Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Guilty pleasures or freaky food

Even someone like me with a...shall we say 'worldly' palate (sophisticated sounds awful but is still commonly used in food blogging) has their guilty secrets. So I propose a confessional blog this week. Let out your secrets and embrace your freaky food fetishes!

Over the course of two pregnancies now, I haven't developed any weird cravings at all. I usually spend the nine month 'confinement' lamenting what I cannot eat (any cheese that tastes good, salamis, etc). But I do have some really gross habits (well, gross in the eyes of my OH). I don't eat junk food but I have been known on occasion to eat from the various tubs and jars that lurk at the bottom of my fridge, straight form the fridge and very late at night. With my racing spoon in hand I can eat my way through jars of extra hot chilis, lime pickle, Branstons pickle, pickled shallots, pickled onions, beetroot, olives, antipasti. On top of this I eat copius amounts of jelly sweeties and fizzy things...

How do you eat yours? Comment below.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Sharing info

Ashes to ashes: the latter-day ruin of Pompeii

29th April 2010 — Issue 170 Free entry
Pompeii, the best-preserved Roman town in the world, still attracts millions of visitors. But its appalling state is a disgrace to Italy, Unesco and European civilisation
At the ticket office at the entrance to Pompeii, the world’s greatest archaeological site, three women, two English and one Australian, are trying to make themselves understood. They have not come to look at the ruins. A few years ago, in a bid to tackle the “crisis” of Pompeii, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared the place a disaster zone and handed over control to a commissario straordinario as if, the archaeologists grumbled, Vesuvius had erupted last week and there was a humanitarian disaster under way. His choice for the job was Renato Profili, who (in the words of one insider) “did not recognise the real problems of the site.” Instead, he concentrated on issues such as the prostitutes and the illegal restaurants on the site’s periphery, and the packs of stray dogs. Profili died last year, but his legacy lives on in the Cave Canem project, which encourages visitors to adopt a dog.
The women at the ticket office have come to do just that. But they speak no Italian and the woman in the ticket office knows little English. There are forms to fill out in triplicate to adopt a dog, and taking the animals out of the country is another matter—no one has a clue what the procedure is.
The fate of Pompeii and its sister site Herculaneum puts Europe’s recent volcanic difficulty into proper perspective. The eruption of Vesuvius in AD79 had been preceded by weeks of earth tremors but the town, with a population of perhaps 20,000, was totally unprepared for the devastation. Pliny the Elder wrote that the eruption was “thrusting… bulging and uncoiling… as if the hot entrails of the earth were being drawn out and dragged towards the heavens.”

Many countries eagerly seek world heritage status for their sites, seeing it as a way of creating interest in their cultural treasures and increasing tourism. But Italy is so well-endowed culturally—it has 44 sites, more than any other country—that a Unesco listing matters far less, which helps explain why Pompeii and Herculaneum applied so late. For the grandees of Italy’s culture ministry, which has more heritage than it knows what to do with, the listing was an afterthought.
If Unesco can’t help, a private donor is a potential answer. David Packard has spent €15m restoring Herculaneum; Pompeii is more than twice as big so perhaps €40m would bring it to the same point of repair. With good housekeeping, ongoing maintenance could be funded with the gate receipts.

READ the full article here:

How lucky we are...

I am reminded how lucky we are after A asking me 'what is free speech?' As per usual with him, it was easier to explain the absence of free speech and to get him to imagine what would life be like without free speech.

Now I'm partial to a bit of free speech seeing as I frequently and sometimes without thought speak my mind. For some reason, being unable to voice my opinions or my estimation of certain people and things drives me barmy. I am especially good at working people out and am seldom wrong and yet to be proved wrong. But sometimes, I, like everyone, am forced into situations where I have to keep schtoom and smile politely. As it turns out I have one of those faces whereby my expression reveals everything...

So this links in nicely to the Annual Edinburgh International Film Festival and to my rendition of the lack of free speech in some parts of the world to A. Currently showing at the festival is a film called Women without Men, an Iranian film made by a female direction and artist, Shirin Neshat. The film is based on a 1989 novel of the same name by Iranian writer Sharmush Parsipur.Set in 1953 Iran, against the tumultuous backdrop of a CIA-backed coup, this film traces the stories of four women struggling to cope with their place in society in Tehran. Fakri, the middle aged wife of a high ranking official in the dictator Shah’s military, is trapped in a loveless marriage. Zarin, a young prostitute who suddenly can no longer see the faces of men, is slowly losing her mind as she struggles to come to terms with her profession. Munis, fascinated by the reports in the streets of a Western-led coup, has to resist the seclusion imposed on her by her religiously traditional brother and her friend Faezah, who chooses to embrace religious conservatism and whose only interest is marriage. As the film flows in and out of these interrelating narratives, the four discover a walled orchard where they find refuge – until the outside world breaks in. It is impossible to watch the film and not see parallels to Iran today. It makes a viewer acknowledge that what is happening in Iran now is a consequence of the actions of the European and US ruling class decades ago.Then, as now, women were in the forefront of the struggle for human rights. The result is a film of contrasts: divided between politics and poetry, between the stark washed out documentary images of a city in turmoil and the sumptuous and beautiful images of the orchard. It is a subtle and beautiful exploration of personal and political life and has resonance in a variety of contexts. Not one of the best films, I've seen and it's transformation from it's original setting as an art installation causes problems on the big screen. There is little character development and the pace is incredibly slow.

