Tag: habit

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.

Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs

I have the most terrible habit of saving things “for best”.

I do it with almost everything: clothes, shoes, bags, accessories in general. The nicer and more expensive something is, the more I am inclined to hide it away reverently and just look at it from time to time, rather than use it and risk ruining it.

It stems from my strict protestant upbringing: we rarely had anything new, everything was hand-me-down, except shoes and underwear and I was once bought my own set of new pyjamas when I was about nine. It was a dark blue shorts and t-shirt set with stars on the shorts and a little owl sewn on the t-shirt and I loved it.

My parents never had anything new, either, despite having plenty of money (the whole thing was entirely cultural). Sometimes my mother would order my father a new shirt or some socks from a catalogue called James Meade when his others had literally fallen to rags, (they were then cut up and hemmed to be used for cleaning windows), but that was it.

It’s a perfectly honourable way to live one’s life and a perfectly responsible way to bring up children. Accumulating loads and loads of shit you don’t need, or showering your children with endless new things, is terrible and the general sense that what you’ve got is fine has left me well-equipped to deal with the financially perilous life of a freelance writer.

I don’t want or need that much stuff, which is good because there is no pay day blow-out for me, there is no sense that I work hard so why shouldn’t I drop this amount of money on that gewgaw that I like so much just because it is pretty – because although I work hard, I earn practically nothing. So anything that I really, really want that I cannot afford is bought for me by my husband for a birthday or Christmas present.

None of this stops me from coveting luxurious things like mad, like anyone, I’m just less likely to buy them.

If I am allowed to bulk-buy Dove deodorant, toothpaste and Timotei shampoo on my husband’s Amex, I am happy. The toothpaste tube in my childhood home had to be absolutely squeezed down to the last tiny scraping before a new tube was purchased from Boots. But it does mean that when I do buy or get given something really special, I don’t want to use it. I just want to look at it and marvel that it is mine! All mine!

Aside from the result that I never wear my nicest clothes – and wonder why I look a fright – recently, this attitude has also had the most terrible effect on my face.

My face has always been a bit of a problem. The main complaint being recurring, terrible spots that lingered well into my late 20s and were only finally cured by switching to a Pill called Yasmin and having a baby. Something to do with hormones, don’t ask me details – I don’t have a full understanding of it.

Anyway, since my spots finally disappeared, I haven’t really given the skin on my face a second thought. Having spots is so awful, so all-consuming, painful, embarrassing – causing despair, rage, frustration and ultimately shame at being so shallow – that when you don’t have them any more it is tempting to luxuriate in not washing one’s face for days, leaving the house without a make-up bag and only having to own one ancient Rimmel concealer for covering up the occasional under-eye shadow.

So despite having a cupboard-full of incredibly expensive skin preparations purchased from newspaper office “beauty cupboard” sales (where big-name lotions and potions are sold off for, like £3) and sourced from goodie bags sent by various magazine features editors who felt sorry for me, I never used any of them. My face looked fine! Now I didn’t have zits, my face could basically do no wrong. Why did I need to use an Elemis tri-enzyme facial resurfacing wash? Or an Estee Lauder night repair eye cream?

I slapped Aveeno moisturiser on my face any time after I had remembered to wash it with soap and occasionally scrubbed at my T-Zone with Freederm gel wash, unable to get out of the habit of using something spot-fighting.

For a long time it didn’t matter. But in the last 12 months, something terrible has happened. My face has become baggy and blotchy. My nose, once my pride and joy, completely straight, unobtrusive and non-shaming, started to swell. It was sort of permanently red, with angry flares blooming from the corners of the nostrils in the direction of my mouth.

I looked like an ancient alcoholic, or as if I permanently had a bit of a cold. Make-up didn’t really conceal it for long and, anyway, with a toddler and then being pregnant again, I really wasn’t fucking arsed to mess about with foundation and concealer in the mornings.

What with my pregnancy facial oedema adding to this general car-crash, my face has recently been a cause of really quite a lot of distress for me – for the first time really since my spots disappeared about four years ago.

I had a couple of essential-oil and whale-music facials with therapists who didn’t really say anything about the condition of my face and so I just carried on as normal, all the while these expensive products sat in my bathroom cabinet, untouched.

Then I went for a semi-medical facial at !QMS (sic), a very smart skincare place in Chelsea, on a freebie for work. The facialist nearly screamed when I told her that I used Freederm. And she gave me really quite a ticking off when I told her that I had given up washing my face at night because I was too tired.

Stop using that disgusting Freederm shit, she said (I’m paraphrasing). It’s for teenagers! You are not a teenager you are nearly 33! And wash your face twice a day with something mild. Then she laid on me a skincare programme from !QMS that looked just too overwhelming and complicated for me to consider buying even one thing.

And I knew – I knew full well – that at home at had drawers and drawers full of beauty-hall grade facial unguents that I had put away, saving “for best”.

I went home, threw out my Freederm and – more shaming – Clearasil and have been ploughing through probably about £1,000 worth of products. It’s only been 4 days since my facial and already I can see some of the damage subsiding. What the fuck was I thinking?

The same principle often applies to food. So often you think let’s just have museli and toast, or let’s just have soup and cheese, when actually there’s no reason not to have smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.

My husband and I have recently taken to having people round for brunch on the weekend, because we are too exhausted and ratty by 1pm on a Saturday or Sunday to consider having people round for either lunch or dinner.

Giles is dispatched to Panzer, which is a European (i.e. Jewish) deli/grocery place in St Johns Wood to get too much smoked salmon, some cream cheese and bagels. We lavish 90% of the salmon on our guests and then gorge on the 10% at breakfast the next day.

Some restaurants manage to get this very simple breakfast horribly wrong by cooking the salmon, so you have a kind of kedgeree, minus the rice, with the cooked eggs and the cooked salmon. Yuk. Absolutely not. What you must do is just cook your eggs and lay them alongside your premium-grade smoked salmon. Lemon juice and pepper on the salmon is essential.

I even read, somewhere, that salmon is terrific for one’s skin – and the Lord knows you can’t put that away in a cupboard for best. Well, not for long anyway.

Recipe Rifle’s Christmas message

I would say it had been a joyous year, but it hasn’t. I mean, not especially. I would say that it has been an eventful year, but it hasn’t. I would say that it has been an annus horribilis, but it hasn’t been that either.

It’s just been one of those years that goes from one month to the next. I have spent it mostly wiping down an Ikea highchair, opening the door to the Ocado man and marvelling at that thing where you spend 20 minutes tidying the kitchen only for it to still look like a fucking bombsite.

And it’s been a year of TV suppers, eating off our knees in our 1.5 hour telly and dinner watching slot before our eyes glaze over and we can’t concentrate and we simply must, must, must go to bed before we fall down. I have slumped entirely out of the habit of cooking for more than two people. We spent months and thousands on a kitchen extension only for us to have 3 dinner parties in 7 months. But Kitty likes it.

What of Kitty? She is a child now, almost no longer a toddler – though still toddlerish to her destructive habits, lack of reason, lack of responsiveness to bribery but she is at least old enough to sit quietly on the sofa watching Peppa Pig for nine hours.

So Merry Christmas, then. See you in the New Year. I’ve got a bread and butter pudding to tell you about and also a chicken, pork and apricot raised pie – if it works out.

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