Category Archives: Recipes

Pregnancy diary: Week 20 (and… a GIVE AWAY!!!!)

20 wks 2

Only interested in the give away? Pah. Go right to the bottom of this post. And miss my hilarious anecdotes about heartburn and piles. On your swollen ankles be it etc etc…

Out of the sickness, into a thick fog… What has happened to my brain? It’s been stolen and replaced by an eighties computer – the super-clunky kind that took a hour and a half to load up, overheated and had to shut down every twenty minutes, and was only really any good for playing pac-man anyway.

It’s a little demoralising, when your bill-paying job is writing, to find yourself staring blankly at a screen of windows displaying mindless drivel from FeMail to Facebook because you’ve been unable, again, to remember a word for the intro you’re supposed to be writing. You know the one. That thing, the one where you… oh forget it, let’s check Twitter again…

On the other hand, I’ve been trying to stop, every now and again, and enjoy the weird and wonderfulness of this pregnancy. It’s too easy, with deadlines and toddler in toe, to let a second pregnancy slide by without appreciating how strange and miraculously alien it all is.

With that in mind….

Feeling: the baby! Moving and grooving around. I’ve had washing-machine tumblings and churnings for a couple of weeks, but it’s only recently that proper kicks and punches have become common-place. If I drink cold water, or sugary tea, baby gets its rave on. If I lie in the bath, I can watch little jabs and faint forms sliding across my tummy. Tom felt them for the first time on the weekend.

Wearing: Still in my old clothes, but on borrowed time with my jeans. Have found that a load of old dresses, ones that I used to wear belted, now look okay without the belt as pregnancy frocks. And when I say ok, I mean ‘a bit wild and batty’ but I really do think that’s a relatively strong look during pregnancy. I’ll be living in these for the next five months.

Working on: Johnny. How do you prepare a toddler for a sibling? And at what stage in the pregnancy? I’m trying not to think, too much, about how the new baby will destabilise his little world. It’s inevitable, it will pass, it will be wonderful for him… in the long run. And most of all, I do not need any more excuses to worry. But it would be good to have some practical tips. Should we try and get our hands on a doll, or some books? At the moment he’s grasped that there’s a baby in Mummy’s tummy. The baby, he says, is called Ronnie. And Ronnie is “a very naughty little girl” who’s going to be born “from my t-shirt” and live “with Mr Lawnmower, in the shed”. Hmm.

Eating: A whole lot. When I was sick, eating was the only thing that made me feel (briefly) better. Now I’m not sick, eating is the only thing that keeps me awake. Those jeans are going to be relegated to the attic faster than you can say, “a chocolate chip cookie please, no, make that three.”

But something weird has happened to my eating habits. I’ve never handled dairy very well, it upset my skin and my stomach, but I just ignored it because 1) pretty much all the best things have dairy in them and 2) I didn’t want to be that person. But for the last four months, dairy has really become my arch nemesis. It makes me vomit. It gives me stomach pains that make me curl up like I’m the foetus. So I’ve had to cut it back almost entirely. I could use a little advice, actually, on the best ways of ensuring I get enough calcium etc during this pregnancy. Anyone?

But in terms of my health, in terms of not anymore feeling like a really terrible matador being tossed around on a bull’s horns, it’s been great. And actually, I haven’t much missed eating dairy. I haven’t cut everything out. Butter as an ingredient when I’m cooking, for example. The very occasional bit of cheese (it’s CHEESE for God’s sake – the whole POINT of pregnancy). But I’ve tested out alternatives – soya milk, almond milk, rice milk… who knew all these grains had mammary glads? And here’s what I find works really well for me:

Alpro Unsweetened Almond Milk.  Other brands are available, of course, but this one suits me. It’s actually better than real milk in tea and cereal (though not quite right in coffee). Also: Johnny is addicted to it.

Frozen soy yoghurt. Johnny came back from Wales with a serious ice lolly habit. And since becoming ‘with child’ I’ve developed a sugar addiction. I’ve been buying packets of cheap penny sweets in post offices, even though I know that one million children have stuck their grimy fingers in the jars directly after picking their noses. I needed help. And I found it in this recipe.  After a lot of tinkering, and some immune boosting additions, I’ve settled on this for the moment…

lollies

The FOK recipe for Mango Lassi Soy Yoghurt Ice Lollies (I’m still working on the name):

  • Two large mangos, chopped
  • 250ml Alpro soy yoghurt
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp cardamon
  • 1 banana, chopped
  • Juice from 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of ginger
  • 1tsp turmeric (good for boosting immunity)

(THE SIMPLE VERSION: Mango, soy yoghurt, honey. Wham.)

