Motivation issues. With a chicken pot pie.

You may have noticed that I haven’t been writing much lately. And I haven’t, it’s true.

The school holidays came along, I got distracted by spending time with the kids, and my motivation dropped. Then we went away on holiday for a week and my motivation dropped further. Then I had jury duty which was supposed to be a week long, but ended up being only two days, but I’d already written off that week, so no actual writing happened.

Then I got motivated, but not to write. A fresh week, a fresh opportunity to clean the house, get on top of the washing, call those tradesmen we’ve been meaning to book, measure my son’s room for a new desk, make some kombucha, do some baking, go for a walk…. anything but sit down and write.

Now here we are. More weeks gone by than I’m prepared to admit to, and I’m finally sitting down at my computer and writing. Hardly uninterrupted though!  So far this morning I’ve taken my kids to school, been to the supermarket, had a chat to my mother and sister, eaten breakfast, read the paper, had a coffee, had the landscaper round to talk about my sadly neglected garden, answered some emails…. but I’ve written three paragraphs, which justifies another break, doesn’t it?

Motivation would have to be my biggest challenge. There’s always something else to do, a call to make, a coffee to drink, exercise to be done. While I enjoy writing so much, it needs a clear head, clear space, the dishes done. I need to feel free to write, without the rest of my world creeping in surreptitiously and whispering seductively in my ear about all the other fabulous things I could be doing.

When I stopped working in advertising I left behind many of the pressures of having to deliver to a deadline for others. Now I have to deliver to my own deadlines. But my own deadlines don’t feel as important. They can be put to one side without the world coming to an end. There’s always something else that feels more important.

I guess that’s the beauty of working for myself. I can choose to prioritise as I see fit, to be as flexible or not as I wish. I always felt so guilty when I was working full time, when the kids were unwell and needed me to pick them up from school. So torn between caring for my family and the demands of my clients.

Now I can choose to spend time with my family. To live completely in the moment, in the knowledge that if I don’t write for a few weeks, nothing really bad will happen, that my readers will understand. That it’s ok to choose home, children, myself over my work. That it’s ok to not be motivated all the time. That sometimes to do your best work, you need to be able to take a break.

That despite your best intentions, life gets in the way. But that’s ok.

On that note, I need to go. My mother’s just turned up for coffee.

CHICKEN POT PIE
Serves: 4-6

2017-06-29 14.48.31 v12 tablespoons olive oil
8 chicken thighs, cut into thin strips
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1 leek, white part chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
6 silverbeet leaves, white removed, leaves chopped
250g mushrooms, sliced
Bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Juice of a lemon
Salt/pepper to taste
4-6 sheets pre-rolled puff pastry

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 210ºC.
  2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy based saucepan over a moderate/high heat. Add the chicken in batches and fry until golden brown. Remove and set aside.
  3. Reheat the pan over a moderate heat and add the bacon. Fry until golden brown and crisp.
  4. Reduce the heat to low, add the leeks, garlic and thyme to the pan. Stir to combine and cook until the leeks are soft and translucent (this will take 10-15 minutes).
  5. Sprinkle over the flour, stir to combine, and cook for 1 minute.
  6. Slowly pour over the milk, stirring continually to avoid lumps. Keep cooking until the sauce has thickened.
  7. Add silverbeet, mushrooms and return the chicken to the pan. Stir to combine with the sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes.
  8. Stir through the parsley and season to taste.
  9. Divide the chicken mixture among 4-6 deep individual oven proof dishes or ramekins (you could also make one large pie if you’d prefer). Brush the edge of the dish with olive oil, and lay the sheet of pastry over the top, with excess pastry hanging down the sides of the dish. Make a couple of small cuts in the pastry so any steam can escape.
  10. Put the pies into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is puffed, golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and serve (with a plate underneath so no-one is burnt!)

 

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From scratch: Yoghurt

I’d always assumed yoghurt would be difficult to make. The good stuff costs a fortune, there seems to be a stack of it on store shelves, so it must be hard, right? Otherwise everyone would be making it.

2016-08-16-14-38-09Turns out it’s actually pretty straightforward. All you need is a few basic kitchen utensils, a thermometer (this is important) and some nice organic milk. Oh, and some good quality yoghurt to use as a starter.

Yoghurt is insanely good for you, especially when it’s home made. That way you know exactly what’s in it. There’s no added sugar in this version (although I’m sure you could sweeten it, if you must) and I’ve recommended going organic with the dairy. Best of all, since you’re fermenting it yourself, you know that this yoghurt is guaranteed to have only the finest gut-loving bacteria roaming around in it. None of that cheap, store bought, additive laden nastiness.

