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Baked aubergine

There are very few things I feel genuinely guilty about – especially when it comes to parenting. Sometimes I pretend to feel guilty, but actually I don’t. There are things that I do with Kitty that I know are not ideal, but I do them mostly knowing why I’m doing them and being okay with the consequences.

For example, Kitty probably watches more TV than she ought to at the moment, because I am so immobile I can’t sit on the floor and play Megabloks, or toss her in the air or chase her round and round the garden. But I am okay with the odd bad mood and screamy bedtime brought on by too much telly because I don’t really have a choice right now.

But there’s one thing I do, that I do endlessly, even though it makes me feel really guilty and I’m not okay with the consequences – and that is fucking about with my iPhone while I am supposed to be looking after Kitty.

I mean I love, LOVE my iPhone. It makes me about 70% more productive because I can do an Ocado order while hanging about waiting for something to boil, or reply to emails in the car while Kitty is kipping in the back.

But it also makes me, I think, a 70% less good parent because when I am supposed to be concentrating on Kitty, I am usually scrolling through Twitter. I also love Twitter, by the way. I think it is a brilliant resource filled with excellent people and endless, helpful information. Without Twitter this blog would have fewer readers and it would have been significantly harder (i.e. impossible) to sell any copies of my book, as most sales have come off the back of tweets and re-tweets.

At times, I think Twitter is the only thing that has stopped me from going mad during this most recent long, dark winter – but in fact I now suspect that it may have made everything harder. Trying to combine childcare with absolutely anything else – making dinner, ironing, working, Tweeting – turns something occasionally boring into a real chore just because you are suddenly trying to do two things at once.

Housework and childcare mostly have to go together but anything else that doesn’t absolutely have to be combined with childcare, shouldn’t. Especially the childcare of toddlers, who have a witchy sixth sense for when they are not your priority; it makes them incredibly nervous and liable to fling themselves down the stairs, or draw all over your Dune embellished pink suede loafers with green Crayola felt tip. For example.

And Twitter has just become a habit now, for me. In any lull I will automatically have a quick poke about and see what’s going on – because there’s always something going on on Twitter. But the compulsiveness of it now makes me feel a bit ill – staring into that tiny screen, poke, poke, poke. Not looking up, not looking around me. And Twitter sucks me into other areas of the internet that make my day jagged and stop-start, (mostly online clothes shops), rather than relaxed and linear. Rather than surrendering to childcare, I find myself fighting it. And it’s not working.

Added to this, Kitty has just got into the nursery at the top of our road and will start in September. Although I don’t feel remotely sad about it – she will love it and it won’t come a moment too soon – it does make me realise that we have a limited time left together and I should probably be more mindful of what I do with that time.

I don’t say all this to sound martyrish or holy: I am never motivated by anything other than laziness. I don’t want anything to be hard that doesn’t have to be – the Lord knows that life is full of necessary hardships without creating more for yourself. I want anything that can be, to be easy and convenient. Any fool, as soldiers say, can be uncomfortable. If I thought looking at my iPhone a lot made childcare easier, more relaxed and less onerous, I would do it. But when you’ve only got half a brain to start with, letting half of that half wander off into the internet is the equivalent of a brisk trepanning.

So last weekend I took Twitter off my phone and have a rule now that I don’t look at my phone at all unless I get a text message or a phone call, which is hardly ever. Twitter is reserved for when the nanny is here and I am working at my laptop. It’s much better already. When I get to the end of the day I don’t feel so twitchy.

I’m also allowed unlimited access to newspapers, magazines and my Kindle as a compensation. I have blamed my failure to do any reading recently on being pregnant, but it’s not that. It’s that I’m always on bloody Twitter. If Kitty is engaged doing something else, like messing about in the garden or drawing, I reckon it’s alright to be reading a book because it’s not so blinkering, so tunnel-visioning. And it doesn’t set quite such a ghastly example to Kitty that one ought to constantly have one’s face lit up by a blue screen, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, endlessly scrolling…. if she wants to grow up with her face in Kindles or newspapers – god rest their souls – that can only be a good thing.

Having Twitter on my iPhone also makes me a shit wife. Any second that my husband is not talking – and sometimes when he is talking, frankly – I’ve got half a mind on Twitter, which isn’t fair because my husband is not boring and doesn’t ask for much in return for providing me with a roof over my head and private healthcare, other than my complete attention when he is saying something to me.

Other than taking Twitter off my phone, I’m making amends to my husband by being supportive about the no-carb thing he’s doing at the moment. Cooking without carbs is a fucking chore, but I might as well get back into the swing of it as once this kid is out – if it ever comes out (despite my due date still being 5 whole days away) – I plan to diet myself out of existence. I want people to say “Oh my god she’s got so THIN!!!!”

Anyway, the other night I made for Giles a baked aubergine, which sounded absolutely disgusting from the recipe, but I was running out of ideas, (if we have another chicken salad I might DIE), and I actually managed, using a bit of store-cupboard cunning, to turn it into a really quite appealing thing.

