There’s a sign on a new ish cafe that we discovered last weekend  in what might be one of my new favourite spots in Sydney. In confident capitals it says on the wall ‘Do more of what makes you happy’.

If you say so.

It’s an excellent reminder.  Sure there’s obligation, work, social niceties and recycling to sort. But after all of that? If you’re not doing what makes you happy- what the heck are you doing?

We had one shining week of The Hungry One being at home before the year kicked off with a vengeance. It was his first proper taste of paternity leave.

So to celebrate we played tourists in Sydney. We took a ferry from Circular Quay to Manly and ate brisket at the newly opened Papi Chulo. The beef t was the hero of the barbecue platter and  unspooled like a casually knitted scarf . It required both of my hands to restrain the littlest hungry one from reaching up with outstretched fists to transfer the fatty threads to his face.

We went swimming; at North Bondi and Freshwater beaches, brief-blowing -kite-skips-of -freedom while someone else held the baby. We  imitated porpoises, ducking and dunking under waves.

And I re inserted ‘cocktail hour’ at home. There can be few tangible rewards beyond toothless smiles and  slow exhales of eventual slumber in a realm dictated by the whims of  frustrated tiny people. So when you connect that sweet trifecta of dinner/bath/feed and bed- and they actually- sharp intake of breath- go straight to sleep- well gosh darn it you might as well celebrate with a tinkle of Campari and a slosh of blood orange juice over a novelty sized ice cube.

And I cooked. Not testing recipes, or slavishly measuring, and not the occasionally tiresome baking that requires you to get down on your knees and pull out loads of equipment from the bottom cupboard.  Instead I’m talking about the  free wheeling, easy sort of  creation  that allows you to twirl some things together in a bowl and dump the contents into a loaf pan and leave it for an hour to transform itself while you take a bath (this time without plastic ducks for company). There’s not even any need for creaming of sugar and butter in what follows (because let’s be honest, some days even that is a bridge too far).

Which brings me to this oat, banana and chocolate ‘mash and mix’ loaf.  The first one of these ‘so easy to make, you could do it while heavily inebriated’ (or on 4 hrs of sleep) was quickly devoured. The second was sliced, interspersed with pieces of baking parchment and re-wrapped whole as a gift for a close friend, who is due to pop out a buddy for Will any day now.

There’s not much I remember about those foggy, milk-drunk fortnights after his arrival. Perhaps a constant ache for cake. Wandering around the house  and finding stray cold cups of tea, that someone made and I forgot to drink. An obsession with doing loads of washing. I found the ditty that our machine plays when a load is finished bizarrely cheering and having  clean clothes made me feel like I had everything under control.

Everyone shines a spotlight on the shock of those first weeks- but to be honest, I felt like an excited new army recruit, eager to get my hands dirty, high on adrenaline and happily trudging through in shiny new boots.  I didn’t mind that The Hungry One had to go straight back to work. Heck, I didn’t even mind working nigh on full time myself, writing and testing with Will strapped to my chest.

But it’s now that we’ve settled into the slower, grinding sleepless attrition of nearly six months on that things feel harder (when someone in my Instagram feed put a photo of their peaceful 5 week old baby next to a sign that said ‘I just slept through the night!’ I may have spat my tea a little).

Now The Hungry One has once again returned to a tall shiny building in the city, wearing a suit and I’m getting used to doing all of this on my own. Some mornings I feel like I’m missing a limb (more like four very large strapping ones). I’m back to donking the stroller up and down the 23 steps to the car. To squeezing in a shower when I finally get someone to have a morning nap. And becoming reacquainted with the empty stretches of afternoon when you’ve done nothing except bounce a 6.5 kg sack of squidge up and down and up and down on your lap, or try and introduce him to his toes- anything to hold off the grizzle that threatens on the horizon, or subdue that whinge- you know – THAT WHINGE- that  nasal bleat from your offspring, which everyone else seems to be able to cope with, but makes every hair on your arms stand to angsty attention.

So when those witching hours strike, I’m trying to remember that sign and its sentiment. I’ll deposit Will in his high chair (there’s a lot to be said for thrifty, wipe on wipe off from Ikea), I put on some music and we do a little impromptu cooking show together. He hasn’t learned to clap yet, but he makes a good bang with a plastic spoon on a rubber mat.

What follows is the kind of baking that really makes me cheery. It’s casual, a little chaotic,  leans towards slow carb but is still a little indulgent. It’s rustic. And with only one bowl to wash up. The oats are rubble and chew, the small nuggets of dark chocolate soften and surprise and the banana gives a subtle caramel. It does pay to make sure that the bananas are very ripe though- those black, sorry, sad specimens in the bottom of the fruit bowl or the discount bin are perfect.  This is instinctive baking. If you’d prefer raspberries to chocolate- go for it. Similarly, if you think some cinnamon would help it sing, add a teaspoon or two. Or if you want some nuts for crunch, rain in a few tablespoons of walnuts or chopped hazelnuts. And if you’d prefer wholemeal flour, then go forth and conquer. The oats are incredibly forgiving, they’ll absorb liquid like a dense sponge.  Just be sure when you pull it out of the oven that a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

This is the sort of loaf- not quite bread, not quite cake that’s best consumed with a cup of tea while flicking through gleaming cook books which contain much more complicated recipes, the ones that you hope to find the time and gumption to tackle once again. But until then I’ll stay safe and sound in the knowledge that this is possible

 (and this)  is capable of making me all kinds of happy.

 Oat, Banana, Chocolate ‘Mash and Mix’ Loaf

Makes 8-10 slices

Shopping/foraging

3 ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown/muscavado sugar
3/4 cup of oats
1 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
50 g of dark chocolate chips

Here’s how we roll

1) Grease a 21 cm loaf pan and for insurance sake, like it with baking paper.

2) Mash together the bananas with the eggs, oil and sugar. Fold in the oats, flour, bicarb and baking soda and then fold through the chocolate chips

3) Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 50 minutes- 1 hr, until the top is brown and a skewer in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in the baking dish for 10 minutes, then carefully slice.