Failure, Rejection & a Potato, cheese, onion and sage pie

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Running today, only the second time this week but it was easy, 5k was so easy I could have run more. Invigorating. Running in the blustery wind with the crunching sound of leaves underfoot. I wondered how many more days of leaves would there be? It’s so windy, the last of the leaves will fall. The men from the council will come and sweep up & then it will be truly bleak and wintery.

I was listening to the desert island discs of Mallory Jackman, I recognised her name. Wasn’t she the writer, I thought, who’d given a talk at Younger Daughter’s school? The one who’d been rejected 82 times before getting her first book published. Imagine the perseverance required? The self confidence & self belief to keep going.  And the joy of receiving the 83rd letter? She’s now the Children’s Laureate! Of course many of us never realise how close we were when we gave up.

Rejection is not a word that our children know enough about. They live in a world which is correct, in every sense. There are no losers, any more. Everyone’s a winner. Certificates, medals and letters of commendation are handed out so often, that their meaning is sometimes eroded. And of course, we should praise the good, but at what cost?

Elder Daughter is a happy, charming and unsophisticated person, with a sunny personality. She sees only the good in everything and everyone. Wise beyond her years. A glass half full type. The first time she faced any type of rejection, was the theory stage of her driving test. I had to wait in the car, as there was some type of health and safety issue, which prevented me from sitting in one of the 7 rows of empty chairs. (I’d mistakenly thought the man at the reception desk was joking, when he told me that I couldn’t sit there).

As she walked slowly towards me, she didn’t have to say a word. Her face had transformed into one that I didn’t recognise. Mis-shaped by failure. Of course I was sad for her,  but privately part of me, felt that she was lucky. Really lucky. I thought she was lucky that at 17, this was her first experience of failure.

We re-booked for a month later. She promised to study harder. I tried to encourage her saying it would be easier next time. She would know the routine. It would be less intimidating. The day arrived, I drove her to the  to the test centre, we didn’t speak much, the air was heavy with nerves and anticipation. She’d been 7 marks off the pass mark last time. I told her to do her best. I distracted myself with my laptop in the car, writing a post for this blog. More than an hour passed and I kept looking up, scanning the exit doorway. Hoping, waiting for Older Daughter to emerge, joy filled & happy. But when I saw her, I knew. She had failed again! Four marks off, this time. It might as well have been four hundred.

I tried to console her. Next time, I said. She had only to get another four marks. She needed to try, just a little harder. Multiple choice is very hard for dyslexics. There’s always two answers which are very close. Nuances of language can easily confuse an child with learning difficulties. We booked another. This time, they greeted her by her name. Not a good sign, I thought. I waited and waited.  She walked slowly towards me. This time there was tears. And she doesn’t cry easily. Oh dear! What could I say? What bad luck? You must keep going, I said. You’ll get there. There was no choice. She wanted to learn to drive.  We’d stopped her having any more driving lessons until she passed the theory.

We booked yet another. Words of encouragement. Nights of learning and testing. Going over and over the rules of the road. The book is thick, with rules. By the fourth time, I’d had enough. Other Half, it’s your turn, I said. I just couldn’t stomach another visit to the test centre. Friday morning came. I waited anxiously for news. Time passed slowly. The ticking of the clock. I kept checking my phone. Finally the phone rang, she screamed with joy…I could barely make out the words but I knew. I knew, from the pitch of her screech. The rush of adrenaline flowing through her. She’d passed! I was so happy for her. I never did get to see the look on her face as she emerged from that soulless place. No matter. I can only tell this story now that she has passed the practical too, and you may even spot her driving.

It’s a difficult balance, we want our children to be happy, to have an easier and better life than we did. But, we also need to teach them that if it doesn’t work out first time or second or third time they must keep going. I’ve alway believed if you what something enough, and you stay on the same path, keep pushing, not taking “no” for an answer eventually, success will come.

Not very slimming but oh, so warming on a cold wintery night. A cheese & potato pie, a little fiddly to make but so pretty to serve. I won’t lie, my children were at first horrified at the sight of this, tried it reluctantly, but liked it! Inspired by Alistair Hendy’s Pies published in the Times.

You’ll need –

2 medium onions

60g butter plus a little extra for brushing over pie

1 kg potatoes skin on, finely sliced

150g Gruyere cheese

1 large bunch sage

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1. Fry the onion in a little butter until softened. And grate the cheese.Image

2. Slice the potatoes, don’t attempt this without a mandolin! Check out the band aid, in the picture on my thumb. You have been warned.

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3. Line a buttered 24cm cake tin, with the potatoes overlapping.

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4. Lay some of the fried onion over the first layer.

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5. then add some of the grated cheese, then some of the sage.

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6. Cover this layer with potato.

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7. Continue to build up the pie in layers with cheese, onion and sage. until you reach the top.  I did three layers.

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8. Brush the pie with melted butter

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9. Top with sage, salt and pepper.

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10. Cover loosley with scrunched foil and bake at 200 degrees  centigrade for 1.5 hours. Uncover and bake for another 30 minutes until golden. Remove from tin, carefully when cooled serve with salad. Enjoy!

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Forever Friends and a Supper of Mee Goreng

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We all need friends. Friends for the good times and the bad. Work friends. Friends who have children. Friends who don’t. Saturday night friends. Mid week only friends. Once a year friends.  Friends from childhood. New friends. Holiday friends. Friends for Life.

Listening to my children discuss their friends at supper time is always a source of amusement and sometimes pain. Now look, I’m not one of those mother’s who lives vicariously, through my children. My life is full. I work in a very competitive world, where you are only as good as your last job and there’s twenty or more photographers in waiting. Waiting for me to make a mistake, so they can offer better, cheaper, quicker, easier. Where there’s an abundance of rejection & pain. But somehow, the pain of my children is so much worse. Raw. Pain.

