Jamie and Me (Part 1 of my Julie and Julia project)

As described in my post: Working-Mom Problem No.1: Feeding the Hoard this winter I have decided to work through my hoard of cookbooks in an attempt to find new family recipes that I can cook quickly in the evenings that are both delicious and nutritious.

This week I started some of the meals in Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food. My overall observation of this book is that it contains some good old fashioned family recipes – it teaches you how to cook the basics, and does so in an easy-to-use fashion. The only negative things I would say is that each recipe seems to require a lot of ingredients, which are not used again in other recipes, which is not great for your pocket and the recipes do not appear to be good for your waistline. That said, let’s give it a shot.

This week I tried Pot-Roast Meatloaf, Cherry Tomato Sauce with Cheats Fresh Pasta, Lamb Rogan Josh. Jamie’s website gives the recipe for these dishes (and a few variations) so I won’t repeat the instructions or ingredients here.

Meatloaf

Pot-Roast Meatloaf

The preparation for this is actually very easy, and it smells delicious cooking. It fills the whole house with that loving encasing smell of happiness. I will definitely be putting this on to cook the next time someone comes home in a bad mood. The only mistake I think I made was that I did not break down the crackers enough. Next time I won’t do this by hand, I think I will get out the pestle and mortar and give them a right bash.

On the Working Mom’s Scale

  1. It seemed nutritious without an unreasonable amount of calories …… 7/10
  2. Cooking was quick and quiet – took me less than 30 min ……… 7/10
  3. Leftovers the next day were grand …. 7/10
  4. All the family could eat it (although I would like to see a few more vegetables on my plate) 7/10

Overall 7/10

Cherry Tomato Sauce with Cheats Fresh Pasta

Seriously, he needs to get a better title for this dish. Everyone asked me what was for dinner and I struggled to tell them because I couldn’t remember the name of this (baby brain is still here folks). That aside, this recipe calls for the cook to buy fresh pasta sheets (such as one would use to cook lasangne) and then cut them up to resemble tagliatelle. I think this is fine if you happen to have sheets hanging around the house that you have to use up – but buying them specifically for this purpose was pointless. The dish was really heavy and sheets stuck together so Day 2 was a bit of a nightmare. Next time I will just buy tagliatelle and use that.

On the Working Mom’s Scale

  1. I added chicken to this dish because there was no protein …. 6/10
  2. It cooked quickly and quietly and was ready very soon after I started …. 8/10
  3. Leftovers were fine … but only fine… 5/10
  4. All the family ate it ….. 7/10

Overall 6.5/10

Lamb rogan josh

Lamb Rogan Josh

Right this one was a bit of a disaster. There is an optional? 800ml of chicken stock?? How can 800ml be optional? That is a significant amount of liquid! To be on the safe side I added it – and it was a total disaster. I ended up with Lamb Rogan Josh soup. We ate it as it was Day1, and it was greeted with great suspicion. The only saving grace was that I had shop bought naan bread to go with it which is always a hit in our house. Day 2 lunchtime I tried it as a soup. It was disgusting. For Day 2 dinner I tried everything to thicken it – I added flour, I boiled it for 30min. It improved it somewhat but it was still a bit on the dodgy side. In addition to all this it was very spicy. My husband loved that because he likes spicy food, I ended adding a lot of yogurt to cool it down – and had my grandfather been over for dinner I know that this would have been an absolute no-go. I might try this again with out the random optional 800ml, but so far it was a thumbs down.

On the Working Mom’s Scale

  1. It terms of a nutrition/calorie balance I think this recipe is quiet good …. 7/10
  2. It takes a long time to cook (simmering for 1 hour) but otherwise was easy enough …. 6/10
  3. Leftovers were a disaster, but had the original meal been better this would not have been the case …. 5/10
  4. All the family wouldn’t eat this because it is so spicy…. 5/10

Overall 5/10

Legs through cot bars: the solution

crib 1

Picture the scene; I’m downstairs having a cup of tea waiting for my son to awake from his nap when instead of the usual gurgling and chatting I hear a scream of terror. I ran upstairs to find him trapped by his leg between the bars of the cot. He had been kicking his legs in the air (like he just don’t care) when his plumb little thigh got stuck. No matter how much he pulled it would not come out. So he screamed blue murder for me. I arrived and tried to pull his leg out, but couldn’t without hurting him. In panic I rubbed moisturiser all over his leg and finally freed him. There was much hugging and kissing of relief. Despite the large bruise around his knee he seemed otherwise ok. “Whoo, he won’t do that again” I thought.

How wrong.

My son repeated this every time he went in the cot for a week. He did it when he slept over in both his nannies, and nearly scared them to death. He did it when his Dad was minding him who was minutes away from ripping the bars off the cot hulk-style before I got there in time.