I have used parmesan to top this, but equally you could use goat’s cheese. I, personally, ate this with some pitta bread because let’s not get too carried away – but Giles skipped it.

Esther’s low-carb baked aubergine of devotion

1 aubergine pp
1 400g can chopped tomatoes
2 heaped tsp capers
2 tbs pitted black olives
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 clove garlic, peeled
4-5 anchovy fillets (non-essential, if you are a hater… but if you are ambivalent, I urge you to give these a try – they will not make everything fishy and disgusting, they will just add a salty, savoury interest)
2 sage leaves (if you have)
1 tbsp vinegar – red wine for preference but any old shit will do
some plain yoghurt (again, if you have)
a few strips of lemon zest
1 small handful chopped parsley
1 handful grated parmesan per aubergine half

preheat your oven to 220C

1 Slice your aubergines lengthways and score through the flesh with a small sharp knife to produce a lattice effect. Then sloop over a lot of olive oil and put in to roast for 35 mins.

2 Meanwhile chop up on a board the anchovies, olives and capers. Gently fry in a small pan with some groundnut or LIGHT olive oil. Tear in the sage leaves and squeeze or grate over the garlic. Let this cook together for a bit until the anchovy fillets have disintegrated.

3 Now plop out the tomatoes into a sieve and shake over the sink to let the tinny tomato juices flow away (but don’t rinse). Add to the pan with the tomato puree and leave to cook for a few mins. Throw over six or seven turns of the pepper grinder. Now add a dribble of water – maybe 2 tbsp – just from the kettle and give it all a stir.

4 Now add a dollop of plain yoghurt if you have it, the lemon zest and the vinegar. Stir together and leave to cook very gently without drying out. The composition you are after is spreadable and juicy but not too wet. The consistency, I suppose, of bolognese.

5 Take the aubergines out of the oven – they ought to be a bit collapsed and blackened in places. Spread with the tomato mixture, top with whatever cheese you like then finish off under the grill.

Things you didn’t know you could freeze

Did you know that you can freeze nuts? Herbs? Cake? No? We’ve rounded up some of things that you probably didn’t know you could freeze.

If you’re anything like us, your freezer is full of the usual suspects – frozen peas, meat and a few tubs of ice cream, but it can be used for so much more than that!

We’ve teamed up with our friends at Love Food Hate Waste to round up some of the more unusual things you can freeze – take a look through our gallery of unlikely freezeable foods – we bet you’ll be surprised by a few!

Dirty curry

About six months after I started teaching myself how to cook I realised something: in order to be a good cook you have to be organised. And you have to be tidy. The best cooks are always incredibly neat and tidy. Even Jamie Oliver, I bet – open his wardrobe and there will be 40 identical pairs of distressed jeans, hoodies and trainers all lined up neatly.

(Incidentally, I saw Jamie Oliver at a party the other week. Saw, not met, you understand. Later in the evening, when I was feeling less shy, I put a hand out and very lightly stroked the back of his jacket as he passed me in the throng – so lightly that he wouldn’t be able to feel it. He’s incredibly tall, by the way – he must be six feet two at least. And broad. Huge! He’s like a bear. You’d never think it.)
Anyway I have never been especially tidy. Not some awful great fucking slob, but not tidy. So I was going to have to smarten up my act. You know the sort of thing I mean, get things out of the cupboard and weigh them out before you start. Read the recipe ALL the way through. And clear as you go so that your kitchen isn’t such a fucking scum hole by the time dinner is ready that it puts you off cooking anything more complicated than toast ever again.

My heart sank at this. Did I really HAVE to be tidy? They don’t seem to do anything as prosaic as clearing up on telly. Ah, telly. I see, that’s why I thought that cooking requires no effort beyond dumping things in a pot and stirring – because TV cooks don’t tend to wash up on telly because it doesn’t make good telly. Telly, you see, is not real. 

But cooking is mostly about getting things out, weighing them, finding a clean bowl for them to sit in for a minute and then when it’s all done, washing every damned thing up and wiping down all your flipping surfaces. Did I have to? Have to, have to? Maybe I could just leave it and someone else… my mum… would come along and do it. No wait a second I was not living at home anymore. And although my husband will happily clear up after me, the payback is that I have to then hear about it for the next week. 
However: that was nothing, NOTHING to how bloody organised you have to be when you have kids, especially when taking them anywhere. When I had only one baby I would complain long and hard to anyone who would listen about how going away for the weekend was like putting up and taking down a fucking circus. Now I have two, the monumental amount of shite we need when we go away beggars belief. We arrive, set everything up, have a cup of tea, then it’s time to pack everything away and go home again. But, listen to me: I do not overpack. If anything, I under pack. I never used to take any toys, for example. Other people turn up for the weekend with great laundry bags full of toys, which Kitty has to then steal like a latter-day Artful Dodger. 
My husband looks at the bags and bags of stuff in the hall waiting to be stuffed into the boot of the car and always says “God what a lot of stuff”. He doesn’t question it, because he values his life, but he boggles at it all the same. I know he is thinking: “If I had married someone more relaxed she would pack less stuff and then we could go on the train.” 
And sometimes I think that, too. But I look at our things and I know that there is nothing in any of these meticulously sourced and packed bags that we can do without. Without the Dream Tubes Kitty will fall out of the single bed that she will be sleeping in. Without the packet of soup pasta, Sam will not be able to have tea on Sunday night. Without his Lamaze Elephant that plays tunes when you squeeze the hand, Sam will be sad. Without his bath chair, Sam will not have a nice bath, which is a vitally fun twenty minutes in his day. Without Kitty’s new travel dollshouse she will be bored and demand to watch TV and show me up in front of our hosts. And so on. It’s enough to drive you to drink, let alone anything stronger.

