exactly the right thing – which she had. Given how much I myself wanted to punch the bully, I was really impressed with the behaviour of “my” girls.

This entire weekend half of New South Wales is flooding, so my assumption of bad winter weather was extremely wise! Epic win. (Except the parking suuuuuuucked. I warned everyone that sessions started on the hour so they should be early, but my lot was the only group that arrived vaguely on time. I felt bad that they’d wasted so much money, but it’s not like it was my fault.)

*Some strangers had one of those mall ride-in cars parked nearby. One of TJ’s friends spend half an hour trying his best to flee the trampoline, meaning that his mum and I were unable to sit down but were constantly crash-tackling and wrestling him (which was fun too, but not exactly what we were aiming for). Eventually/wisely, she asked the random strangers if her son could sit in their car. Fortunately they said yes, and the kid was thrilled. After ten minutes in the car, he was able to enjoy the trampolines. #Random #alwaysonekid

Shoulda, coulda, woulda: Next time, I definitely need to bring water for the kids to drink!

Cake: I made an ice cream cake (thermomix for the win!) despite the season. It’s easy to make (essential when Louisette REALLY wants to help) and can be prepped quite a quite a while in advance. It’s also much yummier than regular cake (and actually neater to eat – spills are simpler to clean than crumbs, and travel less far from the table). Epic win.

I also made cupcakes with Louisette and TJ on the day. Like any sane person, they enjoyed the raw dough more than the finished product. (Louisette is obsessed with cupcakes, but only ever eats the top.) #worthit


I put a candle on every cupcake, so each kid got to blow out (and thus spit on) their own cake. It was really easy for me, and really fun for them (and reducing birthday jealousy by a lot). Didn’t sing “Happy Birthday”. I hate that song. Epic win.



We didn’t eat at Skyzone, which was definitely wise. Everyone came back to my house for cake etc (the promise of cake made the kids happy to leave Skyzone). Most of the guests had their own set of keys, so the two cars that arrived before us didn’t have to wait in the rain. Three potential catastrophes averted.

I was mildly concerned Louisette would ask for party games, but she was so busy she didn’t think of it. (Her favourite is pass the parcel, which is a nightmare to produce and another nightmare to adjudicate). Two catastrophes averted.

The main reason it felt so busy was…………..

……The climbing frame.

Our calendar has photos taken roughly a year ago (each month) so this month has a pic of TJ’s party last year (including the climbing frame). TJ saw the photo on the calendar and indicated he wanted to play on the climbing frame again. Since it was so extraordinary for him to have the ability to articulate any wants in advance, I was determined to comply (plus it’s a really great way to suddenly jazz up a homebound, housebound party).

I forgot to pick it up from the in-laws in advance of the party, and it was clear that every adult thought I was insane for insisting on it. It’s a fairly complicated thing with instructions that are only barely in English (and in quite an illogical order too), and about half the pieces are missing their labels. It’s also moderately difficult to take apart – even with the right tool, it hurts your fingers (and we didn’t have the right tool – we know someone who’s lent it to us twice before, but since I didn’t invite them to the party I chose not to request it this year).

On a good day it takes twenty minutes to put together. With seven kids around, it suuuuuuucked. I sent the four pre-school girls to another room, and was really impressed with their obedience. The process still sucked, and no one could really help much. But TJ really enjoyed the building process – and when it was done, he had an absolute blast climbing it (and so did the remaining kids).

For the kids, that was definitely way more exciting than the cake (or party games, for that matter).



Surprises: I knew Louisette was fascinated by building and construction. This was the first time I saw that TJ has the same inclination. Next time, I’ll build the frame before the party and involve TJ and Louisette and Chris.

But TJ LOVED it. Epic win. #worththepain



Surprises: The last two kids had a bath with mine, because they left well after bedtime and having a bath at our place meant they could go straight to bed. Their mum and I sat around a corner from the bathroom, after telling the pre-school girls to yell for us if anyone fell under the water. We listened carefully to them (patterns of speech and laughter and splashing) but at one point the girls yelled for us, and we came running. TJ had fallen under the water, and they had done exactly what we’d told them to do. (TJ had sat up again by himself – he actually does that a lot and has always gotten himself back up – excellent training for a real drowning crisis.)



I’ll remember this party as the moment when Louisette stepped up as a big sister. (Not that I’d actually use her as a babysitter, but my trust in her good sense and awareness has increased dramatically.)


(Not a great photo, but I kept it for Louisette’s facial expression mingled pride and watchfulness.)

