Can I stop wearing a bra now? With a Mexican pork and black bean soup.

It feels like a right of passage to be a female writer and write about your boobs. I hadn’t thought I’d get there quite so early in the piece, but here we are, talking about my boobs.

At least it’s not my period.

So how do we find ourselves here? Trying not to be uncomfortable, looking everywhere but at each other, wondering what my mother-in-law and her friends will say about this. Well, as there so often is, there’s a story. And a point. I promise.

A month or so ago, I had a reasonably unpleasant allergic reaction to some pretty toxic soap. This resulted in a rash developing all over my body. A violently itchy rash, which I scratched until I made myself bleed.

Said rash resulted in my children tell me off for scratching. One of many role reversal episodes that feature in my life these days. It also resulted in being unable to wear a bra.

I should point out that I have worn a bra pretty much every day since I was 14-ish. I’ve worried about my breasts ending up down around my ankles. I’m also quite a prude, so the idea of anyone being able to see my nipples is horrendous at best. Unless I wanted them to, of course. I have never been the #freethenipple poster child.

I now haven’t worn a bra for over a month. The itch from wearing one was unbearable, I’ve resorted to cotton singlets under my clothes instead. Which has been fine, no-one has said anything (they may be too polite). Also it’s winter, so jerseys are my friend.

Then last week, the rash had finally cleared up, and I decided it may be time to go back to my old ways. I pulled one of my bras out of my underwear drawer, and put it on.

Oh God it was so uncomfortable! It was constricting, I felt like I couldn’t breath properly. The tightness all around my back and chest was like wearing a cropped straight jacket.

So I took it off. I haven’t put it back on again.

And I’m wondering, can I stop wearing a bra now?

So far it seems to be working for me. My boobs are hardly double Ds. I’d be a B at best, possibly a large A. It gets worse as I lose weight, and given my weight is coming down as I’ve stopped drinking, the future for my cup size is not looking bright.

My husband has never been a man who sees any sexiness in lingere, so my undergarments are pretty utilitarian. I like cotton and lace makes me itch. Even pre-rash saga. So no loss there.

At the heart of my question is am I too old to stop wearing a bra? Most women go through their braless stage when they’re young and perky, not knocking on the door of a half century. I’ve tried to adopt a bohemian look on and off, which would lend itself nicely to bralessness, but it just doesn’t gel with me. There’s too much black in my wardrobe.

I haven’t applied seasonality to this potential problem. Being winter, there’s a certain advantage to being able to rug up. Layers hide a multitude of sins. But come spring and then summer the layers come off and hiding is no longer an option. So what then?

Although there’s a bunch of stuff I’ve taken out of my life as that daunting milestone approaches, I still try to keep myself looking nice. I haven’t gone completely feral. So is no bra a step too far?

MEXICAN PORK AND BLACK BEAN SOUP
Serves 6-8

Many of the Mexican bean soups I’ve found have the beans blended at some point in the process so the soup thickens. I’ve made this one more like a Mexican minestrone with a tomato broth like consistency.

2017-06-21 13.02.06 v12 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion finely chopped
1 green capsicum, deseeded and finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 chipotle chillis in adobo sauce, deseeded, finely chopped
1 tablespoon adobo sauce
2 x 400g tins crushed tomatoes
500g pork leg or shoulder, cut into 2cm cubes
2 litres chicken stock
2 x 400g tins black beans, rinsed and drained
Salt/pepper to taste
Bunch coriander, stems and leaves chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Sour cream to serve

  1. In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over a medium heat
  2. Add onion, capsicum and garlic and cook until onion is soft and translucent.
  3. Sprinkle over cumin and oregano, stir to combine and cook for another minute or two
  4. Pour over tomatoes, chipotle chillies and adobo sauce and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes or until tomatoes have darkened and thickened
  5. Add pork and chicken stock, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 60 minutes or until pork is very tender.
  6. Tip in black beans and cook for another 20 minutes. Season to taste.
  7. Sprinkle over coriander, and squeeze in lime juice, stir to combine then serve with sour cream. You could also serve with chopped avocados if they’re in season.
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A cassoulet with shortcuts.

Cassoulet is a French classic dish. So important in certain parts of France that there’s even a society in the dishes honour, the Academie Universelle du Cassoulet, which determines whether your cassoulet is truly authentic (they have some fetching costumes to boot).

Cassoulet is a casserole of sorts made from white beans, and various meats, both cured and fresh, depending on the area you find yourself in. It’s peasant food at it’s best, slow cooked and hearty, perfect for a cold winter’s night.

