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.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

One for the kids: chicken meatballs and alphabet soup

I have a confession to make. I generally cook for myself. I cook the things that I like to eat, with little regard for whether others will like it or not.

By “others” I don’t mean my immediate family. Of course I think about what they like. If I didn’t feed them food they appreciate, I’d never hear the end of it! I cook to avoid complaints from my husband and children. Which sounds terrible.

That means that most of what I cook is now food for adults. My children at 12 and 13, eat most of what my husband and I eat. The notable exception being anything with too many vegetables in it, in the case of my 12 year old son.

So this week, I decided to be less selfish. To think about those of you that may have children younger than mine.

There’s two things I know to be true:

  1. Every child likes L’Authentique Chicken Chipolatas or Chicken and Bacon sausages.
  2. Every child likes alphabet soup.

What’s not to like about pasta shaped like letters, creamy tomato soup, and real chicken sausages with no nasties? Good for parents and kids.

L’AUTHENTIQUE CHICKEN MEATBALLS WITH ALPHABET SOUP
Serves: 4-6 (depending on size of child and hunger)2017-06-28 11.04.46 v1

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 x 400g tins crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup alphabet pasta
1/4 cup cream
Salt and pepper to taste

6 L’Authentique chicken chipolatas or chicken and bacon sausages

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook, stirring until vegetables are soft.
  2. Pour over tinned tomatoes, stir to combine and cook until tomatoes are thick and reduced to mush, and liquid almost all gone.
  3. Add chicken stock, stir to combine, bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cook pasta to manufacturer’s instructions. Drain, refresh with cold water, and set aside.
  5. When soup is cooked, blend until very smooth (you may need to push through a sieve). Adjust seasonings to suit your children, then add cream and stir to combine.
  6. Remove skin from sausages. Roll each sausage into three small meatballs. Heat oil in a fry pan over a medium/high heat and cook the meatballs in batches until golden brown and cooked thoroughly.
  7. To serve, ladle soup into bowls with pasta. Top with as many meatballs as your children can eat!

 

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.

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.