Recovery: I’m quite sore today – back, feet, legs, arms, wrists (I’ve taken nurofen for the arthritis and will have a hot shower and then bandage my wrists soon). There are two bits of good news on that front. First, my pain is symmetrical, which is “normal” pain (as if I’d been moving house rather than just running a party, but no injuries). Second…no migraine! The meds I’m on are making me extremely drowsy (and unco), and I’m sleeping up to 14 hours per day BUT they do seem to be stopping the migraines. I get mild headaches some evenings, and the occasional flash of pre-migraine “aura” (visual weirdness which is a strong warning of impending migraine)….and that’s all. I’d expect three days of strong pain after a kids’ party. But maybe that time is over. Maybe I can actually do stuff – like driving, going outside, and exercising – without being wiped out for days afterwards.

The tips of my fingers all hurt from putting together (and partially taking apart) the climbing frame.

Psychologically, I’m in the black pit between anti-depressants (an unfortunate necessity for the new migraine meds) and it’s been very very bad for the last month or two. Stuff like thinking I need to give my children up for adoption. I feel a bit traumatised by the party, but the therapy I need is relatively simple: 1. This blog. 2. Sorting through the photos to prove to myself it was a good party, and special for the kids. 3. Some thoughts about adjusting expectations in future (some of the adults happily breezed through the party while I and one other person – a single mum who deserves to sit down and chat with grown-ups more than anyone else at the party – did 95% of the serving, cleaning, and supervising). If I know my friends think of the party as a social occasion for adults (a notion that  believe is sometimes possible with all pre-schoolers and older, but never possible with toddlers), then that changes how I set things up.

And I intend to have a thorough whinge-fest with Chris once the kids are asleep. (It should be noted that he attempted to help with the climbing frame but was gasping and moaning in pain so I told him to stop.)

Conclusion: Chris needs a day off – without kids – for his birthday. Otherwise, Skyzone is the biz, and is going to stay awesome for many years to come. When the kids are a fair bit older, we’ll probably invest in a full-scale party (Skyzone provides cake and food and a party room) one day, but will probably do something unclassy to ameliorate the expense (like making people pay their own way, as with this year).

I’ve been to a party at the other trampoline company (in a giant semi-converted warehouse in Mitchell that was less nice as a facility), and Louisette is still talking about it a year later.

All I really should have done better is:

(a) Take water to Skyzone. (And keep in mind that everyone will be late no matter what I say.)

(b) Build the climbing frame with my kids and husband, in advance.

(c) Have something lazy-but-fun for before and after big events when the bad mood strikes – maybe a new Pixar movie for all of us to watch together.

In fact I left the climbing frame half-assembled (not fully assembled because TJ’s climbing strategy lacks self-preservation and I knew Chris and I would both be dopey this morning and therefore unable to supervise safely), and have decided to rebuild it with my kids momentarily, and leave it up for TJ’s birthday day tomorrow.

The Chocolate Race

I like taking salted gourmet nuts and putting them in a bowl with other lollies so the salt spreads throughout, accenting all the flavours.

So sure, I tried the new Cadbury Vegemite chocolate. This is how it goes:

  1. Cautious bite.
  2. Hey, it’s just like a strongly salted caramel. It’s really not baaa—-
  3. Aaarrgghh!!!!! Vegemite!!!! WHYYYYYYYYY!!!!????!?!?!??!?!
  4. Eat something else to get rid of the taste.
  5. Think, “I do like salted caramel. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. I should give it another chance.”
  6. Return to Step 1.


Today I’ll be comparing the classic “Picnic” bar and block versus the new limited addition “Pretzel and Peanut” block. All are Cadbury products.


The Picnic bar has wafer, peanuts, and caramel. It’s tricky to eat (peanuts and chocolate fragments tend to explode everywhere with each bite) but it’s delicious. “Picnic” is an appropriate name, because it’s genuinely filling (thanks, peanuts). It’s famously knobbly in appearance, and to the best of my recollection gets advertised in a “This is yummy” fashion rather than a sexy fashion, which is both excellent and a wise choice for the product.

The block version is completely regular in shape. There’s no caramel and the wafers have transmogrified into crisps (a fair trade, except in the bar they feel like a necessary stabilising element that also adds texture, whereas in the block version they mostly feel like filler). It’s a lot easier to eat, but has much less charm and taste. Don’t take my caramel, people.


The Peanut Pretzel block is a new favourite of mine. It has just a hint of salt (because pretzels) and that makes it incredibly compelling. It doesn’t have any caramel either (but I never missed it until now), and feels like it has more chocolate per piece than the picnic version.