Each time my son did it, he looked so incriminatingly at us, as though we were purposely leaving the tempting space between the bars for his to shove his plumb little legs.  It couldn’t go on. One of these times when we went to free him someone was accidently going to dislocate his knee in panic. We needed a solution.

First thought: throw money at the problem. Forked out €30 for air-bumpers which are normal cot bumpers but because they are mesh the child can breathe through them and they are therefore not a choking/smothering hazard. They are fine as bumpers, but my son got his leg stuck high in the cot, not low, so they didn’t solve our problem.

Next thought: Wrap cloth tightly around the entire bars. No good. I could not get the cloth tight enough to prevent his legs going though the bars as he kicked with his legs in the air. And there was nothing I could do to stop him kicking his legs in the air. He has such an aversion to grow-bags that I can only imagine that at some point in a previous life he was confined to a straight-jacket and wheeled off to the loony bin, his intrinsic hatred of being confined can have no other justification.

Solution: Cardboard tided to the cot, covered by the cloth. It’s not the most attractive solution but it works. The cardboard is robust enough to prevent his legs going through but not hard like wood to hurt him as he kicks his legs.

crib 2

Required

  • 1 Large cardboard box
  • 1 long length of cloth. I up-cycled a double bed duvet cover by cutting it along the sides to make it twice as long
  • Material for ties – number depend on the size of your crib
  • Scissors, needle and thread

The instructions are as follows

  1. Go down to your supermarket and get one large cardboard boxes (or two small ones – they are going to be covered anyway).
  2. Open the box so it is flat
  3. Remove the mattress from the cot for the moment.
  4. Lie the box against the inside of the bars
  5. Cut two little holes either side of every second bar and tie the cardboard in place with the material ties
  6. Lay the two sides of the cot and along the base – this will be tied under the cot
  7. Replace the mattress
  8. Sew the material ties to either side of the open cloth under the cot and tie

crib 3

Working-Mom Problem No.1: Feeding the Hoard

cookbooks

The weather is getting colder, the nights longer, the clocks are going back and that means only one horrifying fact to my family …. the slow cooker is going to be taken out and pressed into use again.

It’s not that they dislike tender meat stews, or vegetable stews, or spicy stews, or chicken stew, or beef stew, it’s just that there is only so much of stew one family can take before even the most delicious stew resembles gruel from a gulag.

The slow cooker had been the answer to all my working-mom problems. Prepare it the ingredients the night before (or mass prepare at the weekend), bang the stuff into the slow cooker in the morning while you are waiting for someone to get out of the bathroom and press start. Twelve hours later you will have a belly-warming … stew.

Again.

Every night for five months.

After which even the carnivore was happy to see summer salads arrive again.

This year (in what I feel was a deliberate act of sabotage) the kid, the dog and the husband accidentally threw a ball indoors and it knocked the slow cooker off its shelf causing the bowl to crack. Much to their wisely-well-hidden disappointment I managed to repair it, but being the benevolent dictator I am, I felt compelled to find an alternative solution least there be another uprising that cannot be repaired with ceramic paste.

So I have turned to my many, many cook books. Cook books which proclaim that recipes can be cooked in 30 minutes. Cook books which declare that they have nutritious family friendly recipes that all the family will enjoy. Cook books that claim they can teach anyone to cook. Well I’m going to put them to the working-mom test.

My requirements as a working-mom are

  1. Nutritious food that is tasty but not calorie laden.
  2. Can be cooked quietly when the baby is asleep or quickly when the baby is awake and ‘helping’.
  3. Preparation time should take no more than 20min, although cooking in the oven can take up to one hour, but no longer.
  4. Can ideally be cooked on Day 1, with leftovers for Day 2 (thus meaning every night is not a cooking night, but we get a well cooked meal every night).
  5. Is suitable for all the family:
    1. my husband who insists it’s not a proper meal without meat,
    2. me who insists that there are some healthy vegetables,
    3. my toddler son who has to be able to eat at least part of it with his hands,
    4. my grand-father who is suspicious of overly-spicy meat in case its gone off (apparently its something to do with a war, who knows),
    5. my parents who are open-minded but prefer the meals they recognise.
    6. my dad who is coeliac

Just to clarify, I don’t have the whole family around every night, but the new recipes I am about to learn I will use for the next forty/fifty years (possibly longer), so they have to be versatile enough for my increasingly crazy family (who I love!).

So with that in mind I am taking on my own Julie and Julia project as I work my way through my mountain of cook books and rate them on the working-mom scale.

