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.
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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.

 

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.

Modern manners: Guest or Host? With Pan Fried Fish and Avocado Vinaigrette.

The other day I caught up with a friend for coffee. We got talking about getting together with friends, either going to someone’s house, or having someone over. After further discussion we both came to the conclusion that it’s about the role you assume when you’re a guest at someone’s home. And conversely the role they have as host.

The conversation came about after we started talking about the impact of my decision to stop drinking for 10 weeks. One of the biggest challenges I have faced in the first few days is an expectation that if I don’t drink, I’ll be dull to be around. I don’t think I am a boring person, but maybe I’m just more fun when I drink.

As a guest, you’re supposed to be entertaining. It all sounds very old fashioned, but you’re supposed to have a witty anecdote or 3 to keep the table entertained. It makes you fun to be with. You should be the best version of yourself, with positive energy, a good level of chat (but not too much), friendly and outgoing. You bring a bottle, you eat the meal that’s provided without complaint, you still have room for dessert. And you leave before you’ve outstayed your welcome.

We all have stories of nightmare dinner guests. The guest who got drunk and fell asleep at the table. The guest who complained bitterly about their boss throughout the evening. The couple who fight at the table. The guest who dominated the evening with their extreme, and extremely dry, political opinions. The guest who deliberately picks the opposing opinion to everyone else at the table. The guest who has 15 different food aversions. The guest who just doesn’t know when it’s time to leave and who you eventually have to make a bed up for and who then still won’t leave well into the next day.

That last one’s happened to me at least 3 times. I haven’t invited those people back.

Conversely, being a host comes with it’s own set of responsibilities. Understanding your guest isn’t drinking, so providing an alternative. Understanding your guest is watching their weight, so not pushing dessert on them. Understanding your guest has commitments the following day, so not making them feel guilty for leaving. Understanding that your guests will be hungry, so dinner should be served pre-midnight. Understanding what it is to be a host.

None of this is new. It used to be de riguer for everyone around the table to understand the etiquette for entertaining. But in our less formal times, even basic courtesies are often forgotten.

I’m not sure we need a hard and fast set of rules any more.  I can forgive lapses of judgement and behaviour as a result of a glass or two too many. For goodness sake, we’ve all been there, and people who live in glass houses and all. But as I’ve said above, there are some people I just cannot have in my house any more.

For the others, we make allowances. For the friends who forget to feed us with any semblance of timeliness, we eat in advance. For the friends who drink too much, we provide water (or water down the wine). For the friend who’s grumpy, we sympathise, and appreciate that they’ve had a tough week. For the friends who don’t know when to leave, we get them an Uber.

We try to hold on to some social niceties, but we tone down the judgement.

PAN FRIED FISH WITH SMASHED POTATOES AND AVOCADO VINAIGRETTE
Serves 4

Recently I was sent a few avocados courtesy of The Fresh Avocado Company. It got me 2017-05-04 09.29.06 v1thinking about avocados in the late 1980’s – the heyday of a half avocado as a highly priced, prestigious entree at well regarded restaurants, perhaps adorned with a few king prawns.

This dish was a favourite of mine when I worked at Le Brie, a french restaurant in St Patrick’s Square, in a location now occupied by The Grove. It’s really held up over the years, and deserves a come back.

500g agria potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dijon mustard
salt/pepper
1 avocado, cut into 1cm dice
Handful basil leaves, sliced
4  fillets white fish (snapper or terikihi)
4 Tbsp flour for dusting
Olive oil for frying
1 Tbsp butter

  1. Cook potatoes in salted water until soft (approximately 10 minutes). Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, make the avocado vinaigrette. Whisk together extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and dijon mustard until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Gently mix avocado, basil and vinaigrette together in a small bowl.
  4. Dry fish fillets with paper towel. Dust with flour, then fry in olive oil in a heavy based fry pan over a medium/high heat until cooked (about 3 minutes each side).
  5. Drain the potatoes, and crush lightly with a fork, so the potatoes are crushed, but not mashed completely. Gently stir through butter.
  6. Share potatoes evenly between 4 plates, and top with a fish fillet. Spoon over the avocado and basil, with the vinaigrette and serve immediately.

 

 

Don’t believe the hype. And spaghetti with a sausage, mushroom and cream sauce.

A few weeks ago some friends and I were having a discussion about why I’d left my job in advertising. Amongst the many positive reasons (stress reduction, life balance, a love of food), I explained that I was a “people pleaser”. My desire to please people meant that criticism of my work, justified or not, left me feeling devastated, made me feel that I was letting my employers and clients down. That I wasn’t good enough.

