Monday, 29 November 2010

Busy Bees


busy (adj)

Synonymsfull, eventful, full of activity, demanding, hard, tiring, hectic

Antonymempty


Synonymsengaged, occupied, unavailable, taken

Antonymfree


Synonymsactive, on the go, hard-working, hard at it, diligent, industrious, in demand, occupied, harried

Antonymidle

Seriously, how does anyone find the time to blog? Miss is up and walking about fully but still has no depth perception and careers about the place with the reckless abandon of a one year old. Short of putting my kids into childcare, I am struggling to find time to write anything. I'm also a bit jaded about the whole blogging phenomenon having taken part in a local workshop recently. The parent section of the blogging event were all middle class ladies with too much money and too much time on their hands so had the leisure of whiling away the hours in front of a laptop while their kids remain glued to CBeebies or whatever the craze is these days. Freebies and parental smugness were the topics of the day and I was repulsed by the whole venture. I remain stoic about the whole process and I'm trying really hard not to yell at the computer when I log into Google Reader to find similar posts featured in blogs that were previously a bit more humble nature.

My life is full of the usual pre-Christmas social engagement and I'm preparing for the two and a half weeks of cooking for various family and friends that comes with this season. My recipes are full of root veg and slow cooked meats and I guess I've just been in a 
weird mental place where my life kicks into a serious routine at this time of year, I guess it wasn't worth blogging about as it's so familiar to me. I'll try and update this thing soon.


Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas. It's my favourite time of year. Ask anyone. I'm like one of Santa's elves. I go overboard on food, in presents, on wrapping, on mulled wine and festive cheer and it's exhausting! I am so looking forward to when the kids activities end as running them here there and everywhere every sodding day of the week is tiring and the programme for next term looks like it'll take over my weekends as well!

It's a bit of a nightmare thinking about festive table settings when your plate is so full!



Recipes this weather are of the porcine variety and given that I've posted so many recipes lately, I'm having a hard time remembering those that I've posted and those that I haven't. So here's a small selection.


Crispy Sage Pork with Apple Slaw


Ingredients

  • 4 x 175g pork loin steaks , fat trimmed
  • 2 slices white bread
  • handful of sage leaves
  • 25g Parmesan , finely grated
  • 1 egg , beaten
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • ½ white cabbage , core removed, finely shredded
  • 4 tbsp buttermilk or low-fat natural yogurt
  • 2 red-skinned apples , halved and sliced
  • lemon wedges, to serve (optional)                                                 


Method

  1. Lay the pork steaks between two sheets of cling film or baking paper and bash with a rolling pin until approx 1cm thick. Whizz the bread in a food processor to make breadcrumbs. Add the sage and pulse a few more times to roughly chop the leaves. Mix in the Parmesan and spread over a large plate. Season with black pepper.
  2. One by one, dip each steak into the beaten egg, allow the excess to drip off, then press into the breadcrumb mix on both sides. Set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry the steaks for 3-4 mins on each side until cooked through. Meanwhile, mix the cabbage, buttermilk or yogurt and apple, then season. Serve the steaks with the coleslaw and a lemon wedge, if using, for squeezing over.   
Roast Loin of Pork

    Ingredients

    • oil
    • 1.3kg pork loin, boned and rolled (ask your butcher to do this)
    • sea salt
    • 3 eating apples , cut into wedges
    • 1 tbsp plain flour
    • 400ml vegetable or chicken stock , fresh, cube or concentrate                      
    Method                 
    1. Heat the oven to 240C/fan 220C/gas 9. Lightly oil a roasting tin and put it in the oven to get hot. Season the skin of the pork with sea salt, then put the joint in the hot tin and roast for 20 minutes.
    2. Reduce the heat to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5 and roast for a further 30 minutes per 500g. Increase the heat to 240C/fan 220C/gas 9 and cook for a final 10 minutes to get a really crisp and golden crackling.
    3. Take the pork from the tin and rest in a warm place before carving into slices. Meanwhile, drain the excess fat from the roasting tin onto a baking tray. Add the apples to the hot fat, turn to coat all over and roast for 10 minutes. Take out and keep warm.
    4. Put the roasting tin directly over a low heat, sprinkle in the flour and mix well. Then slowly add the stock, stirring well and letting it all bubble together until you have a gravy. Season and sieve into a jug.
    5. Serve the pork with the roasted apples and gravy.  
              