People look at the amount of crap you have in your car when you go away with two small kids and they laugh and sneer and say “In my day we didn’t take that much stuff” or “where’s the kitchen sink ha ha” or whatever and they mostly say it because they have forgotten or never experienced what it is like to travel with small children. Or they never had to do the packing in the first place. Or they have never had to deal with the consequences of having not packed enough formula, or the correct stuffed toy or the DVD wallet or the iPad charger. And no-one else can do it for you, only you know what you need and where it is. And if you did happen to have someone else in your life who could do that kind of stuff for you, well, you can’t put a price on that kind of service. 

I know how my husband would do it if he was packing for everyone: he would take nothing. A handful of nappies, maybe, and Kitty’s toothbrush. He does this when he takes Kitty to the park – just hoofs it only taking things he can fit into his pockets. Everything, he reckons, can be begged or borrowed off other people or bought from a shop. If he runs into trouble he just clutches the upper arm of the nearest woman and hopes she will sort it out (she will, because that’s what we’re like). 
This attitude makes me feel perfectly sick to my stomach. What, just rely on borrowing shit off other people? Rely on there being a shop that has the thing that you need? What an almighty stress. I have, in fact, a few times been caught short when I have been out with my children – mostly lacking suncream, but once also nappies. It is true that other people fall over themselves to help. And whenever I am approached by someone and asked for a spare nappy or suncream or anything, I hand over fistfuls, shrieking lies like “Oh my God that happens to me ALL THE TIME” so that the borrower won’t feel inadequate.  
But the fact is that I cannot really imagine anything worse than flimsying about having to constantly beg things off other people for my kids. I forgot spare pyjamas for Kitty at my sister’s house the other weekend and she donated an old pair of her youngest’s and, although she’s my sister and everything and I’m sure I’ve helped her out of a tight spot in the past, still – it made me feel like a gypsy. No wait, that’s not fair to gypsies. It made me feel like some stupid fucking hippy idiot who naffs about forgetting everything and saying pathetic things like “Oh it’ll be fine”, meaning “I will just take advantage of more organised people who spent 3 days packing while I wafted about my house vaguely, gossiping on the phone.”

Anyway *wipes rabid foam off chin* so what I mean by all this is that don’t sit about wondering if cooking is less of a hassle for other people – or if other people are doing quite so much fucking washing up. It isn’t and they are.

Washing up is a major contributing factor, often, to my not eating dinner when my husband is out. I don’t need to worry about him so I can just drink a huge glass of Chardonnay, eat a handful of pistachios and then spoon Nutella directly into my gob from the jar until I feel sick & then take whatever non-prescription, (or prescription, if I am lucky), sedatives I can find lurking in my bathroom cabinet in order to pass out.

But last night, despite being tired and overwrought, (because who the fuck isn’t), I actually made myself a small curry for dinner, using up an alarming collection of ancient things in the fridge and it was terrific, thanks to a clutch of store cupboard essentials.

Because sometimes just surviving gets boring. It isn’t enough. You have to try to drive yourself on and make the best of things, using whatever dodgy bits and bobs you can lay your hands on.

Dirty curry, for Nigella Lawson

3/4 pack chicken thigh fillets, 3 days past sell by date (don’t tell my husband)
10 day old purple sprouting broccoli, chopped up
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
2tbsp light soy sauce
leftover peas from toddler’s dinner
200ml chicken stock, open for 1 week
1 small can bamboo shoots, 3 months past sell by date
1 70m can organic coconut cream
1/2 tsp chinese five spice
1 small, quite rubbery garlic clove, grated
1 nest of vermicelli noodles, if you feel like it

1 Wash chicken thoroughly, ignoring any funny smell, chop or snip into bite-sized pieces and fry off for a good 10 minutes in some groundnut oil. Google the symptoms of salmonella

2 Add broccoli, peas, chilli flakes, chinese five spice and grated garlic and fry on a low-medium flame for 5 minutes

3 Add chicken stock, coconut cream and soy, allow this to simmer together for 10-15 minutes

4 Steep the noodles in boiling water for 3 minutes and then drain and add to the curry for 5 minutes.

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