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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

We Could Have Had It All...

My almost-two-year-old is going through a rather exasperating phase at the moment. Exasperating for me that is. He isn’t exasperated at all. Oh no.  In fact, he’s cool as a cucumber chilling in the crisper.

While I’m pretty much done pulling my hair out. Tomorrow, I’ll be bald.
So, the phase – friends, mummies and countrymen – is not eating.

(My blood pressure’s rising even as I write the words)

Seriously – he is not eating.
Simply not.

I’ve tried everything. Absolutely everything.
Tried and Failed.

And so our thrice-daily mealtime exchange has become roughly thus:

I offer him food.
He offers me (in a strictly ordered sequence): head wagging, sticking out of the tongue, spitting out food, horrifically loud wailing, arms being flung in every conceivable direction, concluded by (grand finale) a truly blood curdling shriek. As if he’s Chicken Little and the sky’s falling.

I can’t take it. I just can’t.

A child of mine, refusing food?
Is this even possible?

And I don’t even have any hair left to pull out!

Imagine the sheer extent of my bafflement when I go to pick him up at school this afternoon and I’m handed a “report card” that says – “Lunch: All x 2”

“Whaat?” I ask pointing to the said line in dumbfounded disbelief.

“Oooh” the teacher says coolly, “he liked his lunch so much, he asked for an extra portion and ate it.”

I stare at her in silence.

“Winifred’s a great cook!” she adds happily.

My next few actions are a series of disoriented blurs.
Much to her amazement, I mutter a hurried thank you, pick up my child and run out of the premises like a crazed ballerina with her tutu on fire.

Outside, I place child in pram, hastily fasten one strap, ignore the other (I’m a baaaaad, baaaad woman – don’t be like me) and telephone the father of said child.

“They’re saying he ate two portions of lunch,” I say with great passion, the words coming out in a single rapid sentence without pause.

I am met with an eerie silence.

Hello, hello, helllooo? I shriek.

“Ams, Ams, I’m very much here. Can you please stop screaming and gasping and talking all at once?”

“Yes, yes, ok” I say breathlessly. Then I hold the phone away from me and take a few shallow breaths. When I’m a bit calmer, I bring it back to my ear and try again – “They’re saying, at school, that he ate all his lunch. And then he asked for more lunch. And then he ate all his lunch. Again.”

“Oh wow, that’s great” says a cheery voice on the other end.

This is NOT what I want to hear.

Once again, I hold the phone away from my ear and much to the amusement of another mother walking her child home from (very same) school, give it (the phone that is, not bystanding child) the scowl of death.

Then, I take a breath. Another one.

“Honnnney...” I say, in sugar coated (alright, alright, honey-coated) fakeness, “I think you are missing the point!”

“What pray,” he asks, “is the point, my love?”

“Well. Let’s see, shall we? I get ‘bueeeeaaagh’ (stick tongue out please for accurate rendition of intended sound effect) and Winifred gets lunch x 2? Just where is the justice in this world? Can you please point me to it? That, I think, is my point.” I finish indignantly.

“Well...” he starts to say...
But I cut him off. Because my anger’s given way to sadness and suddenly I want to cry.

“It’s meeeee. Isn’t it? I’m a baaaaad baaaaad mother!!”

“Oh God, Ams! Get a grip. You’re NOT a bad mother.”

(I do have a flair for the dramatic)

“Well, then what?” I challenge.
I’ve gone back to being angry. Being sad is a hopeless exercise.

“Maybe you should ask to spend an afternoon with Winifred...” he suggests.

That’s it.
I’ve heard enough.

This is the last and final straw.

I say something that sounds like “Grrrrr....”
And hang up.

I am furious.

I’m furious with everyone. The phone, Sid, the teacher, Winifred, myself. And most of all with the cheeky monkey grinning back angelically at me.

“Oh no, you don’t,” I say, hands on my hips, stamping my feet for emphasis (right there in the middle of the road).

“Don’t you smile at me like that!”

(I continue)

“Just you watch, Mister. Tonight you’re going to eat what I cook. Times 2. Times 4 in fact. Or Times however many that’s needed for Winifred to want to spend an afternoon with me.

“And that is Because I Said So.” I conclude with a flourish.
(Not that he asked or anything).

In fact, he’s looking at me with his big brown doe-eyes. As if he understands none of the soliloquy I’ve spouted so articulately.

I narrow my eyes to slits and glare at him. "Oh stop looking so innocent. Don't think you can fool me."

I turn my attention to the “report card” to see what the one-who-won’t-eat has eaten twice over.

And – before the sheer curiosity of all of this kills you as it did the poor old cat – the culprit, my friends, is (drumroll please) – Penne Carbonara!!

Ha! Who would have thunk it?

