Tag: doesn

Lamb meatballs stuffed with cheese

I am not the sort of mother who feels sorry for people who don’t have children. Not even in my most smug moments (literally, only fleeting moments) do I think “People without kids are missing out!” or “People without kids must be so sad”.

I think, quite honestly, if I hadn’t had kids I would have been alright. I would have done something else, been someone else. I would have bred Shar-Peis or collected guns or become a foreign correspondent or something else equally child-unfriendly. But it would have been alright. I wouldn’t have been sad. I would have Christmassed in Barbados and spent Sunday mornings browsing in foreign antiques markets. I would cook more elaborately. I would read a lot of books.

But there is one area in which my heart does go out to the childless and it is this: they have to pretend, especially women, to like children they are not related to. They either have to pretend to like them, or self-defensively announce loudly that they are not “crazy” about kids or they are “bad” with kids or turn it around and claim that kids don’t like THEM. (It’s not me, it’s you.)

The plain fact is that it is hard to immediately take to strange children. Your own are fine. Your nieces and nephews are delightful. But other kids? Well, they’re just… whatever, really. Not repulsive or anything. (Although sometimes yes, totally repulsive) But mostly you just feel… nothing.

Unless you get to know them of course. Any child, once you get to know it, becomes the world’s most precious thing. But unless you see each other reasonably often, it’s hard to go wild about them.

This is a perfectly okay attitude to have if you already have children. The other day a friend whom I was supposed to be seeing for coffee asked at the last minute if she could bring both her kids. Both of mine would be occupied elsewhere. “No,” I said, guiltlessly. “Let’s do it another time.”And her children are perfectly nice. Any other time, when I also had my kids, they would be welcome at my house to smash the place up – we would all put funny hats on and sing songs and have a wicked time – but spend time with her kids, on one of my kid-free mornings? No. Unthinkable. Never.

But you can’t say that if you haven’t got kids because people go hmmmmm and think Oh, she doesn’t like children. Like one of the Witches in Roald Dahl. And it’s not that, s/he just doesn’t really like children she doesn’t know. She doesn’t hate them!! Just doesn’t really want to socialise with them. They operate at such an odd tempo, do little kids, and unless you are tuned to it, it can seem bizarre.

It’s all the interrupting that the childless can’t cope with. They probably think you shouldn’t let your children interrupt you, that Kiddo ought to just sit in a corner eating PVA glue while you gossip on for 3 hours about someone’s hideous new kitchen extension. They think you, the mother, ought to turn and say NOT NOW I AM TALKING.

Or, worse, they do that thing where they reach over to stop the hand of an eight month old who is banging a spoon on a table, because they believe that you are not stopping the child from making this awful noise because you are blinded by love or helplessly out of control.

(The fact is that there is so little joy and light in an 8 month-old’s life – can’t speak, can’t move, probably teething – that why shouldn’t the poor little bugger have a bit of fun banging a spoon about?)

Before I had children, all those utterly bizarre things kids do used to do my head in and I thought I didn’t like kids, but now I know that 1) you don’t really like kids you don’t know and 2) I didn’t understand them.

Now I don’t even notice when I am interrupted. In fact these days I am quite grateful for it – I talk so much and so fast that I can really wear myself out if left to rattle on unchecked.

And anyway I am usually just sitting in my kitchen with Becky B – in the middle of saying something scandalous – and I will be dragged hither to clear up a spill and she will be dragged thither to look at a Peppa Pig rocket and when this strange little ballet brings us back to within shouting distance of each other, we pick up where we left off. That’s just how it is. We don’t care. We usually manage to cover quite a lot of ground that way.

But when you don’t have kids you don’t GET to not want to be with them. People act like it’s “good” for the childless to spend time with their own ratbag kids to “get practice”. Me? I never expect anyone to want to spend time with my kids if they haven’t got their own. Why would they? Moreover, why would I? If I am going to see a friend who hasn’t got children I want to sit about in clean, fashionable (?!?!?!) clothes drinking alcohol and talking, uninterrupted, about that hideous kitchen extension.

Which brings me rather abruptly to lamb meatballs. Things have been a bit hair-raising round here the last few weeks. One of those times in life when eating, let alone cooking, sort of goes out of the window. We’ve been getting a lot of takeaway or having things that I can cook from memory, which only require 1 stale cabbage, some nutmeg and pre-grated Cheddar (strength 2).

But the other night, despite feeling pretty sorry for myself, I did have the chutzpah to conjure up a BRAND NEW THING, which are these cheese-stuffed meatballs. Not as hard as they sound and actually really unusual and delicious, sort of half-Greek, half-Indian – like a really beautiful supermodel.

So here we go, this would serve 4 people with sides.

