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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEEF AND PUY LENTIL BROTH, WITH PARSLEY PESTO

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A break from my significant other – 10 weeks alcohol free: Week 4

Day 22: Monday

Once again the week gets off to a good start. I’m feeling really energised, so much so that I’ve taken to doing 20 minutes of yoga as soon as I get out of bed. Mostly it’s so there’s one less thing to do later in the day, but it seems to be getting the day off to a good start.

I asked Rich tonight how he’s finding it so far. He took a whole year off a few years back. We had been having some relationship difficulties at the time, due to a number of things, not least of which was the amount he was drinking.

When I met Rich, we bonded over our shared love of champagne, sashimi and big nights out. There were a lot of nightclubs, a lot of Verve Cliquot and a lot of trips to Japanese restaurants.

Unfortunately, my stamina was no match for my soon to be husband’s. Where I would collapse into bed in the early AMs, he could drink onto into the next evening. And become impossible to find. No amount of calling his phone would get him to answer it to let me know he wasn’t lying half dead (or completely dead) in a hospital somewhere.

This pattern carried on into our married life, into our new life in London, into our new parenthood, into our return to New Zealand. He would take days off work, forget birthdays and anniversaries. I would go to bed thinking he was in the lounge having one last glass before bed, only to hear a taxi pull up and the front door close at midnight when he decided to head out. It didn’t matter whether it was Saturday night or Tuesday night, he didn’t descriminate.

Finally I’d had enough. Our kids were getting older and it was getting harder to hide the days that he wouldn’t come home until dawn. He came home after a stag party at 9pm the night after the party itself. I didn’t let him in the front door. He slept in the garage.

The next day I told him he needed to leave, and suggested he get help. He moved out for a few days, and made the decision to stop drinking for 12 months.

His 12 months off were some of the hardest of our married life. He was angry with me, as he felt that I had made him stop. I was angry with him, and responded by going out more, drinking more, flaunting my drinking in front of him. I’m deeply ashamed of my behaviour and the lack of support I gave him during what was a really difficult time for him, and what I now recognise as being a period of alcohol withdrawal.

Although it nearly killed us, it also made us the incredibly strong unit we are today. It was the best thing Rich ever did, both for himself and his health, and for our relationship. And for our children.

That was an incredibly long-winded way to say he’s finding this break easy. He’s done it once, done it hard, and nothing can compare to that.

Day 23: Tuesday

I had a phone call this morning from a friend who’s a doctor. A GP to be precise, but she does many other things, gets involved in medical panels, is terribly, terribly clever. And a moderate drinker to boot.

We had a wonderful conversation about my sleep issues, and how they may directly or indirectly be linked to my wine cessation.

Apparently the same thing had happened to a friend of hers (who was also a GP, so knew when things weren’t quite right). She too had stopped drinking and stopped sleeping. The her periods stopped. She was roughly the same age as me (late 40’s if you must know), so she went off to have her hormones checked. It seems that menopause may have been triggered by removing alcohol from her diet. I say may have, because this is not a scientific study, rather an anecdote, albeit relayed to me by someone with a wealth of medical knowledge.

To elaborate, drinking alcohol causes estrogen levels to increase in women. High estrogen equals quality sleep. Reduced estrogen equals nights staring at the ceiling, fretting about the inanities of life. When you stop drinking, there’s a fair to middling chance that your estrogen levels could decline, leading to a decline in sleep.

Marvellous. So far, my periods haven’t changed, but we are less than halfway through. Less than quarter through if you mark post-Sydney as my actual start date.

The other bit of wonderful news is that since alcohol increases estrogen, and high estrogen is linked with a number of cancers, particularly breast cancer, it seems that drinking too much also increases the risk of cancer for women. Methinks I need to look into this quite a bit more, and potentially get my hormone levels checked. Will come back on this when I know a bit more.

Day 24: Wednesday

Another day, another amazingly clever and insightful friend, who I spoke with at length over a bowl of beef pho and some prawn rice paper rolls. She’s my friend that I never quite get enough time with. We’ve agreed that in future we need an agenda to get through all the things we need to talk about.

