Well, it’s late autumn, which means that it must be time for the Invasion Of The Germs.
IOTG is a bit like our own personal 30 Year War, only more traumatic. The first indication of their imminent arrival came the day after we got back from our long since forgotten family holiday, the shock of which induced a dirty protest in the Girl which, four weeks on, shows no sign of abating. (It’s like having our very own miniature Brian Haw. Although alive. And without the Anti-War slogans. Or the tents.) To
punish cure her, I’ve imposed a dairy-free diet, so like all the best protesters, she is now a vegan. (AND she doesn’t like having her hair washed; she’ll be living in a tree next.)
Having established a strong-hold in her guts, IOTG sent exploratory emissaries off in the Boy's direction. A few days later his nursery called – about twenty minutes after he’d been dropped off - to say he was “very tired.” (Their concern was piqued because he had sat still for several minutes, then sighed heavily and turned away when the opportunity to knock a smaller child to the ground arose.) Not unsurprisingly, the lethargy had completely disappeared by the time I got him home, and we sat eyeballing each other for a while until I capitulated and handed him the laptop and instructions on downloading CBeebies. (For non-UK readers, CBeebies is the televisual equivalent of Mary Poppins arriving at your door bearing a bagful of valium.)
Which left me free to change the Girl’s nappies (and diet) for the morning. So there I was, blithely lamenting the amount of shit I have to deal with (hohoho), when she started to sniffle a bit. Then cough. Sniff. Cough-cough. Sniff-sniff-sniff. COUGH-COUGH-BLUUUUEEEEEUGGGHUUUUGH. Wheeze-wheeze-wheeze. (Put this on a loop and play for 24 hours [turn volume to HIGHEST SETTING during the night], before cracking and going to the GP.) And so it came to pass that I lay on a hospital bench listening to Big Ben chime ALL NIGHT LONG (seriously – no wonder all our politicians are bonkers. It’s the bells, the bells...) while the Girl wheezed and coughed and spluttered in a cot beside me. Every two hours a nurse came and
ignored the fact that I had drooled all over the floor gently woke me up and we held the Girl down and nebulised her (hark at me, all television-hospital-drama). We were eventually sent home with an inhaler and lots of meds, but, undeterred, IOTG then launched a preliminary attack on me. Cough splutter.
This is a very very longwinded way of saying that I haven’t had much energy (or time) to cook this week, other than the usual fail-safe pastas (pomodoro and tuna). I started to feel a bit neglectful last night, so made a bit of an effort with some smokies, only realising when I’d finished the blasted thing that the fish was slightly off (IOTG again, no doubt). I didn’t have the inclination – or ingredients – to get creative, but then spied these lurking in the back of the cupboard:
and remembered a dish I used to make the Girl back when she was a mush eater. (This, incidentally, is the only photo you’ll be seeing on this posting because, without being too graphic, the finished dish looks a bit like it was co-produced by the Germs and the Girl, and I don't want to put you off.) It is, literally, mush in a bowl, so possibly not recommended for a dinner party (unless you’re having lots of 8 months olds for dinner) but it’s fairly delicious and, if you’re feeling a bit below the weather, is the perfect comfort food.
Red Lentil Mush
For a good-sized saucepan-ful you need:
- 250g red lentils
- An onion, chopped
- A celery stalk, chopped as finely as you can
- A large carrot, peeled and finely diced
- A litre of vegetable stock
- Salt and Pepper
- (Optional: half a chopped red chilli (if you fancy a bit of kick and it’s adults only); a tablespoon of cumin powder (this makes the dish more of a thick dahl); a handful of chopped coriander and/or some chopped / frozen spinach (if you have to hand). Personally, I like the blandness of leaving it chilli / spice free, and generally if I’m eating this my tastebuds are shot to hell anyway)
Fry the chopped onion in a couple of tablespoons of hot oil over a medium heat for a few minutes until they start to go soft, then add the chopped celery and carrot, stir well, and put the lid on. Check every few minutes to make sure the vegetables aren’t sticking to the pan. If they do, add a splash of water and replace the lid.
Leave for about 10 minutes - this is to ensure the celery and carrots also turn to mush by the end of the cooking time. If you’re using chilli or cumin (or both) add it now, stir well and leave for another minute or so.
Add the lentils, stir, and cover the mix with stock. Turn up the heat, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and leave to simmer. Check every few minutes that it isn’t getting too dry, and add more stock as needed. (You probably won’t use up all the stock, but if you want a more soupy dish, feel free to throw it all in). The lentils take about 20 minutes to cook – they’re done when they’ve completely collapsed.
If you’re using frozen spinach, add it when the lentils are soft and then leave the pot to simmer for a few more minutes until the spinach is completely defrosted and heated through. Otherwise add fresh spinach and chopped coriander (if using) and season to taste just before serving.
Serve with rice or bread (any type – I love it with hot buttered white toast) or on its own. Hot or cold. Off your own plate or your toddler’s. In sickness or – hopefully - in health.