My top 5 meat-free meals.

It’s Nation Vegetarian Week! Still. Just. We are not vegetarians, but we have gradually cut the frequency that we eat meat, primarily for health reasons. We eat more fish than we used to, and when we do have meat we try to buy higher welfare. I’ll be honest though – it’s not always convenient to source it as part of our weekly shop without going out of our way. We started the year trying to make January an almost meat-free month – saving meat only for weekends and trying new veggie recipes each week. I wanted to explore some different veggie options to the ones we usually fell back on. We did find some new recipes that we loved (Ottolenghi’s green couscous in ‘Plenty’) but were just too much of a faff for everyday cooking. Also, a fussy toddler meant I was making two separate meals, and her diet became very freezer based, so I reverted back to hearty stews and casseroles that we could all enjoy without too much fuss. I still go easy on the meat, but also bulk out with pulses, pearl barley and loads of veg.

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Anyway, back to the veg-a-thon. We still fall back on a few meat-free delights on a regular basis, so I thought I’d share them here. I’m not going to give you exact quantities, but I will link to recipes where I can.

Rustic veg pasta

Let us meat-eaters try not to get to stressed about this whole thing & reinvent the wheel, okay? But also, don’t just stew all your veg in tinned tomatoes and then feel disappointed with the whole watery mess and order a lamb curry delivery instead. You’ve got to think flavour and texture at every step and this method keeps the bite on the veg and brings out their flavours too. Yes it’s an extra pan, but who really cleans griddle pans anyway?

Chuck a few sliced garlic cloves into a couple of lugs of oil, maybe a pinch of dried chilli and a spoonful of smoked paprika to boot. Once it become fragrant, add a tin of chopped tomatoes. While this grooves on a low heat, prepare some courgette, onion and pepper for griddling. I like mine chunky, so I go for half moon-ish courgette slices, onion cut into eight segments with root still attached, and peppers in approximate 1″ x 2″ pieces. Some might say you should toss the veg in oil before griddling. I couldn’t possibly comment*. Actually I can – I don’t bother. The veg gets smokier quicker as long as you don’t try to move the veg about until its got properly black lines on it. Otherwise its all a sticky mess. Once griddled, chuck the veg into the sauce and season to taste. Lob some fresh basil in just before serving. I prefer Penne.

Lentil Dhal with Veg Shashlik

This is now one of our top meat-free meals. There are loads of variations on dhal. I can never remember which one I used the last time, so it’s different each time, but always scrummy. Amoung our shelf of chefs we have Hugh F-W’s one and Jack Monroe’s version. In my experience, there isn’t much that can’t be tweaked or saved at the final stage anyway, so just Google one and start trying. Just don’t scrimp on the salt.

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For the shashlik, cut your veg into large chunks, eg. onions quartered, small tomato halves, pepper quartered, courgettes 2cm thick slices. Use whatever you have or like – cauliflower & aubergine are other good flavours if you have them. Place chunky veg pieces into a bowl and coat in oil, a liberal sprinkling of paprika (I use a mix of regular and smoked) and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice (or squeezy lemon if you don’t have fresh). Salt to taste – don’t scrimp! Once coated, griddle on a medium heat until cooked. You may have to batch cook this and remove to a warming drawer or low oven. Serve the shashlik with the dhal and rice.

I also like some fresh chopped tomatoes and onion, and some home made cucumber raita: Dice a few inches of cucumber into 1cm cubes, then sprinkle with salt. Leave for five or so minutes so the salt can help the juices to flow. Dollop on a couple of tablespoons or more of plain yogurt (I use Greek). Add a little splash of milk to thin if necessary – depends on your preference.

Broccoli Pasta

Ok this one is not 100% meat free due to the anchovies, but I have heard some people say you can make it without. I wouldn’t dream of it, but maybe you don’t like anchovies. Anyway, I like to court controversy, so here it is!

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It’s a Jamie Oliver recipe from Happy Days and is another regular on our meal plan. It’s thrifty, tasty and quick. At Christmas we subbed the broccoli for shredded sprouts and it was even better! A tip – I find I need a full tin of anchovies and more garlic and chilli than he suggests, but you know, thats just me. If Jamie can’t handle it….

