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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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.

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.

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!

 

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.

To old friends. With a Brined Roast Chicken.

This weekend I’m in Sydney. This is not supposed to be an opportunity for me to brag about my fabulous jet setting life, just so we’re clear. In actual fact, this trip is less about where I am, and more about who I’m spending time with.

This weekend is about seeing some old friends. The friends I’ve had for most of my life. The ones who haven’t dropped by the wayside as the years have passed. The ones I don’t catch up with as much as I once did, but the when we do, it’s like we’ve never been apart.

And that’s the thing with old friendships. Invariably I forget to ask the questions about work, husbands, kids, in favour of just picking up where we left off. We get straight into the bigger conversations about what ever existential crisis we’re grappling with this week. Whether the universe is really delivering the way it’s supposed to. Whether world events are aligning with our moral codes and values. The really big stuff.

We don’t need to talk about small stuff, because we know it already. We don’t need to take the time to get to know our old friends, because we’ve known them forever.

The questions we ask of new friends are like a kind of detective work. We’re delving into their history (which we weren’t a part of), determining common areas of interest, looking for shared moral and ethical codes, working out what people we have in common. Anything to establish a connection, to build on that and create a lasting friendship. It takes work, both time and effort. It takes patience. It takes tolerance. We need to put our rose coloured spectacles on, all the better to overly appreciate the good in our new friends while ignoring the not so great.

Meanwhile we see our old friends as they are, warts and all. We don’t need tinted lenses, because we embrace the good and the bad. We love them the way they are. Our lives are so enmeshed that the less ideal aspects of either of us add to the richness of our relationship.

It doesn’t take effort. There’s no patience or tolerance required. The conversation flows easily, but silences are comfortable. We can be forthright, giving and receiving criticism in a loving and honest way, without offence being taken. We listen, and take on board any appraisal leveled at us. We review and digest and assess and eventually agree with the analysis of our shortcomings. They give us pause and reason to think, and ultimately we are the better for it.

It’s tough being a new friend. Being subjected to unspoken critiques without the relationship longevity to emerge unscathed. For the friendship to whither under the pressures of work, husbands, kids. To shrink in the harsh glare of scrutiny of limited common ground.

The common ground with our old friends is time, in the end. Time spent, time shared, a problem shared, a problem halved.

BRINED CHICKEN

This is a standard roast chicken with an extra flavour boost. It’s a great dish to cook for friends, served with a simple salad and some crusty bread, for lunch or dinner.

Picture 050-1Basic Brine:
1 whole chicken (free range ideally)
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups of water, plus extra to cover chicken

  1. Mix together salt, sugar and water together in a large pot (one large enough to hold a whole chicken)
  2. Bring to the boil over a high heat until salt and sugar have dissolved
  3. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cold
  4. Add chicken to the brine and cover with extra water
  5. Return to the fridge and leave to cure for between 6 and 12 hours (or overnight)
  6. Drain brine from chicken, pat chicken dry and roast as normal

Brine with extra flavour:
One quantity of basic brine, as above, prepared to step 2
1/2 onion diced
1 carrot diced
1 celery stick sliced
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 bay leaf
handful of thyme sprigs

  1. Add all ingredients to the hot brine
  2. Follow steps 3 to 6 above, discarding vegetables and stuffing herbs into the chicken cavity

 

Harvest Chicken, L’Authentique Style

The first time I made a real Harvest Chicken, it was a Ray McVinnie recipe featured in Cuisine magazine I don’t even know how many years ago. The combination of flavours in my version remains the same – tomatoes, lemons, rosemary and chicken.

Although this time I’ve used L’Authentique Chicken and Bacon sausages. The flavours still work as they should, but the sausages make the process a little faster. I’ve also added potatoes to make this a one dish meal, that can go straight from oven to table.

