Monday, 31 January 2011

Control Yourself

As I write this, the Girl is in bed (it being well past her bedtime, and eating into mine) and screaming the house down, and I’m twitching, tapping my feet, and wishing above all else (apart, of course, that she’d just-shut-up) that I could have a glass of wine.

It doesn’t particularly help that my mentally challenged neighbours keep slamming their front door (their hobbies seem to be loud yapping outside of our windows, and door-slamming – and not much else), or that she was over-tired going to bed to begin with.  But whatever the reason, for the fifth night in a row she’s screaming when she’s meant to be sleeping, and I’m getting a bit sick of rocking her back to sleep several times a night.  The Man is away, I want to get to bed early, so tonight is the night for Getting Tough. 

Welcome to the mental and emotional trauma that is Controlled Crying.

For the uninformed, Controlled Crying is a hard-core sleep-training method.  It takes no prisoners, and guarantees relatively quick (as in one or two nights) results, but you have to have nerves of steel, and turn off any soft spots and maternal instincts which may be lurking.  As well as muting all monitors and sticking in ear plugs.   The method is simple:  leave the baby to cry for every increasing periods, going in to check on her at the end of those periods.  Eventually she’ll give up and go to sleep.  The idea is that she’ll learn to fall asleep on her own, and will realise quickly that crying doesn’t get rewarded. 

The really hard-core method requires you just to go in and check on the baby, saying something reassuring (if you’re feeling kind).  I’m doing the slightly less hard core version – “recipe” below - only because once I get in there her wailing is just too loud to bear, and I have to shut her up, if only for a minute or two. 

So I’ve been in to her five times in the past hour, each time leaving a few minutes longer than the last, and she’s still going all guns blazing.  I’ve got the monitor turned on mute, and I can still hear her, three floors down.  She is now screeching louder and longer than before, and has woken up the Boy (who, typically, drifted off to sleep early, with no head-banging at all for the first time in months; he’s now up there rocking on all fours, humming and moaning and banging).  Every time I go into her, I pick her up, lay her in my arms, and she stops immediately and goes to sleep – so I know she’s just acting the maggot, as my father would say.  Then I lay her down and she goes from 0-60 in an instant and ROARS.

It’s still not easy tho, listening to your big fat lump of a teeny baby roaring crying, but knowing she’s just looking for attention makes it easier to be tough.  Also, after the first few intervals you’ve already invested about half an hour, and it’s just a matter of riding it out. 

I’m a big fan of controlled crying – notwithstanding contentions by people who’ve got nothing better to do with their time that it’s cruel and psychologically damages the child  (oh for goodness sake);   the couple of times I used it with the Boy it worked brilliantly, he was asleep within a half hour, and his misbehaving wasn’t repeated on subsequent nights.  The Girl is, however, showing signs of being even more stubborn than he is – which I didn’t think was possible.

Right now I’m leaving her for 18 minutes – 5 minutes to go – and there’s a strong possibility that she’ll scream herself hoarse.

4 minutes to go.  It’s now just a battle of wills.

Typically, she has chosen the one night when the Man is away to misbehave.  I had a 7pm dinner and  8pm retirement planned.  It is now 827pm (3 minutes to go til the next pick-up) and she is showing no signs at all of quietening down.  Quite the opposite. 
Good to know that she puts her heart and soul into things. 


Golly.  With one minute to go, she seems to have given up and gone to sleep.  Thank you God. (And various sleep manuals).

Controlled Crying is the business. Here is the recipe. 

Controlled Crying (the modified version)*
You need:

·         One screaming baby (some books advise that she should be aged at least 3 months, but I’ve done it on the Boy when he was much younger – 6 weeks – and he was fine.  Admittedly, he’s now as mad as a brush, but that could be for many – or no – reasons.)
·         All adults in the house to be determined and to agree that no one is going to go near the baby until the allotted time.  This is a crucial ingredient. If you feel yourself wavering, look to your co-parent for strength, and vice-versa.
·         A glass of wine per adult (if NY resolutions permit).
·         A clock / watch.

Baby is crying.  Wait 5 mins to see if she’ll settle.  If not, go in, pick up, and shush / rock / cuddle, until she calms down.  Then lay her back down while she’s still awake (this is important if you’re to avoid creating sleep associations, ie she needs to be rocked / cuddled to sleep). 
Ignore the inevitable screeching, and leave the room.