My friend rolled her eyes – “Stop believing your own narrative”, she said.

When I asked what she meant, she talked about how we create a narrative for ourselves that gives us an excuse to explain away difficult situations in our lives. How this narrative becomes our “get out of jail free card”. How it allows us to level the blame at anyone but ourselves.

Of course, I resented what she was saying enormously. How dare she! Doesn’t she know how tough it was for me? Doesn’t she know that my former employer was an industry renowned bully? That my clients were some of the most difficult in town? That I’m just a really nice person who doesn’t deserve to be treated like that….

So many excuses. And she was right. The reality is that the only person making me feel the way I did was me. No one else can be held responsible for my feelings. I’m the one who feels them. I’m the one who creates the way I respond. The narrative is the story we tell ourselves to justify our responses, to give ourselves a reason to never change the way we respond.

That’s not to say that there aren’t situations beyond our control. We can’t predict the future, we can’t control the way others will act, we can only control the way we react.

I have a friend who is continually busy. So busy. So overworked. So unappreciated. So overloaded. For many years, I listened to her many tales of hours worked, pressure applied, late nights and early mornings in the office, too many deadlines, impossible to meet. It was odd though – she moved to different companies and the pressure and long hours remained. No matter where she worked, she told the same story of unappreciative employers, pushing her to work to breaking.

The reality is that my friend is the common denominator. I have no doubt that her job was intense, that the role was demanding. But she has never tried to change it. She’s accepted this situation as her narrative. It gives her a story to tell, makes her a sympathetic figure, means that she never has to take responsibility for the place she finds herself in. There are other people performing the same role across her industry, without these issues. This is not a professional problem, this is her problem.

Conversely, I have a friend who is in a very demanding role, at an extremely senior level in the corporate world. I’ve never been brave enough to ask what she earns (a lot!). I know roughly the value of her role, the vast sums of money and people she’s responsible for. She transacts with governments and heads of industry all over the world. On any given day, she can be flying in or out of New York, Shanghai, London, Tokyo, Auckland or Sydney. On top of that, she has a husband and two very active children. And friends and family who like to see her when she’s able.

It would be easy for her to cry busy. To complain that her work is crushing down on her, to tell everyone she doesn’t have time to spend. To prioritise her work above all else. But she doesn’t. She sets boundaries. She works so hard, but she also accepts that she chose this life, she chose this work, she chose a family. She doesn’t let busy become her narrative. She defines her life, rather than letting life define her. It’s part of what has made her so successful in so many aspects of her life.

It’s not just work. We apply our narrative to our romantic lives, our financial situations, our children, our friendships. There are so many stories of people who have overcome extreme hardship, while so many others retreat into themselves, looking for someone else to blame. Their parents, their ex-husbands, the government, a religious minority, a different ethnicity.

Two similar situations, two different responses. Another friend has now filled the role I previously held. Where I found the criticism crippling, she takes on board constructive criticism and makes the appropriate changes. She lets unjustified criticism fall off her, or fights to dispel it, if it’s important enough. While there are aspects of the role she doesn’t like (no role is perfect), she is thriving, where I was withered by my own narrative.

Our success in life is not the situations we find ourselves in. It’s how we react to those situations.

I am trying hard not to take every piece of criticism leveled at me as a personal attack. I’m trying less hard to please others, and am pushing back where I think it’s justified. I’m changing my narrative from being the woman who worked for a mean boss and a tough client, to being the woman who’s learnt a lot from her years in advertising and had some good times and some bad. And who’s really happy with the way her new life is going.

 

SPAGHETTI WITH L’AUTHENTIQUE SAUSAGE, MUSHROOM AND CREAM SAUCE2017-03-08 19.25.11 HDR v1
Serves 4

250g spaghetti, cooked to manufacturer’s instructions
2 Tbsp olive oil
450g L’Authentique Pork and Fennel or Toulouse Sausages (casings removed) or French Grind
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup cream
200g mushrooms, sliced
3 handfuls fresh spinach leaves
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped
salt/pepper to season

  1. Heat olive oil in a deep sided frying pan.
  2. Add sausage and cook, breaking up with a spoon until lightly browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Reheat pan, and add garlic and rosemary. Cook until garlic is soft and fragrant. Be careful not to brown.
  4. Pour over white wine and allow to bubble up.
  5. Add cream and mushrooms, and cook until sauce is reduced by a third and starting to thicken.
  6. Return sausage to the pan, and stir through spinach and parsley.
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with hot spaghetti. Garnish with extra chopped parsley if desired.

