3G mothering

Here’s something I wrote for SBS about the experience of being a mother.

Special thanks to Mother and Grandmother for agreeing to chat about their experiences and for providing photographs.


Sleepless nights and food fights… From Malaysia to Melbourne, Kelly Eng looks at the stories and experiences of motherhood from three generations of her family.

My grandmother

Anna w baby Helen, husband and MIL,

My Grandpa (Kim), paternal great grandmother, my Grandma (Anna) and baby Helen (my Mum). Confused? Me too!

Despite being in her nineties now, my Malaysian-Chinese grandmother, Anna, remembers giving birth to her first child as if it were yesterday.

My grandmother was twenty-two when she had her first child (my mum, Helen). She was sent to a midwife’s house to give birth because her own mother didn’t believe in hospitals.

“No-one told me what to expect, and there were no birthing classes in those days, so it was all a big shock.” Labour took all night. “There was no pain relief, and neither my mother nor my husband were with me. But anyway, it was all so painful that I couldn’t think about anything else.”

When my grandmother returned home after the birth, she was looked after by her mother and a maid. “I was given traditional Chinese confinement food to help me recover – eggs in sweet wine and ginger chicken – and I was instructed not to eat raw foods as they would ‘chill’ the body. I was only allowed to bathe twice a week, with special herbs added to the water.” And her guiding light? “I always did what my mum told me to do!”

My grandfather, Kim, was a teacher and he worked in a different town, visiting on the weekends. Almost seven decades on, she remembers the moment he first saw his baby daughter. “He was so happy. He patted her all over!”

Just a month after giving birth, my grandmother went back to work as a teacher – my grandfather thought it would be better for everyone if someone more experienced cared for the baby.

After a year, my grandmother moved in with her in-laws. She went on to have three more children. “Initially I only wanted two, but your grandfather talked me into having more. He thought that a family needed to be balanced, like a car. So: four wheels, four children!” All six of them lived in one room.

My grandmother remembers Kim as being untypical of men of that place and time. “He was very gentle, and he really cared for the family. At night, he would get up to feed and change the babies so that I could sleep.”

When asked to nominate the best and worst aspects of being a mother, my grandmother answers, “The best part was seeing my children happy and laughing. And the worst part was when they were upset, especially when they got their immunisations: when they cried, I cried too.”

My Mum


Helen w baby Kevin

My Mum, Helen. That’s a hairdo!

Helen was born in Malaysia and moved to Melbourne when she was 18. She had my brother, Kevin, at 26 and me at 28. Although there were some similarities with her mother’s experience (labour pains of course!), her experience of giving birth and parenting in Australia was quite different.

“Absolutely horrible” is how my mother describes going through labour. “And painful and exhausting too”, she adds. “But when Kevin finally arrived, your dad and I were delighted and relieved.”

After giving birth, my mum stayed in hospital for seven days, and it felt like a holiday: “Ticking the boxes for my meals and not having to do the dishes… I loved it!”

Mum’s in-laws brought her Chinese confinement food, including pig’s trotters in vinegar and chicken and ginger broth. Like her mother before her, she was discouraged from bathing or showering as it would cool the body and cause arthritis. But there was one significant difference in their respective experiences of confinement traditions: “No-one enforced the rules, though, so I mainly did my own thing.” And does she have arthritis today? “Actually, yes I do!”

Mum’s parents were still living in Malaysia at the time. “I would have liked to have them around, but that’s not how it was. Phone calls home were too expensive, so I wrote them letters.”

My dad’s parents worked seven days a week in a Chinese restaurant, so my parents mostly did the child rearing on their own. Luckily my dad (David) was, according to Mum, hands-on and helpful. “He cooked dinner when he got home from work – quick things like noodles or vegetables and rice.”

For my mum, the hardest parts of parenting were the the lack of sleep and freedom. And feeding me and my brother was an ongoing challenge. “You kids barely ate the chicken rice porridge I lovingly prepared – if only I’d known that children won’t let themselves starve.”

As for the positives of early motherhood, Mum quips, “Were there any?” But she does concede that not going back to work was great.

One of Mum’s most memorable parenting experiences was flying to America when my brother Kevin was only 11 months old. “He cried the whole way, traumatising me, your dad, the lady next to us and a cabin-load of people.” Then, while she was out shopping for towels in LA, Kevin got quite sick. The memories of dealing with the US hospital system live on. And so do the towels. “We’re still using them forty years on.”



Four generations plus a really old air conditioner in the background.

I was 36 when I had Holly (3), and 38 when Edith (8 months) was born. After having had children, I am in awe of my mum and grandma’s generations, who did it without Google, baby wipes and online shopping.

It was an amazing experience to go into labour. Not knowing exactly when your life is going to be transformed forever is a great reminder that Mother Nature is boss.

