Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kids love it

Today I was writing up some recipe articles for a client and found the words “kids love it…” tripping nonchalantly off my keyboard, as I assured readers that cottage pie is a really kid-friendly dish guaranteed to smuggle vegetables past the green detector into their child’s diet.

Later this afternoon, as I perspired over a hot stove (the weather was actually hot today for a change), making a chicken pie, I realized how inaccurate that generalization really is.

About a month ago I tried out the chicken pot pie recipe from Nigella’s Feast, which her kids apparently consider the highest treat possible.

"Great," I thought, "finally a way of using up cold chicken left over from the roast other than in sandwiches."

It is always the thighs and legs that get left. My family are almost exclusively white meat eaters; even Youngest, who I used to rely on to eat one drumstick, has now turned her back on it and competes with the rest for the coveted slices of breast. So stuck with all this perfectly good leg meat a pie should be the ideal answer…and Nigella’s kids love it, so mine should too.

It’s quite a bit of work with a b├ęchamel sauce and pastry to prepare but eventually, with a fanfare, I produced a golden pie from the oven and bore it proudly to the table.

It was a resounding flop with the kids, who picked off the pastry and left the filling, looking suspiciously at the bechamel as if it were concealing a dreaded poison. The adults were left to enjoy the pie on their own and it was actually pretty good, lasting for lunch the next day too.

I tried it again today, undeterred by the groans from the children when they detected my foul intent.
"I’m using a different recipe," I assured them, "without the sauce."

I’d had a brainwave that I thought would get past their radar. Why not cook the potato dish they all love, without baking it, and mix it with the chicken as the filling for a pie; a bit of creaminess from the potato bake, chicken tucked in between and some green peas for sweetness, none of that scary white sauce stuff to put them off.

Well… it was better. Our son ate the small slice I served him without complaint, afterwards saying he took big bites 'cos you couldn’t taste it so much. Youngest even had a tiny helping of seconds and Middle Daughter ate the pastry and potato and left the chicken. But it’s still a far cry from Nigella’s big treat for her kids.

So I hereby resolve in future to strike those words from my recipes. All I will say about cottage pie and such like is… "MY kids love this, so it’s possible that your kids will, but don’t bet on it."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Dogs Dinner

I often struggle to find something to make cold leftover meats interesting for the family in cold weather. If I do baked potatoes then they always want our traditional accompaniments of grated cheese, baked beans and tuna with them and don’t eat the cold meat, which misses the point entirely. So I was really happy when I tried this potato recipe from Nigella’s Feast and everybody liked it – yes everybody, all the kids, even our son, who is so discerning that it’s hard to feed him a balanced diet.

It’s really simple – just diced potatoes cooked in sour cream and milk on the stove and then finished off in the oven with a topping of corn flake crumbs. Nothing fancy but with that soothing creaminess that is the essence of comfort food, and just enough crunch to keep you going back for more.

My husband just got home from a long drive up to Clanwilliam to look at a second-hand car that sounded perfect for us. It was… except that the previous owners were heavy smokers and the whole car was ingrained with the reek of stale smoke, which is almost impossible to get rid of, so it’s back to square one on the car search again.

He’d stopped off at Spur for a steak to keep him going on the return journey and the portions were so huge that he ate all he could and still brought back enough steak as a doggie bag to feed us all again tonight!

The kids were ecstatic – they love steak and I hardly ever buy it. So the dogs didn’t even get a look in and neither did the cats, despite many attempts to get on the table and share the feast. This potato dish went just right with it, along with some garlicky tomato salad.

Creamy potato bake recipe
250ml / 1 cup sour cream
250ml / 1 cup milk
1 kg potatoes
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or ½ teaspoon table salt
50g / 1 cup corn flakes

Put the sour cream, milk, salt and pepper in a heavy based pan with a lid. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-2cm / ½ inch cubes. Add to the pan. Bring it all to simmering point, cover with the lid and cook at a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Preheat the oven to 220C/450F. Crush the corn flakes to crumbs. The easiest way to do this is to put them in a freezer bag and roll it with a heavy rolling pin.

Tip the potatoes into a roasting dish, scatter the cornflake crumbs over the top and bake for 15-20 minutes until it is bubbling with a crispy top.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Feet are fundamental to our well-being and yet we only notice them when they stop doing their job properly.