The film's exploration of the female social condition in Iran, for me highlights the best example of the limits imposed upon free speech that I know. Yes, there have been a number of conditions throughout the ages in many different countries but the one I know best if Iran and having had first hand experience of the country and albeit temporarily and without fear of consequence I lived that existence during my stay there. The film, by the way, is banned by the government in Iran and the writer of the original book, on publication of the book, was jailed for five years. The only way women or men for that matter can see this piece of work or read the original text is through the black market as part of the underground.

"I've got the lurgi"

A is off school with a mysterious illness and is not particularly happy with being confined to his bed. Meanwhile, I am buying all sorts of nasty, gooey, smelly boy related toys for the party bags that will accompany his Big Eleventh Birthday Bash on Friday (eleven! I know!). 13 boys, four and a half hours of fun...bring it on! A's parties are the stuff of legend and I always like to send the attendees home with full bellies and a bag of goodies that will make their parents groan when they contemplate removing oozing slime off their new cream carpets. I'm still toying with what cake to make him....death by chocolate? We'll see.

So onto the noms...
Salad. Full stop. I lurve a salad, me. As my very good friend Lucy and her lovely man Doug reminded us in her own blog DoubletheSugar, no one wants to read about a salad! Ah ha, but these are OhMammy salads. Guaranteed to pile on the pounds and wonder what we ever did as children when lettuce, cucumber and a tomato constituted a salad. So in the spirit of all things summery I have devised this weeks menu with seasonality in mind.

Summery Spinach Pasta Salad
  • 200g fiocchetti all’uovo pasta (from Waitrose), or penne
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 7 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Bunch of spring onions, trimmed
  • 200g raw shelled peas or 300g frozen
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 150g soft goat’s cheese, crumbled
  • 200g fresh young spinach leaves, washed
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
  • Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions or until al dente.
  • Meanwhile, pour the white wine vinegar and 6 tablespoons of the olive oil into a salad bowl. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Finely slice the spring onions and add to the vinaigrette with the raw peas, chopped fresh mint and crumbled goat’s cheese.
  • Dry the spinach with a tea towel or a salad spinner, if you have one, and add to the salad bowl.
  • Set a small saucepan over a low heat. Add the remaining olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes, if using. Cook very gently until the garlic begins to colour, then immediately remove from the heat. As soon as the pasta is cooked, drain thoroughly and toss in the garlic (and chilli) oil, then mix immediately into the pea, spinach and cheese mixture. Toss together well, season to taste with salt and black pepper and serve. This will sit quite happily for an hour. 
I'm buying some cracking pork links from Crombies this week so to accompany them I'm making:

Pea and Lentil Salad

  • 200g Puy lentils
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 shallot or small onion, finely sliced
  • Juice of 1 lemon or 2 limes
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 200g peas
  • There is no need to soak Puy lentils. Just wash them and cook in plenty of unsalted water with the garlic for about 20 minutes, until they are tender but with some bite. Discard the garlic at this point if you wish. Drain and place in an outsized serving bowl.
  • Add the shallot, lemon or lime juice and oil to the lentils and toss together. Season to taste and set aside. Blanch the peas for no more than a minute or so in plenty of boiling water. Drain, add to the lentils and serve.

For the carnivores:

Steak and Rocket Salad

  • 250g vacuum-packed cooked beetroot in natural juice,
  • 1 white rustic roll, roughly torn
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 300g thick rump steak
  • 50g wild rocket
  • 100g pack sun-dried tomatoes
  • Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan200°C/gas 7. Drain 250g vacuum-packed cooked beetroot in natural juice, reserving the juice. Cut the beetroot into wedges, put into a roasting tin with 1 white rustic roll, roughly torn, and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season, toss together and roast for 15 minutes, turning halfway. Tip into a large bowl to cool slightly.
  • Meanwhile, season 300g thick rump steak and fry in a hot, dry pan for 2 minutes each side. Set aside for 5 minutes, then slice. Toss 50g wild rocket and 100g pack sun-dried tomatoes with the beetroot, croutons and sliced steak, then divide between plates.
  • Mix the reserved beetroot juice with 3 tablespoons olive oil, season and drizzle over each salad to serve.
Insalta di Napoli (my favourite)
  • 1 small, firm-textured ciabatta, torn into small chunks
  • 5 large ripe vine tomatoes, deseeded and cut into chunks
  • 3 x 125g tubs buffalo mozzarella balls, drained and torn into
  • 2cm pieces
  • 2 good handfuls fresh basil leaves
  • 125ml good extra-virgin olive oil
  • Good, aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

  • Put the ciabatta into a salad bowl. Add the tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and oil. Gently toss and season.
  • Divide the salad between bowls or plates. Drizzle over balsamic vinegar to taste and serve immediately.
To end the week:

Roast chicken with minted broad beans and Feta  

  • 4 free-range skinless chicken breasts or a medium sized whole chicken
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 large sprig of fresh mint, plus handful small leaves
  • 750g broad beans
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 200g feta
  • Slash each breast in a couple of places, then place in a dish with the olive oil, half the lemon zest and juice, and the garlic. Season well and leave to marinate for 10-15 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan180°C/gas 6. Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the mint sprig and blanch the broad beans for 2-3 minutes until tender. Drain, discard the mint and refresh under cold water, then drain again. You can slip each broad bean from its outer shell, if you like. Whisk the rest of the lemon zest and juice with the extra-virgin olive oil, season and drizzle over the beans. Crumble in the feta and stir it through, along with the mint leaves. Set aside.
  • Heat a frying pan over a high heat and quickly brown the chicken breasts until both sides are golden, then transfer to a roasting tin and roast for 5-10 minutes until cooked. Serve immediately, sliced in half, with the minted broad beans and feta.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Breast is Best?