My friend has a unique approach to life. For her, social interactions (and everything else) are subject to a value assessment. She weighs up whether it’s worth staying on at the office after work to drink luke warm chardonnay with your work colleagues, only to have to get an Uber home, then another Uber back in the morning to pick up your car.

Her view – it’s not.

You’re hanging out with people that you like well enough (or sometimes not), you drink more than you should, and the wine is bad, and on top of that, you’ve spent a fortune on Ubers only to find yourself back at work on a Saturday morning because you had to get your car.

You could have gone home, made yourself a beautiful meal, opened a decent bottle of wine and had a glass or two, which you’d enjoy. Next day, you have your car, you don’t have a hangover, and you still had a lovely night. Better value.

I think I need to add value to my assessment of what my future drinking pattern looks like. Maybe fewer bottles, better quality? Getting better at saying no to potentially average nights out?

Enjoying the flavour of a glass of wine, rather than drinking because of the alcoholic effects.

Day 26: Friday

So far, I haven’t craved a drink on the whole. Every so often though, it sneaks up and catches me unawares.

I was surprised, Friday evening, when I caught the ferry out to Waiheke. I found myself looking forward to getting on the ferry, and feeling relaxed, because that’s how I always feel when I’ve been rushing to get there, and then I’m there, and then I can stop.

Except I was looking forward to the glass of wine that facilitates said relaxation.

It was very strange getting on the ferry and not going to order a drink. It’s become such a part of the whole experience, the ritual of going away for the weekend.

I bought a can of Diet Coke instead (which I NEVER drink) because it made me feel like I was having something unusual, and punctuated the trip with a drink. I also had some almonds, but I’m not sure they’re as important.

Day 27-28: Saturday – Sunday

We cleared a big hurdle this week. We had guests out to stay at Waiheke without alcohol. It made for a quiet weekend, but it was pleasant and relaxed. It was also nice for us all to wake up Sunday morning hangover free, particularly with four kids running around.

I hasten to mention that although none of us were drinking, that decision was made by our guests. We did not force it upon them!

It was interesting to consider just how few friends we could invite away without drinking. Many just wouldn’t want to spend that much time with us in what is effectively a dry zone, which is understandable. God knows I’ve been guilty of avoiding dry friends in the past!

What I’ve learned this week: Mindfulness

The incident on the ferry mad me realise how much of this journey is about my mental attitudes to alcohol, not just my body’s reaction to it. About how big a role it plays in my life, how often it features in the memories I hold dear, the holidays, the dinners with friends, the stressful times, the enjoyable times. How emotional it is for me.

There is no other item of food that I’ve imbued with as much emotion as alcohol. I don’t fret at the thought of never being able to eat pasta again (although that would be sad). I don’t feel that a catch up with friends just wouldn’t be the same without cheese. I don’t consider soup to be an essential part of every ski trip.

But I have done that with alcohol. And on many other occasions too numerous to mention.

It’s becoming apparent to me that mindfulness has an incredibly important role to play in my future relationship with alcohol.

Mindfulness

One of the main things I’ve learned about mindfulness is that it’s important not to judge the emotions you’re feeling, but rather to observe and accept them. I think the same is true with drinking.

I think it’s important to be mindful of what you’re drinking, how much you’re drinking and why you’re drinking.

My goal is to be able to drink a glass of wine because I like the taste of wine, rather than because I’ve attached an emotional response to it. Not to use it to facilitate relaxation, social interactions, sleep, or any of the other myriad of reasons I’ve used in the past, the last being “because it tastes nice”.

A quick google search reveals a world of resources to help those interested in mindful drinking. An article called The Art of Mindful Drinking says:

“It’s all about awareness and experiencing what you are doing,” agrees Marc David, MA, a nutritional psychologist and founder-director of the Boulder, Colo.–based Institute for the Psychology of Eating. “Enjoying powerful substances like caffeine, sugar and alcohol doesn’t have to be bad, as long as you are aware if it hurts or hinders you.”

In New York, you can take Mindful Drinking classes (not so much), while in London, a story by Metro reports that drinking rates are declining amongst younger people, a trend which is influenced by mindfulness:

“In pubs dotted around London, young people are practising something called ‘mindful drinking’. The idea behind it being to change one’s attitude and emotions about alcohol, perhaps by stopping drinking altogether on a night out, or just cutting down. But either way, learning to drink what you want to drink instead of what you perceive to be socially acceptable.”