500g best lamb mince
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 small bunch coriander
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds (leave these out if you don’t have them)
1/2 small pack of Feta cheese
salt & pepper
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 pint chicken stock
1 large handful medium Matzoh meal
1 egg
groundnut oil for frying

1 Put the onion, garlic, 1/2 the bunch of coriander and all the spices into a whizzer and whizz. Don’t clean the blender out.

2 Add these to your lamb mince and smoosh around with your hands for a bit. Then throw over the matzoh and the egg and a large pinch of salt and smoosh about more to combine. Try not to think about how cute lambs are.

3 Put a non-stick pan on over a medium heat with some oil in it and while this is heating up start shaping your meatballs in the usual way but put in a pinch of feta cheese – about the size of a small marble, and pack the mince around it. You will discover the best way of doing this by trial and error – by the third meatball you’ll have nailed it. It is easiest to work with mince if you have wet or damp hands.

4 Fry off the meatballs for about 15 minutes, turning so they are nice and crunchy on the outside. Keep the heat at a medium, at no point out blue smoke to be anywhere in your kitchen.

5 While these are browning, whizz your tin of tomatoes in your dirty whizzer, then scrape it all out into a casserole dish or any pan with deep-ish sides. Add your stock and a large pinch of salt and about ten turns of the pepper grinder, stir and bring this to a simmer.

6 Add in your meatballs as they seem browned on all sides (some may open up to reveal the cheese within, don’t worry about this) and cook the whole lot on a simmer for about 45 minutes until the tomatoey sauce seems to have reduced and thickened. Tinned tomatoes are vile and it’s only by cooking them and reducing them that you can turn them into anything edible.

7 Sprinkle over with fresh coriander and eat at dinnertime after the little weasels have gone to bed and you finally get to finish a bloody sentence.

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Oat and raisin cookies

I occasionally get emails from people asking me for childcare advice – normally about sleeping and eating (what else is there, after all?) – and sometimes these emails are from people who I assume have all the answers about kids already: doctors and teachers, basically.

One was an obstetrician worried about what her under-1 was eating. And I thought YOU DELIVER BABIES surely they are just not a subject you need help with. But she did. And she said “I just needed to hear someone else say it.” I get that a lot. “I just needed to hear someone else say it,” they say when I tell them to stop eating if they want to be thin, or stop rocking their kid to sleep or to stop breastfeeding if it’s making them suicidal.

Yesterday I needed to hear someone else say “You need to do controlled crying with Sam.” And my heart sank – right into my socks. But I knew they were right.

Controlled crying is the worst thing you have to do as a parent, I think. Is there anything else? MMmm, no. It is absolutely horrible. And it only looks and feels right and sensible from a distance. It never feels anything other than the most horrific, inhuman crazy reckless selfish evil thing you’ve ever done when you’re actually doing it. There are fewer darker places to be, as a parent, then listening to your child cry and doing nothing about it.

I mean, come on! To leave your child fussing, or wailing or even fucking screeching the house down? Well that’s just a thing for social services surely? You’re no better than Baby P’s mother! The parent of that poor Polish boy who starved to death! YOU ARE A MONSTER! These thoughts loom large in the small hours.

But there comes a point when it is time to get a grip and have some perspective. And I think that controlled crying is in fact a thing that you are doing to yourself, not something you are doing to your child.

Very few parents go for controlled crying as Option 1. When I had to do it with Kitty it was only after days and days of trying other things. And with Sam I have spent the last three months trying everything else when he wakes at 5am: patting, stroking, popping in a dummy, taking him in bed with me – all that. And he doesn’t want it, it makes it worse. If all I had to do with him was hop into bed with him at 5am every morning and give him a cuddle and he would fall back to sleep until 7am I would do it. Happily! But it doesn’t work. Neither does the dummy. He just spits it out half an hour later.

And I’ve been fretting and fretting and fretting about it for weeks. What to do? What to do? Then yesterday someone said “Just let him cry.”

And I went :(((((((

But this morning as the clocked ticked over to 0500 and Sam began his dawn chorus of snuffling and whimpering and going “ehhr ehhr ehhr ehhr ehhr” which turned to “waaa waa waa waaa” I got out of bed, taking a watch with me, shut the door on my husband, shut Kitty’s door and went up to the nursery. I straightened Sam in his cot, as he was headbutting the sides, gave him back his muzzy thing, gave him a pat then went out to sit on the stairs.

A watch is completely vital when you are doing controlled crying. With nothing to mark time it feels like they have been crying for hours, days, YEARS. In reality I let Sam wail and fret for 1min 30secs, then went back in to give him another pat. Then I went outside and left him again for just under 4 minutes. Then he went quiet again and started up for just under 2 minutes. Then he went completely quiet and I went back downstairs and got into bed and didn’t hear from him again until 7.20am. The whole thing had taken 15 minutes.