    Tuesday, 16 November 2010

    "Thus began a break of undetermined length and meaning."

    I'm on a bit of a hiatus at the moment.

    Things are a bit hectic with planning Miss B's birthday shenanigans, organising the family and extended family visits and organising A's high school. We're running about trying to find out about support programmes at the various high schools in the area. We're really lucky to live in an area that has the best schools in the city but A's autism makes things so complicated and we're trying to make sure we pick the right one.

    I have absolutely no spare time whatsoever at the moment and I'll update this after Miss B's birthday.

    Have a good one.

    Sunday, 7 November 2010

    Thou shouldst eat to live; not live to eat. -Socrates


    To hell with what Socrates said! This bust from the Vatican Museum is supposed to represent Socrates. Does this man look underfed? Hmm....

    The eats for this week have been difficult. Miss B's birthday is coming up, I seriously need to do a store cupboard shop and all the kids activities are up for renewal so we're tightening our belts at Oh Mammy towers (in more ways than one). A lot of these recipes can be adjusted to accommodate leftovers.

    Chicken Casserole with Peppers and Ham



    Ingredients

    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • 8 chicken thighs , on the bone
    • 1 red pepper , seeded and quartered
    • 1 green pepper , seeded and quartered
    • 2 garlic cloves , finely chopped
    • 1 leek , trimmed and thickly sliced
    • 225g cooked ham , cut into chunks
    • 1 tsp paprika
    • 300ml red wine
    • 400g can chopped tomatoes
    • 1 tbsp tomato purée
    • 2 sprigs fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried
    • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley , to serve                                          

    1. Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 3. Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole and fry the chicken over a high heat until browned all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce the heat slightly and add the peppers. Cook for 2-3 mins, turning, until they brown. Add garlic and leek, cook for 2-3 mins, then stir in the ham.
    2. Sprinkle over the paprika, cook for a couple of secs, add the wine and bubble for a few mins. Tip in the tomatoes, purée and thyme and mix well. Pour in water to just cover the chicken, and season. Bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for 1 hr, until the sauce thickens and chicken is tender. Sprinkle over the parsley and serve with mash.
      Roast Chicken Risotto

    Ingredients

    • butter
    • 1 onion , finely chopped
    • 2 garlic cloves , finely chopped
    • 350g risotto rice
    • 1 large glass white wine
    • 1½ l chicken stock , heated to simmering (vegetable stock can be substituted)
    • a large handful frozen peas , defrosted
    • cooked chicken , torn into strips, no skin
    • 50g Parmesan , grated                                                 
    1. Melt a knob of butter in a large pan, add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and translucent. Stir in the rice until coated with butter.
    2. Add the wine and stir until evaporated. Add the stock a ladle at a time until the rice is cooked but still with a little bite (add the peas and chicken in the last 5 minutes of cooking to heat through). The rice should be creamy but firm to the bite.
    3. Stir in the Parmesan.
       London Particular

    Ingredients

    • 2 small or 1 large (2kg) smoked gammon hocks
    • 4 carrots , diced
    • 3 celery sticks, diced
    • 1 leek , chopped
    • 2 garlic cloves , crushed
    • 450g yellow split peas
    • 1 onion , chopped
    • celery leaves and flatleaf parsley , to serve            
                 
    1. Simmer the smoked gammon hocks in 3 litres cold water with half the carrot, celery and leek and the garlic until the hocks are soft enough to shred, this may take up to 2 hours, check after 11/2 hours. Strain off and reserve the stock and shred the gammon when it is cool enough.
    2. Meanwhile, rinse the split peas until the water runs clear to remove any starch. Cover with plenty of water and simmer until soft, about 45 minutes. Drain.
    3. Blend half of the cooked peas with a little of the ham cooking water (taste it first to make sure it isn't too salty, if it is use chicken stock or water instead) until smooth.
    4. Fry the onion with the remaining carrot and leek in a little oil until tender. Add the puréed peas, whole peas and the shredded ham hock to the vegetables and mix them with enough ham stock (or chicken stock, as above) to make a thick soup. Heat through.
    5. To serve, sprinkle with celery leaves and flat-leaf parsley.
      Gammon with Mustard Potatoes