Salad

Sounds boring doesn’t it? We call it mega-salad and in this house, it is never anything less. I’m not going to teach you to suck eggs here, but use your imagination and choose flavours you enjoy. There is a great infographic to help you hone your salad-building prowess. A typical meat-free example in this house would be Spinach leaves, cucumber, spring onions, green beans, soya beans, boiled eggs, toasted walnuts or pistachios, basil and mint leaves, roasted butternut or beetroot, grilled halloumi, toasted seeds. Sprinkled with fresh chopped red chilli and large salt flakes for crunch, then drizzled with a dressing like this one or this one or just a good shop-bought one. Don’t make life too difficult for yourself. The virtue of the salad outweighs any slacker-guilt you may experience.

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I know I said five meals, but the salad counts as at least two because it is so infinitely adaptable (see photographic evidence above).

So, there you have it carnivorous compadres. My meat-lovers meat-free must-munch meals. You’re most welcome.

*still loving House of Cards.

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Spring Things // A list

WEEEEEEE! How simply gorge-balls is the weather today? It feels like holidays – it IS holidays! This weekend I am driving to the other side of the country to be with my old university rabble, as we celebrate the passage of one of our ladies into WIFEDOM!! It will be my first night away from the wee Chicken, which I am both delighted about and dreading in equal measure. (More about that after the weekend, I’m sure.)

But for now, I’m just feeling really excited about Spring, and the weekend, and Easter weekend and camping, and all sorts really. So here are 10 Spring things I intend on doing:

1. Point eyeballs at the variety of fresh sappy colours emerging all around. Especially when they have that unsullied blue sky behind them.

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2.Bake a massive chocolate cake with eggs on top, like this one.

3. Eat the cake, with tea and glee, so my face is covered in chocolate like Monsieur Le Cure in Joanne Harris’ Chocolat. Divine. Who needs religion when there is chocolate in the world?

4. Camping. With my little family. And friends. And their little families. And sausages. And fires. Mmmm. Smoky.

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5. Watch spindly little green shoots emerge from the seeds I sowed last weekend. I hope.

6. Play out. In the garden. In the park. In the Dales. In the Lakes. At friends houses. On the cycle path.

7. Listen to the birds. They are getting rather frisky in our garden. We will listen while lying on a blanket on the grass. While playing out. While in the bath. While on the lavvy. While saying our night-night’s from the bedroom window.

8. Listen to this. It’s brilliant. You need to inject it into your ear-balls. Or somewhere…. just do.

9. Feed the ducks. Real and pretend ones.

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10. Breathe that fresh clean spring air right into the pits of my germ addled lungs. Oh snot, when will ye be gone?

 

What are you doing these Easter holidays?

A Week of Two Halves.

I haven’t written very many words this last week. The little one developed a cold over the weekend, and I think I must have a bit of it too as I’ve felt totally pooped. Well, It could be that, or it could also be the fact that I had a really productive week at home – you know, where you just seem to be ON FIRE! Well, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday at least. On Thursday it all went wrong. I’d peaked too soon. Failed to pace myself. Before that though, I did the following:

  • Take the child swimming
  • Do the weekly shop, plus a bit of ‘leisure’ shopping (who am I? Alan Partridge…?), spending some of my Christmas vouchers and buying some fabric paint for a new craft project.
  • Held a craft evening with my good friend K – We did those sharpie mugs that are all over Pinterest. Check it y’all.

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  • In one morning, I cooked a massive beef stew, some savoury muffins courtesy of Hugh F-W and some chocolate brownie courtesy of Jamie O. The latter were hacked due to not having all the stuff in my cupboard that they had. Including enough eggs. It still worked. Who follows a recipe to the letter anyway? Not this domestic goddess. Pah!