2016-09-08 07.32.17.jpg
Straining prepared yoghurt

HOME MADE YOGHURT

2 litres milk (ideally organic, I use whole milk, but you can use lower fat)
1/2 cup unsweetened, unflavoured active pro-biotic yoghurt, the best quality you can find

  1. Pour the milk into a large, heavy based dutch oven or stove proof casserole dish with lid
  2. Heat gently, stirring occasionally to stop the milk catching on the bottom
  3. Turn off the heat when the temperature of the milk reaches 97°C. This temperature is when the structure of the protein molecules change to allow for fermentation and thickening. Reaching this temperature is essential!
  4. Remove from heat, cover and cool until the milk reaches 38-40°C (around blood temperature). The milk will form a skin on the top, but you can either stir it in or eat it (it’s quite nice). Any hotter than this and you’ll kill the bacteria. Any colder and mixture won’t ferment.
  5. Whisk the yoghurt with a little of the milk to thin down, then stir into the milk until well combined. It’s important to use active yoghurt to ensure the culture grows. You can begin to use your own yoghurt in this step to make the next batch.
  6. Wrap the dutch oven in towels and leave somewhere warm for 12 hours.
  7. When you unwrap the dutch oven, the yoghurt inside should be set, with a small amount of whey around it.
  8. If you want thicker yoghurt, take half of the yoghurt and pour into a seive lined with a clean tea towel, set over a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap (or another tea towel) and place in the fridge for up to 4 hours so the excess whey drains from the yoghurt. The remaining whey can be used in other ways.

A break from my significant other: 10 weeks alcohol free. The aftermath.

As I write this, it’s been three weeks since I started drinking again. I had stopped drinking for 12 weeks in the end, of course (and as I have mentioned obsessively over the past few months) excluding my few days in Sydney two weeks into my journey.

It’s been a mixed bag going back on the wagon. I have to say I’ve been surprised by how quickly things have gone back to normal, but equally surprised by the things that haven’t.

I started drinking again when we went on holiday to the South Island, on a week’s ski vacation. It seemed the perfect time to start again, a kind of celebration of the achievement and a time for relaxation and a bit of a spoiling. The irony that I was going to celebrate 12 weeks of abstinence by recommencing alcohol consumption was not lost on me.

The first glass was poured with some trepidation at the Koru Lounge at Auckland Airport. A glass of frankly average sparkling white wine that I found far too acidic for my stomach. I drank less that half of it, and abandoned it. Once on the plane I ordered a glass of red wine, which suited my delicate constitution far better.

Although I didn’t manage an alcohol free day during the 10 days we were skiing, I also was more balanced in my consumption. Most days I drank only a couple of small glasses of red wine, adding a third if a mulled option was available (figuring the heat would reduce the alcohol content). To be honest, my stomach just couldn’t handle any more than that. On the nights where I didn’t eat enough, I really paid at about 2am, waking feeling nauseous, headachey and anxious.

All the old demons returning to haunt me.

I’d love to say that I’ve been completely well behaved over the past three weeks, but a friend’s 40th, then another’s funeral have given me a couple of occasions for over indulging. Although not in the way I would have in the past. In both instances I was very aware of how I was feeling, I made sure I drank water, and took myself home far earlier than I would have in days gone by. I never lost control, but was uncomfortable with being as intoxicated as I was, even though it was moderately mild.

So here’s where I’m at now:

  • I’m trying to follow Ministry of Health Guidelines – that is to say, two alcohol free days a week, three units of wine (300mls) per day, and a maximum of six units of wine (600mls) on a big night out. I’m measuring my pours and they’re about 150ml per glass. I try to stay under this amount earlier in the week, so that I can relax a bit more in the weekends.
  • I’m sticking to my poison – I can really only drink red wine. I’ve tried to drink white again, but the acid is just too much. Red wine is better for my constitution, plus I figure there’s a positive antioxidant argument to be made.
  • Recognising when I’ve had enough – this is a big one. I want to be mindful, but at the same time I want to be able to relax and enjoy myself on occasion. I like feeling relaxed, but not drunk. Two to three glasses of wine is generally enough for me, and I really need to be aware of how much I’ve had before I’ve had too much.
  • The guilt is real – My sister had a dream that I wrote a blog about feeling guilty for drinking. And I do, often. The main reason why I need to keep myself under control is that I feel crushingly guilty if I don’t. It’s just not worth it. The solution is to moderate the amount I drink, be mindful, and avoid the guilt.
  • Everything in moderation – I’ve written about this many times. The importance of taking a moderate approach to life. Including moderation. On this basis, I need to try to keep my negative emotions in check. To try to avoid beating myself up repeatedly, and instead learn from my mistakes and put them behind me. Having a glass of wine or two of a night is a moderate approach to drinking. As is ensuring I have a couple of AFD’s per week. Having a bottle or two a night is not, neither is drinking every day.