    ngredients

    • 200g new potatoes , halved if large
    • 4 spring onions , sliced
    • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
    • 2 gammon steaks
    • 2 tsp honey
    • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
    • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
    • watercress to serve                       
    1. Cook the potatoes in boiling water until tender. Drain then toss with the spring onions and vinegar while warm.
    2. Brush the gammon steaks with a little honey and season, then grill on high for 3 minutes on each side until glazed and cooked through.
    3. Toss the potatoes with the mayo and mustard and serve with the gammon and some watercress.   
                         
                            

    Thursday, 4 November 2010

    Laughter is the best medicine...

    I read a post entitled The Art of the Cover-up Post by Rosie Scribble a few weeks ago and little did I know that I would be doing the same thing.

    A cover up post for those of you not familiar with Rosie's blog is a post where you cover up your previous post with something banal, something random as a smokescreen of sorts. The reason for the smokescreen is that you've posted something very personal. Something you weren't sure that you should and now have to cover up that fact.

    So here is mine.

    An 80 year old couple were having problems remembering things, so they decided to go to their doctor to get checked out to make sure nothing was wrong with them.

    When they arrived at the doctors, they explained to the doctor about the problems they were having with their memory. After checking the couple out, the doctor told them that they were physically okay but might want to start writing things down and make notes to help them remember things.

    The couple thanked the doctor and left. Later that night while watching TV, the man got up from his chair and his wife asked, "Where are you going?" He replied, "To the kitchen." She asked, "Will you get me a bowl of ice cream?" He replied, "Sure." She then asked him, "Don't you think you should write it down so you can remember it?" He said, "No, I can remember that."

    She then said, "Well I would also like some strawberries on top. You had better write that down because I know you'll forget that." He said, "I can remember that, you want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries." She replied, "Well I also would like whipped cream on top. I know you will forget that so you better write it down."

    With irritation in his voice, he said, "I don't need to write that down! I can remember that." He then fumes into the kitchen. After about 20 minutes he returned from the kitchen and handed her a plate of bacon and eggs. She stared at the plate for a moment and said angrily: "I TOLD you to write it down! You forgot my toast!"

    Ba-boom. Thanks folks, we're here 'till Tuesday. Try the chicken...

    Tuesday, 2 November 2010

    "There are times when silence has the loudest voice".

    On November the 1st, thousands of people, millions perhaps particulate in a thing called Communication Shutdown. The aim of this day was to simulate what it is like to feel shut off from the world around you in a similar manner to someone with autism. The organisers asked people to come out in support of those affected with autism and to show their support by not using any social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook etc. A whole 24 hours without these sites was supposed to create empathy through frustration, frustration at not being able to find out who poked who, who is still in a relationship or how your farm was fairing. Can you already sense from my tone that I don't think that this is a good idea?


    Apparently quite a lot of people thought this idea was crap too. One blog ran a 24 hour Communicate to Educate campaign and it sparked a whole host of other campaigns. While any attempt to raise awareness of autism is valid, there has to be some real thought into the expression of it. I, like many parents of autistic kids spend so much time trying to get into the head of my autistic child. I try to pre-empt the best way to communicate, the convey information that will be acceptable to his thought processes. Silence drives me mad and lack of communication with A is a daily struggle. It makes everything difficult. From dressing for school to finding out if he has homework due.

    Over at the wonderful Extreme Parenthood blog, they are hosting an Autism Shout Out encouraging parents to come forward and to speak out about autism in their lives and their experiences with it. It seems impossible to write a post about dealing with A's lack of communication for the shout out so I'll write a rather selfish post on life with an autistic child. I've been struggling with a few issues of the last few weeks and in an brutally frank move have decided to dedicate this post to the cause and to talk about what I'm struggling with at the moment. It seems incredibly apt as it is the concept of silence I am struggling with. So silence in its many forms is the theme of this piece.