Wait 8 mins and repeat as above.

Wait 12 mins, and repeat. Then 15, then 20 mins.   Keep 20 mins as the maximum time between visits.

By now she’s been crying for an hour, and you’re losing the will to live.  Pour yourself another drink and put the monitor on mute.  In really bad cases, it can take up to 3 hours before the baby falls asleep.  Tell yourself that it’s much harder on you than it is on your baby, and don’t cave – you’ve given too much of your time already to go back to square one.

With any luck you won’t have to repeat the next night, or again on the same night, but if you do, be tough and hold firm.  May the parenting forces be with you.  

*As I mentioned above, the really hard core version has you go in and just let her know you’re there – no picking up or touching.  The above version is for wimps;  for in-betweeners, you can pat her on the shoulder and shush her, without picking her up.  I like picking her up because it eases my guilt somewhat (“See? Mummy still loves you.  Now please shut up and go to sleep”) and it seems to work just as well.  

Monday, 24 January 2011

Head- Banging (and Wrecking)

The Boy is, quite literally, a head banger.  Once upon a time he’d go to bed, have a bit of a moan, then be asleep in a matter of minutes.  These days while the lights in his room go off by 715pm, those in his head are on and flashing for up to two hours more;  9pm regularly finds him still thrashing about, banging his head off the pillow, the mattress, the headboard – whatever is closest.  It didn’t use to bother me at all;  indeed, in my day I was known to require a certain amount of head-banging before I could fall asleep, so I just assumed it was hereditary.  But the Boy is taking it to new levels, with last night’s performance culminating in full body-slamming, moaning and groaning, sporadic snippets of conversation, and house-shaking bed-kicking.

I know this, because after half an hour of his theatrics last night, I snuck up to his room, crawled on all fours to the end of his cot, and surreptitiously watched while he thrashed and banged and hummed.  It was really quite something.  He didn’t seem to be annoyed or anxious, just a bit bored;  a few minutes banging with his legs, then he’d roll over, go up on all fours, and furiously wallop his head off the mattress.  Then flip back over again, arms over his head, and thud-thud-thud on the headboard. 

At one point he seemed to be slowing down at which point I made a critical mistake and started to back out.  The thumping stopped, and the only sound in his room was his shallow breath, and me struggling to stop myself from laughing.  Hours passed – well minutes, definitely - and when no movement resumed, I started to wonder if he’d just suddenly fallen asleep, and made to escape.  This was thwarted by the sight of his little blonde head peering over the end of the cot, a huge big grin on his face, eyes wide with excitement.  “Mummy!  Hiding!! Silly Mummy!!” he shrieked with glee, when I uncurled and looked at him.  Aw, bless.  Silly Mummy indeed - we were back to square one in the getting-to-sleep-early stakes.  And he now probably thinks that I’m the nutter, which is somewhat ironic, all things considered.

I consulted Dr Google, who bleakly told me that I’m possibly looking at a brain tumour, deep psychological problems, or various neurological disorders.  Or, more probably, a condition known as Rhythmic Movement Disorder.  Afflictees are generally under 4, and manifest symptoms such as head-banging, rocking, and thrashing about as they’re falling asleep.  Solutions are limited to patience (they generally grow out of it) or, in severe cases, drugs.  While I’m all in favour of sedation to block out the noise from the Boy’s room, I prefer it to be self administered;  thus it looks like we’re in for another couple of years of head-banging, and the Girl’s is just going to have to put up with having the fan on in her room (pointing down, to minimise bed-clothes / hair disturbances).

Speaking of disturbances, it transpires that our decision to date to keep the kids’ church attendance down to a minimum (of, to date, nil – you don’t get much more minimal than that) has been a wise one.  We were invited to a lovely christening yesterday morning, which we were told would be awash with babies and toddlers, so disruption would be abundant.  Well, disruption certainly was abundant, but alas mainly from the Boy.  He raced up and down the aisle like an antichrist (appropriately enough), before leading the toddler-charge in discovering the joys of the nativity manger – worryingly free-standing and perfectly sized to entice even the calmest of 2 year olds.  I meanwhile was feeling religious guilt down the back of the church (you can take the girl out of Catholic Ireland...) as I fed, and – gulp – changed the Girl.  (Who poos in the House of God? Twice??)