Unlike my grandmother, I attended prenatal classes and read books and, in theory, I knew what to expect. But no amount of bouncing on a ball or deep breathing can really prepare you for the extreme sport that is labour. Or the intensity of the first few months.

Holly arrived on my birthday! I was planning to have Italian for dinner but ended up with a baby and a hospital chicken schnitzel. As for confinement activities, my parents aren’t very traditional so there was no suggestion of me being trapped indoors with greasy hair and a bowl of pig’s trotters. I ate salads, showered and, actually, when mum came to visit me after Edith’s birth, she ate my hospital food and used all my teabags.

Just like my mum, I’ve found that one of the worst parts of motherhood is sleep deprivation. Holly wasn’t a sleeper, and we tried everything. I rubbed olive oil on door hinges and blacked out her bedroom windows with garbage bags. God only knows what the neighbours thought we were cooking up. Thankfully, Edith is better so far.

Like both my mother and my grandmother, I have great support. Paul’s the parental good cop to my bad cop, and Holly is always sidling up to him for a Teddy Bear biscuit when I’m out of earshot. My parents will help out whenever I need it. I took the girls to a playground with them recently and it was like having two butlers – bananas were unfurled, toy unicorns were picked up…

And then there’s the steady food delivery service that comes direct from my parent’s kitchen to my dinner plate. They’re also 100% dedicated to feeding their grandchildren: Mum makes them rice porridge and, unlike my brother and I, they do lap it up.

While I’m permanently knackered, being a mum is fun, funny and has filled my life with purpose. I hope my girls can experience the joy they have given me. It’s still early days, but little Holly has said she wants one baby named Ronnie. Or Timmy.

How to be a champion yum cha-er

Hello there and welcome to the year of the rat. Here’s something I wrote for SBS Food on  how to yum cha like a master.


The clatter of trolleys, the clacking of chopsticks and the merry sound of families sucking on chicken’s feet. Oh, yum cha! Food trends will come and go, but your appeal will endure.

I know that you know all about yum cha, the buffet tapas-like meal that takes place some time between breakfast and afternoon tea, where dim sum are rolled straight to your table. Of course you can spot a har gao (prawn dumpling) at 50 paces and are on intimate terms with the char siu bao (pork bun).

But could your yum cha-ing do with a polish? Perhaps a little upskilling to ensure you are putting the cha cha into your yum cha game? Here are some tips to help you munch like a master.

When to go
Weekends are ideal. This is when restaurants are at their busiest and will have the freshest and widest variety of dimmies up for grabs. Be wary of Mondays, where you may be eating Sunday’s leftovers. Timewise, choose the earliest sitting: they can’t have run out of anything if you’re first at the gate.

Who to take
Going on a date? Bring that third wheel. Yum cha is best enjoyed in a group and, as many of its goodies come in triplets, your party should be a multiple of three. Six or nine people is best as it means you’ll get to try more. And ideally your companions will be partial to seafood or pork.

Factor in the parking time
Those in the know factor in an extra 15 minutes to find a parking space. Suburban yum cha restaurant carparks are simply heaving on the weekends, and there’ll be vehicles left in all sorts of uncarpark-like places – up hills, in ditches and on kerbs. You can easily find yourself swerving around five-foot-high slow-moving grandmas before getting stuck in a convoy that’s trying to turn around in a cul de sac. Don’t waste precious eating time.

The best tables are those close to – but not right next to – the kitchen, where you’ll have first dibs on all the hot and crisp goodies. A table too far away means you risk missing out on your favourites, or worse, chewing soggy fried whitebait. And don’t sit near the toilet, for reasons we won’t dwell upon.

Elect a leader
Select a table leader. Your yum cha-czar should orchestrate a well-paced, balanced meal that encompasses a wide selection of items. The overture should feature lighter, steamed morsels before yielding to a crescendo of the richer fried and roasted goodies and winding up with a sweet conclusion.

Just say no
Those trolley staff can be brusque. Heck, you would be too if you had to push vats full of rice porridge across undulating carpet. As they hurriedly bark out the trolley’s contents, you might feel intimidated into saying yes to anything. Yes to the plates of crisp-skinned suckling pig. Yes to the oysters with melted cheese. But take note: these (and anything with the word ‘abalone’ attached to it) are the costliest items. You have the right to say no.

Branching out
Of course you’ll want the classics. Siu mai (pork dumplings) and char siu baos (pork buns) are must eats. But don’t miss out – branch out. If you love cheong fun (rice noodle rolls), skip the prawn version and try them stuffed with liver or Chinese doughnut. Going hard at the dumplings? Break them up with a pan-fried turnip cake (loh bak go) or a lacey taro puff (wu gok). Do you always finish with a mango pud and a custard bao? Swap that for an explosive drizzling sand bun or the sublime junket-meets-soup dish tau fu fa. And of course, you haven’t really properly yum cha’ed without chicken’s feet, though tendon and tripe also make for excellent textural delights.

