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.
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A break from my significant other – 10 weeks alcohol free: Week 7

Day 43: Monday

After my minor breakdown last week, I decided it was time to take stock and think about the way I used to think about alcohol, the excuses I was making and the way I think now.

I wrote a post back in November that I called “The Wine Paradox“. In it, I bemoaned conflicting reports of the damage wine does, versus some evidence that says that moderate consumption may be beneficial.

Note use of the word “may”…

For the moment I’m going to leave aside the health benefits part, because from what I can see, the amount you should be drinking is really bugger all.

This is how the post opens:

“During the weekend I read a story in my local paper about how bad alcohol is for you. The author equated the carcinogenic impact of drinking with smoking cigarettes or asbestos. She said that “if we treated alcohol as we do other carcinogens, in terms of lowering our exposure to risk, we’d have no more than two drinks a year”.”

So far, so standard. Then I go on to say:

“The NZ Herald story basically said that the media were in denial about alcohol consumption and the issues it causes.”

I’m not one to bag the media, especially in our post-Trumpian times. But one of the ongoing frustrations I’ve had with my journey has been the judgement attached to any reporting of alcohol consumption. It’s incredibly difficult to find any information that doesn’t come pre-loaded with the opinion that alcohol is the devil. So I’m not sure the media are in denial about this at all.

The good news is that even in 7 months ago, I was thinking about the effect alcohol had on my past behaviour:

“Many of the most foolish things I’ve ever done have been a result of drinking too much.”

Then I throw all that out the window, and hurl myself into my cloud of complete and utter self delusion:

“…I know that I have my limits. Ideally, I try to have 2-3 alcohol free days per week (I try, I don’t always succeed).”

I almost NEVER succeed.

“I then aim to only drink 1-2 glasses of wine per night, outside of social occasions.”

You complete and utter liar! That is certainly the aim, but rarely is that the reality. God, woman, you’re a fantasist!

“Even at social occasions now I draw the line at about 4 glasses, generally consumed over many hours with food.”

Oh. My. God. There’s nothing truthful about this statement. A bottle of wine is 5 glasses. I know that I would rarely leave a dinner without the bottle being finished. And after the third glass, I stopped keeping track! So how the hell would I know whether I’ve had 4 glasses or 14?

Actually, if I’d had 14 I’d be pretty ill, so that seems unlikely.

And then I get sensible for once in this post:

Although I like a drink, I like to be in control of my behaviour and what comes out of my mouth. I also value my weekends, so don’t want to spend days in bed with a hangover. Being on the far side of 40 means I don’t bounce back the way I used to, so I need to be careful.”

Good Lord. How things have changed.

Day 44: Tuesday

I was thinking back to the weekend and how good it was to have dinner with other adults without wine.

I’ve realised that my abstinence doesn’t need to be limiting to other people or myself. That socialising with others can still be enjoyable without wine, and that I can be around other people who are drinking without that being problematic for me.

I’d always thought the wine gave me energy when I went out with other people, I now understand the people are the ones who energise me. The wine is just a pleasant side effect (or unpleasant, depending on who you’re with).

Day 45: Wednesday

Once again, I’m thinking about what my life might look like when this experiment is over.

You probably think I do this a lot.

You’d be right.

Actually, it hasn’t been too bad. Most of the time I don’t think about it at all. Only really when people ask me about it, or if I’m really tired, or in the weekends. Or if I’m writing this.

Weekdays I pretty much don’t think about it, during the day or at night. Aside from planning the blog posts. I guess I’m far enough into it now that it’s becoming second nature.

But back to the future planning. My friend Margaret sent me this piece of inspirational brilliance:

“I’m all about letting the low grade nonsense fall away to allow yourself to enjoy more of the good stuff, and about balancing all your money, time, and experiences for the net happiest life. So it may be that your best choice today is to drink 2 bottles of horrendous quality wine with friends and wake up with a terrible headache because the experience will be priceless… Or it may be the better choice to flag it because you don’t like them *that* much, and spend the evening at home with a movie, a glass of whisky and some great dark chocolate.  Or spend the evening with the kids introducing them to the best movies of the 1980s because they need to know this stuff, and a bowl of popcorn. Conscious choices not mindless habits…!”