I have made a version of the real thing before, which took the better part of a weekend to prepare and fed a small army of people. It was delicious, but not the most practical dish to make on a school night for your family.

So I’ve messed with it. Reduced the variety of meat products, used canned beans and therefore the cooking time.

And of course, featured L’Authentique’s amazingly authentic Toulouse sausages, without which this would not be a cassoulet at all, just beans.

SHORT CUT CASSOULET STYLE BEANS WITH TOULOUSE SAUSAGES

2017-06-23 10.09.32 v12 tablespoons olive oil
4 rashers streaky bacon
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
400g tinned crushed tomatoes
Bouquet garni of bayleaf, thyme and parsley tied together with string
500ml chicken stock
2 x 400g tinned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
Salt/pepper to taste
Bunch parsley, leaves chopped
8 L’Authentique Toulouse sausages
1 cup breadcrumbs or half stale baguette, cut into 5mm slices
2 tablespoons melted butter or duck fat

  1. Heat oven to 200ºC.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large oven proof casserole dish over a medium/high heat. Add bacon and cook until well browned and crisp.
  3. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook until onion is soft, but not browned.
  4. Pour over tinned tomatoes and add bouquet garni. Bring to the boil and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are starting to thicken.
  5. Pour over chicken stock and beans, stir to combine, bring to the boil and cook uncovered for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove bouquet garni, season to taste and stir through chopped parsley.
  7. Remove from heat, submerge sausages in the beans, and either sprinkle over breadcrumbs, or layer sliced baguette to cover the cassoulet. Drizzle with melted butter or duck fat, then bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until top is golden and sauce bubbling.
  8. Remove from oven and serve.

Healthy babies and questionable reporting. With a chicken and potato curry

I’ve started to get the newspaper delivered every day. On the one hand, I’m getting older and I quite like having the paper to read in the morning. On the other, they offered it to me at a price not very far from paying me to read it, a sign of increasing desperation in print publishing circles.

From having the news presented to me in it’s physical form, I get to see what passes as the “lead story” these days. On Wednesday the headline was “Sleeping on back lifts rate of still birth”.

Essentially, women who sleep on their backs during the final three months of pregnancy are almost four times more likely to have a stillbirth. So far, so compelling.

It turns out that this relates to 15 pregnancies a year. Now, saving the lives of 15 babies is not to be sniffed at, equating to 9% of all late pregnancy still births.

But that’s not the point. The point is that this is the headline story and pregnant women already have enough to worry and feel guilty about.

Had a glass of wine before you knew you were pregnant? You may have caused brain damage to your new born.

Ate a ham sandwich? Worry about salmonella poisoning

Ate pate? Concerns about excess vitamin A poisoning.

Too tight jeans? Constricting the babies growth

Over 35? Your chances of having “issues” during pregnancy are off the chart. You should give up now.

And that’s just the start. For goodness sake, when you’re in your final trimester it’s difficult enough to sleep AT ALL, let alone worrying about whether you’re sleeping on your back or side.

I remember reading somewhere that it was best to sleep on my left side. Then waking up regularly fretting that I was sleeping on the wrong side. Any sleep you can get at this stage is a blessing, when you have a plus-sized watermelon strapped to your stomach. I always figured it was training for when the baby was born, when sleep really is a luxury.

When you’re pregnant, you’re judged on everything you do, from how you dress, to what you eat and drink, to what vitamins you’re taking, to when you stop working, to whether you’re playing music to the baby in your womb, to whether your baby is developing at the rate it should be, to whether you’re having a natural birth or a Caesarian section, whether you’re with drugs or without. And then post birth, you get to worry more about whether the choices you made have negatively impacted your child for the rest of their lives.

And now pregnant women get to fret about how they’re sleeping.

I’m not saying that this shouldn’t be reported, or that pregnant women shouldn’t be given every opportunity to give birth to healthy babies. I question whether this story should be blown up into front page news. Whether in a world where every choice made during pregnancy is questioned and judged, whether women need another thing to worry about.

CHICKEN AND POTATO CURRY

I’m not entirely sure what this dish has to do with the above. You are in danger of the curry giving you indigestion if you’re pregnant, but other than that, you should be fine to eat it.