To drink
Your beverage shouldn’t be an afterthought, especially as yum cha literally means to ‘drink tea’. You’ll want something with a touch of bitterness to help counteract the onslaught of oil. Pu-er is the go, though if you want something milder, chrysanthemum is a mellow beauty. To signal that you’d like a refill, flip the teapot lid so that it sits ajar.

So, there you have it. May you approach your next feast with confidence, purpose and an adventurous spirit. And, as the word dim sum translates to ‘to touch the heart’, long may those bite-sized beauties do exactly that (though not in a heartburny way).


Three pushes and you’re out!

An article I wrote for Mamamia on how baby Edith came zooming into the world in three pushes. Hold onto your hats!


When it comes to organisation, my partner Paul and I are like chalk and cheese. For a weekend away, he’ll print a comprehensive packing list and cross off every item as it’s packed. My approach is more casual – I throw bits into a bag, hope for the best, then wonder why I haven’t got a toothbrush or, indeed, any clothes.

The more significant the event, the more polarised our approaches become. Take the coming of our second child.

My obstetrician, Dr Pip, had advised us that a second labour could be fast, and my partner – knowing that I tend to leave for a 10 am appointment at 10.03 am – was keen to avoid delivering the baby on the kitchen floor while trying to fend off a toddler. Quaintly, he wanted me to give birth in an actual hospital, surrounded by qualified health professionals and sterile machinery. To ensure that this happened, he’d drawn up an intricate action plan that we studied and refined from week 25.

At 9.5 months, in the early hours of one morning, I felt an inner niggle. After Googling labour symptoms for the millionth time, I decided it couldn’t possibly be labour pains. I mean, how could it be, so close to my due date, especially when the niggle felt exactly like the labour pains I felt with my first child?

Come sunrise, my little niggle had become larger, and I had to concede that it probably wasn’t last night’s lamb madras working its way through my duodenum. I mentioned the niggle to Paul and off went his adrenal glands – he was at the door with toddler under one arm, hospital bag under the other and action plan, ready to start actioning.

I, by contrast, couldn’t see what he was fussing about. Rather than waste time going to the maternity ward, I determined to knock off a few chores. So, I went out and, between contractions, filled up the petrol tank, got bread, hand soap and some ham. When I staggered through the front door, Paul took one look at me and said, ‘Call your parents.’

The plan was for my parents to take care of our toddler while I gave birth, and as I spoke to Mum, I could feel Mr Action Plan’s eyes rolling skyward as I said things like ‘no rush’, ‘probably a false alarm’ and ‘Have you watched The Crown yet?’.

I’d barely put the phone down before my partner swept me into a waiting taxi. As we hovered in the hospital lobby, he asked for my parents’ ETA.

‘Don’t worry, they’re coming.’

‘How far away are they?

I texted Mum. ‘They haven’t left the house yet.’

My parents travelled the 30-odd kilometre emergency journey in a leisurely fashion, via bus, train and tram. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. When they eventually sauntered in, Paul sighed with relief, knowing that he had done his job – got me to the labour ward on time.

Well, almost. When we first arrived at the birthing suite, we were sent away. All the beds were in use, and a nurse instructed us to come back when my labour was more advanced. Oh, ok. Meanwhile, we could sit in my obstetrician’s waiting room.

This, I reflected, must have been how Mary and Joseph felt being turned away from various inns. Mind you, they ended up in a stable – at least the obstetrician’s waiting room had a couch. And an aquarium. Lovely gravel. Staring within, I noted that one of the fish looked a bit lethargic. Fin rot? Should I tell the receptionist?

But then, Dr Pip summoned us to her office. I mounted the examination table with all the grace of a donkey.

‘Now, let’s see how far along you are,’ she said, snapping on the latex gloves. A long pause. Being thorough, no doubt. ‘Oh my God! You’re fully dilated: you could give birth right now in this office!

This wasn’t the birthing environment I had anticipated. Only 35mm of door separated me from a waiting room full of pregnant women. Surely my screams would be bad for business.

I didn’t have long to ponder the acoustics as a wheelchair appeared, a sheet was flung over my lower half and I was run through the waiting room, down the hallway, into the elevator and back to the birthing suite.

Onto the bed I rolled and the birthing team looked leant forward as one and focussed on my crotch. Having people stare expectantly at your privates is always unnerving, so I tried to break the ice. We covered how I met Paul and workshopped potential baby names. Still no action. I was contemplating starting a game of Celebrity Heads when Pip decided that breaking my waters could move things along.

Move things along?? As soon as my amniotic bubble burst, I was possessed. I had no control of either my lower half or my language. Push number one felt like I had to pass a Boeing 707. When the birthing team started talking in soothing tones, I knew that carnage was afoot.

And this pain! How many hours of it would I have to endure? The second push came and re-dipped me crotch-first into hell. I tried to remember my pain management techniques – yes, a positive visualisation would help. Breathe the baby down! I told myself.