The key outtake (spot the ex-ad girl) is well considered quality over quantity. Quality food, wine, matched with quality experiences.

In the interests of not re-destroying my already compromised liver, I’m not going to take her advice on the “2 bottles of horrendous wine”, and instead take the less is more approach.

So, rather that buying three $20 bottles of wine a week, I’ll aim for one $50-60 bottle. Something amazing that I’d want to linger over. Something that I’m ok with just having a glass of. A bit like choosing one square of super dark, rich, hand crafted chocolate, over a family sized block of palm oil infused milk chocolate rubbish from the supermarket.

My husband’s says I’m just trying to hang onto the budget. He may be right.

Day 47: Friday

So once again we hit Friday and the wall. Tired, grumpy, needing wine.

Day 48: Saturday

It’s Richie’s birthday so we went out for dinner with the kids. No wine, of course, just virgin cocktails, juices and water all around.

Halfway through dinner I confessed that I’m getting bored with not drinking. I can honestly say that if I wasn’t writing about it, I would have chucked it in by now. Guess I knew I needed something to keep me honest. Damn it.

Rich said he felt the same way. He’s only got three weeks to go, while I’ve given myself another two. What was I thinking?! That decision is really feeling like salt in the wound.

Having said that Rich doesn’t get a release from the pressures of his work day, I can now see the same thing is happening to me. Although it’s not really a release valve that I need it’s a treat. Wine was always my reward for a good day’s work.

So where do I get that now? Kombucha and sparkling water, while both acting as perfectly decent placebos on most days, just aren’t up to the job on the days where I really need it.

Because there’s nothing like a cold beer after a hard day’s work in the garden. Or toasting achievement with a glass of champagne. Or just sitting quietly with a beautiful glass of red and a book in your most comfortable chair. It feels like a treat.

I really miss it. I feel like I’m missing out. I feel like my work is not being rewarded any more.

Day 49: Sunday

I call this week birthday week. My husband and my son’s birthdays are three days apart. Then mine and my daughter’s are two days apart. But that’s another story.

Normally I’d have the extended family from both sides for dinner, drink loads of wine, cook and basically exhaust myself. Be left facing loads of dirty dishes, feeling like I hadn’t had a chance to speak to anyone and more than a little intoxicated.

Today we had everyone over for brunch. I made sweet and savoury brioche, and loads of coffee. I spoke to everyone, didn’t feel overly stressed and hardly had any dishes to do afterwards.

And I didn’t get drunk. Or have a hangover the next day.

The only sad part was realising I don’t see my sister much any more. Her husband said the same thing, to which she pointed out “well, they’re not drinking at the moment”.

Although I could be grumpy with her and say that doesn’t make a difference, it really does. That’s a big part of the reason for brunch instead of dinner. We could have gone out for dinner and avoided any real effort at all. But we didn’t want to because we’re not drinking.

I’ve been meaning to organise a catch up with my friends for weeks. But I haven’t because I’m not drinking.

We’re not really arranging to do anything at night because we’re not drinking. Seeing people during the day is fine, but although we are quite capable of seeing people without wine, we don’t really want to. Seeing people with wine is just far more fun.

What I’ve learned this week: Socialising

I recently read a story by   discussing the challenges faced by non-drinking Muslims in the UK, in trying to build relationships and integrate into what is a drinking culture. She talks of Muslims struggling to gain promotions, being held back in their careers and their personal lives because they do not drink:

“When socialising is done over a glass of wine, those who don’t drink may miss out on nurturing friendships.”

Socialising without alcohol is probably the most daunting part of giving up/having a break from drinking. I have friends who are drifting away because I am merely having some time out! I can see that if this change were permanent, there may need to be an acceptance that some people may no longer be part of my social circle at all.