    I don't know about you but sometimes, burning things crop up in my mind and it blocks my writing.  I wrote a post last week about what life is like with a disabled child, how it affects you mentally, physically, socially, financially. I found that emotionally I couldn't get past this piece and breaking my silence had stirred up intense feelings. What I had done was to write out a little bit of therapy and I wondered what I needed to do with it. Not that I take myself that seriously as a writer and the blogs that I subscribe to here are all far better and more eloquent than mine. I had used my blog as my virtual leather chaise but I couldn't post it. I have an amazing relationship with Oh Daddy and we are the best of friends but sometimes there are certain things we don't talk about when it comes to A. Instead of asking him to mentally prepare himself for yet another serious chat about A to discuss his disability and how we are coping, I used a blog post to work though the feelings that I was experiencing. I won't post it here as I worry too much about what people think of me. I might share huge swathes of my life on this blog with you guys about my life but there are certain things I have to stay silent about.  I have to stay silent because some things are just too personal. 

    So I have imposed a rule of silence on sharing certain things/topics on here but another type of silence has been imposed on me by others. I've had a pretty awful experience in the past online where an individual I friended through various social networking sites started a vicious hate campaign. Everything I posted, everything anyone posted on any of my networking sites was analysed (always incorrectly) for dirt, for slander, for hateful comments. I was constantly attacked, talked about out loud and in real life people were told of how evil I was. They were told that all the evidence they needed was online except they never bothered to read it or to look for it, just took it for granted that I acted badly. I found myself constantly defending myself to deaf ears. It went on for a year and a half and as a result has made me very distrustful of people's reactions and of my ability to communicate clearly. And so if I feel that something will be taken the wrong way, I stay silent.

    I bring up this dreadful experience because a very dear friend told me recently that she had read my blog. Aghast at this news, I was mortified. She commented that unlike in real life, online I am extremely apologetic for my voicing my opinions and views, a quality of mine that she holds dear (I think). I think it has happened because of past experiences, breaking silence on certain topics for me can be uncomfortable. I find it strange as I'm sure that you will, that a blogger who details significant portions of her life, her thoughts via the medium of a blog would actually be a virtual shrinking violet afraid of her voice. That she would log on one day and say 'you know...this X pisses me off' and then the next day would say 'I'm really sorry about yesterday...'.

    So let me apologise for my weak constitution and explain something. Break my silence if you will. Something I don't talk about. I get angry very easily sometimes. My anger is a selfish anger and I hate it. It is an irrational anger that crops up from time to time. An anger that silences me.

    It is an anger that is born out of raising a disabled child.

    There I've said it. In real life I'm very quiet about A's disability. There are certain social groups and certain familial groups where I stay silent about A's autism.  I do not draw attention to it nor to the things that he cannot do and might never be able to. I don't talk about the future because there isn't one. At least one that we could predict. We cannot comprehend what life will be like for in a few years time, we won't know what his adolescence will be like. We cannot make plans for him, for his future. We cannot dream about where he will go in life, where life will take him and what he can and cannot achieve. I get frustrated and then I get angry. I get angry at all the people I see who take their kids for granted. Who use having children as a bargaining chip in a failing relationship. Who have children to simply kill time and raise their kids in the same ignorant fashion that they were raised in. I get angry at the people I know who perform a half-arsed job at being a parent. I cannot ever get angry at him. It's not his fault. Science hasn't led us to the point where we can work out if it's my fault. Was it something I did when I was pregnant? I followed the guidelines to a T. Is it environmental? I should've replaced my old microwave instead of buying baby clothes. My silence about A's autism costs me dear. It costs me connections to people I know. 

    I get frustrated that no matter how hard I work at being his Mum, it is never enough. It will never make a difference. I watch others and I watch other children and I find myself resenting them. I get frustrated at irresponsible decisions and the selfishness of adults. I find it remarkably hard raising a child who is limited at every turn by his disability to watch children who could be capable of achieving anything they set their mind to, be limited by the actions of their parents. I am so fearful of A's future that this fear often takes me to a dark place. An angry dark place so it is better to be silent. This is what communication shutdown means for me. 

    Food for thought is no substitute for the real thing.