But it seemed the baby was already down. And out. At least, the head was, and she was babbling away to herself while the rest of her was wedged in the birth canal. Holy crap, there was a chattering baby between my legs. This was Alien crossed with Boss Baby and The Fast and the Furious.

Then the third and final monumental push and, voila, the baby was born.

Wait, back up. Did I just give birth in three pushes in under ten minutes? I lay rigid on the table in shock as my brain tried to catch up with my body. The slimy cherub was placed on my chest and everyone agreed that she looked like an Edith.

My partner wrestled with the rubbery umbilical cord. As he sprayed blood over Dr Pip’s blouse, I could see him mentally completing the final row of his action plan.

Healthy baby. Tick.






Negligent mothers

Here’s an opinion piece I wrote for The Age addressing Leunig’s recent mothers-neglecting-children cartoon.

I thought it was an interesting cartoon that, for me, brought up many issues around how we parent, flexible work, the internet (!) and being judged.

Anyway, I had a strict word count so I couldn’t touch on much, but here it is. Please don’t call Child Protection…


Almost a week after Leunig’s cartoon of the pram-pushing mother distracted by her phone ignited outrage, I find that I’m still thinking about the central question that it raises: am I on my phone too much when looking after my children?

I’m confident that my three-year-old daughter would say that I am. Recently, she asked me to draw a playground. I obliged and drew her whizzing down a slide.

“Where are the parents?” she asked.
I drew in a mum and dad.
“What about their phones?”
I obediently put smartphones into their hands, and as I did so, I felt a pang of shame. A nerve had been hit.

That made me wonder, what am I doing on my phone in the playground?

A lot of my activity could be classified as productive: work, household admin and researching childcare-related matters. I tell myself these activities are necessary. I’ll even talk aloud, justifying my tapping away to my three-year-old: “Mummy is just telling Daddy where we are” or “I just need to answer this for work”, but still, my (over)use of the phone doesn’t sit easy with me.

To take the example of work, I have enjoyed flexible working arrangements. However, I feel I have to justify my right to this by proving that I really am working. That involves staying on top of work issues as they happen and being responsive. Flexible working is a double-edged right – I do get to spend more time with my child, but I’m not 100% present. When we’re in the park and she shouts out “Look at me!”, sometimes I’m not looking at her – or I am, but my mind’s in the office.

Mothers generally do the majority of child rearing alone, and that can be isolating. It’s a privilege, to be sure, but it’s also emotionally and physically challenging. Partners typically go back to work just weeks after a child is born and the mythical ‘village’ that once raised children doesn’t exist. I turn to the phone for company and advice. Where once we learned from our family and community, we now learn from online forums, blogs, YouTube and websites.

So that’s the ‘virtuous’ phone use. But there is also plenty in my usage history that doesn’t enhance my parenting – memes, cute puppy videos and Miley Cyrus relationship updates. And not all the activity that I like to class as productive needs to be done at the times that I do it – or even done at all.

When it comes down to it, my daughter can’t differentiate between my scrolling mindlessly through Facebook or writing an essential work email. She doesn’t care whether I’m using the phone to be ‘worthy’ and productive or idle and self-indulgent: what bothers her – and me – is that sometimes all she sees is the top of my head when she wants my full attention. At times she has batted away my phone and said firmly “no photo” or even just “stop looking at your phone”.

As I continue to reflect on the issue, if I’m honest with myself, my daughter is right: as a parent, I use my phone too much.

Kelly's drawing

I call this ‘Parents on phones in parks’





When sh*t hit the fan

Who doesn’t love a good constipation story? This is a labour story (kind of) that I wrote for Kidspot


My partner and I hadn’t gone out for a meal together since our 2-year-old was born. And with another child arriving soon, we decided to have one last supper (a very early supper due to both of us routinely being catatonically tired by 6pm) so that we could have some ‘us’ time before sh*t hit the fan.

On the morning of our big date, my 7-month-distended belly felt a bit…er, blocked up, shall we say? Considerably blocked, actually, but I was sure it would pass. Just another one of pregnancy’s funny little quirks that didn’t mean anything.

We arrived at the café and eyeballed the menu. Intellectually I knew that everything would be wonderful, but my stomach felt too compromised to be accepting new goods. Rather than force anything, I gulped down a black tea and, certain that I’d be hungry in an hour, requested an adjournment.

An hour later we entered another eatery. I would feel fine. No, I must feel fine. This was our one time slot to romance each other. A quick trip to the restroom would set things right. I excused myself to powder my nose. Five minutes of intense nose powdering became ten, which became twenty-five. When, after thirty minutes, my partner texted me to see if I’d fallen in, it was my grave duty to inform him that we’d run out of time and had to collect our toddler from childcare.