From personal experience, I can tell you that it takes time before you’re ready to spend time with people who are drinking when you can’t. Eventually though, you become accustomed enough to going without that you can still be a scintillating conversationalist without needing an alcoholic pick me up.

The Robert Street Clinic has a fantastic list of 13 ways to socialise without alcohol. My favourite is:

“Break the inhibition cycle: It’s important to remember that you don’t need alcohol to go out and meet new people – and once you’ve got used to being the life and soul of a party without having a few drinks, it’ll become second nature.”

These are my tips:

 

  • Find different times of the day to socialise. Go for a walk with friends or catch up for lunch, brunch or coffee. Times when alcohol does not feature in the equation.
  • BYO. Decide what you’d like to drink instead, and take it with you. I always take a bottle of kombucha and some fizzy water. This avoids tap water bring the only non-alcoholic thing on offer
  • Choose venues with great cocktails. Chances are, if they’re known for their alcoholic cocktails, their non-alcoholic cocktails will be pretty banging also.
  • Fool a few people. My friend Mel, when she was in the early stages of pregnancy (not being able to drink, but not ready to tell people she was pregnant), always had what she called “pretendy drinks”. Looked like wine, served in a wine glass, actually apple juice. Zero alcohol beer would work the same way. Having a glass takes the pressure off having to discuss your drinking status with others, but keeps you on track.
  • Know when it’s time to leave. Invariably, in a party situation, once the booze flow becomes a torrent, you’ll suddenly start experiencing deja vue. “Didn’t I just have this exact conversation a few minutes ago?” Because drunk people repeat themselves. Repeatedly. And think they’re really funny, when they’re just really drunk. And tell you how much they love you. It’s best to go home before this stage of the evening. Trust me, they’ll be too drunk to notice you’ve gone.
  • Enjoy a hangover free morning. This is the best part of not drinking. Waking feeling rested and clear of head. Able to exercise without feeling like you might be sick. And realising how little you miss drinking.
  • Enjoying the clear memories of a fun night out. When you haven’t been drinking you’ll remember the conversations. You’ll remember who was there and who you talked to.
  • Treat yourself. Give yourself a reward for not drinking with all the money you’ve saved on booze and taxis. Then you’ll have a lovely physical reminder of why what you’re doing is important, rather than a hazy recollection of alcohol fueled craziness, tinged with the creeping suspicion you may have offended someone.

 

 

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!

10 weeks alcohol free: am I mad?

A few weeks ago Richard and I decided it was time to have some time off the booze. I have basically never taken more than a week off in my adult life, aside from when I was pregnant and I’m not sure that really counts. Well, it does, being important for a healthy baby and all, but you know what I’m saying.

Our reasons are simple:

  1. My liver needs a break. I had a poor liver reading at the doctor a year or so ago, and I really haven’t done anything about it. Now she wants to see me again, and I’m terrified of what she’s going to find!
  2. We’ve both gained weight. It’s crept up over time, and admittedly, I could exercise some more and eat a bit less, but it’s pretty clear that wine is a big contributor
  3. Our daily consumption is creeping up. We can manage one AFD a week, but not many more. We’ve tried to not drink during the week, but usually fall over about Wednesday. So we need to reset.

Essentially, we need a new normal. I have no ethical objections to a glass of wine a night, but for us it’s always more than a glass. I’d like to be the person who can go out for dinner and stop after a glass or even two.

The exception is that I’m heading to Sydney in a couple of weeks to catch up with some girlfriends. I have already explained to my lovely husband that there is NO WAY I’m not going to drink while I’m there. I have my limits!

So there we have it. Ten weeks stretching in front of me. I’m worried I may be insane, so I’m going to write about it (as I do), then you can decide if it’s a good way to go. I’ll be interested to see whether I actually lose any weight, sleep better, feel better, have better liver function. I’ll let you know.