 

At this stage I haven’t yet had my liver tested (it’s on my to do list), but my weight is still down from where I started. I’ll give you an update on the final numbers soon.

Paella. A Spanish classic made French.

The best paella I’ve ever eaten was created at a seaside bistro on the coast in Barcelona. I’m not sure whether it was the paella that was good, or the location, or that we had been living in London for the 6 months prior, and this was the first time we’d seen the sea in that long.

Either way, it was delicious.  And memorable.

Paella always sounds far more difficult to make than it actually is. Ideally you would have a wood fire to cook over, a proper paella pan and a gorgeous Spanish man helping you out, but you can still produce passable version without any of the above.

In this version I’ve used L’Authentique’s chicken confit and fresh chorizo. So this paella has a slightly French spin. The absence of seafood gives it a heartier feel, perfect for these chilly winter nights.

CHICKEN AND CHORIZO PAELLA

2017-07-17 11.01.55 v1.jpg2 whole legs chicken confit
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 fresh chorizo sausages
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 whole green capsicum, deseeded and sliced
1 whole red capsicum, deseeded and sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups casparella or abrorio rice (or other short grain)
6 cups chicken stock (1.5 litres)
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Pinch saffron threads
Zest and juice of a lemon
salt/pepper to taste
Fresh chopped parsley to serve

  1. Scrape the excess fat off the chicken confit. Remove skin and discard. Shred chicken and set aside.
  2. Heat a paella pan or a large heavy fry pan over a moderate/high heat. Add olive oil and fry sausages until brown and cooked through. Set aside.
  3. Reheat fry pan over low heat and add onion, capsicum and garlic. Cook, stirring, until vegetables have softened.
  4. Sprinkle over rice and stir to combine. Pour over chicken stock and add paprika and saffron.
  5. Slice chorizo and arrange with shredded chicken over the paella. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and cook, slowly, until all the stock is absorbed by the rice.
  6. When the rice is cooked, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over parsley.

A break from my significant other: 10 weeks alcohol free. Week 10 and 11

Day 64: Monday

This was supposed to be the beginning of my last week. Except I still have three weeks to go.

So. Very. Bored

Day 65: Tuesday

You’d think that by this point in The Great Non-Drinking Project of 2017, I’d have my head around actually not drinking for an extended period of time. But I don’t.

When I think about doing this again I feel really anxious. Although it hasn’t been nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, I have little desire to repeat it. Which makes little sense, and demonstrates how long it takes to well and truly break a habit.

Day 68: Friday

Rich started drinking again today. He’d always said that his non-drinking stint would last for the term. He’s been joking that he would have his first drink as soon as the kids finished school – at 3.30pm.

And as expected, he was in a cab on his way to have drinks with his friends at 3.40pm. I imagine first beer in hand by 4pm.

Things have just become more challenging.

Day 71: Monday

I made it through the weekend with my husband back on the wagon. He was pretty good all things said, certainly better than I’d expected. And credit to me, it wasn’t as challenging as I imagined it would be. So I built the drama in my head for nothing.

The thing that’s making the most difficult is that I miss drinking. It’s cold and wet and wintery and I would love a glass of red wine.

The irony is that now the finish line is in sight, I’m ready to chuck in the towel. I won’t, but I really want to.

Day 73: Wednesday

One thing I really haven’t touched on is my desire to be a good role model for my children.

Concerningly, my daughter especially is very interested in drinking, the culture that surrounds it, and finds it funny that we drink. She’s 13 now, and very close to being in situations that expose her to alcohol. Unhealthy situations.

It’s important to me that we start to talk about drinking with care. I’ve been especially careful through the years with any discussion about weightloss. I know I can be weight obsessed at times, but really don’t want to pass that way of thinking onto my daughter. In the same way, I don’t want my daughter to have an overly casual relationship with alcohol. Or my son for that matter.

I’m hoping that by increasingly my own mindfulness, I create a more positive drinking culture for my children. That they understand that alcohol can be damaging to health, and that it’s ok to refuse to drink, or even just to set boundaries.

Day 74: Thursday

Today I started reading about a local organisation called No Beers Who Cares.

Their premise is to encourage people to sign up to taking a year off alcohol. Which makes my 3 month stint look extremely modest by comparison. Their blurb says:

“What would your life be like if you took a break from booze for a while? 