Of course, by then I knew. I was constipated. And not your run of the mill constipation – this felt like constipation cubed. Like I had a week’s worth of meals queued up on the digestive conveyer belt. Like I had to lay an ostrich egg but couldn’t.  I felt sweaty, weak and delirious. Embarrassed too.

When we arrived home, I tried to keep up appearances for the toddler and my concerned beau, but my forced laughter and ashen complexion were fooling no one. I limped back to the lav, hoping for a result. Surely the home ground advantage would help. But … nothing. Sweet Jesus, what had I done to deserve this? Did my diet, rich in soluble fibre, leafy greens and BBQ Shapes, count for nothing?

When my partner popped his head in to check I was all right, I wasn’t. I was curled up on the bathmat. He urged me to see the doctor. For constipation? Surely, they’d just point to the bottom of the food pyramid and give me a lecture on wholegrains.

More horrible time passed. I tried using positive visualisation (putting logs on a fire), chanting affirmations (my body was designed to do this) and singing Disney’s Let it go, but nothing was budging. Plus, as my partner and toddler might actually need to use the toilet some time that day, I concluded that professional help was needed. I couldn’t live like this.

The GP was a 250-metre walk away. Would my Mount Krakatoa moment occur on the way there, or worse, in the waiting room? But I had no choice. With quivering legs, I made it to the foyer of my apartment block before I had to check into the WC. Negative. So, on I lumbered, legs wide like an egg-bound cowboy, clomping one unsteady foot in front of the other. I could see the surgery in the distance, like a beautiful grey-brick mirage.

Then a keen-to-chat neighbour appeared. Gawd. I did my best to exchange pleasantries about the weather. Then the unthinkable happened: she went in for a hug. Not a light diagonal shoulder tap, but a meaningful, full-squeeze bear hug. I clenched my cheeks and held on for dear life.

Into the doctor’s surgery I fell, with guts intact, though barely able to extract my Medicare card. The GP listened sympathetically as I mumbled red-faced through my symptoms. After a mortifying Q & A, he concluded that I had a severe blockage downstairs. The baby had caused things to become, um, desiccated and impacted. Not to worry, said the doc. An enema would help. I didn’t know what an enema was, but after an explanation – and a helpful mime – and reassurance that I could administer it in the privacy of my own home, I was in.

I shuffled home with two magical wands in my clammy hands. It was time to induce this mofo.  Number one went in – or was it up? The instructions said it was fast-acting. I waited for the fireworks. Nothing. I checked my watch, 45 minutes later and no movement at the station. These were the slowest fast-acting enemas ever.

I clutched the second one. My only hope. In – or up – it went.  Thirty whole minutes passed and still nothing passed. I had just given up hope of leading a normal life when itfinally occurred. I’ll spare you the finer details except to say that the enemas were highly effective.

After my arduous ten-hour labour, I collapsed into bed. No stitches were required (and the walls didn’t need repainting), though one question plagued me: if I couldn’t eject yesterday’s Weetbix, how was I going to birth a human being?

Thankfully, the remainder of my pregnancy was free from any further gastrointestinal complaints and my partner and I even managed to lunch together. The experience has been humbling and educational.  As Michael Corleone (kind of) said in The Godfather, ‘Keep your friends close and your enemas closer’.

And six weeks later I ejected a baby girl in less than ten minutes.



On breastfeeding

Wrote something for Kidspot on the horrors of breastfeeding.


I am not a natural-born breast feeder – not one of those women you see with a scarf artfully draped over her upper body while a compliant baby suckles at her bosom. No, I’m more the Quasimodo of breast feeders, hidden high up in an apartment block, hunched over my baby, fevered with mastitis and howling in pain from my nipples being shredded six-to-eight times a day.

Prior to entering the mother club, I thought that breastfeeding was a piece of cake. It looked easy enough – simply usher baby towards nipple, baby attaches to nipple and away it glugs. Surely breastfeeding would be just like the pictures: serene, with me bathed in natural sunlight and dressed in taupe and sage Country Road leisure wear. Er, no. I soon understood what the nurses meant by breastfeeding being a ‘learned skill’, which is code for fricking hard.

When my milk came in, it came in like a tsunami. One nurse, upon seeing my nipples splurting away like the Las Vegas Fountains of Bellagio, tipped her head back with an ecstatic ‘isn’t Mother Nature wonderful’ groan. While her eyes were rolling heavenward, I was feeling horribly wet across my newly inflated bosom. For someone who usually makes Keira Knightly look voluptuous, suddenly developing a Pamela Anderson chest was intensely uncomfortable.

Breastfeeding seemed to be disturbingly hands-on. By hands-on, I mean for the multiple nurses who poked, squeezed and milked me to the point where I wondered if what I was experiencing was assault. The set of instructions they gave me on how to feed was comprehensive, though to my sleep-deprived and holy-shit-I-just-gave-birth brain, incomprehensible. It seemed that I required a protractor and sextant just to get started. My posture was to be upright; baby’s head, neck and spine had to be aligned, her chin up and my nipple level with their nose… Heck, I even needed a civil engineering degree just to get the pillow configuration right.