The list of whose in and whose out changes so regularly that I find it hard to keep up. “T is not speaking to me”, says Younger Daughter, or “I’m not speaking to J.” The following night, I might ask, “How’s J? Have you made up?” Younger Daughter fires back “No and I never will”.  The elite social groups, or cliques all have rules, break them or defy the leader and you’re out. Children and especially girls can be so cruel. The ‘becs’, ‘the inbetweeners’ the ‘geeks,’ and the ‘creeps,’ they all have names and finding the one that you fit into is a complicated business. Once admitted, there’s a sense of relief. Of Belonging. Of Safety. And security.

Being offered membership may mean a change of hair style, a new school bag, wearing a certain type of hair tie or dropping other friends who aren’t welcome. Wearing the amour of  the group, shows power. We’re animals, after all. The packs have rules and a hierarchy. I can’t begin to understand them, but I remember the pain of being excluded.

When I was much younger, portable tape cassettes or ‘Walkmans’ were invented. They started to appear at school, slowly. First, it was just the ‘cool ones’, the leaders and then everyone else. I was desperate for one. I wanted one so badly as I perceived it as some kind of key. The key to the door of the group that I desperate, to be part of. I tried to explain this to my father. Perhaps, I didn’t have the words to articulate my needs or he didn’t want to understand because understanding would mean he’d have to buy me one.

He travelled a lot for his work. A business trip loomed and I saw my chance. Hints were dropped. I tried sulking. I tried begging. I offered to trade with chores. I’ll be good, I’ll do anything you ask. “It’ll be cheaper in Hong Kong”, I reasoned. Eventually, he agreed to look for one. “Oh”, I said, “just one more thing, it must be a Sony, no other make will do”. It was 1980, it was years before anyone had heard of Apple but it was the beginning of the superbrand and it simply had to be a Sony, Walkman.

Four weeks or more passed. Flying half way around the world wasn’t common and he’d make the most of it. He always returned brimming with ideas of things he’d seen. Factories he’d visited. Restaurants he eaten at. New contacts. His case was full of ‘samples’. New Technologies. Gadgets, that always seemed break, on first use. Presents for my Mother. Jewellery, generally. A bribe to repent for being away for so long. Presents for my brother. And of course my Walkman. Oh, wait, it’s not a Walkman, it’s a Sanyo!!! Or some other make that I’d never heard of. Crestfallen.

My father tried to reason with me. This one has so many more features. It’s Better. Smaller. Longer battery life. But, I said, it had to be a Walkman. I knew it was just….cheaper. My eyes filled with tears. I was so ungrateful. I feel terrible now. But then, all I could think of was the missed opportunity to join the group. They’d laugh when they saw it. I took it to school, but hid it in my pocket. I nervously anticipated it’s discovery. Spotted. I tried to say it was better, smaller and had a longer battery life. But I could see it in their eyes. It wasn’t a Sony. Now, I know that you may not believe this story. But it’s true. Children. Are. Cruel.

And I learnt from this, I don’t want to be part of a social group. I won’t wear a uniform, and I don’t want what everyone else has. Quirky. Odd. That’s me. That’s not to say that I don’t want friends. Of course I do. Luckily, I’ve been blessed with some really great ones, who’ve been there for the journey. The good, the bad & the ugly. And perhaps it explains, why I work in magazines and newspapers. I’m always working 3-6 months ahead. Looking at the next seasons goods. Trying to spot a trend. Trying to lead from an informed point of view.

The weird thing is, I spent my years at school trying to fit in and I’ve spent my whole career trying not too! I’ve tried to explain this to my children. But perhaps because school has to cater to the majority, they just can’t seem to understand.

Recipe adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. The Boy completely turned his nose up at this supper. I don’t mind if my children don’t like my suppers but they must try it. Let’s just say there was none left. Point made.

You’ll need –

2 tbsp groundnut oil

2 onions sliced.

300g firm tofu, cut into 1 cm strips.

150g green beans, trimmed ( I used a bunch of asparagus)

200g pak choi, leaves separated and cut in half lengthways

6-8 shitake mushrooms sliced.

400g egg noodles

2 tsp ground coriander

1.5 tsp cumin

3 tsp sambal olek (savoury chilli paste)

3 tsp thick soy sauce

3 tsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp water

100g bean sprouts

handful of shredded iceberg lettuce

2 tbsp dried onion flakes

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1. Prepare the tofu. Place it in a colander, with kitchen paper underneath and a heavy can on top. Leave for at least 30, to drain the water.

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2. Then cut into 1cm thick slices.

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3. Prepare the noodles. according to packet instructions. Then drain and refresh with cold water to prevent them from sticking.

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4. Fry the onion in the hot oil in a wok, for about a minute to soften.

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5. Add the tofu.

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6. Stir gently, trying not to break the tofu.

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7. Add the pan choi and green beans, I used asparagus as I didn’t have green beans.

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8. Add the noodles and stir carefully. Cook for about 2 minutes.

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9. Add the  spices, samba olek, soy sauces, water & bean sprouts. toss carefully. When ready transfer to plates or a serving bowl, add the chopped lettuce and the crispy fried onions.

It’s Movember & a forgiving supper of Green Chicken Curry

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The Boy came home from school, happy and elated with another A*. This time, in biology. Particularly impressive, as he doesn’t see eye to eye with his teacher, which often ends with him being asked to leave the classroom. He can be very confrontational. He has to catch up & has now started to teach himself. 

He’s preoccupied with teenage boy stuff. His looks, his hair & his facial hair, well ….it’s Movember and he’s keen to try grow more, which in my view on a 15 year looks straggly and unkept. Hair that looks uncannily like the hair that’s not for public viewing. He knows it’s for charity, but when questioned, confesses he doesn’t know which one. We argued. He insisted that it’s his body and he has the right to do whatever he want’s with it. I stuck to, ‘It’s my house, my rules’. That line that my mother used, so effectively, when I was a child. Am I turning into her?  