If you’re a mother, or pregnant, or want to farm the whole job off to your significant other, this dish is a good one. It’s all cooked in one pot, so fewer dishes. It also tastes better the next day, so feel free to make it in advance. Or not. It’s still pretty good eaten as soon as it’s cooked.2017-06-08 12.26.12 v1

2 tablespoons oil (not olive)
2 onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2 tablespoons good quality curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4 teaspoon chilli flakes
440g can tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, halved
10 small (baby) potatoes, scrubbed and halved
Large bunch spinach leaves or silverbeet, destemmed and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup coriander leaves

  1. Heat oil in a large pan with a lid over a moderate heat
  2. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring until onions are soft
  3. Add ginger and spices and cook until fragrant (about a minute)
  4. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, chicken and potatoes and bring to the boil
  5. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked thoroughly and potatoes have softened.
  6. Add chopped green leaves and cook for another 5 minutes uncovered.
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  8. Stir through coriander leaves and serve with warmed naan, pappadam or roti, and yoghurt on the side.

Taste of a French summer during an NZ winter: Merguez Sausages with Roast Vegetable Israeli Couscous

Philippe, one of the charcutiers at L’Authentique, says that merguez sausages are traditionally eaten during summer in France. The sausages are lamb with middle eastern flavours and enough heat to keep things interesting.

In keeping with France by way of Morocco, but mindful that we are knee deep in a New Zealand winter, I’ve paired the sausages with Israeli couscous, preserved lemons and coriander, and roasted root vegetables.

Now you can pretend you’re enjoying the warmth of the French sunshine, in front of a roaring southern hemisphere fire.

L’AUTHENTIQUE MERGUEZ SAUSAGES WITH ROAST VEGETABLE ISRAELI COUSCOUS
Serves 42017-06-15 11.17.57 v1

1 onion, sliced into thin wedges
1 large carrot, and;
1 beetroot, and;
1/4 butternut, and;
1 kumara, and;
1 large parsnip, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup Israeli couscous
8-12 L’Authentique Merguez Sausages
Finely grated zest and juice of a lemon
1 tablespoon preserved lemon, pith removed and finely chopped
Two large handfuls baby spinach leaves
Large bunch coriander, chopped (or substitute parsley)
1/4 cup olive oil, extra
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat the oven to 200°C
  2. Toss the vegetables with the olive oil and tip into a baking dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes until vegetables and cooked and caramelised
  3. Meanwhile cook the couscous. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, tip in the couscous, and cook for 7 minutes (or to manufacturer’s instructions). Drain and set aside.
  4. Heat a large frying pan over a medium/high heat. Add a little olive oil and cook the sausages until golden brown and cooked to medium rare.
  5. To make the salad, toss together the roasted vegetables, israeli couscous, preserved lemon, lemon zest, spinach and coriander. Pour over lemon juice and extra olive oil, toss again and season to taste.
  6. Serve the sausages with the couscous salad and garnish with extra coriander if desired.

 

 

Aging gracefully: 10 things I’ve stopped doing pre-50. With Greek pork, capsicum and feta.

My 50th birthday is far closer than I’d like. It’s a mere 18 months away. Although I shouldn’t be dwelling on it, I do sometimes, freak myself out, then try to busy myself with other things to take my mind off my advancing age.

Shite. 50.

It’s quite bloody old really. HALF A GODDAMN CENTURY FOR CRISSAKES!!!!!!!

Anyway. Because I’m now an old person, I’m taking stock. These are ten things I’ve stopped doing.

Number 1: Lying about my age

Well, duh. That’s fairly evident from the title of this post.

I used to lie about my age. Or just omit to tell people how old I was. I really hated turning 40, all my work colleagues at the time were in their 20’s so I just wouldn’t say how old I was. And hope that they would think I was significantly younger than I am.

Now I don’t care what other people think. I am as old as I am. That give me life experience, kids that are heading into their teens, a comfortable lifestyle, a few wrinkles and an occasionally dodgy body.

Besides, I like to think I’m young on the inside. (Feel free to roll your eyes here)

Number 2: Botox

I started using Botox in my late 30’s. I had deep frown lines between my eyebrows, which I wanted to eradicate. My frown muscles were so strong that I didn’t realise I was frowning most of the time, so was continually told to “stop frowning” by well meaning passers by.

Fast forward 10 years, and the Botox had removed my frown. Unfortunately in the meantime, my aging face had developed crows feet around my eyes, marionette lines on either side of my mouth, plus other assorted signs of age. I should say, on the whole, I don’t look too bad for my age, but the amount of Botox I would need to sort out my wrinkles was getting out of hand.

As was the cost. I’ve written often about our move to downsize last year, and my continued Botox use felt like it was doing the opposite. Where I was trying to save money in all other parts of my life, my Botox bill was going up.

So I stopped. Result? Ten years of use means my frown muscles have atrophied. I’ve forgotten how to frown. There are a few extra lines where there weren’t before, but I’m ok with them. Afterall, I’m nearly 50.