It's National Breastfeeding Awareness Week (huh?). The week runs from the 21st to the 27th of June every year and is aimed at promoting the health benefits of breastfeeding. As well as this it is supposed to aim to increase social acceptance of breastfeeding and to promote support for mothers who choose to breastfeed. Well, this is the official line. I had heard of this week long initiative last year when I was mid way through my pregnancy. Back then the health professionals were pushing leaflets towards me, telling me about the endless supply of support and encouragement there would be on hand if I breastfed. I didn't really pay that much attention to them nor did I need convincing as I had already made the decision to do so as I had done with A.

So it's now the end of this week long campaign and I haven't heard a thing about it. So much for increasing awareness, I didn't even know it was on and I attend a breastfeeding support group once a week! And now on top of this, I was emailed a press clipping today regarding an article written by the editor of Mother and Baby magazine. In this article, which was supposed to function as some sort of defence regarding her decision to formula feed her children, she ridicules the act of breastfeeding calling it 'creepy' and ruinous for her 'funbags'.

Under the headline "I formula fed. So what?", Kathryn Blundell says in this month's Mother & Baby that she bottlefed her child from birth because "I wanted my body back. (And some wine)… I also wanted to give my boobs at least a chance to stay on my chest rather than dangling around my stomach." She goes on to say: "They're part of my sexuality, too – not just breasts, but fun bags. And when you have that attitude (and I admit I made no attempt to change it), seeing your teeny, tiny, innocent baby latching on where only a lover has been before feels, well, a little creepy." She concedes that "there are all the studies that show [breastfeeding] reduces the risk of breast cancer for you, and stomach upsets and allergies for your baby. But even the convenience and supposed health benefits of breast milk couldn't induce me to stick my nipple in a bawling baby's mouth." She continues: "I don't think I'm the only one, either – only 52% of mums still breastfeed after six weeks. Ask most of the quitters why they stopped and you'll hear tales of agonising three-hour feeding sessions and – the drama! – bloody nipples. But I often wonder whether many of these women, like me, just couldn't be fagged or felt like getting tipsy once in a while."

While I'm up for a bit of debate and I think what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another, I am maddened by the sheer inaccuracy of her 'facts'. Breasts are functional, utilised for feeding long before they were for foreplay. And as for your funbags being abused and knackered, these changes happen during your pregnancy and not during the feeding phase, medical information she is privy to in her role. I think also that in her role as editor of a parenting magazine, she should be promoting freedom of choice and certainly not ripping the piss out of those who do. In addition this, the mothers who like her, chose to bottle feed it gives the idea that people who don't breastfeed are just like her and can't 'be fagged'. Breastfeeding is hard both physically and emotionally to varying degrees for mothers. While the NHS promote it voraciously as the most natural thing in the entire world, many mothers frustrated at their attempts to get to grips with this natural act, give up due to complications.

Cue the outrage....Already there is a Facebook group calling for some kind of 17th Century retribution. The Daily Mail (*sigh) demands an apology (next week, the headline will be bottle feeding gives you cancer...).

Saturday, 26 June 2010

*chug, *cough, *splutter, *bzzz, *whirr.....hummmmmmmm....

Why the noises? Those torturous, mechanical sounds are the sounds of my brain attempting to fire into gear. After an all too infrequent visit to the hallowed halls of the University to catch up on some paperwork and a natter with my PG pals, I have decided that my brain has died or at the very least has shrivelled to at least half the size it used to be and something needs to be done about this urgently. Gone are the facts regarding the beginnings of Greek Democracy, gone are the Ancient Greek principal parts, gone are the daily lives of the Spartan women and adiós to the faultlines in Roman texts. What have I replaced this with? Erm, I don't know...

It can't be baby facts as I'm certain I knew most of these given past experience. It's not fiction, film or music as I can't remember the last time I picked up a book since discovering I couldn't read while breastfeeding B (she's a fusspot) although I seem to be able to turn the pages of Vogue or The Skinny quite easily...

It used to be thought that a woman's brain shrinks up to 4% of its original size during pregnancy leading to what the lay person would call 'baby brain'. The well known condition where every time you leave something on, or forget something or just generally act like a boob, you shurg your shoulders and cite baby brain as the culprit of this latest calamity. Recent research has sought to disprove that such a condition as baby brain exists at all, leaving mothers like me wondering what has happened to their brain. A once articulate, energetic person, I now stumble through the day bleary eyed, fuelled by double espressos and perpetually puzzled by where I've put my keys this time. I fall asleep in front of the TV after sitting down to watch Question Time to stimulate my brain. I don't know if it's a combination of tiredness, being swamped with children related stuff and baby brain but I'm in serious need of cranial exercise...