All the while, at centre stage the newly christened baby was giggling, cooing and laughing, every inch the perfect baby, and kids all around us sat by their parents, or knelt deferentially by the animal figures, petting and stroking.  The Man and I looked on enviously, as the Girl wriggled uncontrollably and chewed the order of service, and the Boy tried to drag the Virgin Mary out of the stable (through the window) and up the alter.  It’s little wonder really that we rarely leave the house.

Beset as I am by round-the-clock toddler antics, it’s hardly surprising that I’m counting the days to the end of drink-free January – 24 down, 8 to go - and turning for comfort to crunchy sweet things in the interim.  These are easy peasy (more so if you have a “food machine”, as the Boy calls it), taste of childhood, and impossible (for mummies and offspring) to stop eating.  Taken directly from this weekend’s Guardian, with nothing added, and nothing taken away*. 

Jam Thumbprint Biscuits
You Need (for about 12): 
  • A shade under a block of butter (225g) (I know. Just don’t think about it.)
  • 225g Castor Sugar
  • Zest of a Lemon (or an Orange – which was my only deviation)
  • 3 drops of vanilla extract
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 280g plain flour, sifted with a pinch of salt
  • About 3 tbsp of any type of jam
Preheat oven to 180/4/350

Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy in the food machine, then add the citrus zest and vanilla.
Add the egg yolks and milk, and beat again.

Remove from the food machine, and stir in half the flour, mixing well, then the other half.

Roll the dough into a ball, cover in clingfilm, and stick in the fridge while hang your 6-month-old in her bouncy thingy, peel-steam-puree-freeze a bag of sweet potatoes, start making soup for a toddler’s lunch, stop said toddler from turning his sister’s bouncy-thingy into a bungee-jump-thingy, remove traumatised baby from bouncy thingy, clear up, and try to eat a slice of toast before your toddler sees you. (30 mins)

Roll the chilled dough into balls the size of a golf ball, and put on greased / lined baking tray an inch apart. 

Invite your toddler to help you making a well in each ball with your thumb (be warned – this gets a bit messy) and fill this with jam (about half a teaspoon).  (This gets even messier).

Stick in the oven for about 15 mins, until they’re golden and looking crisp. 

Ideally, wait until fully cool before burning your tongue on tasting them

*Except, possibly, my appetite for lunch.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Rickety Wagon

I have a confession to make:  I fell off the wagon last week.  Actually, it was more of a small trot alongside the wagon for a short while, before I jumped back on again;  but however you categorise it, after two weeks of purging my body – and soul – I stumbled. 

In my defence, it was a very very long day, which included a morning screaming match on the street with a white-van-reptile man (so classy) and an evening  game of hunt-the-poo-which-I-know-is-in-a-tissue-in-the-pram-basket (don’t ask).  And those were the good parts.  The Boy and I fought like beasts (most notably in the middle of Sainsburys), and the Girl decided to replace her naps with non-stop howling, which I joined in with several times. My head was wrecked, and so when I finally herded them up and deposited them into their respective beds, stumbling exhaustedly off the wagon to which I had foolishly shackled myself seemed the only sensible thing to so.

God it felt good.  But it also felt temporary, and since then I’ve had no enormous desire to fall again.  Having said that however, if I’m unfortunate enough to face another day as emotionally traumatic, there’s a very good chance I’ll decide to check out the view from ground level again. 

This awful weather doesn’t help.  Day after day of lashing rain, night lifting at about 9am, then descending a few short hours later, breaks in showers only long enough to get two children wrapped up, tied into prams and out to the point of no-return, before it starts to hammer down again.  I’ve come to realise that the reference to it raining “like cats and dogs” doesn’t in fact refer to the rain, but to the behaviour of mothers (at least this one) and toddlers (at least that one) trapped indoors with each other all day.  At best we’re snarling at each other, then he disappears to God Knows Where, leaving me with glorious peace and quiet – until I remember that toddler+peace+quiet=trouble.  Cue emptying bathroom bin into the toilet, climbing into the dryer and shutting the door behind him, or – my particular favourite, as the long silence was then broken by an ominous “uh-oh” - removal of keys from my laptop keyboard.   That other NY resolution – to laugh in the face of toddler antics – is also facing temporary flouting.