L’AUTHENTIQUE HARVEST CHICKEN2017-05-09 18.52.35 v1
Serves 4-6

4 potatoes, cut into 2cm chunks
½ cup olives
1 red onion, sliced
2 lemons, cut into wedges
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped from stem
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup chicken stock
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
12 L’Authentique chicken and bacon sausages
Salt and pepper to taste
Bunch of parsley, leaves finely chopped

  1. Heat oven to 200C
  2. In a large roasting dish, toss potatoes, olives, onion, lemons and rosemary with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Pour over chicken stock and roast in the oven for 25 minutes.
  3. Add cherry tomatoes and roast for another 10 minutes
  4. Lay sausages on top and roast for a final 7 minutes. If you want extra colour on your sausages, turn the oven to grill for the last 2-3 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over parsley and serve.

The trials and tribulations of school holidays. With a cheesy, tomato-y, chicken pasta bake.

School holidays are a consistent chore. To be fair, it was worse when I was working full time, trying to make plans for what to do with kids over what seemed an eternity.

Now I’m home, they’re home, we get under each other’s feet, and my brain gets muddled with all the stuff they need. I forget that it’s just them on holiday and not me. I forget that I should still get out of bed when the alarm goes off. I forget that there are still chores to do, blog posts to write, exercise to be done.

All normal routine goes out the window and the days drift by. I go to bed very night berating myself for what I didn’t achieve during the day, only to wake the next morning, and let it all drift by again. The washing piles up, plates pile up, crumbs, carpet stains and cat fur take on a life of their own.

And GLASSES! So many GLASSES! Like every drop of water needs a fresh glass. Like my children may be poisoned by a glass that has been touched by the skin of another. They remember where the glasses live when they’re clean, but forget where the dishwasher is when they’re dirty. The dishwasher wears a cloak of invisibility, but it only works if you’re under 18, like some perverse joke from H Potter & Co.

As if having your own kids full time for two weeks wasn’t bad enough, kids at home attract other kids. Play dates, sleep overs, “hang out”s all require other people’s children. So far this holiday we’ve experienced:

  • NERF wars on an epic scale, upstairs and downstairs, inside and out;
  • Teenage toast making at 1am;
  • Light sabre battles, similar to NERF wars, without millions of foam bullets but significantly more likely to inflict pain and possible injury;
  • Loud sleep talking at 4am from teenaged friend;
  • Endless X-Box Kinect games, akin to having a army of pygmy elephants dancing an Irish jig on the ceiling;
  • 6am Instagram/Snapchat related squeals over boy of the week/shoes of the week/cat of the week

In all honesty, it’s cheaper for them to be at school. Other than food that I’d need to give them anyway, my only significant weekly kid-related expenses are fuel and bus fares. During the holidays, there’s movies, snacks, endless cries for sushi, McDonald’s, Starbucks, icecream, trips to JB HiFi to buy more attachments for the latest X-Box Skylanders scam, trips to H&M to buy more of anything really, trips out to the beach…..

But then, that’s the relief of school holidays. We have made a point of committing at least one week of each school holiday period to having a real family holiday. The trips to the beach or the mountain are when the kids can run, can reclaim their independence, where we can all have a break. Where we can reconnect with each other without the endless consumerism driven distractions. Where it’s really a holiday.

One week to go.

CHEESY TOMATO-Y CHICKEN PASTA BAKE

School holidays is a good time to experiment with dinners that are easy to prepare and tasty for everyone. I’ve added extra veg into this too, although my son managed to pick all the spinach out, as he does. Everyone else liked it though.

400g dried pasta (penne is good), cooked to manufacturer’s instructions2017-04-18 19.43.12 v1
2 Tbsp olive oil
750g boneless chicken thighs
1 onion, finely chopped
1 red capsicum, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or crushed if it’s easier)
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 cup white wine
2 x 440g tins crushed tomatoes
2 cups baby spinach leaves
Large handful fresh basil leaves
1 cup grated mozarella, plus extra for topping
Salt and pepper

  1. Heat the oven to 200ºC
  2. Heat olive oil in a large heavy based frying pan over medium/high heat. Add chicken thighs and cook until browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Reheat pan, adding more oil if necessary, over low heat. Add onion, capsicum, garlic and oregano, and cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables are soft.
  4. Pour over white wine and allow to bubble up. Boil until reduced by half.
  5. Add tinned tomatoes and stir to combine. Bring to the boil, and cook until sauce is thick. This should take about 30 minutes.
  6. Slice chicken thighs into 1cm thick slices and add to sauce. Cook for another 5 minutes, then stir through mozarella, spinach and basil. Season to taste.
  7. Add cooked pasta to the pan and stir to combine.
  8. At this stage you can either transfer the pasta mix to a large baking dish, or leave it in the pan if it’s oven proof.
  9. Sprinkle over extra grated mozarella, and bake until the top is golden, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and serve.