Number 3: Going to Beauticians

Now if this isn’t a pit to sink your money into!

I stopped having facials years ago, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was having Botox. No amount of facials will do the job injectables do. Secondly, facials are pretty much expensive snake oil. You feel great for half an hour or so, with your wallet $100 lighter, then the next day you look precisely the same as you did before having the facial. Thirdly, I have sensitive skin. If the beauty products aren’t right, I break out. Not a risk I fancy taking.

Every so often I get my nails done, but to be honest, it’s cheaper to do it myself. And I do a pretty good job.

And massages? Don’t get me started. This may be a job for a psychologist, but I lie on the bed thinking of the dozens of other things I could be doing instead. I’d rather relax with a good book.

Number 4: Buying expensive cosmetics

I used to own beauty products and makeup items to rival your common-or-garden Kardashian.

Then my skin packed up. I got eczema on my face, which was far from attractive, and which wouldn’t heal. My doctor narrowed the cause down to the perfumed, highly branded beauty products I was using, and recommended moving to perfume-free supermarket brands. No attractive packaging, no fancy names, no Baz Luhrmann shot commercials. This was as basic as moisturiser can get.

I should add that around this time I spoke to a Beauty Editor colleague, who asked not be names, lest her magazine lose the immense amount of lucrative beauty advertising it receives. When I asked what products I should be using on my face, she said a cleanser and a moisturiser. That’s it. Because everything else does the same thing.

I was specifically interested in an eye cream. My moisturiser does the same thing as an eye cream (this from the Beauty Editor). There is no need to spend money on extra products. So now I don’t.

Number 5: Lying in the Sun

See all the points above. If I want to avoid my skin looking like a dried up piece of leather, then spending hours sunbaking just isn’t going to cut it. I can see the difference in others of my age who have spent hours in the sun – the years are not being kind. For many of them the damage was done when they were in their teens, but I figure it’s never too late to break a bad habit.

To be honest, I’ve never really been much of a sunbather, but now hats, sunblock and general sun avoidance is essential.

Plus, you know, cancer.

Number 6: Going to the gym

I should point out this doesn’t mean I’m no longer exercising. I just can’t tolerate gyms any longer.

I’m not sure what it is exactly. Too many people obsessed with how much they can lift? Too much lycra? Too much vanity?

Jokes aside, possibly a combination of this, alongside feeling the pressure to be fitter, thinner, stronger, better, which I really just can’t be bothered with any longer. There’s enough pressure already to be all of those things without adding a temple to worship the gods of fitness to the mix.

All of which creates barriers for me to even go to the gym. Forget that I’m paying vast sums of money to be there. I just don’t enjoy the experience, so I avoid it. Which is not great for me getting enough exercise into my day.

So I’ve decided to focus on exercise I enjoy. Exercise I don’t have to drive to (another barrier). I walk. Almost every day. It’s good for my head and my body. I enjoy walking alongside our beautiful harbour, which makes my heart sing. I make the most of the time by listening to podcasts, or making calls to friends. And I walk, so I can tick the exercise box.

Number 7: Working in an office

I love this one especially. It’s not so much about the office per se, but what the office represented.

A career I’d fallen out of love with, clients who were obsessively critical, office politics that I was never savvy enough to understand.

A marriage under duress, children I didn’t see enough, a home I was too busy to enjoy.

A body that was falling apart, skin riddled with eczema, hair falling out, a near-miss breakdown.

It’s not surprising that my love/hate relationship with my work had become a hate/hate.

So now I work from home. I’m free to pursue my dreams, to write as the mood takes me, to cook, to nuture my family, to nuture my marriage, to nuture myself. I’m happy and at peace, for the first time properly in my adult life. It’s only taken me half a century.

I know that not everyone can do this, because it is a luxury to be able to afford to work without income for a period of time. To step off a corporate ladder is to take an immense financial risk, and we have made some sacrifice to get here. But the sacrifices for us were insignificant and superficial in the end. Which makes us immensely fortunate and privileged.

Number 8: Wearing heels

I used to wear heels every day. Sky scrapingly high heels, heels you could get vertigo from wearing. My party trick was to take off my heels to show people how short (5’3″, 159cm) I am. Tada!

Then the injuries started.

Aside from falling off said heels a couple of times after one or two too many (another reason for 10 weeks alcohol free), which resulted in grazed hands and a bruised ego, I was experiencing more serious, long term damage to the tendons in my ankles. I would wake during the night and walk like a woman of 80, with pain through my feet.