 

 

 

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

 

Silence in the face of adversity. With chorizo croquettes.

Last week I was chatting with a friend. The conversation turned to criticism of another friend of ours.

More specifically, a child of that friend.

As we kept talking, I found myself becoming more and more uncomfortable with the direction we were going in. I’m deliberately being light on detail, because what was being said was the kind of judgement you shouldn’t be passing on an adult, let alone a child. My discomfort was in a combination of the judgement, the age of the judgee, the lack of sympathy for and understanding of our mutual friend.

And that I didn’t push back.

Worse that that, I found myself retelling a couple of extra examples to support the outrageous accusations.

I kept quiet because I was afraid of losing a friend and I didn’t want to invite conflict.

This isn’t the only time this has happened, and this situation is most certainly not exclusive to me. I’ve watched many similar situations with friends and family where highly prejudicial or discriminatory stories are told, and no one says anything, because our reluctance to rock the boat outstrips our sense of outrage. We all sit quietly, seething on the inside, or looking around in embarrassment, hoping to God that no one else is listening in.

I wondered whether this is a cultural flaw. New Zealanders are inclined to say nothing in uncomfortable situations. We can make ill advised friendships last a lifetime, rather than standing up for what we believe in. And yet we’ve stood on the world stage in defiance of super powers. We protest against injustice. So I’m not sure it’s that.

I have no issue with pushing back on older members of my family when they come out with enormously inflammatory comments. I’ll vociferously castigate them for their outdated views on race, class and gender (or a combination of all three). Apparently I’m only tolerant of my friends’ prejudice.

It feels like a throwback to the school yard. To the days when you remained friends no matter what. I remember one friend who mercilessly picked on my younger sister. She was redirecting her own frustrations with being the youngest child on someone who was younger than her. I loved (and still love) my sister almost more than anyone else (now my children have taken that place), yet I could let someone who proved to be a short-term friend terrorise my only sibling. I’m not going to be too hard on myself here – I think I was about 9 or 10, but the example works for the narrative.

The only solution I think, is to honestly assess the state of the person you’re friends with. To question whether this was a one off, badly judged comment, or part of a long term pattern of opinions and behaviour. After all, we all have our moments when we speak without thinking. There’s a vast divide between a single foot-in-mouth incident, and a lifetime of bigotry.

If the gap between your standards and theirs is getting too wide, maybe it’s time to look for a new friend.

CHORIZO CROQUETTES
Makes 12

These croquettes were my favourite things to eat in Spain. They can be filled with 2017-04-13 10.38.15 v1.jpgserrano ham, salt cod or cheese, or chorizo sausage, as per my recipe below.

I made these for my family as a light dinner, served with a green salad. You could also serve these as a tapas plate, or as an entree.

1 pack L’Authentique chorizo sausages, casings removed
100ml olive oil
1/2 cup flour
600ml milk
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
1/2 cup flour, for coating
2 eggs, beaten with 2 Tbsp water
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Additional olive oil for frying

  1. Heat a non-stick frying pan. Cook chorizo, breaking up with a spoon, until browned and cooked through. Set aside.
  2. Heat a saucepan over a medium heat. Add olive oil. When heated, add flour and cook for approximately 2 minutes, stirring to combine.
  3. Gradually add milk, stirring briskly with a wooden spoon to avoid lumps. The sauce should be very thick and shiny.
  4. Stir in chorizo, parsley, salt and pepper.
  5. Refrigerate for an hour to set, or if you’re in a hurry, place in a freezer for 15 minutes.
  6. Prepare coating by placing flour, eggs and water, and breadcrumbs into separate bowls.
  7. With floured hands, form spoonfuls of the chorizo mix into small sausage shapes, about 6cm long and 3cm thick. Dredge in the flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Set aside on a large plate in a single layer.
  8. Heat extra olive oil, about 1cm deep, in a heavy based pan. Fry the croquettes until golden brown all over. If they are started to colour too quickly, reduce the heat. Set aside on kitchen towel to drain. Serve hot with home made mayonnaise if desired.

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.

 

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

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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.