Fight the power? With a Spanish chicken, chorizo and bean braise.

We’re in the process of renovating our kitchen. It’s an interesting time which brings out the best and the worst in both Richard and me. The best because we’ve connected over the things that we like, our vision for what the house could look like and for the life we’ll have when we’re done.

The worst because it’s highlighting our differences. It’s showing up Richard’s careful attention to detail, and need for precision and clarity, versus my broader brush strokes, bigger picture thinking and general irritation when dealing with the finer points of plumbing and electrical layouts.

But mostly it throws into sharp relief our power dynamic. Before I get into this, I should state, for the record, that Rich is strong in his belief that we are a team. In his head, I am equal to him and we share responsibility for the lives we jointly live.

At times, the reality is a little different, at least to me. My husband is a senior manager of a large team of people. He makes many decisions every day that affect the prosperity of the company he works for. He manages his time effectively and works efficiently. He has processes that he has fine tuned to enable all of this to happen as it should.

My frustration comes when effectiveness, efficiency and processes intrude overly into our home life. When I go from being an equal member of the team, to a subordinate. When I feel like another employee. Our power dynamic becomes unbalanced.

A number of years ago, Richard and I briefly separated. There were many issues we were facing at the time, but a major issue was our power imbalance. Richard was free to live his life largely as he pleased, while I felt that I needed permission to do many of the things I wanted to (I am grossly oversimplifying here, to be clear). At that time, I spent many hours in counselling, working through my feelings. There is one thing my counselor said which has stayed with me:

“If people say they never fight, I always wonder who’s given away their power? In every relationship there has to be a dominant party, and conflict arises while the power balance is established”

As a feminist, I have always raged against giving away my power. I never wanted to feel subordinate to anyone, least of all the man I’m married to. But the reality is that someone in the relationship has to be more dominant. The question is, to what degree?

I’ve come to realise that the power dynamic in our relationship is not fixed. There are times (like now) when Richard assumes a dominant position. And to be honest, when the situation demands precision, process and strong management skills (which you do when managing tradesmen during a renovation), he’s a far better man for the job than I. It’s better for both of us, and the job at hand, that he takes the lead and I do as I’m told.

The opposite is true when we have a dozen people coming for dinner. Then it’s my turn to take charge, while Rich does as I say.

Handing over power to my partner does not make me any less of a feminist. I understand that there are a number of roles that exist in our lives and I am not best suited to all of them. I have come to understand that I know and trust Richard by heart, and he will not misuse the power I give him.

Note: This post was written in response to WordPress’ Daily Prompt – By Heart. I chose to interpret the words differently, in that I know my husband, myself and our relationship “by heart”. That is to say, about as well as it’s possible to know anything or anyone. KHx

2017-03-20 19.56.32 v1

SPANISH CHORIZO, CHICKEN AND WHITE BEAN BRAISE
Serves 4-6

This is Richard’s favourite dinner. I came across something similar when we were travelling through Spain, but have made so many changes I can now call it my own. It’s a robuse meal, that requires little more than a glass of good red wine and possibly some crusty bread (and maybe some green stuff. But Rich calls that “rabbit food”).

You can change out the chicken for diced pork belly or slices of squid. Both work equally well.