No Beers? Who Cares! is an organization all about shifting attitudes around how and why we drink, and showing people that you can have a freaking good time without alcohol.

It’s not about giving something up, but seeing how much you gain.

When you sign up for NBWC you commit to giving up drinking for a period of time, taking charge of your health and happiness. While doing so you  become part of an incredible conscious community.”

Essentially, you join for a fee of between $99 and $399 per year, which gives you access to their community, newsletters, and discounts on their social events. If you go the VIP route, you also get a t-shirt and meditation course as part of the deal.

I’m guessing that somewhere in there is a support aspect, making this kind of like Weight Watchers for people who want to stop drinking, but don’t consider themselves alcoholics (or maybe they do).

So far so good. People who want to give the booze a significant break now have an organisation to do it with that isn’t AA. A community of like-minded people, without really nasty addiction issues.

Which is where this falls over for me. Where is the help if you do have addiction issues? I’m seeing loads on the site about social evenings and meditation and yoga, but very little about actual help to get you through.

This feels like cross-fit, and the Paleo diet, and rawfoods, and cleansing, and all the myriad of fads that are supposed to make us better people. Not drinking is being tied to some kind of moral and physical superiority.

Why is it that every new health trend is about cutting something out completely? And by preaching denial, aren’t we setting ourselves up for failure? Isn’t there room for balance?

I appreciate that it’s rich for me to take this argument on when I’m the one who hasn’t been drinking for quite a number of weeks now. And I guess I needed the time out to tell me what I already know – that a little bit of what you fancy is good for you. Everything in moderation, including moderation.

What I’ve learned this week: Breaking a Habit

I discovered when I stopped drinking that it takes about 8 days for the physical withdrawal symptoms to go, give or take, depending on how much you were drinking. That gets rid of any headaches, mood swings, energy fluctuations, etc.

But that doesn’t count how long it takes to break the habit of drinking. At over 70 days into this project, I can’t honestly say I’ve yet to break the “habit”. I would hazard a guess that writing regularly about drinking is keeping the subject top of mind, and is ironically preventing me from really moving on.

There’s a commonly held belief that it takes 21 days to break a habit. However, a very small amount of online research very quickly debunks that myth. The theory is a minimum of 21 days, rather than an exact measure. It appears (according to a 2009 University of London study) that the average time it takes for new habits to form is about 66 days or two months, with the range running from 18 to 254 days. It’s not exact, but it is a lot longer than we expect it should be. And forming new habits is the opposite side of breaking old ones.

So, the most important part of breaking a habit is to find new behaviour to replace the old with. Merely stopping drinking, and leaving a behaviour void, is a road to failure.

Here’s what I’ve done:

  • I generally would have had a drink at about 6pm or when I start cooking dinner. I’ve replaced my alcoholic drink with kombucha or another drink that I wouldn’t drink at any other time.
  • I have my daily drink in a nice glass, so it feels special
  • When we go out for dinner, I order non-alcoholic cocktails instead of wine
  • When I feel stressed, I go out for a walk, generally later in the day.
  • Alcohol was often used as a way to boost my energy levels late in the day. I’ve started making sure I have a healthy snack at about 4pm to make sure I have enough energy to carry me through to dinner time.
  • Lunch with friends is also a bit of a danger point. I’ve started choosing either alcohol free lunch locations, or have been up front that I’m not drinking – it’s amazing how often your friends will choose not to drink at lunchtime to support you.

 

 

 

The other red meat: duck confit

Confit is incredibly versatile. It’s like a lux rotisserie chicken or barbecue duck, you can reheat it in whichever form you choose and serve. No hassle, no time spent, the cooking part has already been done. You just need to put the finishing touches on it to make it a deliciously decadent meal.

This recipe though, uses confit in it’s most simple form. Simply reheating the duck in a hot pan until the skin is crisp, and pairing it with wilted red cabbage and red wine jus. Make it even easier on yourself by finding a good quality ready made jus.

It looks fancy, but is just too easy.

L’AUTHENTIQUE CONFIT DUCK WITH BRAISED RED CABBAGE AND RED WINE JUS
Serves 42017-07-17 12.48.12 v1.jpg

20g butter
1 tablespoon oil
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely diced
1/2 red cabbage, finely sliced
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Salt/pepper

250ml good quality red wine jus

4 x L’Authentique Confit Duck Legs

  1. Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy based pan over a medium heat.
  2. Add the bacon and cook until crisp
  3. Reduce the heat and add the onion. Cook stirring until the onion has softened
  4. Add the brandy, increase the heat and allow to bubble up (you can flame it if you’re feeling brave!!)
  5. Tip in the cabbage and stir to combine. Pour over the water, reduce the heat to simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes
  6. Pour over the cider vinegar and stir through the brown sugar. Cook for another 15 minutes.
  7. While the cabbage is cooking, heat a frying pan over a high heat and cook the duck (having removed excess fat) until the skin is crisp and the duck heated through. Heat the jus to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  8. Serve the duck with the cabbage and jus, with crisp roast potatoes alongside.