Any suggestions?

Books glorious e-books...

As much as I oppose the existence of ebook readers (OH has one), good news comes from Google Books. In an age where libraries in certain city centres are getting rid of books for aesthetic reasons or due to bad architectural planning, we have to turn to online resources to sustain our knowledge and studies. On this note, Google Books have released scans of over 500 volumes of Classics texts.

In the words of Will Brockman (who should know the value of Classics): As an undergraduate I dabbled in Classics, and I remember being surprised by the term hapax legomenon (ἅπαξ λεγόμενον). That's "written once" -- a word that occurs in only one place in the written record. It seems impossible, but happens surprisingly often: over 300 words in the Iliad appear nowhere else in Greek. So much has been lost (all but 7 of Sophocles' 123 plays, for instance) that every text that survives is precious. They communicate the self-understanding of their cultures -- which helped shape the modern world -- and have commanded scholarly attention for centuries. For these artifacts of a long-vanished world, passed down by generations of hand copying, merely establishing the text requires careful study of crabbed handwriting and critical comparison of divergent copies.

Modern scholars of Ancient Greek and Latin, continuing in this tradition, are working to create comprehensive electronic editions of these texts. For anyone who remembers studying Latin the old way, constantly paging through a dictionary, these electronic texts are a revelation. Now we have Caesar's Gallic Wars (Perseus Digital Library) with every word parsed and translated, along with linguistic commentary and a collection of references to the text from other works. We can read about Sophocles’ 123 plays in the Stoa Consortium's electronic edition of the Suda, a 10th-century Byzantine Greek encyclopedia. And scholars around the world can now consult a high-resolution digital scan of Venetus A, one of the best manuscripts of the Iliad, at the Center for Hellenic Studies.

I'm pleased to announce that Google Books is now assisting this work by sharing high-resolution digital scans of over 500 volumes of Ancient Greek and Latin, dating from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. (Of course, downloadable versions of over a million volumes in all fields are available from, in a more compressed form.) Jon Orwant and I created this collection using a list of several thousand important Classics volumes identified by our collaborators Professor Gregory Crane and Alison Babeu of Tufts University. We are analyzing additional volumes and expect to be able to release more high-resolution scans in the future.

These scans will aid the development of accurate OCR (Optical Character Recognition) algorithms for Ancient Greek, and provide the basis for electronic versions of important editions of these Classics texts; but perhaps their greatest value will be for the development of new methods in this emerging field. We’re honoured that Professor Crane called this donation “a major contribution to what scholars can do.”

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

More recipes...

My mother has just been admitted to hospital for a nephrectomy so rather than think about that, I'm turning my attention to food, again.

What are we eating this week, I heard you ask? Well...
seeing as it's been hot I roasted a bit chunk of gammon and had it with baked potatoes and home-made coleslaw. With the leftovers I made:

Springy Green Gammon Soup
  • 450g piece gammon , soaked overnight
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 medium onions , sliced
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 large potatoes , peeled and chopped into small chunks
  • 225g spring greens , roughly chopped
  • 450g can cannellini beans , drained and washed

  1. Put the gammon in a large pan with the bay leaves, onions and about 1.5 litres of cold water or enough to cover. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 1½ hrs.
  2. Drain the gammon, reserving the cooking liquid. When the gammon is cool enough to handle, trim away the skin, and shred the meat.
  3. Return meat to the pan with the reserved cooking liquid, paprika and potatoes. Cover and simmer for 20 mins or until the potatoes are cooked.
  4. While the potatoes are cooking, trim away the stalky bit from the greens and finely shred the leaf. Stir the greens and beans into the stock and continue to cook for about 10 mins until cooked. Season to taste and serve ladled straight from the pan. 
and then...
Lemon Pork with Lentils
  • 300g pork tenderloin fillet
  • 1 tbsp flour , well seasoned
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 100g Puy lentils
  • olive oil
  • 150ml white wine
  • 1 lemon ½ sliced and ½ juiced
  • a small bunch flat-leaf parsley , chopped 
  1. Slice the pork into 4 pieces then gently pound flat under baking paper using a rolling pin or heavy pan. Dust with seasoned flour then shake off any excess. Set aside 125ml of the stock and bring the rest to a boil. Add the lentils and cook until just tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and keep warm.
  2. Heat a non-stick frying pan and add 1 tbsp oil. Brown the pork on both sides, remove from the pan. Add the wine, 125ml stock and lemon juice to the pan and bring to a boil. Scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan and reduce by half; add the pork and the lemon slices. Heat through then spoon the pork and sauce over the lentils. Sprinkle with parsley. 
I did an online shop and bought my pork fillet from Sainsburys rather than the butcher and mis-calculated the weight so to use up the half a pig I had left we had:

Pork Pan Fry with Maple and Mustard

  • 2 pork tenderloins , about 300g/10oz each
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion , thinly sliced
  • 200ml vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • juice 1 lemon
  • handful parsley sprigs (optional) 
  1. Cut the pork into 3cm thick slices, season with salt and pepper, then lightly coat in the flour (the easiest way to do this is to put the flour and seasoning in a large food bag, add the pork and shake well). Heat the oil in a large frying pan, preferably non-stick, then add the pork and quickly fry until it is browned all over. Cook the pork for about 5 mins, then remove to a plate and cover with foil while you make the sauce.
  2. Add the onion to the pan (with a touch more oil if needed), then quickly fry until lightly coloured, add the stock, then bring to the boil. Boil hard for a couple of minutes to reduce the stock a little, stir in the maple syrup, mustard and lemon juice, then bring back to the boil, stirring well.
  3. Return the pork to the pan and gently simmer for a further 3-4 mins until it is cooked through. Sprinkle with parsley, if using.
 My father is coming over tonight (I'm Dad-sitting) so I'm making spaggy bol or rather a ragu and pasta, lest we feed him something exotic...