    Recipe time again. I've had a bit of a blogging drought this past fortnight. I could blog about nonsense but have had quite a lot on my mind at the moment. Stuff I probably should write about. I attempted to use my blog as my very own therapist couch before and it felt incredibly uncomfortable. I admire that there are some bloggers out there who proudly wear their heart on their sleeve but I've had some bad experiences in the past on social networking sites. Full service will resume once I've worked past some obstacles in our path.

    Spicy Chorizo Potatoes

    Ingredients

    • 2 large potatoes , peeled and cut into chunks
    • olive oil
    • 1 small red onion , halved and sliced
    • 1 green chilli , sliced
    • 100g piece chorizo , cut into chunks
    • ½ tsp smoked paprika
    • 2 eggs
    1. Cook the potatoes in boiling water until tender. Drain really well then fry in 1-2 tbsp olive oil until golden. Scoop out the pan, then add the onion and chilli and keep frying until softened. Add the chorizo and paprika and cook for a minute then add the potatoes back and cook, tossing everything together.
    2. In a separate pan, fry the eggs. Serve on top of the potatoes.
    Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel

                 Ingredients

    1. 500g rigatoni pasta
    2. 2 tbsp olive oil
    3. 1 onion, finely chopped
    4. 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    5. 2 tsp fennel seeds
    6. 400g good, spicy Italian sausages
    7. 400g can chopped tomatoes
    8. 2 tbsp tomato purée
    9. 300ml vegetable stock, hot
    10. Small bunch fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
    11. 25g Parmesan or Grana Padano, grated

    Method

    1. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, then drain.
    2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in another saucepan over a low heat and cook the onion for 5 minutes until beginning to soften. Stir in the garlic and fennel seeds and cook for a further minute.
    3. Split open the sausages, add the meat to the onion and gently fry, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until golden. Add the tomatoes, purée and stock, and season well. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until thickened.
    4. Toss the pasta with the sausage ragù and chopped parsley. Sprinkle with the Parmesan to serve.

       

    Penne con Salsiccia e Zafferano




    Ingredients

    •  Fine sea salt
    • 1/8 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 thinly sliced onion 
    • 1 tablepoon fresh thyme leaves
    • 750g sweet Italian sausage
    • 1 tub heavy cream
    • 500g  penne 
     Instructions

    1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, combine 1 tablespoon water and saffron in a small bowl; set aside. 
    2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and thyme; cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 4 minutes, then add sausage and cook, breaking up sausage into small bits with a wooden spoon, until sausage is mostly cooked through, about 6 minutes. Add cream, saffron mixture and generous pinch salt; bring to a simmer and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
    3. Add pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain, then transfer to a large bowl; immediately add cream mixture and toss to combine. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately. 


    No Cook Chocolate Tart

    Ingredients

    • 200g pack all-butter biscuits
    • 100g butter
    • 1 tbsp golden syrup or honey
    • 100g bar dark chocolate
    • 100g bar milk chocolate
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 2 tbsp icing sugar , plus extra for dusting
    • 200ml whipping cream
    • 3 tbsp crème fraîche , to decorate
    • 200g raspberries , to serve
    Method
    1. Crush the biscuits by putting them in a large, strong, plastic food bag and bashing with a rolling pin. Melt the butter with the syrup or honey in the microwave, then stir in the biscuits. Press onto the base and up the sides of a 12 x 36cm rectangular tin (or 23-25cm round flan tin) and chill while you make the filling.
    2. Break up the two chocolate bars and put in a large bowl. Melt in the microwave for 2-3 mins on Medium, stirring halfway through. Stir in the vanilla extract, then sift in the icing sugar. Whip the cream until it just holds its shape, then fold into the melted chocolate. Pour into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Chill for at least 2 hrs or for up to 2 days.
    3. Just before serving, remove the tart from the tin and slide it onto a flat plate (loosen edges first with the tip of a small pointed knife). You will find it easier to remove the tart if you leave it at room temperature for 30 mins. Put a few tsps of crème fraîche along the centre of the tart (or around the edges if the tart is circular) and top each with a raspberry, then dust lightly with icing sugar. Cut into thin slices and serve with extra raspberries on the side.