Nice work, Cadbury. Send me review copies of your latest work anytime. I’ll be here.

French Cooking. . . Felicity Style

I’ve successfully managed to NOT get into the Tour de France this year, which is excellent as five hours a day of additional TV (regardless of what I’m also doing as I watch) is laughably implausible at the moment. However, I did still see the first cooking segment by enthusiastic French chef Gabriel Gaté, and decided to make it. More or less.

The actual recipe is for Dutch Gouda Tartlets with mushrooms, ham, and onion. The recipe opens with instructions to make shortcrust pastry.

Mine is. . . different.

Dutch Gouda Tartlets (sans gouda, dutch-ness, mushrooms, ham, onion, and pastry):

1. Make sure you have enough bread defrosted (probably the same number of slices as you have in your large muffin tray – for us, 12).

2. Make a cheese sauce using butter, flour, milk, and pre-grated mozzarella (and ideally a thermomix). Add herbs/garlic/whatever makes it taste good to you (it’ll be fine with nothing added). You can use the proportions from the original recipe, or any white/cheese/béchamel sauce. Or a jar from Woolies.

3. Dice and cook some bacon (or just use ham 😛 Or tinned tuna/salmon. Or refried beans. Or whatever).

4. Add some kind of cooked vegetable/s – at different times I’ve used grated carrot, avocado, cauliflower, and/or bok choy.

5. Cut crusts off the bread and push them into the muffin tin spaces.

6. Pour cheese sauce mixture into bread “cases”, sprinkle more grated cheese on top, and cook in a hot oven for 10-20 minutes.


Miss Three puts the bread into the muffin tray, and get excited at the idea that we’re eating muffins.




Naked Truth Chocolate Bars

I stumbled across these in the lolly aisle at Coles. The name reminded me instantly of “nudie” juice drinks – another deliberately cute, expensive company that pours heart and soul into being the very best in its field (and charges accordingly).

There was a wide variety of options, so I chose three.

1. Sweetie Pie: Lemon Coconut Cream Pie White Choc Bar.

This was my first taste of the Naked Truth company’s wares, and it was exquisite. The flavours of lemon, coconut and creamy white chocolate were perfectly balanced. The soft centre was a delightful surprise – I’m a sucker for different textures in food.

I regretted sharing this with Chris. (He is merely human, after all – and this is chocolate). I dream of the day when I eat another.

Five stars. If you see one, buy it for me. And another for yourself, because I ain’t sharing next time.

2. PG: Coffee Beans and Popping Candy Milk Choc Bar

I hate coffee, so I confess I really bought this for Chris, who loves popping candy, coffee, and of course chocolate (he is merely human, after all). He commented that the coffee taste was paramount – he wouldn’t have noticed the popping candy if he didn’t know it was there. For people who love chocolate coated coffee beans, this is the biz. It’s got that particular “bean” taste, but without the risk of the occasional too-dry or otherwise imperfect bean.

3. Get Naked: Fig and Macadamia Milk Chocolate Bar

I was a little disappointed that the block didn’t have the soft centre that delighted me so much in the “Sweetie Pie”. Most of the fig and macadamia pieces were on top – as if they were sprinkled on when the chocolate was partly set. It looks particularly attractive, and the chocolate was lovely, but I prefer larger macadamia pieces so the taste can be truly enjoyed.

Still a very nice chocolate block – similar in quality, cost and size to a Lindt bar, but without being divided into blocks. So you’ll either have an awkward task breaking it up… or you’ll have a serious chocoholic eat it like a bar.

How did I choose to tackle it?

Do you really need to ask?


Sweet delicious addiction

The term “chocaholic” is generally a joke, said with a smile – and I’m the first to say it’s probably the most gentle and puppydog-like of all possible substance addictions. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a real problem for many people. The bad news is that I’m about twenty kilos more than I should be (yikes) – and it’s chocolate more than pregnancy or motherhood that’s mostly to blame. The good news is that I’ve just lost five kilos (without even cutting out chocolate entirely) and the more mentally healthy I am the easier it gets. It really looks like I might have the ability to get over my addiction and just enjoy chocolate in a healthy (sometimes naughty, sometimes perfectly restrained) way. So as I work through my physical and mental addiction, I lie on the couch of the internet and talk out loud about all the reasons I eat excessive chocolate, and what I can do about it. Some of it’s pathetic, painful or personal, because that’s the nature of addiction – any addiction. You don’t gotta read it if you don’t wanna.