My physio recommended that I stop wearing heels. Which I resisted for quite a while, until the same injury happened again. So I gave up, and haven’t worn anything above a 5cm heel since.

I don’t miss it. I can still spend money on shoes with the best of them. The plus side was a whole world of flat shoes opened up where I had never seen them before. Sneakers, brogues, loafers, slippers, mules, sandals. I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all. And I never fall off my shoes now.

Number 9: Wearing my hair long

This went with the heels thing. I had a look. Long hair, a fringe over my eyes, vertiginously high heels, and short skirts.

When the heels went, the hair and the skirts suddenly didn’t work. The length of my hair was dragging my face down, making me look older. The short skirts looked wrong with flat shoes. I felt like I was trying too hard to look young.

So I totally changed my look. My hair now sits just above my shoulders, the fringe has grown out, the short skirts have been replaced with trousers in winter, maxi dresses in summer, and always, always, flat shoes. I’m so much more comfortable with how I look now.

Number 10: Indiscriminate friendships

This one is important.

When I worked in advertising, I had so many “friends”. Friends to go out to lunch with, friends to drink to much with, friends to complain about the industry with, friends to gossip with.

Then I left, and many of my so called friends disappeared. I was hurt initially, until I realised that they were friendships with many conditions attached. Some were friendships based on the money I could spend with the companies they worked for. When I stopped having a media budget, I stopped being of value. Some were friendships based on being in the trenches together. When my tour of duty was over, we suddenly had no common ground.

But many of my friends remained. They’re the ones where the friendships are deeper than the superficiality of common employment. They’re the friends where we’re there through thick and thin with each other. The people I can talk to for hours about anything and everything.

In a way its been cleansing to clear out the indiscriminate friends. Like going through your wardrobe and getting rid of the clutter, to see the beautiful pieces you’d forgotten you had.

GREEK PORK, CAPSICUM AND FETA
Serves 42017-06-02 10.45.43 v2

This is a simple mid-week style dinner, that comes together in less than an hour. The flavours deepen with time, so you could make it the day before.

2 tablespoons olive oil
600g pork leg or scotch fillet
2 onions finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried mint
3 red capsicums, deseeded, finely sliced
2 x 400g cans crushed tomatoes
6 silverbeet leaves, stalks removed, chopped
100g olives
Handful parsley chopped, plus extra to garnish
100g feta
Fresh crusty bread to serve

  1. Heat oven grill to highest heat (250⁰C)
  2. Heat oil in a large fry pan over medium/high heat. Cook pork in batches until golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Reheat pan over medium heat. Add onions, capsicum and garlic and cook, stirring for 5 minutes or until onion is translucent and soft.
  4. Sprinkle over dried herbs and cook for another minute.
  5. Pour over tinned tomatoes and return pork to the pan. Stir to combine, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes or until sauce has thickened slightly (it should still be quite runny)
  6. Stir through chopped silverbeet, olives and chopped parsley and cook for another 5 minutes, then season to taste with salt and pepper
  7. Crumble feta over the top of the pork and tomato sauce. Place the fry pan under the grill until feta is starting to brown (about 5 minutes)
  8. Remove from heat and serve, sprinkled with extra chopped parsley and with crusty bread on the side to mop up the juices

A french bistro in your kitchen: Beef Steak Sausages with Green Peppercorn Sauce

As you may have realised, I’ve been working with L’Authentique Charcuterie for many weeks now. They make amazing sausages, pates and parfaits, which I am proud to be able to support. They value quality, ethical farming methods and traditional French charcuterie.

Their packaging and conversations with customers reinforce the need for quality, and treating their product with care. Direct quote about their Beef Steak Sausages: “You treat our sausages as if they were a fine cut of steak”

Which got me thinking – how do I treat a fine cut of steak? Or more importantly, how would the French treat it? In 1980?

I have always been a fan of a good green peppercorn sauce. It was a must on the menus of the French restaurants I worked in during the late 1980’s and early 90’s. It is delicious and deserves a resurgence.

And it matches surprisingly well with L’Authentique’s Beef Steak Sausages.