 

God help me. My kids are learning to cook. With extra fluffy cheese scones.

Amelia has started cooking.

She cooks twice a week. The twice weekly cooking incidence involves the stove and oven. She cooks dinner on a Friday and bakes during the weekend. I pay her to do both.

She also makes lunches for herself and her brother. This does not involve any heated appliances, generally. I also pay her for this.

The theory was that I could pay her to do some low level cooking which would firstly, take some chores off my hands, secondly, earn her some money, and thirdly, give her some valuable life skills.

The irony of this entire scenario is the amount of time it now takes me to:

  1. Harass her to ensure that we eat dinner before 10pm,
  2. Shout at her to ensure both she and her brother have lunches made BEFORE they depart for school
  3. Threaten her to ensure there is some baking in the tin so they actually have something to put into their lunch boxes other than fruit and sandwiches
  4. Clean up the low level natural disaster zone she leaves behind after she has finished

The food is great! The fact that I don’t have to make it is great! The endless cleaning up when she’s done, not great.

I’ve always felt like a bad mother for not really wanting my children to attempt cooking when they were small. Given my love of food, you would think that I would be the model foodie mother, encouraging little hands into mounds of bread dough, to stir cake mix, to carefully cut carrots. But no. Between being terrified of little hands being cut by sharp knives, or worse, grated (!!), I just couldn’t handle the mess.

I’m hardly a neat freak. My husband will tell you when we first were together he couldn’t cope with my idea of tidy versus his uber fastidiousness. Even then I cannot handle clouds of flour flying into the air, cheese being grated onto the floor, batter being spilt all over the bench.

I don’t think it’s fussiness, it’s mostly that I’m a bit lazy, I can’t stand cleaning at the best of times, and I prefer to minimise the amount I have to do. So I’ve avoided teaching my kids to cook until now.

Now I’m reminded of why I’ve left it for so long, as the dishes pile up in the sink, potato and carrot peelings scatter over the floor, and the rubbish in the bins begins to over flow, while my teenaged daughter creates a culinary masterpiece.

Then come the endless questions.

In moments of good motherhood, I have actively encouraged my kids to ask questions. “People who ask questions learn more” is the general gist of conversation. Except I prefer that to apply to school rather than home life. At home, I quite like not too many questions.

I particularly like an absence of questions that start with “Mum, where’s…”

When partnered with cooking, the “where” questions are matched with a stream of “how” questions (which I know is fair enough, given the girl doesn’t know how to cook yet). I’m not renowned for my patience.

Despite the mess, the irritation, the lack of actual time saved, Amelia is doing a pretty good job. Her food is delicious, made even more so by the sheer fact that I didn’t have to do it myself. She’s getting better at preparation, following recipes, and serving well cooked, well balanced meals.

It’s been worth it. I should have taught her sooner.

EXTRA FLUFFY CHEESE SCONES
Makes 6-8 generous scones

2017-07-01 10.07.27 v1.jpg

Originally this recipe was made with lemonade, but I found it weirdly sweet with the cheese. I’ve changed out the lemonade for soda water, which retains the dough’s lightness, but removes the extra sugar. If you want to make these extra indulgent, you can add in crispy bacon pieces (4 streaky rashers, cooked until brittle) or caramelised onions (1/2 onion, sauted until very soft).

2 1/4 cups plain flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
2 cups grated cheese
150ml milk
150ml plain soda or sparkling water

  1. Pre-heat oven to 220°C, and line a baking tray with baking paper
  2. Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl
  3. Stir through grated cheese
  4. Pour over milk and soda water, and stir until just combined. Do not over mix or the scones will be hard.
  5. Pour the dough out on the baking tray (the mix will be very sticky and wet) and spread out until it’s about 5cm thick.
  6. Dip a knife into flour and cut the dough into roughly equal pieces.
  7. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve hot with lashings of butter.

 

Decadently French: Confit chicken

Only the French could make something as pedestrian as chicken decadently delicious.

Confit is a traditional way of preserving meats, primarily, by slow cooking in fat, then packing cooked meats and fat in a sealed container to the meats keeps for months instead of days.