As I sat and listened to Sam wailing I noticed a thing about his cry that helped me whenever I had to do it with Kitty: he didn’t really mean it. Or rather, the cry didn’t mean the thing I feared it meant. What I fear it means is: “I want my dummy” – and am then baffled when he spits it out half an hour later.

But I realise now when he is wailing at that time in the morning he is saying “I don’t understand why I am awake. I don’t want to be awake. I want to be asleep but I can’t really get back to sleep so I am going to just go WAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH until I pass ou…” This is why the dummy doesn’t help (because he doesn’t fall asleep with a dummy) and why patting doesn’t help (get the fuck off me) and taking him into bed doesn’t help (what are you doing?!?!?! put me back in bed!!!)

Anyway that is my story and I am sticking to it. At least I’ve got a plan, now – once you’ve done controlled crying once and it has worked and they wake up the next morning alive and well and give you a huge gummy smile, it’s never as bad again. And with any luck quite soon no-one will have to listen to me going on about how fucking tired I am anymore.

Continuing the theme of baking for Kitty’s nursery bake sale day, yesterday we made some oat and raisin cookies (a classic).

They worked very well and were very simple and I recommend them to you.

Oat and raisin cookies
Makes 12

1 egg
50g butter
50g sugar
50g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon Golden Syrup or runny honey
80g rolled oats (like Scots Porage Oats)
50g raisins

Preheat your oven to 170C

1 Grease a baking sheet

2 Cream together the butter and sugar then beat in the egg, then the golden syrup or honey.

3 In another bowl mix together the
– flour
– cinnamon
– baking powder
– oats
– raisins

then add to your butter mixture.

4 To make a cookie, blob a teaspoonful on the baking sheet then flatten down a bit as best you can as it will spread out a bit on cooking but not lots. If you just put a blob on the sheet you will get a sort of rock cake.

The mixture is very rubbly and sticky so manipulating it can be problematic. I think there is a thing you can do with flattening it with a wet spatula?

Leave some space between cookies as they will spread out a bit on cooking. You may have to cook them in two batches.

5 Bake for about 8 – 10 minutes then leave to cool on a wire rack. They ought to be be bendy when they come out of the oven.

It goes without saying you can add anything else you like to these to make them super-tasty: chopped orange peel, hazelnuts, chocolate chips: wevs, man.

Because Oyster Rockefeller Sounds Rich

There’s much debate over how many of America’s greatest
recipes got their name, but that’s not an issue with Oyster Rockefeller. Thanks
to the rich, money-colored butter sauce, this decadent creation’s name pretty
much wrote itself.

Besides the obvious, superficial reasons, associating your
new shellfish appetizer with the most affluent family of the day was a stroke
of social media genius. Hey, just because Twitter wouldn’t be invented for
another 107 years doesn’t mean people didn’t “retweet” things.

When Jules Alciatore invented the dish in 1899, he wasn’t
trying to create a classic, new American shellfish appetizer; he was simply
trying to replace snails in his diet. That’s right, what would become America’s
greatest seafood appetizer (sorry, crab cakes) was just a delicious work-around
for a serious shortage of French snails in New Orleans.

To say the customers of Antoine’s were happy with this local
substitution would be a huge understatement. They went crazy for it. The dish
quickly gained national attention, with the most famous celebrities,
politicians, and foreign dignitaries of the day stumbling over each to get a
plate or three.

The original secret recipe really is a secret; so all
versions, including mine, are just guesses. There is agreement among foodies
who study such matters that spinach was not part of the formula, but the much
spicier and more flavorful watercress was used.

Neither were mushrooms, bacon, ham, cheese, garlic, or any other
later day add-ons. Not that those ingredient aren’t good baked on top of
oysters, but that just wasn’t how Mr. Alciatore rolled. So if you are looking
for a special occasion appetizer that tastes, looks, and makes you feel (and
sound) rich, then I hope you give this oyster Rockefeller recipe a try. Enjoy!

Makes enough for about 3 dozen oysters Rockefeller:
1 stick butter (1/2 cup) room temp
2 tbsp minced green onions, white and light green parts
2 tbsp diced celery
2 tbsp fresh chopped tarragon
2 tbsp fresh chopped Italian parsley
1 cup chopped watercress leaves
salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste
2 tbsp Pernod liquor
1/4 cup bread crumbs
3 dozen oysters on the half shell

Bonus How to Open Oyster Video!

My friend Tamar, from Starving Off the Land, does a much better job of showing how to open oysters, but that’s only because she raises them and gets a lot more practice! That, and she’s better at it. Also, a special thanks to Sky Sabin Productions for their fine work on this.

For some additional shucking info, and tons of oyster recipe links, you can also check out this article on Allrecipes.com. Enjoy!

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