L’AUTHENTIQUE BEEF STEAK SAUSAGES WITH GREEN PEPPERCORN SAUCE
Serves 42017-06-09 09.57.39 v1

2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
1/4 cup brandy
1 cup good quality beef stock
1/2 cup cream
2 Tablespoons green peppercorns
6-8 L’Authentique Beef Steak Sausages (allow 1-2 per person, depending on hunger)

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the butter over a medium heat.
  2. Add the shallots and cook, stirring until soft (about 5 minutes)
  3. Add the brandy and bring to the boil, cooking until all the alcohol has burnt off
  4. Pour over beef stock, return to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer until liquid has reduced by half (about 10 minutes).
  5. Pour over cream, add peppercorns, return to the boil, then simmer until sauce has thickened (about 5 minutes)
  6. While sauce is cooking, cook the sausages as per the instructions on the pack (cook to medium rare, as with a piece of steak)
  7. Serve sausages with peppercorn sauce poured over the top, with crisp fried and salad or steamed beans. Bon appetit!

The winter blame game. With a beef, lentil and parsley pesto broth.

I am well aware that this is the second week in a row that I’ve written about illness. Generally I am not especially obsessed with the possibility of getting sick. Except that it’s now officially winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and as if a cosmic alarm went off, cue me coming down with a cold.

Actually, cue me and both of my children coming down with a cold. So not only do I feel like rubbish, I have to ignore my own ill health in favour of my children’s.

Anyway, this is not supposed to be a pity party. More an observation about illness, and the way people react to it. Particularly illness of the viral kind. Particularly my family.

Amongst certain members of my family, being sick comes with finger pointing and blame. They research, track and hunt down those responsible for their sickness. The seriousness of the crime of passing on a virus is reflected by the severity of the punishment. The ultimate scarlet letter – the virus is given the offender’s name.

It becomes “Jane’s Cold” or “Brian’s Stomach Bug” or “Hazel’s Strep Throat”.

Well after the original virus has gone, the offended party back to full health, the story of “Jane’s Cold” is retold again and again. With judgement attached.

“How could Jane have come to dinner/lunch/for a walk KNOWING that she was going to pass on HER cold?”

Because Jane is nothing if not an malicious, evil woman, who fully intended to share her disease with everyone she came into contact with.

Despite the fact that every visit to the supermarket puts you into contact with the germs from hundreds of hands that have touched their trolleys. Every trip to a shopping mall has you breathing the same air as thousands of others. Every trip on a plane, bus, ferry, in a taxi can leave you exposed. Your children come home from school crawling with God knows how many viruses, which you may or may not catch.

I’m quietly confident, that while Jane has a cold, there’s an even chance that you may not even have her exact cold. And even if you avoid Jane like the plague-carrying sickie she is, chances are you’ve just caught norovirus from the random who’s trolley you’ve just pinched in the supermarket carpark.

My advice? Wash your hands. Get a flu shot. Take vitamin C (although the science is a little sketchy here). Forget about avoiding people who might be sick and live your life. If you are unfortunate enough to get a cold, have some respect for others and keep it at home. Rest up. Drink tea. Get better. And thank God you’ve lived you life fully and that it isn’t Ebola.

And stay the hell away from Jane. That woman’s bad news.

BEEF AND PUY LENTIL BROTH, WITH PARSLEY PESTO

Last week I made lentils with Toulouse Sausage from L’Authentique, and had quite a few lentils left over. Cold weather and sore throats makes me want soothing, hearty, winter fare, and this beef broth ticks all those boxes, and was a great way to use up leftovers.

Make sure you use a casserole quality cut of beef here. Anything fancier will not have the flavour you need, and won’t respond as favourably to the slow cooking.

For the broth:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 kg gravy beef or other casserole quality beef, cut into chunks2017-06-03 08.38.20 v1.jpg
4 rashers bacon, sliced
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf, 2 sprig thyme, a few bits of parsley, tied together to make a bouquet garni
1 cup red wine
1 litre beef stock
500ml water
1 cup puy lentils
1/2 savoy cabbage, chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
salt/pepper to taste

For the parsley pesto:
1 cup walnuts
2 cups parsley leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy based soup pot.
  2. Add the beef and brown in batches until deep brown. Remove and set aside.
  3. Reheat the pan over a medium heat. Add the bacon, and cook until crisp and golden.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium/low and add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are cooked.
  5. Add the bouquet garni, increase the heat to high and add the red wine. Allow to bubble up to cook off the alcohol.
  6. Return the beef to the pan and add the beef stock and water. Bring to the boil, reduce to simmer and cook, covered for 2 hours.
  7. Meanwhile, make the parsley pesto by putting parsley, walnuts, parmesan, garlic and salt in a food processor and process until reduced to a breadcrumb consistency. With the motor running add the lemon juice and olive oil and process until combined. It should be a liquid mix – add more oil if you feels it’s needed.
  8. Check the meat is very tender. If not, leave it for another 30 minutes or so.
  9. Add the lentils and savoy cabbage, stir and cook for another 30 minutes.
  10. Add red wine vinegar, return to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  11. Serve drizzled with parsley pesto, alongside warmed crusty bread and lashings of butter.