Whizz the lot together, pour it into lolly moulds, stick in freezer. Pray for sunshine. 

j

F.O.K Sweetcorn Pancakes. The answer to all of my savoury snacking needs (and trust me, those needs are plentiful at the moment. I’m talking, every hour on the hour on bad days…) They’ve also proven an easy way to sneak veg into J since he loves them for lunch. He has them topped with tomato pasta sauce (I make a basic one every week and keep it in a jar in the fridge) and a little cheese. I stick to the pasta sauce. Mostly.

  • 60g plain flour
  • 60g corn flour (if you have it, otherwise, more plain flour or buckwheat works)
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 egg
  • 125 ml soy milk
  • 350g sweetcorn kernels (frozen sweetcorn works just as well as tinned)

Whizz the sweetcorn up with a hand blender (you may not have to, but J would pick them out otherwise, and I quite like the smooth texture).

Mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl, whisk the wet ones together in another, then whisk the whole lot up.

Warm some olive oil in a pan, and fry them on both sides, as you would an ordinary pancake.

Serve warm with tomato sauce (and cheese if you’re two), or hummus or baba ghanoush or anything really. You can double the ingredients and make some to keep too. They’re great warmed slightly the next day.

pancakes

AND NOW THE BEST BIT: THE GIVE AWAY!!!!!!!!!

Alpro are offering a hamper of goodies to one reader. All you have to do is suggest your favourite, family, dairy-free recipe below. The winner will be picked at random next week. Only open, sadly, to UK readers.

Myth busting: do seasonal and cheap really go hand in hand?

strawbs

If you went to your local greengrocer or supermarket, do you think you’d be able to tell which fruits and vegetables were in season purely by the prices?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about since we introduced the food rules, and even more so since getting to know the people and issues behind the Children’s Food Trust. As a culinary philosophy, trying to cut costs and stay healthy sounded… well, profoundly depressing. I imaged us eating alfalfa sprouts and lentils all year, turning translucent and listening to Simon and Garfunkel. But then I had a eureka moment: SEASONAL.

Seasonal is better than ‘cheap and healthy’. Seasonal is cool. Seasonal is hip. Seasonal is Hugh Fearnley Whittingstal (and we’ve already discussed my special bond with Hugh due to our shared hairstyle). But basically, seasonal is supposed to be cheaper as well as healthier, right? Netmums and Mumsnet all say so and woe betide anyone who contradicts the overladies of the online world.

Healthy, because fresher, fewer pesticides and GM crops. Cheaper because abundant, without the expenses of greenhouses and international travel.

I’m sure it’s true, if you buy your produce from Abel and Cole. But for ordinary people on ordinary budgets?

We can’t afford organic vegetables. I buy organic meat because once the animal welfare factor is added to the ‘yuck, chemicals’ factor, it tips the balance for me. So we buy the best, eat far less and end up spending the same. But we can’t apply the same principle to vegetables. If we bought fewer of them in better quality too, we wouldn’t have enough food. And since I can’t increase the amount of cash we have, something has to give.

So since we’re in confessional mode, here’s another guilty admission: I try and wipe the chemicals from my mind. We’re still working on our new vegetable patch so that we can grow some ’good veg’. But for the moment, instead of buying according to the seasons and picking the stuff explicitly labelled organic and seasonal, we buy whichever ‘normal’ fruit and veg are cheapest that week and build a family weekly meal plan out of that (three meals a day that we all eat).

And ‘normal’, today, probably means really, really abnormal – pale, feeble things, choked by chemicals and exhausted by travel. Today’s fruit and veg, supposedly, are to our grandparents fruit and veg what the living dead are to healthy humans.

Recently, though, I’ve looked at what I’ve been buying purely because it was cheapest and realised that it matched what St Hugh said was in season. We survived almost solely off strawberries in the second half of last month when they were 3 punnets for £1.00 at the scruffy stall at the end of the road and ate a LOT more broccoli than anyone sane would otherwise choose to do (hence the FOK recipe for broccoli pesto). Now, we’ve had courgettes coming out of our ears (hence the FOK recipe for courgette and feta fritters).

I’d ask the stall holder where they come from, but he doesn’t speak a word of English (he has the best smile though – a gummy cavity completely and utterly devoid of teeth except for two gold ones near the front).

So do cheapest and seasonal really still go hand in hand? I’m going to test the myth with an experiment. I’m going to go to our local fruit and veg stall and only buy the stuff that’s on offer or going for a song. Then I’m going to come back and check it all against a seasonal chart.

I’ll get back to you with the results, and some recipes, next week. In the meantime, what do you think the results will be? Does anyone better informed than me already have the answer? And can any families really afford to eat 100% organic?