Baby’s mouth also needed to be wide open to ensure that she took a huge mouthful, her embouchure encompassing not just the nipple but the whole areola (I had to Google where that was too). That’s the theory; in practice, the nurses would wait like coiled springs for the rare moment when baby’s jaw would unlock and then ram my newborn’s head onto my nipple.

I figured that by the time I’d gotten home baby and I would be feeding in perfect harmony, like seasoned tango partners. As things turned out, we remained like two out-of-synch teenagers doing the lawn mower dance at a school disco.

Of the many unexpected issues presented by breastfeeding, pain was the most surprising. I thought squeezing a baby out of a small hole hurt – but with a team of health professionals and opiates to spur me on, labour was, in comparison with breastfeeding, a doddle. As baby thrashed her head around, her razor-sharp gums clamped to my nipples, there was no one to shout you’ve got this! or pain is temporary! I tried to remember the practical advice the nurses did offer up – wiggle your toes or count to ten. Funnily enough, these didn’t offer much in the way of pain relief.

Then there was the issue of engorgement. My knockers were no longer soft orbs of fatty tissue; no, they felt like titanium wrecking balls that had been pumped full of concrete. The cutting-edge, 21st Century remedy suggested by the nurses was popping cabbage leaves in my bra, though all my vegetable drawer offered up at that point in time was bok choi. Was this as efficacious?

It didn’t help that the birth of baby signalled visitors, lovely, well-meaning friends and relatives who wanted to press my heaving and wincingly sensitive concrete bosom tightly to theirs. It’s not often you need to pop some Fentanyl before going in for a hug. Not to mention I was permanently sporting two huge soggy milk patches down my front, leading those visitors, the post man and Coles delivery personnel to assume I was abnormally pleased to see them.

Then the cruellest of potential complications occurred: mastitis. While websites describe it as presenting ‘flu-like’ symptoms, the reality is that the most unspeakably vile symptom is that it feels like you’re breastfeeding naked in the middle of Antarctica with nothing but a fig leaf for warmth. And you also have the flu. Nothing ‘flu-like’ about it – just the flu in all its savage glory. The shivering was violent, the headaches besieged my brain and there didn’t seem to be enough thermal attire in the southern hemisphere to keep me warm. And the cruellest twist? Rest is one of the recommended remedies. Yep, rest with a newborn.

Breastfeeding is seen as one of the great mother and child bonding activities. In my experience, I think we’ve bonded marvellously despite breastfeeding. Thankfully, it has become easier with time and practice. Or maybe my little poppet has simply chewed her way through my nerve endings so that I now feel no pain. My chest has also deflated a few notches so that I’m now a more manageable Peggy from Mad Men than Pamela from Baywatch. Though one cannot get complacent – come six months, baby develops teeth and at that point breastfeeding will be like a Jaws reboot.


From Pamela to Peggy


Move over Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

Bring your gold, frankincense and myrrh (and maybe some camembert and sashimi too!).

After three quick heave-hos, Edith Rose Hines rocketed into the world – talking – on Monday 13th of May 2019 (business hours). Yes, she was babbling while still half-wedged in the birth canal.

Pluto the placenta (about two cm thick and 17.5 cm in diameter) arrived shortly thereafter, though he had very little to say.

Father and bub are doing well, Mother’s nipples are experiencing post traumatic stress disorder and big sister Holly continues to rule the roost.

Edith – may you eat your greens, floss regularly and always be ready to chat, even in a tight spot.


Hospital food – my refined carbohydrate hell



Eating meat off the bone

Hello! A little something I wrote for Gourmet Traveller about eating meat off the bone.



When I first met my partner, I hid it, of course. It was only when he was out watering the orchids or flossing his teeth that I could do it – quickly, furtively.

Despite that, though, fairly early on I was outed. After volunteering to make pea and ham soup, I was caught in flagrante delicto with the ham hock. Oh the shock. The shame. The gristle.

So let me state my truth: I am an avid eater of meat off the bone. And when I say avid, I mean I go at it like Henry VIII cross-bred with a Neanderthal. It’s not just the meat: it’s the cartilage, the tendon, the bone, the marrow… there is nothing I won’t gruntily tackle. Cutlery, you venture? Just not effective in those hard-to-reach crevices, and inevitably I’m left despairing at all the wasted meat that I know could be hoovered up in one fell suck.

Eating meat off the bone is ugly; it can’t be prettied up or Photoshopped. There’s nothing worse than being presented with a quail leg at a cocktail party and – whilst holding a drink, napkin and clutch bag – doing it justice whilst discussing #MeToo. (Looking angry at the patriarchy is hard when you have a femur lodged between your front teeth). But in the privacy of your own home and in the safety of your least elasticised tracksuit pants, it is – ask any hyena – a deeply satisfying experience.