When we said goodnight, he went away angry and I was left feeling sad. We hadn’t managed to communicate effectively. Tired & hurt, I gave up. The next day, he kept to himself. And the next…. Stalemate.

Out walking today, with my friend R, we were discussing our children. Catching up. We hadn’t met for a while. I didn’t know it, but her daughter had suffered with an eating disorder and she was thinking of setting up a discussion group to educate and inform other mothers. To enable others to benefit from her experience. We touched on the subject of ‘perfection’. We’re surrounded by perfect families. That where we live, alpha mothers wouldn’t admit to being anything less than perfect & wouldn’t confess publicly if their children fell below, the impossibly high bar. I bet you know a few too. Would people would come? she asked. I knew of friend’s of Older & Younger Daughter who had suffered similarly. But it was always whispered about. Discussed privately. No one was willing to speak out. Why do we all need to appear ‘perfect’?  And what’s wrong with not being perfect? 

I started to think about when The Boy was finally diagnosed with ADHD, 4 years ago. We knew there was something wrong, but just didn’t know what. It had taken two years to get that label. Weirdly, it was friend who suggested that I look into it. Discovering an internet checklist, I couldn’t believe it! It was describing my son so accurately & completely that I was astounded that none of the so called ‘experts’ whose advice we had sought, had mentioned it before. And with it came a raw mixture of emotions. I was desperate to get away from the disparaging looks of the mothers who made me feel that it was something that I’d done. Or had failed to do. I remembered searching the internet to find a support group, to share my experience. To validate what I had been through. 

I drove 17 miles, north of my home to find a little coffee morning where I met a room full of people who had been through similar experiences to me. We sat in a rather cliched circle, nursing our hot drinks and when it came to my turn to speak, I got very emotional, tears poured down my face.  I only went once. But it was cathartic. It was amazing to speak to so many people with their own version of my story, some much worse, more extreme. And it made me feel so much better, to feel that I wasn’t alone. 

And at the end of my walk, I realised that The Boy is special. He’s different. In a good way. Sensitive and thoughtful. He doesn’t fit in, easily.  And if he want’s to walk around with scratchy, itchy, hair sprouting on his face, to fit into the tribal group of his friends, who am I to say “NO”. I need to pick my battles and this is not one of them…..

Although quite spicy, my family loved this delicious Green chicken curry inspired by Nigel Slater’s Real food. 

  • 3-4 chicken breasts cut into strips
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 200 g mushrooms (I used shitake) 
  • 400ml can coconut milk
  • 200ml chicken stock
  • 8 lime leaves
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 20g chopped coriander 

For the curry paste –

  • 4 stalks lemon grass, finely sliced
  • 3-4 green chilllies
  • 3 gloves garlic
  • 5cm pice ginger chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 tbsp chopped coriander
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chopped lime zest
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1tbsp Thai fish sauce (Nam Pla)
  • 1/2 tsp green peppercorns

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1. Make the curry paste. Place all the ingredients for the paste in a blender and whooze until fully blended. 

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2. Transfer to a glass bowl, cover & refrigerate.  

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3. Fry the strips of chicken, in hot oil in small batches. 

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4. When browned all over, remove from the pan using a slotted spoon & reserve in a bowl lined with kitchen paper. I did mine in three batches.

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5. Add the sliced mushrooms to the same  pan, adding more oil if necessary.

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6. Add the coconut milk. 

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7. Then the stock.

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8. Add the crumbled lime leaves, followed by 3-4 tablespoons of the curry paste. Stir to combine.

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9. Add the fish sauce, & half the chopped herbs. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down & simmer for 10 minutes.

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10. Return the chicken to the pan, with a noter tablespoon of paste and simmer for 5/6 minutes. Stir in the last of the herbs and serve immediately with rice. 

 

 

 

 

Supper Clubs and Crispy Hot Fish with lime & chilli

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Runs – a poor 1, still recovering from illness

Caffeine – 8

Alcohol units – probably too many to mention

I love to entertain and as you know, I love to cook. Simple, home cooked food. Completely self taught, I couldn’t cook an egg let alone a supper for 10-12 people, until around 15 years ago. I had two young children, when the Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson was published, in 1998.  On maternity leave for the second time, their capacity to eat cake was endless. I was constantly buying cakes & biscuits. I decided it was about time that I started to make my own. As a beginner, the great thing about baking, is that you have to follow the recipe and be precise. There’s no room for improvisation. Tentatively, at first, I began to bake my way through the book. My cakes were good, the ready made audience of children, friends, nanny’s and their friends meant that they the cakes didn’t hang around. Eaten at one sitting, teatime, my confidence grew. 

Later, heavily pregnant with my third child, I was a stylist working on a book about pumpkins. I was given the list of the recipes that would be cooked and a briefing of what they would look like.  It was my job to find the dishes, plates, serving pieces and linens which would be required during the photo shoot. I was given a budget and I had to buy or hire the props, deliver them to the shoot and work with the photographer to create the beautiful images that would be published. 

During the week long shoot, the only place to rest my heavy, aching body was in the kitchen. There were two cooks and I ended up watching what they were doing. The more I watched, the more I realised that I could do that. It was a eureka moment! I continued to ask lots of questions…what’s that? What are you doing now? How does that work? I watched and listened eagerly as they carefully plated each recipe, ready to be photographed. 

The shoot ended and I went off to have my baby. Forgetting all about shoots, photography and cooking. Third time round, it was easy. My baby would watch her older sister and brother for hours. They would fight to hold her, to cuddle her and show her the ropes. I was only needed at feeding time. I began to feel that I needed an outlet for my burgeoning creativity, when one day the pumpkin book arrived in the post with a note from the publisher, saying how pleased they were with it. I know, I thought, I’ll have a go at making some of the recipes. After all, I watched the professionals do it, how hard could it be? 

I continued to buy recipe books, to scan the Sunday newspapers & magazines for things that I could try. Other Half tasted the results. I threw my failures away, crossly starting from scratch. I started to try my creations out on my friends. I held dinner party after dinner party. As I improved I began to substitute, adapt and change recipes to fit my palate. I’ve still got loads to learn and I’ve still got loads of enthusiasm, as I love to eat. 