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Budget 2010: good news for cider drinkers...

Money, it's a crime
Share it fairly
But don't take a slice of my pie...

                                                       "We're all in this together" Are we bollocks!

The Tories emergency budget was announced today and I am now faced with the task of working out how it will affect our family and explaining the whole process to my ten year old who seems to be picking up quite a lot of adult conversation at his new school. Whilst childish inquisitiveness should be fostered and kids should show an awareness of their surroundings as they get older, it is a right pain in the arse trying to fend off or answer questions on theology, religion, finance, society, humanity, philosophy on the walk home. A taster of last weeks topics include: why do priests want to have sex with young boys, Mum? Is it okay to believe in Santa but not in Jesus, Mum? What's a wino, Mum? My teacher had a miscarriage, Mum, what's that? (yes, I did phone the school about that one) and other horrific on the spot questions will follow this week (I'm positive he knows that I bullshit my way through half of these). So the latest was: what happened in the Budget today, Mum? Do we still have a house?

After five minutes Googlising the words consumer price index, I'm none the wiser on what has actually happened in parts of it. Basically, the very expensive business of having children has become for some people, more expensive but an expense that many people assume the state should cover. Tax credits are a Godsend at the moment and I don't know what we would've done without them. I do agree with the sentiments of some of the cuts concerning families and the actions today make it less attractive for young girls to have babies because they don't have anything better to do. I just wish the increases (if they ever come) could be more practical and geared towards making it easier for women to work. Come on Georgie-boy, how about funnelling some of the billions and billions you will save in benefit cuts into more childcare initiatives. Women wont work while it's not a viable option. But then this is at odds with Conservative policy. On one hand they want women out in the workplace earning their keep, especially if they are single but on the other they want the nuclear married family with the wives at home, channelling their energies into raising their family. 

It's shit and they're a shower of bastards but something has to be done to fix the mess we're in. As the song goes, it's a bugger that they're taking it from my slice instead of raising billions from the cider drinking habits of the jakies...

Mini Noms...

B is a gannet (as the saying goes, not because she is missing nostrils or has binocular vision!) After her just about getting the hang of breastfeeding, it came to the time for us to attempt giving her food, proper food. She has embraced the act of eating with great gusto and has now perfected the 'want more wiggle'.

So what is all this weaning malarkey about? Now anybody with a little one will know that the DH changes its mind every couple of years regarding what is 'best' for babies in terms of starting to wean them onto solids. A decade ago, when A was approaching four months, the vogue then was to wean them at four months. Exclusively breastfed, he hated solid food and stopped going to the loo every time I attempted it. The whole process took months and pressured by the health professionals to follow the sage advice of baby weaning guru Annabel Karmel and her three stage mush programme, I kept attempting to force mush down his throat. I gave up the three stage torture and waited until he was ready. Around the seven month mark he started to grab handfuls of my dinner so I let him crack on, by this time he had four teeth and could eat anything he wanted to eat. You would think that I would use this experience as a benchmark for things to come with B but no. Given that she is entirely different to her brother who, had more tires than the Michelin man I started asking for advice on when and how to wean her. Lo and behold the goalposts have changed again. Now parents are advised to wean their children at six months and a new fangled method called Baby Led Weaning is in vogue or so one health visitor tells me. In short it involves giving baby normal adult food albeit cut into the shape of chips and letting them feed themselves. As you can imagine, they eat very little of the wedges rammed into their mouths so it takes a good few months and significantly more teeth to work up to eating a proper meal. So as interested as she is in feeding herself, do I want her waiting another few months until she's eating properly? Her weight gain is steady and she has caught up on the slow start that she had with her tongue tie complications. We decide to let her do the BLW and I gain parenting points for being seen to buy the book in Waterstones ("Ooh, it's fabulous!" the mothers cry, "really takes the stress out of it" they say). So far I've worked out that the only stress is stopping them choking on bits of food and learning how to recognise the difference between choking and gagging (*chucks the book on the top shelf - comment if you want it and I'll post it to you free of charge). the upside of this is that if you are the type of people who eat meat and two veg every night, then this is the way to go but if you are not, then it's a bit more complicated. Things like rice, cous cous etc are a nightmare and the mess is unbearable.  Three weeks into this and amused at the sight of B waving about chunks of roast chicken like Henry VIII, we thought that things were going well...

Then I took B for her jabs and proceeded to be lectured by another health visitor on attempting this BLW 'nonsense' and why isn't your daughter on three square (Annabel Karmel TM) meals a day by now? For big G's sake make up your mind people!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Midweek noms...