When the Boy is not dismantling the house, or plonking his sister a box on wheels and whizzing her around the kitchen (her face is a mixture of terror and joy), he’s sprinting towards boy-hood. Less than a month ago, when his grandparents were visiting for Christmas, his vocabulary, while broad, comprised at most three words strung together - a feat which we greeted with clapped hands and encouragement.  Now he’s chatting away with such fluency that we’re at the point of nonchalance;  he stands in the middle of the room with his hands held out, palms up, looking mystified and saying “But where’s my car gone?”  and I respond with a weary “I have no idea.”  (The car/soother/elephant/book/whatever-has-just-popped-into-his-head is sought several times an hour, so I must be forgiven for the wearing thin of the novelty.)  Last night I pointed at a picture and said “what’s the boy doing?” and he accurately responded that “the boy is doing kissing the rhino”.  Bedtime makey-uppy stories, the topics of which are chosen by him, are mad, varied capers, involving giants snakes, “teeeeeeeny-tiny” kittens (“where’s their mummy gone?”), ”poor dogs crying in the trees, boo-hoo boo-hoo” and of course an inevitable digger (“man driving the digger very very slowly, being very careful, sneezing ACHOOOOO, hahahahahaha silly old man, like daddy...”). 

It’s very sweet really, and lessens my guilt to feel that, however it started, we end the day on something of a high note.  And then I go downstairs, gaze at the bottle of wine, and think up recipes which will enable me to reach for it. 

Lemon and Courgette Risotto
Risotto can be a bit of a pain to make, and I generally opt for a baked version (which I’ll post soon), but any time spent stirring is off-set by there being hardly any ensuing washing up.  

You need (enough for 4 with no leftovers, or 2 with plenty):
  • 250g risotto rice
  • 1 litre hot vegetable stock
  • 1 onion, chopped quite finely
  • 1 stick of celery, chopped quite finely
  • 1 lemon (zest and juice)
  • Two medium courgettes, diced
  • Fresh basil or parsley (or,  ideally, both)
  • Glass of white wine
  • About half a wedge of parmesan cheese, grated
  • A large knob of butter
Put a good glug of olive oil into a large deep pan, heat, and add the chopped onion. 

When it starts to sizzle, add chopped celery and a few basil leaves (if you have ‘em).

Stir after a couple of minutes, then reduce heat, cover, and leave for 7 mins or so (this is to soften the celery, and is especially important if the risotto will be eaten by a toddler with spit-out-crunchy-food issues)

Turn the heat up to medium, then add courgette pieces and the zest of the lemon (a citrus zester is best for this, otherwise use a peeler and peel off strips as finely as possible, then slice them into “teeeeeeeeny tiny” slices)  and stir. Put the lid back on and leave for about three minutes.

Add the rice and stir to coat with the mixture – don’t leave it heat for more than a minute or so, or else it’ll take forever to cook – then throw in the glass of wine.  This should immediately sizzle and will be absorbed fairly quickly.  Stir it more or less constantly.

Add about a quarter of the stock, and stir through.  You can keep stirring all the time, or go off for a few minutes and put on a load of laundry / clear the table / have a sneaky fag out the back.  Once the liquid has been absorbed, add another quarter, stir, leave etc.

Repeat until all your cigarettes have run out the stock has all been used. This process takes about 15 minutes.

You should now have a wettish porridge-y mass of risotto, into which you now add the juice of the lemon, the butter and half the parmesan (how much you use depends on how cheesey you like it to be). Stir well to incorporate all the cheese, then add the rest of the herbs, some salt and pepper (as you like) and serve with the rest of the parmesan on top. 

The perfect dish to chase away all thoughts of those pesky cats and dogs.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Winter Solace

I’m suffering from déjà-vu (all over again).  This time last year I was aghast at the prospect of the long, dark winter stretching months and months ahead of me – because, as we all know, winter proper doesn’t start until January, and London doesn’t really experience a Spring.  We just leap from Winter to Summer sometime in early May.  So there I was last year, beside myself with the thought of the endless dark afternoons, the rain, the gloom – and how on earth to keep an active toddler entertained throughout?

And yet somehow I must have managed, because here I am again, back staring into the dreary void.  I can’t really remember last summer – it’s a blur of back-ache and swollen ankles and major abdominal surgery (not to mention the ensuing newborn chaos).  But we must have had a summer, and thus I must have survived the incessant winter, because lo! suddenly it’s January.  And I’m equally clueless about how to fill it, but this time around I have twice as much on my hands.  