I’ve been taking my feet for granted all my life, always knowing I can walk anywhere I want to, reserving the right to learn to dance one of these days when I get around to it, expecting them to hold me uncomplainingly when I stand cooking in the kitchen for hours when we have a festival, demanding their services day in day out.

It’s only now that one of them is complaining that I’ve stopped to think how much I rely on them. One of my lateral arches gave me trouble a few years ago. The physio gave me exercises. I stopped buying cheapo shoes and bought my shoes from Green and Cross from then on. I waved farewell to even the occasional wearing of heels and stopped imagining that one day I’d wear those black suede stilettos from my twenties again. (I still haven't thrown those stilettos away, but keep them for the sake of nostalgia and let the girls trip around in them occasionally)

My foot gradually improved and I forgot about the problem again; took my feet for granted once more, even though I now only bought them the best supportive footwear. Occasional reminders kept me on the straight and narrow; back on a visit to England, I found I couldn’t wear wellies to walk the dog and had to buy proper walking boots, and walking barefoot on hard surfaces was no longer the best idea, but my feet worked again.

And now the same one is twingeing again. Suddenly walking the dogs around the farm seems too much to ask , so I’m missing out on the latest family routine of all of us walking round the circle road before supper. I don’t want to go belly dancing tonight in case I make the twinge worse. When we went out for lunch on the weekend we couldn’t just park and casually saunter around the streets window shopping before lunch as I was worrying how long my feet would last out. I can feel that I’m walking oddly, putting my foot down too carefully and probably tensing somewhere else in my leg or back to compensate.

Having something wrong with a foot makes you question your abilities. It underlines all the things that you can’t do easily, if you’re not physically healthy. I feel tentative about everything I do. Whereas I usually leap up to get something or do something a million times a day, now it is suddenly an effort. This little physical insecurity extends into feeling unsure about everything.

And this is something little, a painful twinge in the arch but no more than that. I can't imagine how it would be if it were a serious injury or one that was unfixable. So I’m off to the physio tomorrow and maybe a reflexologist. I want somebody to fix it so that I can have the luxury of taking my feet for granted again; so that I can have a blithe confidence in being able to walk up a mountain, go dancing or just wander anywhere anytime without thinking about it. I want my foundation solid again.

Ten Things Update

A nudge from Marcheline made me realize I haven’t posted for ages. All my writing mojo is being spent on work stuff, so I’m falling back on an update in the ten things format to fill the black hole.

1. It has been raining now for two days and nights, practically without stopping. This is supposed to be summer in South Africa, not in England. Getting a bit worried about the pairs of animals that keep showing up too….
2. We went out for lunch to celebrate our anniversary on Saturday at Bukhara, a great Indian restaurant in town. Excellent food, but I never took my camera so am a totally incompetent food blogger!
3. Youngest brought back a reader from school, sat me on the sofa and read it through to me start to finish. I was really impressed as they start learning their letters from scratch in Class 1 in Waldorf and the others were only reading by the end of Class 2. She is raring to go and catch up with her big brother and sister.
4. My foot has been bothering me all week, with an arch that is misbehaving, so no belly-dancing tonight. Need to go and see a reflexologist or something to try and sort it out.
5. I’ve just received my first ever review copy of a book to review on my blog: Be My Guest by Fay Lewis. Maybe I am a proper food blogger after all! I’m going to try out a recipe or two first, before I write about it so will let you know.
6. Read ‘Little Women’ and ‘What Katy Did’ for the first time since I was a child. Still good stories but I’m wondering what my girls will think of them, with their fine moral lessons set among mild misdeeds, the terrible illness of Beth, and Katie being paralysed for so long.
7. Took our son to the homeopath for some more constitutional treatment. He’s getting dry skin on his face and we don’t want him to get the eczema back that he had as a baby.
8. The children are totally unimpressed with the old Toyota Corolla we are driving about in. We’ve sold our main car and are waiting to get hold of a second-hand Toyota Prado, but it’s taking longer than we thought.
9. We haven’t celebrated Guy Fawkes night since we came to South Africa, and it was a surprise to find out that it is still a big thing in the local communities here, with kids running around setting off fire crackers and throwing eggs and paint at each other. Our dogs were terrified by all the bangs and wriggled right under the children’s beds to take cover.
10. The school Spring Fair a week ago was a hot summer day and I wore my new summer dress for the first time, which seems a distant memory now when I’m back in winter clothes and still cold. Youngest won a prize in the fancy dress competition, dressed as a princess of course.