And then I watched a documentary on Supper Clubs. People invite strangers to their homes and cook for them. The punters pay a suggested donation. I was inspired. Could I do one of those? Am I good enough? What would it be like to have strangers in my home? 

Well, I’m a thinker… I like to research, and analyze. As part of my research I decided that I needed to sample one or two. At the weekend, we went to the first one. Sadly, it wasn’t in a home. It was near Old Street, a cafe by day, decorated with huge, scrolling and vibrant wall art. The cook, an enterprising young man, newly arrived in the UK, prepared a selection of Argentinian pizza’s and entertained us with his haunting self composed songs and a guitar. All the other guests, were warm & friendly and new to the Supper Club scene, just as we were. A shared love of food united us. I left having had a great evening and not feeling intimated. I can do that, I thought. 

Last night, we tried another. Another cafe. The Holloway Road. An Arsenal match. It was hard to park, but we made it walking against the crowds, rushing to eat before the match. The wafting smell of fried food, malted vinegar and chips accompanied us. On arrival, we were greeted by our host, a welcoming glass of cold prosecco and pointed to where we would be sitting. A table of nine. Two other couples and three young girls, all friends.  We introduced ourselves. Again, the guests, were mostly first timers. 

I’d done a bit more research, discovered a better website and it paid off. I found the Grub Club, a great resource for finding that elusive pop-up. The chef, James Ramsden of The Secret Larder, has been doing Supper Clubs for about four years and has recently published a book, Do Ahead Suppers. We’d stumbled upon a gem. The food was a delicious mixture of seasonal, fresh ingredients cooked in a wholesome relaxed, home cooked style. Our dinner partners, were equally enthusiastic & open, sharing little known favourite restaurants & websites. And it turned out that one of them is a formally trained, chef, Pratap Chahal of That Hungry Chef, who runs his own Supper Club. I’ve already booked for next week, so third time round I’ll finally get to eat in someone else’s home in a real Supper Club! My research continues…..

http://grubclub.com

http://www.jamesramsden.com

http://thathungrychef.com

Inspired by those Arsenal match goers …Here’s Nigel Slater’s take on crispy hot fish….with icy cold vinaigrette….it’s a Dinnerrun household favourite. So easy, so delish…Enjoy!

You’ll need – 

  • Red Mullet or mackeral, fillets, I use two per person
  • A little flour
  • Salt & pepper

 

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For the vinaigrette – 

  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 3-4 lime leaves, crumbled (you can buy them freeze dried, in most supermarkets)
  • 1 Chilli thinly sliced, seeds removed
  • 2 Carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp each of Black & white peppercorns
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 Star anise
  • 1tbsp palm sugar or caster sugar
  • 1tbsp water
  • 5-6 tbsp olive oil
  • 1tsp grated ginger
  • 1 small handful fresh coriander

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1. Put all the ingredients, except for the olive oil, ginger & coriander into a sauce pan and Simmer for 5 minutes.  

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2. Remove to a jug, a chill for at least 2 hours. When cool, add the olive oil, ginger & coriander. Set aside. 

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3. Dust the fish with a little four, mixed with salt & pepper. 

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4. Pan fry in really hot olive oil, for 3-4 minutes each side. 

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5. When crispy & golden in colour.  Serve immediately, with rice. This dish won’t wait….the sizzling hot fish with the icy cold dressing is a sublime combination. 

 

 

 

Is ‘Like’ the most used word ever, ever & a supper of Pumpkin Pangrattato with Sausage & Rosemary

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Runs – None
Caffeine – None
Alcohol – None, well maybe be one purely for medicinal purposes!

Not sure if I overdid it last week with four runs and two very longs walks, most of which were in the rain, but I’ve been feeling really rough, since Sunday.

We live in a world where we’re encouraged to ‘like’ this or that. First, to post a ‘like’ on a friend’s facebook status, later to ‘like’ products, shopping websites, or commercial facebook pages. People compare how many ‘likes’ they got for a certain picture or a status update. So I started to wonder….What would life be like if we didn’t ‘like’ things?

What do we even mean when we ‘like’ something? Are we saying “well done, that’s great?” or “I wish I’d done/thought/bought that?” I’m confused. Or, are we just behaving in a sheeplike manner, liking it, because everyone else is? Are we afraid of being left out?

Recently, a head master wrote to the parents of the children attending his school asking them not to hand out party invitations during the school day unless all the children in the class were invited. He said it was ‘divisive & unkind’ to exclude some children. This caused outrage by some mothers who resorted to facebook to claim that they couldn’t invite all the children either because they didn’t want to include the class bully or for financial reasons.

The primary school that my children went to, had this same policy. And, I think it’s fair. Children can be very cruel. And party invites, can become a kind of currency. Last year, I witnessed Younger Daughter, now in secondary school, get dressed up for a halloween party, only to receive a text uninviting her, moments before we were due to leave the house. Crushed. She spent the evening sobbing in her room. We never discovered the reason behind the rescinded invitation. Being left out leaves scars.

I’ve got a facebook account but rarely use it. A close friend recently asked me why I didn’t post anything? And call me old fashioned, but I ‘like’ talking to my friends on the phone or meeting them in person. I don’t mind if they don’t know where I’ve been or what I’ve seen since I last time I saw or spoke to them. In fact, I quite, ‘like’ it! Of course, I’m happy to share, but I want to choose what is shared. An event described in 140 characters or reduced to a sound bite loses some of it’s unique quality. It’s very specialness.

Take last Saturday night, we went to supper with very old friends, a group who met at college. Originally, there were four of us. Three girls and a boy. Now with partners and children, we’re fourteen. We’ve been friends for many, many years. We’ve been through so much together. We’re united by a shared history, of engagements, of marriages, of births, of special birthdays, of landmark events and sadly, a few deaths. We decided that we’re all so fond of each other that it wasn’t enough to meet at special events, every couple of years. So, in the last few months, we’ve taken to meeting for supper at each other’s houses. A kind of rotating supper club.