Slippery, succulent, flavoursome: the best meat comes from the bone. I come from a long line of bone suckers (Mother more flatteringly describes us as ‘hands on’). The day my partner met the family, my brother was squatting next to the bin chewing on the remains of a lamb leg, his lips shiny with lamby grease.

Then there’s the way Dad ‘carves’ a chicken. While others slice slowly and methodically, Dad dons pink washing up gloves (for heat protection) and starts ripping bits off. Little blobs of chicken juice, gelatine and fat fly in all directions as we hover around like desperate seagulls. Naturally, some meat goes into his trap (third-degree burns guaranteed), then he surveys the pile of glistening chicken, and – like a bouquet-tossing bride – launches a mini drumstick at a lucky bystander.

Many people feel that there’s little return on investment in eating meat off the bone or that carcass-chewing is primitive. My partner’s in the latter camp, though he says it’s actually the noise that drives him to the edge. It’s about nurture not nature isn’t it? Bone foods were an alien concept to him growing up: his dear Mother lovingly tweezered the bones out of his tinned fish until he was well into his thirties.

I can see the logic in being able to slice through your chicken breast with sharpened metal, keep your hands clean and enjoy a solid meat-to-effort ratio. Lust does not blind me to the risk that bone foods present. On several occasions, calcified fragments have wedged themselves into my oesophagus and required some hasty water boarding (the trick is to eat a rolled-up piece of bread with peanut butter, which isn’t easy to prepare when you’ve got sudden-onset brain hypoxia). But I can only conclude that there’s a fine line between pleasure and pain.

My partner is very accepting of my primal ways, and our differences work well. When we roast a chicken, I have a leg, he has a breast and the next night is a happy repeat. The third night, I enjoy two wings and other carcass bits while my partner has a cheddar sandwich (no crusts) in a different room with his headphones on. I no longer need excuse myself to another room to gnaw on a bone; it is he who is the refugee. I’m out – not of the closet, but of the butler’s pantry and I stand by my right to eat a chicken leg proud. And loud


Too many cooks spoil the broth

Yoo hoo! Something I wrote for Tuesday’s The Age Good Food section. 


You and your partner have decided to cook together. Bookmarking a recipe for slow-roasted pork belly with Vietnamese slaw, you saunter to the market, envisaging the wonderful evening ahead. Clutching fat wine glasses, you’ll playfully flick each other with tea towels and grate vegetables in perfect harmony.

The evening begins cockily, with a fist bump and a triumphant “Team work!”. Territory is clearly marked: you’re on meat, he’s salads and sauces. Sorted.

Then the kitchen pas de deux commences. You pirouette for the fridge; he’s there. You jete for the pantry; he’s there. Hold on – he’s hogging the best Furi knife and the good chopping board while you’re left with a butter knife and a wobbling plate. As you hack at the pork with your feeble blade and inevitably stab your pinky, you glance at your partner for sympathy. None.

“Gee, I wish I had a better knife…” you sigh, embracing victimhood.

“Yes,” he says slicing a garlic clove with all the urgency of a laid back sloth. “Let’s get one.” Your eyeballs roll.

“What?” he says.

“Nothing,” you huff and pointedly sweep around his feet.

Suddenly everything is getting on your nerves. His sniffing and weird knee caps. The fact he’s managed to use every utensil available. Your clashing clean-as-you-go versus clean-at-the-end ideologies.

Finally, you get some bench space, and as you attend to the pork, you sense humid breath on the back of your neck.

“Is that how you’re doing it?” he asks.

Excusing yourself, you take a toilet (sulking) break and go back to the winter of 2001, when he burnt dinner (kind of), or May 23, 2009, when he described your roast beef as “a bit dry”.

Perched on the porcelain philosopher’s chair, it occurs to you how the vocabulary of cooking is marbled with menace. Beating (eggs), whipping (cream), punching (dough) and bruising (lemongrass) suddenly sound very enticing. When you re-enter the kitchen, seething with hatred, you see it.

Your man. Is manhandling. The meat.

That’s it. You see red: beetroot juice, bleeding steaks and that Italian tomato-throwing festival. There will be blood. You unleash a warrior prayer to your spirit guide, George Foreman, asking not for a healthy lifestyle grill, but for a lethal right hook. In the thundering tones of an exorcist commanding a demon be gone, you cry, “I’m on meat, you’re salads and sauces! Unhand the bloody pork!”.

Scanning the bench for weapons, you see knives and scissors, but opt for a more unconventional attack. You fling a handful of spelt flour at your partner, who, stunned, topples backwards. Finally, clenching two lime cheeks, you spray him with juice and lunge for the pig. Scooping it up, you run into the lounge room shouting “my baby!”, only to skid on a Sichuan peppercorn, sending dinner flying.