 

A match made in heaven: Pizza and Sausage

I’d never really considered using sausage on pizza, but this is so good! The pork and fennel flavour with mushrooms, basil and cheese works a treat. And as always, my friends from L’Authentique make the best sausages in town. They’re just meat and spices, so no danger of eating anything you really shouldn’t.

I’ve given you the recipes to make the pizza from scratch, but if you can’t be bothered or time is tight, feel free to use store bought pizza bases and sauce. It’s ok. I won’t judge you.

L’AUTHENTIQUE PORK & FENNEL SAUSAGE PIZZA

Pizza Base
This recipe is from Al Brown’s fabulous book Stoked. It’s quite a wet dough, but I’ve found that if you use strong (high-grade) flour and give it time to develop, you can handle it without too much trouble. This makes a thick crust pizza base.

500ml warm water
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp sugar
4 1/2 cups strong (high grade) flour
2 tsp salt

  1. Put the warm water in a bowl and add yeast and sugar. Stir then leave for 5 minutes or until the yeast begins to bubble
  2. Using the dough hook attachment on a stand cake mixer, mix together the water/yeast mixture with the flour and salt on low speed for 8-10 minutes until smooth.
  3. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and sit in a warm place to prove. Knock back a couple of times with oiled hands
  4. Break off pieces of dough to size required. Place on oiled tray and stretch until relatively thin (this takes a bit of effort)


Pizza Sauce
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
2 x 400g tins crushed tomatoes
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt/pepper

  1. Heat olive oil over a low heat. Add red onion, garlic, oregano and chilli flakes (if using) and cook until onion is soft.
  2. Add tins of tomatoes, bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced and thick
  3. Add red wine vinegar and cook until acidity has simmered off.
  4. Season to taste.

 

Topping (per pizza):2017-04-05 14.25.23 v1
1/2 ball fresh mozzarella
¼ cup grated parmesan
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
4 mushrooms, finely sliced
2 L’Authentique Pork & Fennel Sausages, casings removed
Handful fresh basil leaves

  1. Heat oven to 220C.
  2. Shape the pizza base to fit a 30cm diameter pizza tin, and brush the top of the base with olive oil.
  3. Spread pizza sauce over the base until evenly covered (use about ¼ of the above recipe).
  4. Arrange slices of mozzarella over pizza, sprinkle over parmesan and rosemary.
  5. Top with mushrooms, then break up sausage and dot all over the pizza.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes or until base is golden.
  7. Remove from oven and scatter over fresh basil leaves. Serve immediately

Hypochondriac? Me? With pears poached in mulled wine.

We have a challenging relationship with illness in my family. I’m not talking serious illness (at least at this point), but just your average, common-or-garden varietal colds, sore stomachs and aches and pains.

In my family, there’s a divide between my mother’s and my father’s sides of the family. My mother comes from a family of Scotsmen, which I guess sums up all there is to say about stoicism. Or damned bloody mindedness, for a more direct turn of phrase.

The general approach to sickness among our clan is to suck it up and get on with it. My mother’s approach to handling me as a unwell child was “go to school and see how you feel”. Code for “unless you have the plague you’re not staying home”.

When it came to my grandmother, her approach was benign, but as it turns out, deadly. She avoided going to the doctor at all costs, lest she be found malingering. She’d talk to the doctor about his personal problems, rather than her own (I should mention my grandmother was Scottish, white haired and under 5 feet tall. Like a miniature Mrs Doubtfire). Ultimately, a sore above her top lip, which she’d avoided having treatment for, developed into a malignancy which had to be cut out, leaving a nasty scar. She died far too young at 70, after complaining for months about breathlessness caused by issues with her legs. Her actual issue was that she was diabetic, and as a result had heart problems, which could have been easily treated. We didn’t find that out until after she died from a heart attack.

My father’s side of the family takes a completely opposing approach. My paternal grandmother lived to be 98 (albeit with dementia), unbelievably sound of body, if not mind. She walked, played croquet, worked in her garden, and took herself off to bed at the slightest hint of a tickle at the back of her throat. We were warned not to kiss her, unless we fell to “the Bot”. Not really sure what that’s short for.

My father has followed in her footsteps. Even a hint of illness warrants a doctors visit. Much to my mother’s chagrin. She sighs, rolls her eyes, and talks about his hypochondria. Dad is healthy as an ox in his mid-70’s, goes to the gym three times a week, plays sport, goes fishing, is generally active, and rarely unwell. Mum, has angina, polymyalgia (a kind of rheumatism), a high risk of bowl cancer and takes a raft of medication, which has subsequently given her kidney issues.