So far, so pragmatic.

The thing is, they don’t just use any old fat. They use duck fat. And holy hell is it delicious! The flavour of the duck goes deep into the chicken, making it a country mile from your common or garden slow cooked chook.

My lovely friends at L’Authentique have developed their own confit range, which includes a truly delectable chicken. I’ve given you two ways to use the confit below: the first, a traditional confit leg with duck fat roast potatoes; the second, a confit risotto.

Deliciously decadent.

CONFIT CHICKEN WITH DUCK FAT ROAST POTATOES
Serves 42017-06-15 16.33.58 v1

4 confit chicken legs
4 large agria potatoes
Green salad to serve

  1. Remove chicken from the packet, keeping aside duck fat and chicken stock
  2. Heat the oven to 210°C
  3. Peel potatoes and chop into either chips or 4cm chunks, whichever you prefer
  4. Place potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water and salt liberally. Bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and allow to dry slightly.
  5. Take 4 tablespoons of duck fat and heat in a roasting dish. When the fat is melted and hot, toss the partially cooked  potatoes in the fat and then put into the oven for 30 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown and crisp, turning occasionally during cooking.
  6. Heat another tablespoon of duck fat in a large frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the chicken legs and cook until skin is browned and crisp (about 10 minutes). Turn over and repeat on the other side.
  7. Serve one chicken leg per person with roast potatoes and salad on the side.

 

CONFIT CHICKEN AND MUSHROOM RISOTTO
Serves 4

2017-06-16 09.35.36 v12 tablespoons oil or duck fat
4 rashers bacon
1 onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
350g abrorio rice
¼ cup white wine
1.5 litre chicken stock
200g mushrooms, sliced
2 confit chicken legs, bones removed and meat shredded
A knob of butter
Salt/pepper to taste
1 cup grated parmesan
Bunch parsley, leaves chopped

  1. Bring stock to a simmer in a large pan over a medium heat
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil or fat in another large heavy based casserole dish
  3. Add bacon and cook until crisp and well browned
  4. Add onion, celery, garlic and thyme and cook until onion is soft and translucent
  5. Sprinkle over rice and stir to combine, until rice grains are coated in oil and glistening.
  6. Pour over wine and bring to the boil, stirring constantly.
  7. When wine is almost absorbed, begin adding stock, one ladle at a time until rice is creamy and al dente (the final risotto should be fairly liquid). Stir throughout the process.
  8. Halfway through cooking the risotto, add the mushrooms and stir to combine.
  9. Once the rice is cooked to your liking, turn off the heat, add the chicken and butter and stir.
  10. Season to taste, and stir through parsley just prior to serving.

A break from my significant other – 10 weeks alcohol free: Week 9

Day 57: Monday

I started my week by having coffee with my cousin, David. Dave is a doctor, which is useful when you need to find out stuff about your body. It’s also useful that he’s related to me, rather than me being his patient, so he can give me an honest, judgement free view of the world.

By “the world”, I mean what alcohol does to your body. And by “your body”, I mean mine.

We started off by talking about my elevated liver readings. This set the tone for the remainder of our conversation. Essentially, the elevated readings I’ve been getting are a sign of a fatty liver. But alcohol is only one cause of a fatty liver, not necessarily THE cause.

The reason you stop drinking for a while when you have such problematic blood results is that this helps to eliminate alcohol from the consideration set. You can then establish whether alcohol, excess weight, or any of a multitude of other factors is causing the damage.

Oh, and he made me feel much better about my 150 GGT reading. Apparently people with cirrhosis or hepatitis have readings in the thousands. So mine is positively moderate by comparison! But still not normal.

He also debunked another preconception I had about the relationship between alcohol tolerance and gender. I had always thought (and been led to believe) that men have a greater tolerance to alcohol than women because they are generally larger units. Not so.

When we drink, our liver produces an enzyme to break down the toxins we’ve ingested. How much enzyme is produced depends on how often and how much we drink. Therefore, size doesn’t come into it. It’s all about how your liver performs.

Essentially at the heart of all of this is that everyone’s different. Alcohol affects every one differently, and the longer term impacts are different for everyone. Which is not to say we should be complacent, but that a one size fits all approach doesn’t necessarily work.

When he’s talking to his patients about drinking guidelines he doesn’t discriminate by gender. He recommends:

  • No more than 3 standard drinks per day, with 2 alcohol free days per week for good health.
  • To prevent physical or psychological danger to yourself, no more than 6 standard drinks in one session

Probably the most telling was when I asked him how much he drinks. He doesn’t drink at all during the week, and when he does, it’s usually no more than 1-2 drinks.