Right, time for a lecture, lol.

I'm a firm believer in cooking from scratch. I've tried ready meals and hated them all. There is not a thing that I've discovered that I cannot make better myself. When you've got kids you have to cook, it's the best thing for them. I added a well known parenting site to my Tweet list last week (they shall remain nameless for the time being) and since then I've had a constant stream of tweets regarding fussy eating and faux wining about being a bad mother because they feed their kids fish fingers and tweets regarding their offspring's preference for Super Noodles over broccoli. Now, I'm not aware of any two or three year old who can enter a kitchen, get a saucepan, open up the packet, add water, get cutlery and a plate and tip the boiling hot contents onto said plate. I'm pretty sure there would've been a Channel Four documentary about that child by now...

There are times when none of us can be bothered to cook, that  you could just collapse on the couch. That feeling also extends to getting the stuff ready for school in the morning, bathing children, resistance to bedtime etc, etc. We seem to muster up the energy to do these tasks but not to spend half an hour cooking a meal. I feel like that often. But if I were to give into that feeling we would live on take-aways and pizza. So with a bit of fortitude, we have to be arsed and get out the pots and pans. I love to splurge on treats and meals out and I can because my conscious is clear as we eat well at home. I wish that people would speak to each other on these sites about cooking and/or feeding kids decent meals so tips and short cuts could be shared more easily and it would seem achievable plus all the hand wringing about feeding kids crap could stop.

So here is how I do our midweek meals. I'm not being a smug bastard, just showing one way of doing it. I'd love feed back and to hear about your own midweek routines. There was a lot of meat on offer this last week in Waitrose, so it's a carnivore carnival. Here is some of the dishes we had last week and these recipes take only 30 - 40 minutes to make.

Roast Pork Ramen

  • 400g piece pork fillet (one vacuum packet weighs this much and costs about £3-4)
  • 750ml chicken stock
  • 1 garlic clove , bruised
  • large chunk root ginger , sliced
  • 2 red chilli , 1 split, 1 sliced
  • 2 pak choi , quartered
  • 250g pack ready-to-use ramen noodles (from Waitrose) or cook 125g thread egg noodles


  • sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
  • a pinch chilli flakes

  1. Heat the oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. To make the marinade mix 1 tsp sesame oil with the rest of the marinade, ingredients and roll the pork in it. Leave for 10 minutes then roast for 25 minutes, basting halfway through.
  2. Meanwhile put the stock, garlic, ginger and split chilli in a pan and simmer gently for 5 minutes then strain out all the bits. Simmer the pak choy in the soup stock until tender.
  3. Blanch the noodles, drain and divide between two bowls. Add the pak choy and pour over the stock. Slice the pork and divide between the bowls. Finish with sliced chillies if you like.

    Pork Pan Fry (Serve with mash and salad)

    • 400g pork tenderloins fillet
    • 1 tbsp plain flour
    • 2 tsp dried rosemary
    • 3 tbsp olive oil
    • 250g chestnut mushrooms , sliced
    • 1 fat garlic clove , finely chopped
    • 300ml vegetable stock 

    1. Coat the pork: Cut the pork diagonally into finger-thick slices. Tip the flour and rosemary into a large plastic food bag, add some salt and pepper and the pork, and toss until the meat is well coated.
    2. Start cooking: Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large wide frying pan. Add the pork and fry for about 3-4 minutes until nicely browned on both sides, turning once. Remove from the pan.
    3. Fry the mushrooms: Heat the remaining oil in the pan, tip in the mushrooms and fry until they start to soften, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the garlic and return the pork to the pan with any flour left in the bag. Stir in the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes or until the pork is cooked. 
      Multitude 'mato sauce (this could feed the army, multiply the quantities if you fancy freezing portions for later)
      • 4 tbsp olive oil
      • 2 onions , finely chopped
      • 2 carrots , finely chopped
      • 2 celery sticks, finely chopped
      • 2 garlic cloves , crushed
      • 2 bay leaves
      • 1 tsp sugar
      • 4 x 400g/14oz cans chopped tomatoes 
      1. Heat the oil in a pan and add the vegetables and bay leaf. Stir in the sugar with some salt. Gently cook for 10-15 mins until the veg is tender. Stir in the tomatoes and 150ml water. Simmer very gently for 30 mins until the sauce has reduced by two-thirds and is very thick. (If you have doubled or tripled the quantities, this may take up to 1 hr.)
      2. Stir occasionally, particularly towards the end of the cooking time, so that the sauce doesn't catch on the bottom. If you like your sauce a little thinner, add a splash of water. Serve half with pasta and chill or freeze other half in 1-2 batches for later use.
      Use the tomato sauce to make: Sausage Hotpot
      • 8 large sausages (course-cut ones like Toulouse or Cumberland are ideal)
      • ¼ quantity tomato sauce (see above)
      • 3 x 400g/14oz cans butter beans or any beans you have in your store cupboard
      • 1 tbsp black treacle or muscovado sugar
      • 1 tsp English mustard
      1. In a large casserole, fry the sausages until brown all over - about 10 mins. 
      2. Add the tomato sauce, stirring well, then stir in the beans, treacle or sugar and mustard. Bring to the simmer, cover and cook for 30 mins. Great served with crusty bread or rice.   
      Chicken Cacciatore (of sorts) serve with salad, pasta or mash.