It’s a place, where we can meet up & catch up. We can eat, (we’re all foodies) drink, lots of it and talk and talk. Our kids come too. And even though they’re very different, the warmth & laughter that exists between the adults has somehow transferred to our children. It’s a very special place. There were no ‘phones on the table. Not even one. No instagram pictures, of the event. I think someone took a picture of the kids, sitting together, laughing animatedly and it was shared by email.

There’s something magical about a friendship that can exist over so many years. That can simply be picked up where we left off. Like an ongoing conversation, it’s constantly being added too. It’s growing & evolving. The event wasn’t published. No one posted it on facebook. We didn’t check-in. There were no ‘likes’, and no status updates. But it did exist and we don’t need a picture to prove it! 

With all this rain a warming, comforting one bowl supper is required, try this delicious & easy pumpkin pangrattato with sausage & rosemary. This recipe is adapted from Nigel Slater’s Tender Volume I, although I’ve added the sausage. The crunchy breadcrumbs, with the sausage & smooth pumpkin work so well…go on try it. 

You’ll need – 

  • 8 beef sausages, skins removed
  • 750g of pumpkin or squash, cut into rough cubes
  • 6 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • tbsp of roughly chopped rosemary
  • zest of an orange
  • 4 handfuls of white breadcrumbs
  • 40g butter or margarine

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1. Steam the pumpkin in a metal colander over a saucepan half filled with water, until it softens for approx 20 minutes. 

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2. Prepare the other ingredients. Remove the skins from the sausage, roughly chop the herbs, onions & garlic, zest the orange. 

Image3. Fry the onions in a little olive oil. 

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4. Add the sausage meat, breaking it up with a spoon. 

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5. Continue cooking the sausage until it has turned brown and most of the liquid has evaporated. 

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6. Add the herbs, orange zest & garlic to the pan.

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7. Add the breadcrumbs. 

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8. Stir to mix all ingredients together and until the breadcrumbs have turned golden in colour. 

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9. Place the steamed pumpkin into a roasting dish, add the butter in knobs.

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10. Spoon the sausage, breadcrumb & herb mixture on top. Roast in the oven at 180 degrees centigrade for 35-40 minutes. 

Truly delicious…..Enjoy and let me know if you like it!

 

Drugs come to visit a supper of General Tso’s chicken

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In true Bridget Jones style, I thought I’d start to list the number of times that I’ve managed to run versus the coffee, (mine’s always a double espresso) and alcohol consumed…the week begins on Sunday for me….so here goes

Runs – 3, quite good considering the amount of rain this week.

Caffeine – 12, currently three per day 

Alcohol – 2 units (quite good, so far) 

 

During supper last night, Older Daughter calmly announced that her school was about to start a program of drugs testing. They’re planning to urine test the children in year 10. So not her year, thankfully. Apparently, three mothers have complained to the school. At another school, that many of her friends attend, they brought in the dogs last week. Shocking, I thought. 

It’s not the first time the subject of drugs has come up. According to The Boy, lots of his friend’s take drugs. Some every day. They are 15. This seems incredible, to me. He share’s this information like he was talking about the intake of sweets. So ordinary, so regular, so everyday. I run thro’ a list of names of boys that I’ve met, he answers yes, to nearly all of them. He claims there’s no pressure on him to join in. They know he’s not interested. He’s strongly opposed to them, thank goodness. Younger Daughter joins in, yes it seems, even some of her friends (at just 13) have experimented. We’re talking marijuana but I still find it deeply unsettling. 

A brief search of the internet, informs me that my children’s school isn’t alone. Many start as young as 11. Cannabis, remains the drug most heavily used, but there is increasing evidence that very young, sometimes 11 year olds are experimenting with the hardest of drugs. By the age of 16 nearly 1 in ten boys is using drugs regularly, including heroine & cocaine, with the statistics for girls only slightly lower. As parents, what are we to do about this? 

A call to the sixth form administrator, reveals nothing. She does’t know about it. She tells me to send an email. I persist. I want information. I tell her that it’s not the first time my children have told me about drugs in the school. I want to know what advice the school has for parents. Reluctantly, she agrees to go away and find out. I’m left pondering…..waiting for a response. 

I discover www.talktofrank.com  It’s full of advice, mainly for children and includes some truly shocking stories.  Quite by accident, it seems I’ve done all the right things. I’ve listened with respect and an open mind; I’ve given them the facts about drugs; I’ve encouraged them to talk about any peer pressure that they may feel. I’ve shown them stories in the newspapers about the dangers of so called ‘legal highs’, chemicals in bath salts, plant feed. I’ve told them, it’s ok to say ‘NO’, firmly and without negotiation.  And hopefully the fact that it’s discussed so openly at dinner means my children haven’t gone there, yet. But, I’m left feeling that this isn’t the end of it. I need to educate myself and this is an ongoing conversation, but I wish there was more information for parents. 

Generals Tso’s Chicken is taken from my fav book of the moment, Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop. I’ve made dinner from it three times in the last week. I’ve bought a wok, once you’ve done all the peelings & slicing, suppers are quicker than ever. I doubled this recipe to serve, 5. Serve with Rice.

You’ll need – 

  • 350g boneless chicken thighs
  • 6-10 Dried chillies
  • approx 350ml cooking oil or deep frying
  • 2 tsp chopped ginger
  • 2tsp chopped garlic 2 tsp sesame oil 
  • sliced spring onions (optional)
  • For the marinade – 
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2tbsp potato flour
  • 1 tsp cooking oil
  • For the sauce
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree, mixed with 1tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp potato flour
  • 1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp brown rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp water

 

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1. Cut each thigh into three pieces. Combine all the marinade ingredients and pour over. Set aside. 