Picnic recipes #2

picnic

And so to Day Two of the Wonderful Wedding. Sunday. Picnic Day. But not before a hangover-healing* wild goose chase across water and sand dunes…

boat

water

exit

climb

Venue: Scolt Head island, North Norfolk

Attractions: Sand dunes… Rolling, sliding, digging, burying, jumping, castle building, dog chasing, swimming for the criminally insane…

Weather: urrrrrrrrmazing.

Picnic guests: Approx 100

We brought the following (tried, tested and approved by : One two-year-old, one twelve-year-old, six adults and one dog):

dip

Butternut squash and tahini dip. Another brilliant cheat for getting vegetables into J. He falls for it every time. And it goes down well with pretty much anyone who’s bored of more-bloody-hummus-again. My version is based very heavily on Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe in the Jerusalem book.

  • Roughly chop one butternut squash, coat in oil (coconut adds a subtle extra sweetness but ordinary, non-virgin olive works well too), sprinkle with 1sp of cinnamon and stick in an oven, pre-heated to 200C, till a fork squelches through them.
  • Put the lot in a bowl, add 70g of light tahini (as with my hummus, light has definitely proved best for kids), 120g greek yoghurt and three small garlic cloves (or less if you’re not mad keen like we are), and 1 tbsp of pomegranate molasses (otherwise maple syrup will be fine but not quite as interesting). Blend or mash to a consistency you like (J’s on a crusade against “bits” at the moment, so we nuke ours).
  • Voila. Eat on bread, crisps, rice cakes, carrots… whatever you can get your hands on

crisp

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fritters

Seasonal courgette and feta fritters. I’m not going to lie, these are at their most gorgeous (crispy on the outside, melty in the middle) when they’ve come straight out of the pan. J eats ten at a time that way, meaning I can basically feed him ice-cream suppers for the rest of the week guilt-free. But they’re pretty great as a cold picnic food too, and are super portable. Oh, and since they’re in season at the moment, they’re going for a song at my local stall.

  • Chop one red onion (ordinary or spring if easier) very finely and fry lightly in coconut oil (or non-virgin olive) till slightly caramelised
  • Grate three courgettes and add them to the frying pan till soft
  • Pour into a bowl and add: 200g of crumbled feta cheese, 2 medium eggs, 60 grams of plain flour, 1tbsp of lemon juice, a sprig of mint and another of dill finely chopped (neither absolutely essential if not kicking around). Mix thoroughly
  • Season with salt and pepper and use a table spoon to blob the mixture into a frying pan (with a couple tablespoons of oil already heated in it)
  • Flatten the blobs slightly into rough pancake shapes, cook for 2/3 mins on each side. They should be a deep golden brown on each side.
  • Cool on some kitchen roll, serve up or (for picnics) wrap in foil.

flo

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shortbread

Fudgey Shortbread. There is absolutely, straight-up, nothing healthy about this recipe. Sorry. And it’s barely even a recipe, more a chaotic accident born of too many cooks getting too enthusiastically involved on Saturday morning (let’s be frank: just one two-year-old cook is one too many…)

It takes Mary Berry’s recipe to the letter, but the secret is in accidentally making the shortbread quite deep (put it in a smaller tin, Sherlock): around 3cm rather than the usual 1.5, and to whip it out of the oven as soon as it starts to go the palest golden so that it comes out almost like fudge in the middle. Cut it into squares instead of fingers. Boom.

  • Mix 125g plain flour with 60g semolina or cornflour
  • add 125g butter and rub in with your fingers. If you’re two: fling it about a bit so that it hits the ceiling and dries there, then freak out that it’s sticking to your fingers too and fling yourself on the floor.
  • Have a hug and a biscuit to calm down. Then stir 60g of caster sugar into whatever remains of the mixture you previously flung around. Knead lightly to form dough. More flinging if your stamina’s up to it.
  • Butter a small baking tray and roll out dough to approx 3cm depth inside it.
  • Prick all over. Bake in oven at 160 degrees C till very lightly yellowed.
  • Cool, cut into squares

dad

son

Like father, like son…

biscuit

*Not for the roly-poly-preggo, sadly…

An F.O.King great wedding (and a ketchup recipe)

car

Sorry, couldn’t resist. But If Free our Kids did weddings, the one we went to last weekend would be the benchmark, the lodestar, the most FOKing wonderful wedding I can imagine (ours aside, of course).