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  • Met an old Uni mate for coffee. I almost cried when I saw her, it’s been so long and I was menstrually (word?) hormonal. We had a good catch up while the little one slept in the cot (thanks little-O) and reminisced about a trip we did 10 years ago, to South Africa. We had an awesome time, but mainly because we were so naive – we wouldn’t do half the stuff we did then, now. Isn’t that the best thing about being young?! I wonder what I’m doing now that I’ll think back in ten years and think – “Oh, I was so young then, I didn’t know what I was doing!” Ha! Brilliant. Hopefully everything! Age is relative, man.
  • Went to my besties for tea – spicy fanjitahs – and the tea wasn’t bad either. Ba-Boom!

Then I woke up on Thursday and felt like I just wanted to be not he sofa all day (if only). Or maybe until Spring springs for real. You know, not just the Snowdroppy bit, the full on Daffodil version. Anyway, I only just emerged from that this afternoon, so… not so much happened since Thursday.

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Snowdrops will do very nicely for now though.

Slovenly round up post: Part 2.

Luckily once the day arrived, all the doom and gloom and guilt dissolved! The little Chicken’s first Christmas! She loved the puzzle of opening her one present. Yes, ONE present. A wooden xylophone. Well, loads more if you count all the ribbons and bows and wrapping paper. I also managed to sew her a stocking. My Mum sewed, and there was usually a hand sewn gift at Christmas. Luckily, she passed that skill onto me, so when I sew, it still feels like I sew with her, so this is a tradition that I’d like to carry on, and pass on to my daughter too. I stuffed the stocking with clementines, a few of her already established toys: wooden blocks, a ribbon, a rattley thing). Her sippy cup runneth over. She was delighted, so were we.

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After a smoked salmon scrambled egg breakfast we walked into the city and to York Minster. Although both raised catholic (hence guilt in previous post) neither of us are religious, but the pomp and ceremony of church is something that we both still find enchanting, especially at Christmas. The light pouring through the Rose Window was incredible, and we showed the little one the nativity scene, and lit candles for the Grandma’s who are missed each and every day of the year, but especially at Christmas.

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After a lovely day spent with family, we retreated home for Christmas Cake, gin-in-a-tin and Downton Abbey. Don’t. Say. Anything. There was ice-cream and paddling *disapproving face*

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So now, to plan for New Year (resolutions, bleugh), and a certain somebody’s very first Birthday Party (Yay!)

10 Way’s to kick sleep-deprivation in the a$$

This last week has been a killer for sleep – I reckon I’ve had an average of about 4 hours a night since Tuesday. I don’t cope well with sleep deprivation, but since becoming a mum, I’ve had to find ways to just plough on. Once we got past the 6 month mark and she didn’t magically start sleeping throughout the night (damn you babycentre/health visitor/baby books, DAMN YOUR LIES!), I had to accept that she might not sleep throughout he night until sometime in the distant future. Yes, it took me that long to realise, but once I did, life got better. In fact, I think my whole parenting ethos changed too and for the better.

Some of these are general good tips you’ll probably find anywhere, but others are things that I found work for me and help me get through the day. Or sometimes, get through the hour. It’s a work in progress. I still get overwhelmed, irrationally angry, tearful. Some days I don’t manage to do any of these things, and I feel tied to the sofa all day, but some days I surprise myself with how well I cope and how much I manage to do. So, in no particular order:

1. Get some fresh air. Okay, I guess this comes with exercise. Not only will it make you feel energised while you are in it, it will help you feel more relaxed when you do get some downtime, and hopefully aid sleep. Exercise and fresh air will also improve your sense of wellbeing, staving off some of the dark feelings that can come with sleep deprivation. There is good evidence now that exercise is beneficial to people suffering with mental health problems, including post-natal depression. You don’t need to go far or fast. Just go.

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2.Try not to OD on caffeine. Temping as it is. I am a big tea drinker, and lately I enjoy an instant coffee at around 4pm to get me through the ‘last push’ to bedtime (it’s really not that much of a battle, but when you’re tired, you need all the help you can get, no?) I try to keep a track on my own intake, and space them out. I’m sure there are some fancy pants research about how much you should have, but I know what works for me, and I use it. Ditto alcohol. I don’t drink every night of the week, but I do enjoy a glass of wine or a bottle of beer to help me unwind. It’s about balance. I’ve tried to be a health freak martyr drinking only water and herbal teas, but I simply love the comfort and ceremony of tea, so it’s here to stay.