 

Making the most of leftover roasts: Ragu with Pappardelle

As the weather starts to become more autumnal, a Sunday roast is reintroduced to our weekly dining schedule (which makes me sound so much more impressively structured than I actually am).

A decent sized leg of lamb is far too much for our family of four, which leaves meat for school lunches, and a multitude of leftovers.

So I use the leftovers to make at least one more meal, depending on the size of the beast I’ve cooked. A ragu makes the left over meat go a good way further, which we eat either with pasta, or thickened and used as a filling for pies. It’s even good on toast.

You can use any meat you have for this recipe – lamb, beef, chicken, pork or turkey all work well. Just use the stock appropriate for each animal (beef stock for red meat, chicken stock for pork or bird meat), the same for wine (red for red, white for white). If you have gravy left over, feel free to throw that it also, but make it up to the quantity below with  extra water. The herbs I’ve used here (rosemary and bay) can also be changed out for other woody herbs like thyme or oregano, and you can use chopped parsley or basil to finish.

This recipe also freezes well, so you can save it for another day.

LEFTOVER LAMB RAGU WITH PAPPARDELLE
Serves 4

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 carrots peeled and finely diced
2 sticks of celery finely diced
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 sprig of rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 cup red wine
440g tin crushed tomatoes or passata
2 cups of stock or left over gravy made up to two cups with extra water
500g leftover roast lamb, chopped into chunks
Salt/pepper to taste
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
300g pappardelle, cooked to manufacturer’s instructions
Freshly grated parmesan and chopped basil or parsley to serve

  1. Heat olive oil over a medium heat. Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic and saute until soft, but not browned
  2. Increase heat, pour over wine and allow to bubble up.
  3. Add rosemary, bay, stock (or gravy) and tinned tomatoes. Stir through chopped meat, bring to the boil.
  4. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until meat is very soft (ideally falling into ribbons). About an hour. Add more water if sauce becomes too thick.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Add balsamic vinegar, return to boiling and cook for 5 minutes. Taste to check that vinegar flavour has sweetened with cooking, adjust seasonings, and serve with cooked pasta.
  7. Garnish with parmesan and chopped basil or parsley.

Being kind to myself and my body. With a Vietnamese salad.

 

Earlier in the year I wrote about my goals for the year ahead. I told you about my moves away from consumerism (that’s going well, BTW), my need to work in a more focused way (a work in progress, which is code for I’m still a bit hopeless) and that I want to take more time to relax and recharge (also going well, happy days!).

Looking back, I missed a pretty important goal. One that really should have been top of the list. Being kind to myself.

It sounds very new age cliche, and can feel at odds with my goal based approach to life. How can I achieve any goals without beating myself up occasionally? Because that’s what I do. I use myself as an emotional punching bag. I am my own worst critic. I am unfailingly harsh on myself, holding myself responsible for anything and everything that takes my fancy.

Kids crying? My fault: I spent too much time at the office when they were young and scarred them for life.

Husband grumpy? My fault: not enough sex.

Cake didn’t rise? My fault: I didn’t pray hard enough to the baking gods.

I know I’m not alone in this. It goes hand in hand with mother’s guilt and 3am self-flagellation sessions. Rationally, I know I can’t own everything that life throws at me. But I can give it a damn good try!

The worst is being less than kind to my body. My body who has seen me through 48 years with barely a blip of ill health. My body who has given me two great kids, which we hardly had to try for. My body who has powered me through some pretty tough days  but seems to be getting stronger as I get older, rather than the other way around.

And yet I’m SO MEAN to her. I dislike her wobbly thighs and too big bottom. I hate that her stomach is soft and squishy (a result of the two great kids). I quite like her small breasts, that have stayed where they were pre-children. I don’t like that she’s heavier than she used to be, and she can’t seem to shift that few extra kilos no matter how hard we try.

Basically, I resent that she’s not about 20cm taller, 10kg lighter, and possibly 15 years younger. Aside from the life lived and experiences had, I wouldn’t want to give those up.

Somehow I’ve made it to middle age without being able to accept that this is the body I have. I still hold onto this belief that if I work out enough I might grow thinner, taller and younger. Although last time I looked, there was no body-stretching time machine at the gym.