Oh dear. Pigs don’t fly.

Sprawled on the carpet beside the fluff-encrusted pork, rational thought makes a belated return.

What a boob you’ve been. What happened to the counsellor’s advice? Compliment, don’t criticise. Why didn’t you say “That cereal looks really on point!” or “You’ve toasted that toast to absolute perfection”. And what about embracing differences? If he wants feta with his pad thai, so be it.

Instead, you tried to kidnap the pig. You poor, hungry fool. Pork not pride.

Surveying the damage it can result in, it’s safe to conclude that cooking with a loved one is as risky as opening a joint bank account, discussing who does more housework or trying to assemble IKEA’s Svalnas wall-mounted workspace together.

If you do decide to collaborate in the kitchen, agreeing to something like a prenup is prudent. Not romantic, no, but putting one in place will help you fairly divide up your assets and could be of great comfort when he kidnaps your Kenwood and goes back to mother.

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How to be a good dinner guest

A little something I wrote for The Age Good Food section.

How to be a good 21st-century dinner guest

Been invited to a dinner party lately? Probably not. In the olden days people threw them with linen napkins, man-woman-man seating arrangements and a proper cheese course. Nowadays it’s all, “Pop over Friday – I’ll cook!” and the host will unfurl some parma ham, open some dip and call it mezze. While today’s dinner gatherings are less formal than those of yore, there’s still a protocol, some elements of which are timeless classics while others are contemporary evolutions. Here’s how to be a good 21st-century dinner guest.


Arriving is important. While this may sound obvious, when you’re on the couch in your booties, Netflix and cheese toast looks very inviting. It would be so easy to hide behind a text message – Hey. soz not feeling well. Won’t make it tonight. Burgers next Fri? – but unless you’ve come down with the plague and have a medical certificate to prove it, once you’ve accepted the invitation attendance is a non-negotiable. Your host has factored you in when buying Phillippa’s herbed spiced mixed nuts ($15.50 per 300g!) and that salmon fillet wasn’t cheap either. Ideally, you’ll be 15 minutes late too, to ensure your host has had ample time to get back from an eleventh-hour bog roll run.

Bring something

“Don’t bring anything” is of course polite for “bring something, and make it something decent”. Flowers? Perhaps, but choose something petite and boxed – your host doesn’t have a bucket big enough to house that triffid-like monstrosity. Good olive oil, honey or wine are practical (and remember the wine is a gift and not to be swigged on the way there or ogled when your own supplies have dwindled). Whatever you bring, just make sure it doesn’t need close attention – like a goldfish or a gluten-intolerant uninvited plus one.


A good guest offers to help and will ferry plates, get drinks for others and make inoffensive conversation. A bad guest will offer to help, then plonk their Jabba the Hut-like frame in front of the fridge and subject the host to a series of complex open-ended questions.

Your phone

Unless you are on call for a heart transplant or to foil a massive terror plot, leave your phone tucked away. If you start to twitch from withdrawal, don’t try the sneaky phone-in-the-lap swipe – the ghoulish glow on your face is a dead giveaway. Rather, excuse yourself to the bathroom.

You need everyone’s written consent to post their photo online, and passing around permission slips can devastate the ambience. Posting a photo of the Mexican share feast may seem harmless enough, but what if Ethel wasn’t invited and now your host is up sh*t creek? Or you’ve selected the photo in which you’re all cheekbones and white teeth, but Bernadette’s muffin top is hanging out. Perhaps Paul told his partner he was helping out at the local orphanage and there he is shoving quesadillas down his neck. On the other hand, not Instagramming the main course could offend your host. There are booby traps everywhere in the social media landscape – best leave the selfie stick at home.

The food

Say it’s delicious. End of. Sure, your hosts will claim that dinner was no trouble at all, but in reality they are spiritually broken from all the effort of creating an appearance of effortlessness. Try not to look judgmental when the Uber Eats driver arrives at the door or, if your host has accidentally served up the rubber band that trussed the Woolworths roast chicken’s legs together, chew hard, swallow and smile.


Read the signs: is your host openly yawning and stacking plates? Eyes travelling in a southerly direction toward their watch, or far north at your conversation? If so, that’s your cue to skedaddle.

Say thank you

Text or email a thank you within 24 hours. Try to be specific about the parts you enjoyed. Was it the scintillating company? The after-dinner mints? All the attention when you choked on a pea and had to be resuscitated? Here’s a template:

Dear Mary, Thank you so much for inviting James and me. You have always been an outstanding cook, but you really outdid yourself with the olives. It was great to meet Louise. What a coincidence that she and my James were an item way back in primary school… So sweet. And Meowbert’s attack was far worse than it looked. The doctor says the stitches can come out next week – I just hope you can get the blood stains off the ceiling! Our turn next time! Love, xxx.

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