flowers

I have this new ‘vacuum theory’. The more I test it out, the more (touch wood) it proves true. It’s something like this: IF* you’re a really good friend and neighbour and quite lucky too, then the less money you have to throw at something, the more goodwill extends itself to you. (*yep, it’s a big ‘if’, I know that, it’s a theory, not a fact).

churchflowers

Take Lucy and Tom. They got married in the local church, up where my husband Tom was raised in Norfolk. They, (and Lucy’s family generally) are amazing, brilliant, generous people. For decades they’ve done favours, gone the extra mile, and been decent friends to anyone who came their way.

bells

So on the day, the whole of the local community turned out, and about 90% of them helped. My mother-in-law did the flowers, my father-in-law and Johnny rang the church bells. Even the weather did them a favour.

outsidetent

Someone lent a field, someone else a tent, another the organ that plays every summer at the village fete. There was cider, some trestle tables, a buffet and friends DJing.

field

Instead of having an expensive present list, they asked people only to bring things they’d ‘made or reared themselves’ (this being rural Norfolk it worked: chicks and piglets being preferable wedding gifts to the rats, mould and cannabis our London neighbours could conceivably claim to have ‘reared’ themselves…)

organ

I made some of Dizzy Loves Icy’s homemade spicy ketchup (substituting 1tsp each of cumin, paprika and ground coriander for the all spice and ginger in her recipe) and spent decades (possibly closer to 35 mins in ‘real’ time) decanting it into a sterilised Neal’s Yard bottle I’d been keeping for ‘an emergency’ for months (you SEE, Tom? They are real. They happen). I printed free jar labels from this website and stuck it on.

ketchup

And yeah, before you say anything, I know it’s not exactly Martha Stewart (and the photo is accidentally blurry too) but this is a steep learning curve I’m on, alright?

tent

It was an amazing day, followed by an amazing, island-bound picnic on Sunday (more on that in the next post). Oh, and they had the best first dance ever:

Picnic recipes: #1

picnicnumbersfinal

“If you close your eyes and put on a jumper, you could almost be somewhere warm,” Tom said enthusiastically on Saturday.

And it’s true – we did it, everyone. We got through six months of ‘it’s almost certainly going to rain’ and made it to the blissful, two-month period of ‘it’s probably not going to rain, those clouds look like they’re moving away from us, and if we’re quick and bring our woolies, we can probably squeeze a picnic in.’ Hooray for the British summer!

To mark the occasion, I’m going to start a series on picnic foods. The very best thing you can do with kids on weekends, once ‘summer’ starts, is to pack a picnic, pick a park, meet some friends with kids of similar ages and let them engage in hours of feral play while you relax on a rug.

It’s my favourite kind of fun: the lazy sort that mostly involves sitting; the kind that all the generations enjoy together; the kind with good food, drink and company; the kind with fresh air; the kind that doesn’t involve sitting in traffic for hours in order to be robbed first for a entrance ticket and then again for a grey floppy sandwich.

Also: it’s a stealthy way of sneaking decent food into your kids. If you work on your aim, you can shoot out an arm every time then fly past the picnic rug and deposit a vegetable in a fast moving open mouth before they know what’s hit them.

Actually, though, the foods we took on this picnic were some of J’s favourites. And since they’re all healthy and cheap, I thought I’d share them with you in the hope that you’ll suggest more for our next chilly adventure.

So… Picnic #1:

Venue: Springfield Park, London E5

Attractions: tonnes… Narrow boats, river walks, rowers, ducks, a sandpit, a lovely wooden playground, hills for rolling down, a cafe for emergency ice creams…

Weather: Ermm… brisk.

Picnic guests: The three of us, four other adult friends, two other kids of J’s age.

We brought:

1) Carrot felafel. These are a sure fire way of getting vegetables into J (I think the sweetness of the apricots helps) a winner every time and just as good for adults. To make them, I whizz up the following, then shallow fry them till they’re golden.

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 400g can chickpeas, washed and drained
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 carrots
  • handful parsley, chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Three dried apricots, soaked in boiling water and chopped
  • Pinch of salt

2) Homemade hummus. I’ve always struggled with hummus. I’m not sure if it was my technique, or the fact that I have heathen tastes (a mix of both?) but it never came out as good as the supermarket kind, and J always agreed. A couple of weeks ago, though, I cracked it. J inhales this stuff, I’m not much more ladylike myself and it’s lovely and cheap to make. Whizz up the following

  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • 4 tbsp of apple juice (this is the KEY thing, I know it’s supposed to be lemon juice, but this makes it a little sweeter, closer to the supermarket kind, and more palatable for kids)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Pinch of salt
  • One and a half heaped tbsp LIGHT tahini (essential that it’s light – another thing I was doing wrong before my epiphany)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

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