But it is what it is. And because it is, it is what I’m going to be making for dinner. And the whole household is going to eat it, like it or not. And that includes the grandparents. And Mr ‘maybe you should go spend an afternoon with Winifred’


So I run full speed, like a race-pram driver on a mission to win, down the road and to the nearest Waitrose and...

Here’s what I buy:

-       500g penne
-       3 eggs
-       275g pancetta or smoky bacon (optional)
-       50g Parmesan, finely grated
-       60 ml double cream
-       1/2 onion, diced
-       2 cloves garlic, minced
-       An appropriately guilt-quelling amount of veggies cut into bite size pieces (more about this later.) I’m using a medley of broccoli, cauliflower, sliced mushrooms and peas. I’m obsessed with peas right now. That’s my phase.
-       2 tsp olive oil
-       Salt & lots black pepper
-       A small grating of nutmeg (also which I am becoming rapidly infatuated with, but more about this later)

Now, before we go any further, I know I’ve been naughty and just gone and undone two very important claims I’d previously made. Which (in no particular order) stand as follows:
1.    That I’m not going to be cooking for a while
2.    That I’m going to be (very seriously and in great earnest) watching my weight
About the first:
Here’s the thing. It’s simple.
I’d be delighted to relinquish my kitchen to the able and willing hands of my lovely parents when it’s Indian food I want. Or even, Anglo-Indian to be fair.
In those great many instances, I leave them to it and go and get my nails done.
But if I ask this Indian duo to try their hands at Italian food – I fear, my friends, that the result would be most unsatisfactory.
And particularly because this is a dish of such vital significance – I mean, it has the small matter of my entire reputation resting on it – I don’t want to take a chance.
And that’s that.
As for the second:
For those of you who missed my last post – well, my mother called me fat. (“I’m so happy to finally see some meat on your bones,” were the exact words uttered.)
I’m still reeling from it. Really.
And so I vowed to STOP my immoral and profligate gluttony.
And reign in temptation.
And live the life of a Sage (Mrs. Sage), surviving on nuts and seeds.
And now? (precisely 1 day later?)
Now (precisely 1 day later) I peer into my Waitrose bag. And I spy with my little eye...
Double cream and pancetta and eggs and parmesan...
Diet food. Surely.
I’m a baaad, baaaad promise-breaker. Sob.
But what am I supposed to do?
It’s the price one pays for motherhood.
And so let it never be said that I didn’t put the monkey’s interests before my own.
Because – this is the harsh truth, ladies and gentlemen, listen up!
I cannot have my Carbonara and eat it too.
Anne-Marie Slaughter seems to think so: Well not precisely in those words. But, she says, “I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can have it all at the same time.”
Now let’s see.
I can have my Carbonara and eat it too?
Why then is there a niggling feeling in my head telling me that perchance, perhaps and just maaaaybe...if I routinely consume double cream and pancetta and eggs and parmesan...I may very soon have to feed my skinny jeans to the donkeys.
Because one can’t EVER have it all, can they?
This is Life 101, folks.
BUT: (Also Life 101) life is all about options. And what I do have the option to do, is to throw in a stunningly large bunch of veggies. In appropriately guilt-quelling quantities.
Because while I can never have my Carbonara and eat it too – because this is one of life’s intrinsic limitations, and the sooner we accept it, the happier we’ll be – I can make my Carbonara greener. Which will make the Environmentalists happy. If not the Feminists. But sigh! I can’t make everyone happy, can I? Or can I?
Here’s how you do it:

Cook the Penne according to package directions. Oh, and by the way, I’d always thought of Carbonara as going best with Spaghetti or Linguine
But the Nursery cook, Winifred, uses Penne. So Penne it is. I’m not arguing with Winifred!
Right, so while the pasta is cooking, heat a frying pan, add the olive oil and fry the pancetta or bacon until dark brown and crisp.
Remove from the pan, let drain on paper towels, and keep aside.
Now, pour off all of the bacon grease from the pan, but don’t wash it. Place it back on the stove over medium-low heat and throw in the onions and garlic. Cook until golden brown. Now add in all the veggies so they become coated with the flavoured oil, and fry until they start to caramelize. Don’t overcook them – the crunch is a great contrast to the smoothness of the pasta. If you’re not using meat, just skip this step. Fry the onions and garlic and when browned, add in the rest of the vegetables.
To make your Carbonara sauce, take a clean bowl and mix together the eggs, Parmesan, cream, salt and pepper until smooth and creamy.
Now, put it all together!
When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving a cup or two of the cooking water. Toss the prepared pasta in the pan with the veggies. Add in the bacon and mix it all together. Then remove from the heat and slowly drizzle in the Carbonara sauce, stirring the pasta the whole time, so the sauce fully coats each bit. Splash in a little of the hot pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Grate over the nutmeg.
And that’s that done, guys!
It’s just gone past 6pm and I’m going to try feeding the blessed child in an hour. And all I am saying is this: For the love of God (and the Feminists), he has no choice but to “have it all...”