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2. Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl. Set aside. 

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3. finely chop the ginger & garlic and using a pair of scissors cut the chillies. Remove the seeds. 

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4. Fill a wok with the 350ml of cooking oil and deep fry the chicken in small batches. Image

5. When done remove to a bowl lined with kitchen paper to drain the fat.

Carefully pour the oil into a heat proof jug and wipe out the wok. 

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6. Wipe the wok, then fill with a little cooking oil and carefully fry the chillies. Do not allow to burn. 

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7. Add the ginger and garlic.

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8. Add the mixed sauce ingredients and allow to thicken slightly. 

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9. Add the deep fried chicken. Mix well & cook for a further 4-5minutes. Stirring constantly

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10. Add the sesame oil to the wok. Mix well. 

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11. When fully cooked remove to a bowl & serve immediately. 

A Big Fat Laugh and a Supper of Lamb Chops with Aubergine & Green Humous

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Running today, third time this week and finally beginning to feel good again, and run faster.  My knee is holding up. It was one of those beautiful, cold, crisp sunny mornings, when the sun is low and the shadows are long. Shafts of light beamed through the leaves, creating a ghostly effect. I was listening to desert island discs, I love to listen to the inspiring stories of well known people and their career & life journeys.  I began to think about staying motivated. Other Half is away again, and with a week full of lessons and activities, it’s increasingly hard to stay on track. 

I know that I love taking pictures, and that I’m good at it, but that simply isn’t enough. When you work by yourself for yourself, you need to be able to market yourself and that’s really hard. I’ve been thinking about how best to improve my marketing, increase my client base and in this changing world of social media, it’s become even more confusing. 

When I first started out, as a photographer, in order to get work you had to get a portfolio of pictures together and then use your contacts or cold call people, badgering them to make appointments to look at your work. This was harder than it seems. At first, I’d steel myself to make that call. I used to force myself to do one a day. And then, if the Art Director or stylist liked what they saw, they’d book you. Although this sounds simple, it was full of rejection and I just had to pick myself up, dust myself off and try again. 

Today, it’s really not that simple or straight forward. You have to tweet, facebook, instagram and have a linkedIn profile etc., and make contacts in a virtual world. It’s simply not enough to have a website full of beautiful, inspiring images, if no one looks at them. No one has the time to meet you or make an appointment. 

So, I’ve been doing some research, trying to work out how best to improve my reach, and in a world where everyone’s an aspiring photographer, that’s not easy. It seems increasingly difficult to navigate, where I sometimes feel that I just don’t know the rules anymore, I happened upon this really funny Instagram parody and I thought that I’d share it will you after all, if all else fails, we still need to laugh….

Take a look, I hope you think it’s as funny, as I do. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nn-dD-QKYN4&feature=player_embedded

 

So, in my quest to do everything this week, I needed to find a couple of quick and easy dinners to share with my kids, to keep those conversations and motivations going. I’ve always liked Nigel Slater’s recipes and was lucky enough to work with him, when I first started out. We loved this lamp chop, with aubergine and green humous recipe, inspired by Tender Volume I. Go on try it…it’s really delish….

 

  • You’ll need –
  •  2 lamp chops per person
  •  8 little aubergines or two large ones
  • 2 red onions
  • 2-3 tsp za’atar (available from Middle Eastern shops)
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt 
  • pepper
  •  
  •  
  • For the green humous –
  • 1.5 K broad beans in their pods
  • 8 stalks of fresh mint
  • 4-6 tsp olive oil
  • juice of a lemon
  • salt
  • pepper
  •  

 

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1. Slice the aubergines, lengthways, and then in half again.

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2. Place the aubergines in a bowl, with 50ml  of olive oil, and the salt & pepper mix well. 

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3. Then, lay the aubergines on a lined baking tray and bake at 200 degrees centigrade for 20 minutes. After ten minutes, give them a little stir.

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4. When cooked they should look like this. Follow the same instructions for the red onions, mine only needed 12 minutes. Set them both aside. 

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5. Meanwhile make the green humous. Remove the beans from their pods. 

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6. Boil for 10 minutes. 

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7. Place the cooked beans, with the juice of a lemon, mint & 4 tbsp of olive oil in a blender. Whooz them together. 

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8. It will look like this. Add more olive oil, if necessary. Place in a serving bowl and set aside. 

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9. Heat the Za’atar in the remaining 50ml of olive oil. 

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10. Add the red onions. 

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11. Then add the aubergines and finally a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar or more to taste.  Separately, coat the lamp chops generously with olive oil, salt & pepper and grill on each side for 3-4 minutes. We like our lamb served pink. Assemble on a plate, with the green humous and aubergines like I did, or place everything in separate serving bowls and let everyone help themselves. There won’t be any left overs, I  promise!

 

 

A Slow Supper of Crispy Tofu with Asian Slaw c’mmon, it’s World Vegetarian Day….

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Whilst running today, (not great, sore knee) but hey I did it….I started to think about why I’m always rushing to get on to the next thing, the next meeting, the next call, to fit in one more tweet or email. We all know that when we’re rushing, we make mistakes. 

Take this weekend, Other Half has ten minutes between dropping one child and collecting another, decides to quickly update to iOS7, somehow manages to write his four digit password incorrectly, not once but twice (!) and locks himself out of his phone. He makes so many attempts to input the correct password, the phone then becomes disabled. He’s panicking… He try’s to book an emergency appointment at the Genius bar, nothing available until 2015, well that’s bit of an exaggeration but…. The Boy is summoned. We all need our teenagers to sort out our tech issues, don’t we? He offers his assistance but quickly negotiates a ‘don’t shout at me if it doesn’t work’ clause. Quite quick witted, I think.

Other Half is so moody & distracted that I start frantically Googling, trying to find notice boards, people who’ve done the same thing and found a solution. Hours are lost, the air is crackling with tension, just like before a thunderstorm. Options are discussed. It’s not looking good.  Eventually, we decide to wipe the whole remotely phone using, Find my iphone, which should by pass the password, then re install a back up. 