      • 1 tbsp olive oil
      • 4 chicken leg portions, skin on
      • 2 red peppers , deseeded and cut into strips
      • 1 medium red chilli , deseeded and sliced
      • glass red wine (about 175ml/6fl oz)
      • ½ quantity tomato sauce 
      • 1-2 handfuls black olives
      • chopped flatleaf parsley , to serve 
      1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Heat the oil in a deep, ovenproof roasting pan that's big enough to fit the chicken in a single layer. Season the chicken pieces all over, then place the pan on the hob and cook on a medium heat for 7-10 mins on each side until well browned. Scoop out the chicken with a slotted spoon and put to one side.
      2. Add the peppers and chilli to the pan (there should still be plenty of fat left in it) and cook for 10 mins until soft and beginning to brown at the edges. Pour away any excess fat, then pour in the wine and stir well for 1-2 mins as it bubbles up. Tip the tomato sauce into the pan and stir again. Add a little water (up to 150ml) to achieve a thick, pouring consistency. Nestle the chicken into the sauce and scatter with the olives. Cover, bake for 30 mins, then uncover and cook for 15-20 mins more to allow the chicken to crisp up. Spoon off any fat that has risen to the surface, scatter with parsley and serve with some rice, mashed potato or polenta. 
      There. Very little fuss or faffing and the ingredients can be used for multiple dishes. I'll add photo's when I've got the time.

      Tuesday, 15 June 2010


      I'm stuck in the flat. Literally. I've done my back in again and have lost the ability to tackle stairs. So my thoughts turn to the big wide world out there and also to the food shopping I was supposed to do after Mother and Toddlers this morning. I'm in the mood for pudding(s), are you?
      The wonderful thing about the time of year is the fruit available and the excellent quality of locally produced fruit. So here are two recipes (or variations on a theme) involving my favourite fruits: strawberries and raspberries.
      But fear not this will not be a light summery fruit salad type thing, no this is a Fran pudding so it requires taking some beautiful berries and covering them with heavy creamy mascarpone, loads of butter, booze etc. So stick the oven on at 180 degrees, loosen your trousers and embrace the summer. 

      Crostata al mascarpone e lamponi (or Raspberry and Mascarpone tart)
      • 450g sweet shortcrust pastry (I bought a 450g packet of JUS ROL, and used two rolls - one on top of the other, and they were already cut into a round shape)
      • 200g mascarpone
      • 200g ricotta
      • 1 tsp vanilla extract
      • 50g icing sugar
      • grated zest of 1 lemon
      • 300g raspberries 
      • 300g raspberries
      • 1 tbsp icing sugar

      Make it!

      Roll out the pastry and use it to line your tart dish.  Line with baking paper, fill with baking beans and cook at 180c/fan 170c/gas5 for 20 mins.

      Take out the beans and paper and put back in the oven for another 10 mins until completely golden and cooked through.  Allow it to cool completely before filling.

      In a large bowl, whisk together the mascarpone and ricotta with the vanilla extract, icing sugar and lemon zest.  When the mixture is completely smooth and thick, spoon it into the pastry case.

      Decorate with raspberries.  

      Strawberry, Vin Santo and Mascarpone trifles


      1. 500g strawberries, hulled
      2. 4 tsp caster sugar, plus a little extra, if needed
      3. 200g mascarpone
      4. 6 tbsp single cream
      5. Few drops vanilla extract
      6. 125ml (or more if you like) Vin Santo, pudding wine or grappa
      7. 50g salted pistachios, shelled and roughly chopped
      8. 16 savoiardi sponge fingers


      1. Mash the strawberries with a little sugar if they’re a bit tart. Blend the mascarpone, cream, vanilla and caster sugar together until smooth.
      2. Put a spoonful of crushed strawberries in each trifle glass. Cut the sponge fingers, using half to make a layer in the glasses that covers the layer of strawberries (it doesn’t matter if it’s not very neat).
      3. Spoon 2 tbsp or so of Vin Santo, pudding wine or grappa over each one – the exact quantity is up to you.
      4. Cover with half the mascarpone mixture, then sprinkle over half the pistachios. Repeat the layers of strawberries, sponge fingers and mascarpone mix and top it off with the last of the pistachios.

      Sunday, 13 June 2010

      Noms reprised.



      Everything revolves around food and/or drink. Chatting over coffee in the morning, grabbing food to eat on the go, experimenting with tastes now that B is weaning, making lunches for Alfie, having a constant supply of snacks on hand for Alfie, browsing in Deli's writing about food, talking about food, planning and shopping for the goes on and on. I love it. I adore cooking, it warms the soul. Convinced I was a big Italian Nonna in a previous life, I am content when I feed people. Not in a creepy Channel Four kind of way...but in a nurturing and loving way. I thought I could cut and paste recipes in here either of things that we eat during the week or recipes I just fancy but on Googling a few recipes it seems that the act of passing on recipes or presenting them to people has a whole politic of its own. The bookshops are saturated with cook books. I can remember a time (adjusts housecoat and comfy slippers) when a serious cook only needed a copy of Elizabeth David's books, a copy of Larousse Gastronomic and one of the Leith's cookbooks as her arsenal. Now every Tom, Dick and Jamie bring out a cook book on the back of a TV programme and as much as I love reading and watching things about food, of late I have been avoiding these like the plaque. I am fed up of being told what to eat, how to eat it and I think I would  punch Gordon Ramsay in face if I ever met him on the street just for being an arsehole and generally offensive to my eyes.