* Self-loathing/self-destruction: Some people drink or do drugs or self-harm for similar reasons (deliberately eating to the point of nausea is certainly a form of self-harm). Luckily, this is a mental illness thing, and as I continue to mentally improve I very rarely have even 24 hours during which I hate myself. I can tell when my mood is beyond normal, and I know I just need to wait it out.

*Anger/frustration: This has also improved as my life satisfaction and mental health improves. If I’m angry or frustrated one way to express it is to buy stuff – a takeaway meal (which also means less chores) or new clothes or something. I can also monitor how tired or stressed I am, and I can (and do) tell CJ when things aren’t going well – which results in some quiet alone time for me in the evening while he minds Louisette. (He minds her every evening anyway, but I usually stick around and stay available.)

*Retail therapy: Spending money helps a person feel powerful, which is part of my chocolate issue and very easy to solve – I just buy very expensive healthy snacks (or at least healthier than chocolate) like nudie juice drinks or Kettle sweet potato chips. This is related to the above and the below.

*Chocolate is a well-established placebo: I’ve been using chocolate ritualistically for years as a self-medication to fill in the gap between what I’m capable of doing and what I feel I need to do (eg I’d eat a bunch of chocolate if I had a lot of work to do, and that would make me feel like it was possible and that I wouldn’t have a panic attack or breakdown). I still feel that chocolate makes me better, stronger and happier. There’s a little bit of truth to this – people only have a limited amount of self-control, and if I spend it on eating healthily then something else has to give. Once again, spending a bit of silly money helps.

*Physical dependence: When I cut down on the amount of chocolate I eat I know in advance that I’ll have a headache for three days, and my blood pressure drops sharply – which I know because I start blacking out when I stand up. (When I eat chocolate after a gap of twenty-four hours or more, my hands will shake so that I have difficulty opening the packet.) I’m already past the worst, but I can also combat this by cutting down more gradually, by using dark chocolate for a while, by getting a lot of rest and by taking panadol. Cutting down on chocolate also screws up my digestive system (it seems to be fine now) and I imagine there are other physical issues I’m not aware of. The most important gets a point all to itself. . .

*Mood regulation: At times in the seven years of mental illness I just went through, I did actually lose weight. It wasn’t pretty: I was so desperately angry and depressed that I couldn’t socialise much (just endure, hidden away somewhere, until the weight loss was done) and when I was driving somewhere I had to remind myself over and over that driving off the road into a tree wouldn’t solve my problems (“You probably won’t die,” I told myself. “You’ll just end up injured and in hospital and then things will be even worse.”) Now that I’m not insane, I just get a few days every so often where I feel like all life and effort is pointless misery. But ennui is a whole lot better than what I used to go through. Of course I still get very irritable, but one thing mental illness teaches is how to (usually but not always) bite your tongue. I’m also attempting to regulate my mood by eating more turkey (like chocolate, a great source of serotonin) and plenty of grass-fed red meat (which has also been linked to better overall moods – also, I love red meat and it’s a great source of iron).

*Iron: Chocolate (especially milo) has an extremely powerful allure to pregnant and pre-menstrual women, because it’s a quick fix for low iron levels (something which I have on a normal day). And of course everyone knows it’s an energy boost. All I can do to fix that lack is to eat healthy foods, and to let myself eat slightly more chocolate at a certain time of the month (so I don’t crash and binge at the much stronger cravings).

*Habit: Chowing down on chocolate is a well-established habit. I can combat that with simple self-awareness, and with nuts (similar size to individual lollies like M&Ms, so the movement is the same).

*Sugar high: I can use yoghurt or fruit or juice or milk to get a modified sugar high, especially at vulnerable times of day (4pm, and evenings).

*Anticipation: It can be hard to get up in the morning (much less so as a non-mentally-ill person) without something concrete to look forward to in the short term. This is easily solved by always letting myself have two squares of chocolate right after breakfast (this also helps with digestion).

*Palate cleanser: People who diet get a gross-feeling mouth and bad breath. This can be easily solved with tic tacs.

*Tastes good and has a nice texture: Food is meant to be enjoyed, so I can get a similar sense of satisfaction by having really nice meals like Peking Duck or fresh cheese and bacon rolls. That also helps with anticipation and with helping me not feel angry or frustrated with life – because I know I have a delicious dinner waiting for me at the end of the day.

I have a long way to go to be in the healthy weight range (it could easily be a lot longer) but I hope that with practise and self-awareness I can break my unhealthy relationship with chocolate and simply enjoy it. The way I eat chocolate isn’t a good thing to pass on to Louisette, and it’s looking like by the time she’s aware of my eating habits I’ll be able to be a good example.