My epiphany came when I was sitting on a plane, running out of movies to watch, when I stumbled across a documentary called Embrace. Presented and produced by Taryn Brumfitt, she gained worldwide fame by posting reverse before and after photo, showing her naked body in all it’s soft, feminine, natural glory.

2ea77-body_image_movement450x350_18o67u2-18o67u6
Taryn Brumfitt (credit: Huffington Post)

Her movie focuses on the pressure we and society put on ourselves to fit a specific, size 10, mold. And it resonated with me (the Embrace trailer is at the bottom of the page).

So yesterday, I quit my gym membership. I’ve taken up yoga, which I’m doing 2 days a week. I’m making time to walk with friends at least twice a week. I’m meditating every day, and on a really good day, I’m meditating while walking (without friends this time, I’m not Superwoman).

I’m trying to relax about the food that I eat, focusing on eating food that is healthy and balanced without being obsessively so. Treating myself to occasional meals out, chocolate and red wine without beating myself up about the potential impact on the mass of my thighs.

I’ve stopped trying to change my body. Which doesn’t mean I’ve given up, just that I’m being active in a way that will keep me strong in mind and body. Active in a way that is more gentle, more kind and more accepting of the body I have.

She’s a good body. It’s time to be more kind to her and me.

VIETNAMESE PRAWN AND GREEN PAPAYA SALAD

This is a delicious, light salad, full of flavour from the herbs, and a bit of heat from the chilli. Be careful of the kind of chillies you use – I chose some very hot ones recently, which made the salad almost inedible! Not my finest hour…

1 green papaya2017-03-02 21.04.52 HDR v1
250g cooked prawns, peeled, centre vein removed
1/2 telegraph cucumber
3 spring onions
Large bunch coriander, thai basil and vietnamese mint
1/3 cup roasted peanuts
1 long red chilli

Nuoc Mam Cham (dipping sauce/dressing)
(with thanks to Luke Nguyen)
3 Tbsp fish sauce
3 Tbsp white vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar)
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cloves garlic
1 long red chilli
2 Tbsp lime juice

  1. For the Nuoc Mam Cham, combine fish sauce, vinegar, sugar and water in a small saucepan, stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to just below boiling. Remove from heat.
  2. Finely chop the garlic, and finely slice the chilli. Stir into the sauce along with the lime juice, and refrigerate until required (will keep refrigerated for a month)
  3. To make the salad, peel and deseed the papaya. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, cut the papaya flesh into julienne strips.
  4. In a large bowl, toss the papaya and prawns with some of the dressing.
  5. Arrange on a platter and top with fresh herbs, and finely sliced chilli and spring onions. Sprinkle over chopped peanuts and serve.

In season: cherries

In New Zealand cherries are synonymous with Christmas. They arrive from Central Otago in their cardboard boxes, looking like festive gifts, the fruit itself just like Christmas baubles. Except far tastier.

They are most definitely a treat. With a retail price generally close to $20 per kilo, buying cherries is out of the reach of many, but I think they’re worth every penny.

How good are cherries for you?

I’m focusing on sweet cherries here. Tart cherries are equally amazing, but I haven’t seen them fresh in New Zealand, and since this series is about what’s in season (and available fresh)…

Once again, the colour is the giveaway with deep red cherries. They’re high in antioxidants, which have cancer preventative properties. As they ripen, the colour darkens, producing more antioxidants, so they get better with age. Alongside that:

  • They’re high in potassium, which helps to control blood pressure.
  • They’re packed with polyphenols, which aid our digestive bacteria (and which I harp on about endlessly).
  • The anthocyanins in cherries have anti-inflammatory properties, to offer health benefits for gout, arthritis, fibromyaglia and sports injuries
  • They’re high in melatonin, which regulates circadian rhythms and sleep patterns.
  • They’re high in fibre, and low calories. Their sugar content is high, but this is offset by the fibre.
  • They’re high in vitamin C, which aids in the formation of collagen, and helps the body absorb iron.

So how can I use them?

I have to say, you’re in a very fortunate position if you have a glut of cherries at your disposal. At the price they’re currently selling for, I’m buying them in small quantities and eating them as is!