      This all started when I Googlised a recipe for Dan Dan Mian, a dish that we had in the week. I don't need the recipe as I make it using some kind of noodle making reflex that jerks various ingredients and spices and bungs it in a bowl at the end. I came across a cyber slanging match involving Jamie Oliver and some new book he's hawking regarding his travels across America. I thought to myself, well if a turkey twizzler makes him go pale, how would he survive in the South of America? So back to the argument...JO had apparently made and published a version of Dan Dan Mian on telly/in this book that ignored the tenants of good Dan Dan Mian etiquette. All of a sudden JO was no longer a sainted chef and several irate Chinese people wrote things that really shouldn't be repeated on this site. So should I beware of posting a recipe, could I be opening myself up to a torrent of abuse if I leave out an egg or fry my onions too long?

      Not that I'm bothered but it does raise the point of posting recipes and how I want them to be received. The recipes that I post here, I have tried myself and probably changed. I try to present them in a do-able manner and aim to give hints and tips about the recipe probably geared towards busy people like myself or occasionally I tend to go the other way begging you to make your own stock because sticking a Knorr stock cube in would just make it taste shit (I also suspect that MPW is a big fat liar or his food tastes shitty, oh and P.S he is now the face of Bernard Matthews!). If you have any recipe secrets you wish to no longer be kept secret regarding a dish that I've posted or hints and tips on ingredients, such as sourcing or shortcuts by all means comment away.

      Now to that controversial dish...

      Dan Dan Mian.

      I love Chinese cuisine. It started when I was 10 and my mother found a cookbook by a woman called Yan Kit So that sought to teach the Westerner how to cook Chinese food and properly. I've used the book so much that I've memorised the recipes (which are quite labour intensive and fiddly, let me tell you standing in the kitchen preparing 50 cloves of garlic into 'silken threads' isn't fun or clever...)

      So here I present my version of Dan Dan Mian (Peddlers noodles). There are as I said several tenets of this dish, components that must be included to be an authentic dish. A dish from the Sichuan region, it requires sour elements (pickled vegetables) and spicy elements (toasted Sichuan peppercorns) and noodles. Dan Dan Noodles are named after the bamboo shoulder pole (dan) that the street vendors used to carry their stoves, noodles, and secret sauces. Given the history of the dish, I believe that there are elements that can be changed. The ya cai is perhaps the most intimidating ingredient in this recipe for Westerners. Asian grocery stores have shelves full of a dizzying array of pickled vegetables, and it's hard to know which kind is the right one to use. You can't go wrong with mustard greens. Look for air-tight sealed plastic bags of preserved mustard greens. These need to be chopped and then cooked before eating. Or you can get small jars of pickled chopped mustard greens, which are ready-to-eat and can even be served over plain rice as a snack if you're into that kind of thing. Failing this I have on occasion used chopped up cornichons. What matters is that you use pickled veg and this also meets the requirements. The recipe here calls for pork mince but I have made versions of this using beef mince (because it's cheap and there are only so many things you can do with a packet of mince), if you do this add some pepper and salt after the frying stage and if you wish, a little garlic and ginger. Another thing I've tried is adding 1 tbsp of tahini to the sauce to make it richer. So look upon the recipe below as a staring point and feel free to use and abuse it as you wish.

      12 oz fresh Chinese noodles (or 8 oz dried)
      1 Tbs peanut oil
      4 Tbs Sichuanese ya cai (preserved vegetables. Look for preserved mustard leaves)
      3 spring onions , green parts only (erm...there's a recession on, use the whole thing)
      1/2 Tbs dark soy sauce
      2 - 3 Tbs chilli oil or to taste (depends how hot you like it, add one at a time)
      1.5 Tbs Chinkiang vinegar (or black Chinese vinegar)
      1/2 - 1 Tbs Sichuan peppercorns
      Pork Topping
      a little peanut oil
      500g minced pork (I used more and adjusted the soy sauce and wine accordingly)
      1 tsp. Shaoxing rice wine (or med. dry sherry)
      2 tsp. light soy sauce
      • Heat 1 Tbs of peanut oil in wok over high flame. Add the ya cai and stir-fry for about 20 seconds, until it is fragrant. Set aside. Add another Tbs of oil to wok and reheat, then add the pork and stir-fry. As the meat separates, splash in the wine. Add the soy sauce and salt to taste, and continue to stir-fry until the meat is well-cooked but not too dry. Remove from the wok and set aside.
      • Dry fry the peppercorns and grind using a mortar. 
      • Finely slice the scallions.
      • Put stir-fried ya cai and other sauce ingredients into a serving bowl and mix, add the pepper according to your taste.
      • Cook noodles according to the instructions on the package. Then drain and add them to the sauce. Sprinkle with the pork and serve immediately.
      • If serving from a big bowl, mix sauce and noodles and meat until evenly distributed. Otherwise, assemble each portion in individual serving bowls and allow people to mix their own.