Wobbler* food on the go

wobbler on the go

My son is a feisty, determined one year old and feeding him is like trying to shove Chaos back into Pandora’s Box; it would make the world a much happier place if I could complete the task, but it is near an impossible challenge.

He ducks and weaves in the high chair like a Premier League footballer, while I aim the spoon at his mouth like a heat seeking missile. Sometimes the food lands on target, sometimes one of the arms flailing like an Italian arguing with the ref intercepts and food flicks into the waiting open mouth of the dog.

The only thing that helps this four-times a day battle is a distraction. My son is fascinated by people. So if ever we have an occasion to be out in public near feeding time, I bring a big bag of food and shovel it in as he stares at the people passing by.

One little recipe that I have found easy & quick to make while being nutritious and easy to transport is a chicken pasta mix.

Now I won’t insult anyone’s prowess in the kitchen by giving you the instructions on how to make this dish as though it was anything more than firing random ingredients that you find in your press/fridge into a bowl with pasta and a sauce. However, for those who’s cooking skills are more like mine than Vicky’s (the other writer here at AHMBC) this is how I make the dish:

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 breasts of chicken
  • Veg: 1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper, 1 packet mushrooms (or any veg can be substituted for these – in the winter I throw in about a half bag of frozen peas/carrots instead, to give it a more winter feeling dish)
  • 200g of pasta (about a third of the bag – that will save you looking for the scales)
  • store bought tub of carbonara sauce (you could definitely make your own here and win huge domestic goddess brownie points – but sometimes life is too short for that).

Method:

  1. Place the pasta in a pot of boiling water to cook as per instructions on packet
  2. Into a wok put the chicken to cook.
  3. When the chicken is cooked through – add the veg to cook.
  4. Pasta is normally ready at this point, throw it in on top
  5. Pour over sauce and cook as per the instructions on packet

This dish usually takes about 20/30min to make, depending on how many times between each step I have to stop and tend to my son. It is great hot, but actually just as good cold. So if you are going somewhere with a microwave get then to zap it for about a minute and a half. If not, then the little pasta shapes, chunks of pepper and chicken are an ideal size for little fingers to pick up and feed themselves while staring at the world go by.

*What the heck is a wobbler? This is the stage after being a baby but before becoming a toddler, this is when your little darling is starting to get up on their feet doing a mixture of coasting, standing or even maybe taking hesitant steps. They are probably parroting back sounds that could be words if you listen in the right way, and they are starting make their choices understood through gestures and movements. However, they do not yet have the assured stride or language of a toddler. They are getting there and at this stage they are a little wobbler.

Boys and their dogs

snoopy and charlie brown

‘GoodDog’ was one of my son’s (Ruben) first words. First thing he does when we get downstairs in the morning is to look for the ‘gooddog’. He has learned to pat our dog (Mayhem) gently and gets hours of amusement by bringing things to the dog to examine/eat. When he is in other people’s houses he searches their gardens for their ‘gooddog’, because clearly it must be around here somewhere – I mean, doesn’t every garden have a dog?

If Ruben hears Mayhem whimper in the other room he will drop what he is doing and go investigate that the ‘gooddog’ is ok. This included learning how to open the kitchen door which heretofore impeded the investigation.

On the flip side when the little boy goes away for a few days Mayhem mopes and howls because he misses his little friend. No amount of attention from others in the house can substitute affection from the little boy.

It’s probably that because my son is an only child that the dog by default has become his best friend, but there is no denying the bond.

However, as lovely as all this is now, it took some consideration to ensure that it was so, and that there were no jealousies between the two. Some of the things we did were:

  1. The dog never slept in our room, he always slept downstairs. If the dog does sleep in your room at the moment move him out now before the baby arrives, that way the move can not be associated with the arrival of the baby.
  2. Similarly Mayhem was always in the sitting room/kitchen with us. There will be times when the baby arrives when the dog will need to be in the other room or outside. Start doing that now, on random occasions put the dog out of the room. This is to show him that being put out is not a punishment, its just another place for him to be.
  3. Restructure the dog’s walk so that it is either something one partner can cover while another watches the baby, or is something that can be done with the baby. Some people give their dogs two short walks a day, others give one longer walk, either is fine. In the first few weeks consider outsourcing this chore to either a dog walker or any one who says the words ‘let me know what we can do to help!’.
  4. When the baby arrives try to maintain the dog’s routine. From the dog’s perspective everything will be in upheaval, it will be getting less attention, there will be new people visiting the house and there is a new thing that keeps crying at night waking it up. There will be change all around and animals dislike change. Try to limit the impact of the change by feeding the dog at the same times, walking it when you used to etc
  5. Remove all toys. The baby will not understand not to chew the dogs toys and vice-verse. The only thing you can do to limit this is to remove the dogs old toys from the house and leave them in the garden to play. The dog will soon learn that all toys outside are for playing and those things that are inside the house that look like they should be toys are actually not for chewing. (I have to admit my level of success with this is only medium. Despite everything the dog did chew some of Ruben’s toys. And Ruben got his hands on some of the dogs toys which is worse! Uck!)
  6. Lavish affection on both at the same time. Hold the baby in your arms and pat the dog on the head. Sit with the crib on one side of you and the dog on the other. When the baby is young and playing on the floor, let the dog in the room but sit between the two. Show the dog that the new baby is not resulting in a decrease in affection for the dog.
  7. Ensure the dog understands the pecking order of the pack. Just as you did when you first got the dog, it is important that the dog understands that you are the pack leader and the other people in the house (including the new baby) are ahead of the dog in the pack.
  8. Discourage your dog from licking humans, or certainly from licking the baby. Dog tongues are full of bacteria and are not good for newborns. As my son started crawling my enforcement of this rule has decreased, but it was strictly enforced for at least the first 4/5 months.
  9. Be cautious of the dog around a newborn/pre-crawler, no matter how affectionate it is, and remember that dogs lift their babies by the scruff of the neck or head area. It would be dangerous for the dog to take on a mothering role, and see the baby as a puppy, so be mindful of this. Also dogs expect their young to be up and walking very quickly and will try to help the baby along – which you don’t want at an early stage
  10. Dogs like their puppies to sleep almost underneath them to keep them warm, so be careful of this particularity around big fluffy dogs.

“But is she though?”

paris

I think once you have been guilty of hiding a pregnancy until week 12, the stigma of that crime does not leave you until menopause. I find no matter where I am, anything I do has to prefaced with “I’m not pregnant”.

Now it’s all “I’m not pregnant, I sometimes I just get sick in the morning, because, you know, I’m sick”. Or “I’m not pregnant, I have just decided for no apparent reason to avail of the health benefits of a sober life.” Or “I’m not pregnant, it’s just that I realised smoking twenty a day was ageing my skin”. Or “I’m not pregnant, I always hated shellfish and soft cheese, especially as a combo.” Or “I’m not pregnant, I have always been a hormonal mess, and have always cried at the Andrex puppy ads.” Or “I’m not pregnant, I just like cake and hate jogging.”

And I can tell that half of you here at the bottom are thinking “-but is she actually pregnant”.

It’s a crime that never leaves you.

Summer Food for a Toddler: Fish?

B1 Raw ingredients

My darling son has just come to that age where he likes to be independent and doing things for himself. He no longer needs a mama to help him. He’s got this. He’s grown. After all, he is one year old now.

This new attitude is most visible at dinner time, where he wants to be eating what everyone else is eating. This was fine when we were eating shepherd’s pie, stew, cottage pie, risotto etc. The winter foods that you can easily share with a curious boy. However, now that the weather has realised that it is meant to be the summer and we are getting some sunshine, the adults want to eat salad and steak, or salad and chicken, or even just salad by itself. This is much harder to share, because try though he does, it is clear that he thinks eating lettuce is like eating some grass flavoured paper.

So I had a conundrum as to what to do – I needed a summer dinner that the whole family could share. The solution … fish!

Yes, I was surprised as you probably are, and from here I can see the raised eyebrows and furrowed brows from here and the ‘really?’ hovering on your lips, but actually, yes, it turns out there are some fish he loves – go figure?

The two which have been most well received were oven-baked salmon and hake.

Smoked mackerel was point blank refused (and I know, present it to him twenty times in a row and eventually to curb the starvation he will eventually accept it, but, sigh, sometimes it’s just too much effort at the end of a busy day.) While the cod I bought had too many bones to be safe, so I plan to buy that better in future and try it again. From the little I did give him, he seemed to enjoy it.

To prepare this meal is incredibly simple. I put one curious son in his walker and while he chased the dog around the kitchen calling ‘Good Boy’, I wrapped the fish in a tinfoil envelope, placed it on a roasting pan and into a pre-heated 180 degree oven for 20 minutes.

While that was steaming away, I quickly chopped salad that the whole family (including a little boy) could eat – that was cherry tomatoes halved, cucumber into chunks, pepper slices and some previously-boiled-now-cooled baby potatoes. The adults’ dinners I dressed with a vinaigrette.

Little boy was placed in his high chair, bib on. Dog in the back garden because the little boy’s new favourite trick is to give any new food to the dog to lick first to ensure it’s not poisonous before popping it in his mouth. Disgusting.

The fish now cooked, I removed the flesh from the skin, called the family to the table and served.

Start to finish, including preheating the over took 25 minutes, leaving plenty of evening time to play before bedtime.

B1 End Result