The hell that is weaning is keeping me somewhat occupied.  I’d completely forgotten just how mind-numbingly boring and time-consuming all that peeling, chopping, steaming, pureeing and freezing is.  I considered enlisting the help of the Boy – killing birds with stones, and all that – but every stage involves a sharp or a hot object, not best instruments to arm him with.  (But how delighted would he be to be let loose in the kitchen with the peeler?  Poor thing positively glows with joy when he stumbles anything which has inadvertantly been left out, and is as such - at least in his eyes - kitchen contraband. 
And as for the laundry... I now have a separate pile just for the Girl, comprising bibs, muslin clothes, cardigans (hers and mine) baby-gros and several pounds of vegetable mulch. I should just start a compost heap in the garden and be done with it.
The reaching for the wine solely as a cooking ingredient continues, although I like to think it has more to do with the freezing cold weather than my inability to cope without having some form of alcohol  in my veins.   I’ve a major addiction to some food blogs and this recipe has been adapted from one featured on my favourite,  It feeds six normal people – so great for a dinner party (says she, as if we ever entertain anyone other than our offspring any more) – or two ridiculously cold, hungry and wine-starved ones (with leftovers for breakfast for one of them – yum).  If you’re making the white sauce yourself (madness) then this isn’t exactly a one-pot easy-peasy mid-week supper;  but the sauce actually only takes about 15 mins to make, so it’s hardly back-breaking.
As with the last recipe posted, this can be made without the addition of wine;  but why would you want to?
Mushroom Lasagne
You need:
  • Six large sheets of lasagne (I use the vacuum-packed fresh stuff, which you’ll find in supermarket fridges, but dried from a packet is fine too - just pop the sheets into boiling water for a couple of minutes before use. Also, the sheets I use tend to be about twice  the size of dried ones, so just adjust the quantity to make three layers of pasta in your dish)  or
  • a head of celeriac* (see note at end on low-carb-cooking)
  • A large portion of white sauce (recipe below if you’re making from scratch;  three [or so] tubs of  ready-made, if you’re feeling sensible lazy)
  • About 1kg of mushrooms (any type, no need to be snobbish; I always go for supermarket economy-label white mushrooms, but feel free to be adventurous;  the quantity equates to about three supermarket cartons) roughly chopped.  Whether you remove the stalks or not is up to you. 
  • Some oil and butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Fresh parsley
  • A glass of wine (any colour, and optional)
  • A large lump of parmesan (or, in fact, any type of hard cheese.  Cheddar is fine too)

Preheat oven to 170 / 325 / 3

If you’re making the white sauce from scratch, do it first.  You’ll need:
  • About 1/5th of a block of butter (50g-ish)
  • Flour (no precise quantity, a few tablespoons)
  • Milk (skimmed, semi- or fatty – whatever) – about 1 lt
  • S&P
Heat the milk (in the microwave is easiest). 
Melt the butter in a deep pan. 
Just as it starts to sizzle add two large tablespoons of flour and mix well with the butter.  You’re aiming for a dry, chalky mixture, with no obvious melted butter visible, so add more flour, a half tablespoon at a time, to achieve this.  Stir over a medium heat until it starts to stick slightly to the pan.
Pour in the heated milk a couple of splashes at a time, stirring the mixture like a crazed beast.
The first few splashes of milk will sizzle and (seemingly) evaporate, and the mixture will resemble thick paste.  Keep adding the milk, a few splashes at a time, the mix has the consistency of double cream. 
If I have any to hand (which I’m ashamed to admit, I always do) I usually add a couple of handfuls of grated cheddar at this stage.  Just to keep the fat content of the lasagne nice and high.
Turn the heat low, cover and leave to bubble gently for about 10 mins.
(Or else just buy about a litre’s worth of ready-made white sauce from the supermarket, save yourself time and hassle, and support the economy all at the same time...)

Mushroom Filling:
Heat a few glugs of oil and a tablespoon of butter in a pan.
When it starts to sizzle, add the crushed garlic.
When that starts to sizzle and smell, well, garlicky, add the chopped mushrooms, and turn the heat to medium.  Stir regularly to coat the mushrooms, and once they’ve started to cook, add another tablespoon of butter, cover the pan, and leave to simmer for about 10 mins.  Check every so often to make sure they’re not sticking.  You want them to reduce to about half their volume, and stay a bit wet. 
After 10 mins or so, add the glass of wine.  (If you’re not using wine, loosen up the mixture with some water, or, if you have it, cream.)  Bring back to the boil, throw in a handful of chopped parsley, cover and lower heat again for about 3 – 5 mins.