He’s the third doctor I’ve spoken to who says much the same thing.

You have to wonder, if doctors aren’t drinking, doesn’t that tell us that it’s not especially good for us?

Day 58: Tuesday

Another day, another story on social media touting the benefits of drinking.

Recent bylines include:

“Drinking gin and tonics could help sooth hayfever symptoms, study finds”
(The Independent)

“BEST NEWS EVER: Drinking champagne keeps your mind sharp: Science”
(Huffington Post)

“This internship will pay you $12,000 to travel and drink beer”
(Esquire)

“Is alcohol good for you? An industry backed study seeks answers”
(New York Times)

And those are just the ones I managed to find again in 10 minutes while writing this post.

How on earth are you supposed to stay off the booze when every other story tells you that the stuff is good for you?!

Day 60: Thursday

Holy heck, 60 days. That’s a big milestone! If I were drinking that would be cause for a glass of champagne! Except I’m not, so I can’t. So I looked longingly at the bottle of champagne in the fridge, and opened a bottle of Kombucha instead.

*sigh*

Day 61: Friday

So this is weird.

I’ve started having dreams about going out and not drinking. Being at parties and not drinking. Being at bars and not drinking. Having people feeling sorry for me because I’m not drinking. Full scale anxiety dreams about not drinking.

I don’t feel anxious at all otherwise.

Usually my anxiety dreams stretch to walking into my old boss (complete bully) who I’ve mentally merged with Donald Trump, or your whole scale natural disaster scenarios. Generally tsunamis or tornadoes (something about things beginning with T?)

But drinking? Clearly my sub conscious knows something I don’t.

Day 62: Saturday

We had dinner with some friends tonight. Aside from the All Blacks losing their first game in I don’t even know how long, it was a really nice night.

And interesting, as these evenings so often are. We got talking about what I’m doing to congratulations all round (yay me!). Then the conversation turned to the drinking habits (or lack thereof) of others in the room….

Me: “it’s been nearly 10 weeks”

Friend 1: “I didn’t drink for 21 years”

Friend 2: “I haven’t had anything to drink for the last month, this is the first drink I’ve had”

Friend 3: “I took 6 months off last year”

Friend 4: “I’m taking 2 months off twice a year. Oh, and fasting 2 days a week”

As my 10 week effort withers like a joke without a punchline.

What I’ve learned this week: What does our liver do?

It’s probably worth going back to basics here. I know it’s taken nine posts, but I figure that the liver is a pretty important part of the overall alcohol equation. And I’ve never really taken the time to understand exactly what role it plays in my body.

So, I consulted the US National Library of Medicine. And these are the things you need to know (and that I needed to know):

  • The liver is one of the largest organs in our bodies, weighing around 1.4kg
  • It’s located in the right upper abdomen, under the diaphragm
  • It converts nutrients into substances our bodies need, stores said substances, then supplies it to cells when required.
  • It takes up toxic substances and neutralises them or expels them from the body. This enables it to remove alcohol from the blood stream.
  •  Along with vitamin K, it produces proteins that are important in blood clotting.
  • The liver is important in metabolic functions. It breaks down fat and converts it to energy.
  • It maintains the level of glucose in our blood stream, storing excess sugar as glycogen then releasing it as needed.

Seems like it might be kind of important.

 

 

Emerging from the employment wilderness. With a five spice beef braise.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. Lucky to have a husband who earns enough to support our family. Lucky to have sold our large house in exchange for a more modest abode, leaving us mortgage free. Lucky to no longer need to be in full time employment.

I’ve written about this before. So many times. My long time readers are rolling their eyes, and saying “for God’s sake, Katrina! Don’t you have anything else to talk about?”

Well I do. Honestly. This time I’m not talking about how rubbish my old work life was, and how it nearly broke me (although I can if you like). This time I’m talking about the challenges of reintegrating into the non-working community.

It’s a strange time. 18 months into working for myself (a combination of stay-at-home mum and cottage industry writer/food producer), and I’m slowly acclimatising to life outside the office. But it’s taking longer than I’d thought it would. It’s surprising how significant the impacts have been and how strange.

What to wear?

I wouldn’t have thought this would be a thing. But it is. It really is. And the most challenging bit is I can’t even tell you what you should be wearing because in all honesty it depends on your neighbourhood. It also depends on how involved you are in your child’s school (more on that shortly), and how much you care.