4 x chicken thighs, skin on, bone in
4 x chicken drums, skin on, bone in
4 x chorizo sausages, sliced (I went for salami style chorizo, medium heat)
2 x red onion, finely sliced
1 tsp dried oregano
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup white wine or chicken stock
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
2 Tbsp Spanish paprika (hot or sweet depending on your taste)
2 x 400g cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Large bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves roughly chopped
Salt/Pepper

  1. In a large deep frying pan with a lid (or a casserole dish), heat olive oil, then brown chorizo until golden in batches. Remove from pan and set aside
  2. Reheat the pan, adding more oil if necessary and brown the chicken pieces until the skin is deep golden. Remove from pan and set aside
  3.  Reduce heat, add onions, oregano and garlic and saute until onion is soft.
  4. Increase heat, add white wine and allow to bubble up.
  5. Add both cans of tomatoes, and paprika, and stir to combine.
  6. Return chicken and chorizo to the pan, bring to the boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
  7. Turn chicken over in the pan, add drained beans and stir to combine. Cook uncovered for another 20 minutes, or until sauce has thickened slightly.
  8. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir through parsley and serve immediately.

Eating clean: Rice paper rolls

Rice paper rolls are completely ingenious. They’re a great way to add flair to what is a pretty simple list of ingredients – vegetables and protein of choice, wrapped in damp rice paper, with a few herbs and some vermicelli noodles. Or not if you’re trying to go carb free (ish).

I’ve talked before about my trip to Hanoi last year, but I haven’t written about the cooking class we did, which was all about the rice paper rolls. The versions we made featured prawns, pork, beef and fried fish. Some were cold, some were fried and served hot. They’re completely versatile – Vietnam’s version of a sandwich, kind of. I should mention the cooking school was KOTO (which means Know One, Teach One), which supports underprivileged disadvantaged youth in Vietnamese. It’s also a great cooking school and worth visiting if you’re in the neighbourhood.

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I generally just put whatever I have out onto a large platter with a small dish of water to dampen the rice paper, and let everyone build their own. That way Ollie gets to put avocado, carrot and cucumber in his (the only veggies he’ll eat), while Amelia and the rest of the family can be more adventurous.

The dipping sauce is Luke Nguyen’s from his book The Food of Vietnam, while the poached chicken is from Donna Hay’s book Life in Balance.

RICE PAPER ROLLS

Dried rice paper rounds (allow 3-4 per person)

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Prawn rolls

50g cooked vermicelli noodles per person
Coriander leaves or Thai basil
Mint leaves (Vietnamese mint if you can get it)

Vegetables – choose from the following:
Cucumber deseeded, thinly sliced
Carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
Cos lettuce, shredded
Snow pea shoots
Spring onions, cut into 5cm strips
Bean sprouts
Red capsicum, thinly sliced

Protein – choose from the following:
Cooked prawns, shelled, deveined, tails removed
Rare beef, ideally eye fillet, thinly sliced
White fish, cut into thin strips, dusted with flour and fried until cooked

Coconut poached chicken:
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
2 Tbsp lime juice
6 kaffir lime leaves
1 tsp sea salt
3 x 200g chicken breast fillets
– Place coconut milk, lime juice, lime leaves and salt in a non-stick frying pan over very
low heat. Stir to combine. Add chicken and cook without simmering for 12 minutes
each side or until cooked through. Allow to cool and refrigerate in poaching liquid until
chilled.

Nuoc Mam Cham Dipping Sauce
3 Tbsp fish sauce
3 Tbsp white vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp lime juice

  1. To make dipping sauce, put the fish sauce, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup water. Cook over medium heat until just below boiling point. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Just before serving, add lime juice, garlic and chilli. The sauce will keep for 5 days in the fridge.
  2. To make the rice paper rolls, dip rice paper one at a time in water for 30 seconds. Pat dry.
  3. Place a small handful of vermicelli noodles, herbs and vegetables and protein of your choice into the middle of the rice paper, making sure you haven’t overloaded it! Fold each side in to enclose the ends of the roll, then roll tightly, tucking in the filling as you go. Wet hands will stop the rice paper from sticking. If you want to make them look pretty, place prawns or herbs on the rice paper first so they show up on the outside. Serve immediately with dipping sauce.

Or watch this video to see how it’s done.