3. Rest – even if it’s not sleep. The little chicken goes through phases of great sleep/naps and terrible ones. When its terrible, I sometimes avoid the nap time battle altogether because I simply can’t cope with it. Instead, I pop some toys and books in her cot, gently sit her down in there, and retreat to my room where I close the curtains and my eyes for 10 minutes, 15 if I’m lucky. It’s just enough to avoid a meltdown (me not her!)

4. Give yourself a break. Really. Just breathe. You are doing fine. The housework can wait, and you can have oven chips for tea again.

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5. Ask for help. I’m no good at this, but I’m 100% certain that if I had a person that I felt comfortable to ask, I would have a greater level of week-to-week sanity (thereby avoiding the weekend meltdown that tends to happen). If you have a willing family member, ask them if they’d like to take the baba for a walk in the pram for an hour. But I absolutely insist that you go immediately to bed and don’t even start checking your social media accounts, okay?!

6. Early nights. Some days, this is impossible – seriously, I don’t don’t know what happens, but it gets to 10pm and I’m only just going into relax mode. Other times, I have to bow out of couple-time a bit early, otherwise I become resentful of the time ‘demanded’ of me (clearly, it’s my own choice, but sleep-deprived brain cells become a bit irrational)

7. Treats. Whatever works for you. Mine are mainly sweet treats.  Yes it’s ‘unhealthy’, but it’s good for the soul. Like the lack of sleep – it’s not forever, I can walk it off, plus I’m still breastfeeding, and it’s a mood elevator.

8. Positive self-talk. See number 4. You need to tell yourself you are doing okay, and not beat yourself up. You need to remind yourself almost constantly that it will end, that the next day, week, hour, whatever – its going to be better.

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9. Music. This makes such a huge difference. We don’t have a television set, so Radio 4 and 6Music are the stations of choice. A good song coming on the radio can make or break a moment, and spur me on for another hour. Even better, I stick the iPod on and have a sing or a boogie. It’s a definite mood lifter either way. Current favourites are Daft Punk and Led Zeppelin.

10. Laughter. This kind of goes hand in hand with letting go and giving yourself, and your partner a break. Sometimes you have to hold your tongue, see the funny side. Recognise that you are both tired. You are both working hard. Don’t hang onto your feeling of crapness like a trophy, let it go, and have a laugh. It will keep you close and it will release stress.

It’s about acceptance, and being kind to yourself. What have you found to help you overcome or manage tiredness or sleep deprivation?

Last Advent…

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…I was heavily pregnant with my first baby. *sighs* I loved being pregnant. Once past that first trimester, where my biggest fear (apart from my baby growing healthily) was that I would never regain my appetite and I would become forever enshrined in that state of gastronomic fussiness that I find so irksome in others. Cream cracker anyone? Crisp butty? Cornflakes? Mmmm yes please! Garlicky anchovy based pasta sauce…. Bleugh!

Then came the second trimester, when I emerged from the nausea and tiredness and started to feel BLOODY GORGEOUS! My hair, my skin, my serene contentment. Well, maybe the last one is a stretch… this was the era of “the master list”. Ten pages of A4 of lists divided in various categories of our life, subdivided in to quick jobs and massive jobs, and using a colour coded series of red and green biro wiggly lines and yellow highlighter pens  to annotate and highlight the tasks’ relative importance. In short, I thought our life, wait, no… The world was ending and we had to complete everything before December the 1st. I was pretty obsessed with it. Poor Mister had an endless stream of jobs, large and small to complete. I did my share too – erecting shelves in the airing cupboard all by my pretty self (tongue firmly in cheek, just in case you are wondering – I totally rock a tool belt). My bump started to emerge and I noticed women looking down at my belly and smiling at me. The shift to maternity clothes I also loved – I purchased a few items from ebay, and inherited a couple from friends. I was out of my tight fitting boring wardrobe, and into things I wouldn’t usually wear for everyday, but with limited choice I had to. So I felt fabulous. We even squeezed in a holiday (obviously this was numero uno on the list), which was totally marvellous. I learned I was great at delegating and selling stuff on Ebay. Thanks pregnancy.