Certain neighbourhoods are all about the active wear as day wear. The look that says “I’ve just been to yoga/the gym/power walking”. Except strangely, their faces are never flushed and there’s zero sign of perspiration. Like many other fashion tribes, the label is critical. Nothing last season, nothing from The Warehouse, Cotton On or any other bargain establishment. Lululemon is universally acceptable, Nike at a pinch.

Other neighbourhoods are well practised in the art of “I woke up like this”. Bed hair, strategically ripped jeans that cost more than my unripped pair, “no make-up” make-up, “it” shoes and handbag de jour. Basically the off duty model look in the suburbs.

More than anything, it’s the time and effort everyone is putting in to look as good as they can. I once made the mistake of going to the supermarket unshowered, dirty hair pulled back, make up free. Never. Again.

The school network

Apparently some people actually make friends with the other parents from their children’s schools. There seems to be quite a network of school parents who all know each other well, and like to hang out together. I know. It’s weird.

All my years working in an office instead of at home while my kids were growing up meant I never spent time standing at the school gate. My kids were either picked up by the nanny or their grand parents, and if I was picking up/dropping off, it was via the drive through so I did’t have to leave my car. The whole experience was an exercise in optimal time management.

Now that I’m not working (or rather working from home), I don’t have that network to fall back on for coffee mornings, evening drinks, barbecues, and so on. Many of my former work colleagues have drifted away, unsurprisingly, and most of those who have chosen to retain a relationship with me are working during the day, so catching up during school hours can be challenging.

Sadly I think I may have missed the boat on this one. To be honest, I still can’t be arsed putting the effort into making a bunch of new “friends”, and life is busy regardless, so ce la vie.

Loss of stature

When you work in the kind of world that I did, you have a certain stature. I was a senior manager in an advertising agency, and I had some clout.

Or at least, I imagined I did. Increasingly I think that people were just humouring me. I can’t blame them. I think I may have been quite obnoxious on occasion.

I haven’t quite worked out yet that I am no longer as important as I think I am. I keep trying to pull rank with call centre staffers, who have the misfortune to be rostered on just when I happen to call. It helps that they’re on the other end of the phone likely on the other side of the world.

It’s a shock to realise that the mere sound of your name doesn’t carry the weight it once did. That people don’t spend their days trying to find ways to make yours better. It’s frustrating, sometimes infuriating and always humbling.

Loss of stature: part 2

The reduction in standing doesn’t stop with faceless, nameless service providers.

It carries on into your personal life. It really came home to me when I was at a workshop last weekend, where a multitude of women described themselves as “just a stay at home mum”.

I do it myself, but in a different way. Members of my family openly joke about my work status, wondering out loud why my garden is in the state it is when I don’t work. Question how I fill my days. Laugh at the daily minutiae I now find interesting and important. Flaunt their disapproval that I am no longer flogging my guts out for a global corporation, but have chosen to prioritise myself and my family instead. I’m lucky that I got to choose.

But I still find myself justifying what I’m doing. Rather than telling people who judge me to “suck it”, I say that I’m working, never wanting to admit that I’m now a stay at home mum. For goodness sake, I can’t even write it on arrival/departure cards, choosing “writer” or “cook” instead, which sound far more lofty.

I am lucky. But I have made my luck. I chose to leave a life that I wasn’t enjoying to pursue a life I love. I get to see my kids, my husband, I get to write, to cook, to walk on sunny days, to do all the things I enjoy.

I forget to wear make up to the supermarket, I never made friends with the other school mums, I yell at the call centre people (ok, I feel bad about that one). I’m a stay at home mum who’s trying to build a small business largely for myself.

If you don’t like it, suck it.

FIVE SPICE BEEF BRAISE

This is the kind of dish I can create now I have some time on my hands.

2017-06-28 10.20.11 v12 tablespoons flavourless oil (vegetable, canola or rice bran)
750g stewing beef (blade, chuck or gravy beef is good), cut into 5cm chunks
1 onion, skin removed, cut into wedges
2 cups beef stock
1/2 cup chinese rice wine or sake
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 star anise
2 teaspoons five spice powder
1 1/2 cups brown rice
3 long Asian eggplant. cut into 2cm slices
200g shitake mushrooms, stems removed
Salt/pepper
3 spring onions, sliced

  1. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy based pan with a lid. Add the beef in batches and fry until dark brown. Remove and set aside.
  2. Reheat the pan, adding more oil if necessary. Add the onions and cook until soft.
  3. Return the beef to the pan with the beef stock, rice wine, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, star anise and five spice powder. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour.
  4. Stir in brown rice and cook for another 30 minutes.
  5. Add eggplant and shitake mushrooms, stir to combine, and cook for a final 30 minutes.
  6. Season to taste, stir through spring onions and serve.