That said, not everyone lives as far from Cherry Central as I do, so here’s a few thoughts on how to handle your fortuitous excess:

  • Make a trifle with layers of sponge, cherry jam, fresh, stoned cherries, custard and cream. Drizzle kirsh over the sponge if desired.
  • Make a cherry compote by cooking stoned cherries with some sugar (at a ratio of about 5 to 1 by weight, cherries to sugar), lemon juice and kirsh or brandy. Remove the cherries and reduce the juice until thick.
  • Steep stoned cherries in brandy or vodka for a week or so to make a delicious liqueur.
  • Make a Black Forest Eton Mess by mixing together whipped cream, crumbled meringues, chopped dark chocolate and fresh cherries.
  • Make a Black Forest gateaux, by drizzling kirsh over your favourite dark chocolate cake, and layering with halved, stoned cherries and cream. Google images to find true 1970’s cake decoration inspiration!
  •  Add cherries to a red wine, beef jus. Cook until the cherries are soft, and serve with duck, venison or beef.
  • Melt vanilla ice cream until very soft (not liquid), and stir through stoned, chopped cherries, slivered almonds and chopped dark chocolate. Return to the freezer to reset, then serve.
  • Make a salsa with cherries
  • Halve cherries and toss through a green salad

Or try this cherry cheesecake recipe:

UNBAKED VANILLA CHEESECAKE WITH CHERRIES

125 g crumbled malt biscuits
75 g butter, softened
300 g cream cheese
60 g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp lemon juice
250 ml cream, whipped
500 g fresh cherries, halved and stones removed
100 g sugar
100 ml vodka
100 ml lemon juice
250 ml cream, whipped to serve

  1. Line a 20cm springform baking tin with tinfoil.
  2. Put the biscuits and butter in a food processor and pulse until well combined
  3. Press the biscuit mixture into the bottom of the tin. Put into the fridge to set (approx 20 minutes)
  4. Using the food processor again, pulse together cream cheese, icing sugar, vanilla extract and lemon juice until well combined and smooth
  5. Transfer to a bowl, and fold through whipped cream.
  6. Pour cheese mixture over the biscuit mix, and return to the fridge to set (approximately 3 hours or overnight)
  7. Put the cherries in a saucepan with the sugar, vodka and lemon juice. Bring to the boil and cook until cherries are beginning to soften.
  8. Remove cherries with a slotted spoon and set aside. Continue to boil juices until thick.
  9. Cool and add cherries back to the pan. Refrigerate until needed.
  10. To prepare the cheesecake to serve, remove the cake from the tin. Top with extra whipped cream and cherry compote. Garnish with a few fresh cherries and serve.

 

Source: eatingwell.com, nutrition-and-you.com, Best Health Magazine, Nigella Lawson, Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall, Al Brown, Peta Mathias, Kylee Newton, orchardfresh.co.nz

Crowd feeding: Asian Salmon

A whole side of salmon is a beautiful thing. It’s of of those awe inspiring dishes that people “ooh” and “aaah” over when it arrives at the table. It feels luxurious, but comparatively speaking, it’s not too bad price wise. Salmon is our most sustainable fish species, according to the latest Forest & Bird Best Fish Guide, so you can feel good about your environmental footprint whilst eating it.

It also has the advantage of ideally being devoid of the bones that plague a whole salmon. Unless you have a silver service waiter at your disposal who can serve salmon whilst deftly removing said bones, using a pre-pin boned side is preferable. It’s not especially hard to do yourself – just feel where the bones are with your fingers, and pull them out. I use a spare pair of eyebrow tweezers, but there are specialist tweezers specifically to do the job.

Generally, I just ask the guy at the fish counter to do it for me. If you’re in Auckland, Farro Fresh will remove bones happily.

This salmon is marinated with Asian flavours. I like this as it cuts through some of the salmon’s richness. Grilling is fast and manageable, the trick is getting the whole fillet off the baking tray and onto a platter for serving!

ASIAN GRILLED SALMON2016-12-06 12.12.17 HDR v1.jpg

Whole salmon fillet, pin bones removed
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp mirin
2 Tbsp finely grated ginger
pinch chilli flakes
2 tsp runny honey (or hard honey, melted)
1 lime
1 sliced chilli
2 spring onions, finely sliced
coriander leaves or microgreens to serve

  1. Mix together soy, mirin, sesame oil, ginger and chilli flakes
  2. Rub marinade into the salmon, then place in a plastic bag or large, non-reactive dish.
  3. Leave to marinade in the fridge for approximately 1 hour
  4. Pre-heat the grill to high, and line a large baking tray with tinfoil
  5. Brush the salmon with honey, place on the baking tray, and grill for 15 minutes. Check to make sure it doesn’t burn.
  6. Remove the salmon from the grill. If it is not looking evenly coloured, you can finish with brulee torch.
  7. Halve the lime and squeeze over the cooked salmon. Sprinkle over herbs, spring onions and chilli and serve.