Monday, 25 June 2012

Green Pea Unmentionables

Well, OK, in case you're thinking that you'd love to try some of what I'm smoking, I'll have you know that I don't smoke.
And "unmentionables" is actually very much a "mentionable" and refers, in actuality, to Balls.
So, without further ado - this is a recipe for Green Pea Balls.

Which sounds utterly ridiculous. Not to mention completely unappetising.
Therefore, thus, thereby and hence – I couldn’t possibly call it that, could I?

So, first things first:
There’s no such thing as Green Pea ummm Unmentionables.
Well there is, but they’re not meant to be eaten as such – in Balls format, I mean. They’re meant to be the very legitimate stuffing inside of Green Pea Kachoris.

Now, Kachori’s if you aren’t that familiar with them, are Indian savoury snacks of the very favourit-est kind; our own delightful and much looked forward to version of Elevenses – they are round balls of fried flour filled with stuffing of different kinds – baked lentils, pulses, crushed and spiced gram flour, peas, onions and so on.

Sort of similar to its more famous and better-known cousin, the Samosa. Just rounder. And tastier. Well, at least I think so.

Thus, today’s recipe duly disclaimed, let’s move on to the burning question of the day:

Why on earth (you ask) am I making just the stuffing?
Why Green Pea Unmentionables when one can have Green Pea Kachoris?
Why the part when there’s the perfectly delicious and rounder-than-a-sea-pearl-in-an-Atlantic-oyster, whole?

Why, why and why?

Well, well and well.
I have a reason. A big reason. A big, fat, reason.

And here it is:

As you know, from here - mum’s with me at the moment and she’s making all this unbelievably uber more-ish stuff that I am ingesting at a rather astounding pace (even by my standards). But that’s besides the point. Or perhaps, that is the point.

Because one of the first things out of her mouth within the initial few seconds of setting eyes on me - was how glad she was to finally see “some meat on my bones.”


I think, dear people, that my mother just called me fat.


Course she meant to compliment me. But I can’t see anything complimentary about that horrid statement, can you?

“Meat on my bones?”
Like she’s evaluating a particularly bony sheep to determine if it has enough “meat on its bones” to worth slaughtering for lunch.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly chuffed about being compared to a sheep. Or any other lunchtime meal for that matter.

And so, for once in my life, I need to get my act together and stop indulging in what I’ve become so expert at. Which is immoral and profligate gluttony. Practice makes perfect, as they say. And I've had tons of practice. And now, I'm a perfectly immoral and profligate glutton.

I knew it, you know. Deep within my heart in a secret compartment not known to mankind – I knew it was bound to catch up with me, sooner or later.
And now it has. Sooner. Not later.


So therefore, I am skipping the crisp and crunchy and wonderful delightful fried bread that adorns the green pea stuffing. And just eating Green Balls. Or the Unmentionables, if that sounds more appetising.

Just so I can feel virtous. If only for a day.

I will give you the recipe, of course, so you can make the real thing.
Just because I have to endure such a sorrowful state of affairs, doesn’t mean you need to.

Here’s what you need:

- 250g Peas (shelled)
- 1-inch root of ginger
- 4 small green chillies
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp sugar (yes sugar)
- Salt to taste
- Oil, to deep fry

Right. Now – very important – the peas.
This dish is all about the peas, guys.
See, I’ve always used frozen peas, but my mum (the purist) will have none of it. You see, she’s used to my Gran – her mum – shelling peas by the saucepanload, sitting by the window of her airy Calcutta flat, the cool, salt laden, evening breeze on her face, while she passed the time watching boxing matches on TV.
She is quite the woman, she is!

Anyway, thankfully, we live in a world of compromise.
And compromise is a beautiful thing.
So, I don’t use frozen peas, I use fresh ones. But I use shelled fresh ones.
Because I’m not in Calcutta.
And I’m not my Gran.
And mostly, because there’s no boxing match on TV!

So, I use fresh peas for the first time, and boy – do they make a difference! Listen to your mums when it comes to food, guys – you may not believe it, but they do know a thing or two! Anyway, my fresh peas are succulent and delicious and full of flavour…especially now that it’s pea season here on the Island! I pop a few in my mouth, they are sweet and delicate – this is British veg at its juicy best!

Here’s how you do it:

Grind together the peas, green chillies, fennel seeds, ginger, salt and sugar. Cook this spiced-pea paste in a pan over a low flame with about two teaspoonfuls of oil. The paste will dry up as you cook it, giving off a superb aroma that will haunt you for many days yet! Once this is cooked, make small green balls by rolling the mixture in the palm of your hands.

Oh and just to get it out of the way because I realise I may have underplayed this a bit - these taste utterly delicious on their own, and that’s how I’m going to eat them and that’s no bad thing. But - I daresay - they taste even better in their shells and that’s how you’re going to eat them!