To assemble:
Add the following to your baking dish in the following order:
  • V thin layer of sauce;
  • Layer of pasta (or celeriac);
  • 1/3rd remaining sauce
  • Grate the cheese over the sauce – you want an even scattering, not too thick
  • ½ mushroom mix
  • Pasta + 1/3rd Sauce + cheese + ½ Mushroom mix
  • Pasta + 1/3rd Sauce + cheese

Pop in the oven for about 30 – 40 mins – until the top is browned and the dish is bubbling at the sides.  Leave to stand out of the oven for a few minutes, while you open a bag of ready-made salad whip up a green salad and, hopefully, pour yourself a glass of the cooking wine. 
Eat at least once a week until May. 

*I told a friend I’d keep her low-carb diet in mind when posting recipes.  Trying to recreate lasagne without using pasta sort of defeats the purpose, and you end up with a bake, rather than lasagne**.  I made this with slices of celeriac, which I par-boiled first, instead of the pasta, and it was delicious. Definitely not lasagne, but definitely worth cooking.  Just make as above, substituting the lasagne sheets with celeriac slices, about the thickness of a pound coin, which you’ve boiled for a couple of minutes first. You want the celeriac to still have some bite, but for the starchy rawness to be gone.
**Or you can call it “lasagne” as they do in posh restaurants (ie, when you order “lasagne of carrot and tomato” and you think – “oooh, that sounds interesting”, only to be presented with a plate of finely sliced carrots layered with finely sliced tomatoes. And a bill for £14. 

Monday, 10 January 2011

Whinging and Wine-ing

Resolutions going splendidly.  Second blog posting in so many weeks, weaning self off the intellectual vacuum that is Facebook, and apart from a few small lapses (most  notably my own tantrum when I was bitten on the leg yesterday – the naughty corner has never been used with such vehemence), our house is generally filled with the sound of my (hollow) laughter when faced with the questionable behaviour of a small person.  Most amazingly, it’s now Day 10 in the Big Sober household, and as expected (dental violence aside), this has been the most difficult resolution to uphold.  There hasn’t been an evening when I haven’t waivered, and last night  I found self  inhaling the contents of the Man’s wine glass, and actually opening the cupboard for a wine glass – before admonishing self for my patheticness and lack of will power. 

Despite feelings of self-satisfaction and smugness,  I’m not convinced that this manifestation of inner discipline is actually yielding any physical benefits – other than (I assume) to my liver.  I haven’t had any middle-of-the-night waking in about a week, tho’ suspect this is more to do with the kids sleeping (relatively) well at the moment, and the fact that I am so dog-tired by the time I fall into bed, that little would wake me.  I’m beginning to suspect that my flagging energy levels may in fact be as a result of the two small people who lodge with me. (Whooda ever thunk it??  And what are the chances of giving them up for a month day?)

The days just feel bereft of something – a gap which I am trying, unsuccessfully, to fill with elderflower juice and chocolate.  Because of this, I have found self reaching for the (forlornly half-full) bottle of wine as a dinner ingredient more often than usual. 

The recipe below  - perfect food for this most imperfect of winter months – can be made without the addition of lashings of red wine, but like me, is more rounded with it.  If you're feeling particularly virtuous, throw in some greens - eg baby spinach - a few mins before serving.  It takes slightly longer to make than I would prefer, but it’s a one-pot dish, and once the prep is done, you just leave it to get on with cooking itself.

Lentils au Vin (Or Hot Nourishing Lentil Stew, if you omit the Vin)

You Need (For 2 hungry hogs, with plenty left over for hungry hoglets):
  • 250g Puy Lentils
  • One onion, chopped
  • Couple of carrots,  thinly(ish) sliced
  • Couple of stalks of celery, chopped into small pieces
  • A large glass of red wine – anything you have to hand (or want to have to hand, if you’re looking for an excuse to open a bottle...) 
  • One tin of tomatoes (whole or chopped)
  • A litre of hot stock*
  • Whatever dried or fresh wintery herbs you have in your cupboard (eg rosemary, parsley, oregano).  Don’t fret if your kitchen is a herb-free zone. 
Heat some oil in a deep casserole dish / saucepan, and add the holy trinity of chopped onions, celery and carrots.  Once they start spitting, turn the heat down to medium and leave to soften – about 7 minutes or so.  You might want  to keep an eye on them and stir occasionally to prevent them sticking.