Then came the third trimester. Suddenly the list was thrown into doubt. The tiredness returned like an unwanted hypnotic spell. I had to pace myself, but I felt more able to put things in perspective again (with the list). Work had slowed right down, (as per the plan set out in the list) and I was able to just be pregnant. I reflected even then, that this was the healthiest, happiest and most positive I had felt in years. I was proud of myself for growing this mobile little creature inside me. Yes, I was tired, breathless and my back ached, but I felt strong and capable and so excited to meet the child inside me. By this time last year… I was on leave. The list was complete. The Christmas shopping was done. There was only the cake and the house to decorate, a few social engagements to attend. I was ready. The due date was the 19th December, but I remember waking up on the 1st December and thinking… it could happen TODAY! And the 2nd, 3rd… Unfortunately the little chicken was nice and cosy for another month, but that’s another story.

So Advent, with all it’s spicy scents, pretty lights and cosy fires will always feel extra special to me. It will always remind me of that very special time in my life so full of peace, hope and joy x

Me and the Countryfile Christmas special projected onto my bump. And why not…?
Me and the Countryfile Christmas special projected onto my bump. And why not…?

Weekend Happenings

 

 

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It has been a busy weekend, but kind of a homey one too. Mr. Graduated on Friday so threads and lippy were donned, fish and chips eaten and cinema visited – oh how we like to rock celebrations these days!  Christmas cake is baked and will now start the slow and soothing initiation into Winter by being incarcerated in greaseproof paper and brought out once a week for a boozy drink of brandy. Mmmm… the kitchen already smells divine. I love how pretty the fruit and grated citrus looks in this picture.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mr. Thrifted this yesterday… total score. I have never heard it before but “Who knows where the time goes” used to be my perfect allotment song – mellow, totally chilled and grounded. So as soon as I put this on, I felt the same mellow vibe… I know it’s going to be a firm favourite already.

Happy times all in all! Have a good week, all!

 

Lately…

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Still finding our groove with Mr being out at work (as opposed to work from home freelance). Me and the wee Chicken have had a cold for the last two weeks. She is now on antibiotics which is a bit rubbish, but hoping that the cause of her chesty cough is bacterial and not viral (therefore rendering the antibiotics a complete waste of time…).

Listening to: Old vinyl on our new (old) record player Nat King Cole, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Little Richard.

Eating: Roast Chicken dinners, Beef stew mmmm. Comfort food at its best.

Doing: Walking. Making the most of the crisp sunny autumn days and breaking in my new Doc Martens (where did I put the Compeed plasters….). I had a pair of these patent black DM’s in 1993 (yeah, like, WELL before Daisy Lowe and Agnes Deyn rocked up in ’em). I can’t describe to you how evocative it was when I opened this new pair and sniffed the dark sturdy leather. The DM’s will have their own dedicated post. It’s THAT BIG in my life!

Reading: How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, What Mothers do by Naomi Stadlen. Both awesome books – Moran makes the topic of feminism both engaging and accessible (and is happily and wantonly shouting in capitals all over that shit – henceforth, so shall I). Stadlen reminds me what I and the rest of society seem to have forgotten about how important, and FRICKIN’ BRILLIANT mums everywhere are!! Regardless of all that divisive crap over breastfeeding versus formula/pram Vs. wearing/cot vs. co-sleeping/disposable vs. cloth vs. EC* LAH-LAH-LAH the list goes on. If you are a Mum who loves your baba and are doing your best – YOU ROCK!

Drinking: Red wine and too much tea. My innards are getting a healthy tan, even if my face is not.

Dreaming about: Crochet’ing (sp. ?) a mustard yellow infinity scarf / snood. Can I find the correct yarn? No I can not. Suggestions of where to buy reasonably priced, non-acrylic yarn gratefully received.

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*EC = Elimination Communication. Nappy free babies!! No – I was not brave enough to try this one, even if I had been able to convince the Mr. One of my favourite bloggers, Lucy has written all about her nappy free adventures on lulastic.co.uk