Here’s what you need:

- 1 cup refined flour
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1/4 tsp salt

Here’s how you do it:

To make the dough, sift the flour with salt and oil and knead using warm water to make a soft dough. When the dough is ready, divide it into as many balls as you have with the pea mixture, making sure they are larger than the pea balls.

Now, make a cup of each flattened dough ball, and fill it with pea mixture. Seal each one tightly, flatten again, and roll them out one by one – preferably (but not necessarily) in a circular shape. That bit I’ll leave to you. And your unstoppable imagination.


When you’re happy with your artistic and ingenious shape-creating abilities, heat some oil in a pan and deep fry the Kachoris. Go on – do it!

Oh and just a few tips for yeastophobhes like myself on how to get the perfect Kachori (besides practice that is): Roll out the dough as thinly as possible so the Kachori, once done, is light and crisp and crunchy. Also, make sure you seal the stuffing in tightly because you definitely don’t want these things to come apart while frying! I’ve had that happen to me before and cleaning up the mess was enough to keep me out of the kitchen for days. And that never happens. So you can imagine how un-pretty that little story was!

Anyway…I’ll save my kitchen disasters for another time.

For now, this is Green Pea Kachori. It really is a lovely dish – fresh and flavourful and wonderfully invigorating with a cup of tea!

Enjoy it!

(I will too. One day…when my jeans button again!)

Friday, 22 June 2012


Guys I've been published!

And in print too, the old fashioned way!
With real paper and real ink, this is as real as it gets!

Which makes me Pollyanna-glad, cause you know I'm an old fashioned gal at heart ;)

And (yes - I'm totally saving the best for last) it’s going to be in the latest edition of
 the highly regarded and truly superb food quarterly, Fire and Knives.

F&K, if you don’t know it, is a treasure trove of “new writing about food,” created, owned and edited by the brilliant Tim Hayward – photographer, broadcaster and food writer extraordinaire.

I’ve written a piece called 'The Closet Gourmand' about my best Mexican meal in London – experienced at the most unlikely of places, dished up by the most unlikely of chefs…

Here’s a little teaser:

Fire & Knives is a print quarterly of new writing about food by London-based writer and editor Tim Hayward, with art direction by Rob Lowe/Supermundane. Each issue has many contributors writing about what fascinates them about food, combining it with film, architecture, history, literature and much more.
Contributors in this issue: Thomas Blythe, Anna Berrill, Ami Rao Khanna, Ellen Hardy,Mansour Chow, Josh Kornbluth, Karen Barichievy, Joe Bridal, Josh Sutton, Nick Baines, Jojo Tulloh, Fiona Button, Linda Gibson, Catherine Phipps, Judy O'Kane

My copy came this morning – and I mean, really. Whoever it was that said one must never to judge a book by it’s cover, clearly hasn’t set eyes on this lively little beauty.

Because it is beeeeeeeeutiful.

Designed by the hugely talented Rob Lowe/Supermundane, the aesthetics are pure and utter genius. Petite and portable and properly bound, with high quality paper and pleasing visuals, it’s eye-candy for food lovers.

And it is smells amazing.
 I don’t know how on earth they managed to get it to smell so good, but if they bottled up the aroma and sold it, I’m sure they'd make a pretty penny.

But really guys, it’s honest and it's witty and it’s classy.
And despite all this, it’s unpretentious – mostly because it's good enough not to need to be.

And that’s why I’ve wanted to write for F & K for sooooo long.

And now I have.

And people are calling from all over to congratulate me (how lovely you all are - xx)

 for once in my life I'm at a total loss for words – a rare and singular phenomenon that seldom, if ever occurs.

(I’m not kidding about this, you know. Even in the most profound and poignant of moments, I find I have something to say. I spoke, for example, within a few seconds of Ranbir’s birth.
 In fact, to be specific, as they were holding him up – under his arms, legs dangling – displaying him to me in that little room at St. Mary's, I turned to Sid and queried (from genuine curiosity) – "God, why does he look like that?"
 Followed very quickly by, "Can you get me a Cornish pasty from Paddington?")

See what I mean?

So this is just too excellent for words.
Even for me.
And I'm thrilled to little bits.

Thank you all so much for reading my nonsense - I promise you much, much more of the same – there’s a blazing fire under me now and I'm as motivated as I will ever be!

Please subscribe guys - if you like my writing, you’ll LOVE this – Brimming with dazzling prose that is clever, evocative and utterly delicious, this is British food writing in its Sunday best!

You can subscribe here 

For now, I'm off to let this properly sink in.
I've spent many sleepless nights in anticipation of what this moment would feel like and I can tell you it’s more glorious than anything I could have conjured up – even in my mad and crazy head.

Thanks Tim Hayward, for taking a chance on me!