Before doing this, Other Half checks when was the most recent back up. We run our lives from our smart phones, can’t live without them. Great news, it was done this morning, just prior to installing the new software. Where’s the back up? I ask, somewhat timidly. In i cloud, of course, is his response. Except, that it’s not! As we discover, after wiping the iphone, the back up we thought was there has, vanished. As a photographer, I would never store my only back up, in something that I can’t see or control. Check the small print, Apple has the right to delete your data, if you don’t access it for 180 days or more. 

We find a back up, on his computer from 5 months ago and install it. Days later, he’s still feeling the impact. Numbers have been lost, text messages have vanished, new contacts gone, pooof into cyberspace. Other half, is sanguine. Lessons need to be learnt. 

So, I started to wonder what other impact does rushing have on our lives, when I discovered a newspaper article, suggesting that we’re speed eating ourselves fat, according to John Nash in The Times. And no, I’m not joking. Apparently, ten years ago, we British used to take 15 minutes to each our main meal of the day, but now it’s down to just 9. Nine. My mother in law, taught me, some time ago that it takes 20 minutes for the stomach to send the brain the message that it’s full, so in addition to missing out on the opportunity to communicate with our kids, during our supper, we’re consuming lots more calories than we need because we’re speed eating. Another reason to slow down…..

A recent test showed that women who were encouraged to eat quickly consumed 646 calories but when told to eat more slowly and try to chew each mouthful 15-20 times, they  consumed only 579 calories, in 29 minutes. More than 10% fewer calories. Do the maths, over three meals a day that could add up to 210 calories, and if we all ate less, we’d be thinner and more importantly, in the times of an obesity epidemic,  healthier. 

Lots of articles and features have been written about the benefits of eating together as a family. The lessons that our children can learn: to socialise; to wait their turn; to collaborate in setting the table and in clearing up; to become more adventurous in terms of what they will eat or at least try (definitely true in the dinnerun home). Apparently, they also do better in school, have fewer eating disorders and are less likely to be overweight. 

So, I know that I’m going to try harder, to eat, more slowly & talk to my kids about their day and see what happens….Enjoy!

 

For the tofu – 

 

  • A  510g packet of firm tofu
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon  salt
  • 3 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
  • sunflower oil for frying
  • salad onions, sliced on the bias (optional — they’re just for garnish)
  •  
  • For Nuoc Cham – 
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup fish sauce
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, sliced or minced
  • 2 red Thai chilies, halved lengthwise, seeded or not, and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes*, optional
  •  
  • For the Asian slaw – 
  • 5/6 mini cucumbers, finely sliced
  • 1 medium kohlrabi, finely sliced 
  • 1/2 red onion very finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp peanuts lightly crushed (optional)
  • 5/6 radishes finely sliced
  • A few cauliflower heads finely sliced
  •  
  • 1 tsp black sesame seeds
  • Juice of a lime
  • 1/2 Thai red chilli,  seeds removed
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 1-2 tbsp caster sugar
  •  

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1. Slice all the vegetable for the slaw, as finely as possible. 

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2. Place the cucumber in a separate bowl, salt generously and set aside for a minimum of 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly Image

3. Place all the Slaw vegetables in a bowl. Make the dressing, by putting the soy, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar & chilli into a blender and whooz for 60 seconds. 

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4. Pour the dressing over the vegetables & set aside, to marinate. 

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5. Place the tofu into a colander. 

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6. Press the tofu, to get rid of the excess liquid. Place the empty tofu container on top and place a heavy can inside it. Set aside for around as long as possible but a minimum of 30 minutes. Image

7. Make the Nuoc cham. Mix together, the fish sauce, the sliced chilli, sugar, sliced garlic and lime juice. Add extra sugar to taste. 

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8. Next slice the tofu. Whisk the egg with a tsp of water. Dip the tofu into the egg mixture, then into the white & dark sesame seeds mixed with the panko. Carefully coat both sides. 

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9. Coat a shallow frying pan with a little sunflower oil. When hot, fry the tofu for 3-4 minutes on each side. Carefully transfer to a serving plate. Serve immediately with the Nuoc Cham sauce & Asian slaw…yum yum. 

 

Language Skills & A simple supper of Malaysian Style chicken Curry

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When I got out of bed today, my knee was so stiff, (I think the damp air is getting to it) I didn’t think I would be able to run, but as soon I started running the pain disappeared. I’d almost forgotten how much I like to run. I’m still not back to my pre summer levels of fitness but I did manage 5k today, although very slowly. 

While running, I was listening to a downloaded podcast of Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland. It was an inspiring review of her life and work. Amongst other things,  she was taught many years ago, while attending a Finishing school in Paris that the telephone was a means of communication and not conversation!  How things have changed, I thought. 

And so, I started to think about language. It’s purpose was and is, to enable us to understand each other, to communicate more effectively, using a series of sounds to form words which are universally understood by our friends, family, neighbours and associates.  Language is described in the dictionary as a body of words and the systems for their use common to a people who are the same community or nation. We live in a world where there are an ever increasing number of ways to communicate, email, text, facebook, twitter, linkedin and yet we seem to understand each other less. How is this possible?

With all these methods of communication, it should be easier to get our point across, to say what we really mean, but it seems to me that actually life has become way more complicated and it’s easier than ever to inadvertently cause offense. 

Most modern methods of communication rely on an abbreviated, direct and limited number of characters or words, there’s no smiling face, or cheeky wink to accompany these messages, unless we add emoticons, to direct our friends and family to smile or LOL. There’s often no context, no back story that leads to our tweet, text or email. We post a sound bite. Where we’ve been, what we’ve done. We’re always rushing on to the next thing: to get to work;  to the next meeting;  to pick up the kids, a key word may get left out, that changes the sense and causes offence. 