Tip in the lentils (the measurement is approximate;  they’ll swell to about twice their size, so add as much as you think you’ll need) and stir, coating in the oily vegetable mixture. 

Add the wine and the tomatoes (breaking them up if using whole ones) and stir to mix.  Bring to the boil.

Add as much of the stock as you need to cover the mixture by about one cm.  Bring to the boil again, then stir and turn heat down, so the mixture is bubbling.  Add any dried herbs you’re using.

Check on it every 10 mins or so, adding more stock as needed.  You’re aiming for a thick stew, so adjust liquid level as needed – adding more stock or wine if too dry, or letting bubble furiously if too wet.

The lentils will take about half an hour to cook through.  Season to taste, and add any fresh herbs before serving.

Serve with potatoes, rice, hot garlicky toast – or just in a deep bowl, all on it’s lonesome.  

And lucky lucky you if you get to have a glass of red wine with, as well as within, your dinner.   

*Have I extolled the virtues of Marigold stock yet?  If so, ignore this.  If not – get yourself to a large supermarket / healthfood shop soonest and stock up.  Delia and Nigella swear by this, which is a fairly impressive pedigree.  As well as being the easiest stock for all soups and stews, if you ever find yourself  with a hangover again, it’s the perfect comfort drink.  Ah, hangovers...

Monday, 3 January 2011

Merry New Year ('tho not until Feb...)

Oh dear.  2 posts for the whole of December is not great going*.  I s’pose this could be justified by it being December, and all my time having been taken up ensuring the family had the greatest Christmas ever, perfectly wrapped presents, beautifully home-made food, a shining house and glimmering decorations etc.  Except the house looked like it always does (shudder), presents were wrapped not many minutes before they were handed over, the fridge remained mysteriously bare (notwithstanding the shocking grocery bills) and Christmas – well it was lovely, but it came and went without too much of a flutter.
Anyway, this makes sorting a New Year’s Resolutions List easy peasy.  Well, the first one anyway:  Post Blog once a week.  
The following comprises the rest of the list, and is rather pathetic, but I’m working on the “Aim low” basis.  At the very least it’ll make for interesting reading in 364 days’ time.
No alcohol in January. 
I know I know.  It’s a great idea, and one I’m hoping will boost my flagging energy levels, but it’s gonna be hard.  My day is punctuated by that 730pm glass of wine;  it marks the delineation between being a mother and being the old me  (I almost said “real” instead of “old”, but have to admit that I’ve no longer any idea who the real me is);  it acts as a full stop to the non-stop parenting and allows me to change gear slightly;  and rather pathetically, it gives me the wherewithall to set to the Great Daily Clean Up.  Alas, it also leaves me feeling a bit muggy-headed in the morning, and given our current fractured sleep – we’re regularly woken up twice a night – I need all the clarity I can get.  Not to mention that it has a nasty habit of slipping to two – or even three – glasses, then suddenly it’s 830pm, and yet again dinner is being gulped down at 9ish, and then the evening is gone. 
So for the sake of clear heads and efficiency, January is going to be booze-free.  Gulp. 
Facebook and emails to be checked once a day only.
Seriously.  What a complete waste of time – literally - Facebook is (tho note  t’s not enough of a waste of time to discard it entirely).  Emails aren’t ever urgent enough to warrant checking more than once a day anyway (actually, really only once a week in my case).
And most importantly: Laugh in the face of toddler tantrums. 
Even if this causes a magnitude in the tantrum.  According to parents everywhere, soon it’ll all be over and I’ll be worrying about crack addiction (I’m just assuming the reference is to the children’s addiction and not my own) so best to try to enjoy it. Or at the very least not to want to sink to the ground and cover myself with dead leaves several times a day.
May 2011 be the year I finally achieve something on my list of resolutions...

*  In my defence, I did write one in the run up to Christmas – detailing my Santa wish-list – but (a) I never got around to posting it and (b) it sort of depressed me, the untenable things I wanted.  Another set of arms, another hour in the day, a kitchen floor that never needed sweeping or mopping, a Naughty Corner that actually worked etc. In the end I realised that what I really really want – need in fact – is a wife. Not a crappy useless wife like me; nope, a proper 1950s house wife (without the valium addiction or the alcoholism), who’ll cook and clean and smile and do the laundry while singing softly under her breath.  Most def not me.