I've been doing porridge all week; literally on my kitchen stove and not metaphorically in jail I should point out.
Well it is Farmhouse Breakfast Week after all, so it would be rude not to! Actually to be honest I had no idea there was such an event, but on Tuesday I was invited to a celebratory breakfast at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast to mark the occasion. The hosts were the cereal producers Whites who say they make the best and most popular porridge oats available. Of course they do, they're from Tandragee after all.
The celebrity chef Paula McIntyre was there to do a live demonstration of some of her favourite recipes and then guests were treated to a slap-up gourmet breakfast direct from her own tried and tested pots and pans. Naturally oats were the main ingredient, but I was more than happy. I'd rather have a toasty bowl of porridge than an Ulster Fry any day of the week.
Afterwards everyone was presented with a selection of Whites breakfast cereals, along with the recipes, to sample at home. The perks of being a freelance writer are few and far between but this was one I was really going to enjoy.
Since I was a kid, having porridge at the weekends was a really special treat to look forward to. In those days, before microwaves and instant porridge were invented, it took time, care and effort to make and this was my dad's speciality. He even had a proper Scottish double-boiler pan called a “porringer” which he used to get perfect results.
The rest of the family enjoyed it too, but I used to sit and watch him preparing it and stirring it religiously for half an hour, my mouth watering the entire time like a deprived orphan. There was even a running joke that once everyone had been served I would say “Please sir, I want some more!” in my best Oliver Twist impersonation.
When I left home to get married and start a family of my own, dad gave me the old, battered and dented porringer pan and so the tradition continued.
Now I have to say, my own kids aren't quite as enthusiastic about porridge now as I was then.
“Make sure it's not too runny!” one would call out. “I don't want it if there are any lumps!” the other would shout.
“Who do you think I am? Goldilocks?” I'd reply, tutting at their ingratitude.
Nevertheless I persevered and Saturday mornings, before Finn goes off to play rugby, it's always a steaming bowl of wholesome healthy porridge for breakfast, no questions asked.
There is, however, one family member who looks forward to this time-honoured tradition more than anyone else: Bailey, our eldest dog, who absolutely loves it. Seriously!
Every time he catches a whiff he starts to whimper and beg expectantly while licking his lips presumptuously. Then he sits and waits, at point-blank range, staring conscientiously at my bowl, until there are just a few morsels left … at which point I finally give in and he gets to lick it clean with such relish it's a joy to behold. I've even started making extra now, just to allow for his special weekly treat.
Indeed, he has become so attuned to our routine he could give Pavlov's dogs a run for their money. Incredibly, as soon as he sees the rugby kit sitting ready in the hall, his instincts tell him that it's Saturday, porridge day. And thus the begging/whimpering/reward sequence begins again.
So thus I came home on Tuesday with four different types of porridge oats to try out.
Finn joked and said: “Well Bailey will be happy that's for sure!”
Then a thought occurred to me; It must be his 10th birthday coming up soon. I was sure of it! So I dug out the birth certificate that the breeder had given us when we collected him all those years ago.
Right enough, there it was in black and white, his birth-date January 29, 2004. And, above it, the official pedigree name he'd been given by the Kennel Club of Ireland — “Master Oats”!
What a coincidence! And how we laughed! Well at least that was one birthday party I could sort out without a problem: four different types of porridge coming right up for our wonderful birthday boy Master Oats …
Drew BarrymoreIn olden days it used to be the case that as soon as a woman became pregnant she would start wearing floral printed smocks almost overnight. I remember it well from my own childhood in the Sixties and Seventies. You didn’t even need to ask. As soon as the flowery number came out a new baby was on the horizon.
Fortunately by the time I was of a child-bearing age, things had changed and most fashion labels had their own specially-designed maternity ranges. It was no longer expected for the expecting to dress like a tea tent from the Chelsea Flower Show.
But try telling Drew Barrymore that. Heavily pregnant with her second child, the actress has been photographed twice in recent weeks looking as mumsy and frumpy as Hatty Jacques in a Carry On film. She’s young, fresh and beautiful and clearly radiant with health, but will someone kindly tell her that those ditzy prints and voluminous folds just make her look blooming gigantic!