I should mention my father’s family were based in New Zealand in WW2, with all the opportunity that afforded. My mother’s family were in Scotland, and were far more exposed to nutritional and environmental challenges that shaped the way they thought and behaved.

The point of all this is how it affects the way I think. I am rubbish at being sympathetic when my kids are unwell. I have, embarrassingly, adopted my mother’s suck-it-and-see approach to sending kids to school when they’re feeling sick.

I feel terrible every time I do it and get the call later in the day from the school nurse.

I always feel like a fraud when I go to the doctor. I’ve recently had an allergic reaction which has resulted in a rash over most of my body. I tried, for 10 days, to treat it with antihistamines, until I finally caved and went to A&E. If I’d been more prepared to face a doctor before it became unbearable, I might have saved myself $100 by making an appointment with my GP. That allergy has become chronic urticaria, which if not resolved in the next week, will lead to visits to an immunologist.

So I’m not sure that taking the stoic approach is best. While I worry my kids are missing school, the alternative is to send them to school and have their potential virus spread like wildfire. An illness that could be easily resolved by getting onto it early can end up being something far more serious without treatment (as demonstrated by my late maternal grandmother).

Time to suppress the little voice in my head that says I’m a fraud, or that my children are pretending, or that my husband is a hypochondriac and take the time to look after ourselves. Better to live a long healthy life, with the odd day in bed recovering, than a short life, with head held high because I could “suck it up”.

PEARS POACHED IN MULLED WINE

Red wine, in small doses, is shown to have great health benefits. Good for body and soul. Here’s a recipe that makes great use of seasonal pears, which I’ve prepared for my friend Charlotte. Her blog A Beautiful Mind, to raise awareness of possible ways to prevent Alzhiemer’s Disease. Her blog this week is all about red wine, so make sure you go and have a read.

2 cups red wine 2017-05-27 08.37.26
1/3 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
Peel of one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
4 pears, peeled (I used buerre bosc)
200g mascapone
100g greek yoghurt

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat red wine, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, orange peel and vanilla essence. Bring to a simmer and stir until sugar as dissolved.
  2. Add pears, bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for 1 hour, turning carefully to keep the pears evenly coloured.
  3. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cooled.
  4. Check red wine syrup for thickness. If sauce hasn’t reduced during cooking process, strain our spices and return sauce to the boil. Cook until desired thickness is reached.
  5. Mix mascapone and yoghurt together until evenly combined.
  6. Serve pears drizzled with red wine syrup, with mascapone alongside.

L’Authentique Time: Toulouse Sausages with Red Wine and Cabbage Lentils

This is one of my favourite ways to cook sausages. Well technically, the sausages are cooked the same way they often are – fried in a pan until golden and juicy. And since I’m using L’Authentique sausages, the quality cuts of meat they use mean their sausages should never be overcooked! I’m on pain of death if I dare to leave them a minute longer than I should.

It’s the lentil braise that makes this dish. Lardons of bacon, red wine, garlic, herbs, all cooked to perfection. And the addition of half a head of cabbage means you don’t need to fuss with extra vegetables. It’s all there on the plate.

If you really felt that you need more carbs, you could make like the French and serve this with a crusty baguette to soak up the juices.

L’AUTHENTIQUE TOULOUSE SAUSAGES WITH RED WINE AND CABBAGE LENTILS
Serves: 4-6

2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for cooking sausages2017-05-24 11.35.34 v1
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped into lardons
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf, a sprig of thyme and parsley, tied together with string (bouquet garni)
1 1/2 cups puy lentils
2 cups red wine
1/2 green cabbage, finely sliced
2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
10g butter
Extra parsley to garnish
8 L’Authentique Toulouse Sausages

  1. In a heavy based casserole dish, heat the olive oil. Add bacon and fry until crisp
  2. Reduce heat, add onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook slowly, stirring, until vegetables are soft.
  3. Add puy lentils, bouquet garni and red wine. Bring to the boil so alcohol evaporates, then add cabbage and stir to combine.
  4. Reduce heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes adding extra water if the lentils start to dry out (there should be sauce).
  5. While lentils are cooking, cook the sausages as per the instructions on the pack. Remove from pan and keep warm.
  6. Check that the lentils are cooked (they should be al dente). Add vinegar and butter, stir to combine and cook for another 5 minutes.
  7. Season to taste, then serve lentils with sauce, sausages piled on top.