And more importantly the person tweeting, texting or emailing doesn’t get to see the effect of their words on their friends, to read the expression, that their abbreviated words have invoked whether charmed, delighted or crestfallen, but the damage has been done. 

With our busy lives, we may not bump into that friend for days or weeks, we may even not realise that we’ve caused offense. What then? The statement that we thought was funny & charming has upset someone that we really care about, but we don’t know and can’t put it right. 

It occurred to me that the family meal, therefore is increasingly important. The lessons learnt in that social context are vital. Before the meal begins, we learn to collaborate & cooperate to lay the table, to get the drinks; we learn to wait our turn, to listen to other people stories, to what sort of day they had; to share our feelings, ideas and inspirations and most importantly to offer our children advice about how to navigate friendships or situations that they found themselves in during the sometimes stressful & competitive school day. I’ve tried to teach my kids to be kind, to look for the reason behind what was said, and not to attack back. Sometimes, if you are kind and understanding you can diffuse the situation instead of inflaming it. 

But perhaps none of these social skills will be necessary in the future, if you believe James Burke’s (a broadcaster, science historian and former presenter of Tomorrow’s World), in forty years, he predicts that nanotechnology will enable us to make almost anything in personal nano factories rather like 3-d printers but far more advanced, using solar power, dirt & water. We’ll be living in very small almost mediaeval communities with absolutely everything we need produced by us for next to nothing. Social contact will still exist but most of our meetings will be using holography, so there’ll be no screens and people will appear in our living rooms but could be on different sides of the world. His predications for the 1990’s made in the 1970’s were spot on, so….have a listen….

 https://audioboo.fm/boos/1574606-james-burke-predicted-the-future-in-1973-now-he-does-it-again

For now, I’ll keep producing my simple suppers and hoping that I can improve the social skill of my kids. Try my Malaysian style chicken curry take from this month’s Delicious Magazine. 

You’ll need –

 

  • 6 chicken thighs with skin on
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3 garic cloves
  • 2 medium hot red chillies
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves, (they have dried ones in Waitrose)
  • 400ml tin coconut milk
  • 100ml chicken stock
  • 2 tsp brown sugar or palm sugar
  • dash fish sauce
  • 1or 2 limes wedges to squeeze over

 

Image1. Fry the chicken in a little oil, skin side down, until the skin in crisp and browned.

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2. Remove the chicken when cooked & set aside. 

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3. Blend the lemongrass, the chilli’s, the garlic, ginger & onion, to make a paste. 

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4. Fry the blended paste in a little oil, for two/three minutes.   

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5. Then add the turmeric, the cinnamon, the star anise and the crushed lime leaves. 

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6. Then add the coconut milk and the chicken stock. Stir well to blend the ingredients. 

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7. Add the chicken, skin side up this time, on top of the sauce. Simmer for 10-20 minutes until the chicken is completely cooked. Add the brown sugar and a dash of fish sauce to taste. Serve with rice and the sliced lime wedges to squeeze over.

Yum Yum. 

 

A Calm Household and a Spinach, Ricotta & Nutmeg Pie

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Today, I’m feeling proud. Proud of myself and proud that I made it… through the long school holidays without any major events. No Crises. No hospital visits in strange foreign lands; no natural disasters (we’ve witnessed a few of those, but that’s another story) no disasters at all, in fact; no accidents; no illnesses; only one computer left behind, in a rental house which we noticed after four hours of driving, away in a northerly direction, ooops!; no flights missed and we’re all still speaking, well just about. My hair is a lot whiter, though. 

Seriously, school holidays aren’t half as bad these days, the children are older, there’s way way less entertaining for me to do and the suitcases full of electronic devices combined with the internet now keep my children happy and amused for hours. In fact the hardest thing is, to find something that will interest all three of them to get them out of the darkened rooms, away from the screens & out of the house. The beach works…..galleries & museums don’t, sadly. 

Ok, my running hasn’t been great.  In fact it’s been pretty nonexistent, but really, I’m only human. Only around four runs all summer, two of which were in California. I’ve finally resigned from the gym, so now I really do need to start running again. 

And my cooking has been pretty light too! Lot’s of BBQ’s, lots of salads thrown together, lots of wine opened & consumed. In fact, tonnes. Each time I think the weather has finally broken and I need to dust off the cookbooks which have remained piled high & unopened for weeks, the sun comes out and I think, yayhhh another BBQ, this might be the last one. 

Today, is the first day when the grumpy hormonal teenagers, that live in my house are finally all back at school. Today, I can begin to get organised, to clear the devastation left behind – where are all my towels, glasses, mugs etc.; to tout for some work; to start to run and to cook and to sit at my desk and write, so here it is, a beautiful & easy pie for a midweek supper. No trips to exotic supermarkets. No fancy ingredients. Super easy, no excuses.  

 

Adapted from Pies & Tarts by Stephane Reynaud.

 

You’ll need – 

 

  • 3 onions
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 150 parmesan
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 750g baby spinach 
  • 150g ricotta
  • 100g butter
  • 7/8 sheets filo pastry
  • salt
  • balck pepper
  • 1 tsp poppy seeds
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

 

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1. Chop the onions & garlic

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2. Saute the onions & garlic in a little olive oil

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3. Add the spinach, in two batches, if your pan is shallow like mine. Ensure the all the liquid has completely evaporated, this can take 10-12minutes. Stir constantly. 

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4. Add the grated parmesan & the ricotta. Stew for 5-10 minutes. Mix in the ground nutmeg. Set aside.

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5. Brush each sheet of filo with the melted butter, then sprinkle with ground pepper.

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6. Carefully lay them in a fan shape over a 20cm oiled loose bottomed cake tin, making sure there is a large over hang. 

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7. Use a large spoon to place the spinach & ricotta mixture in the middle.  

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8. Loosely fold the filo to form a decorative crumpled parcel. Brush the outside with some more melted butter and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake at 200 degrees centigrade for 15-20minutes. Serve with a fresh green salad. Enjoy! So Yummy….