Sunday, 31 January 2016

Now the dark days are over.

I still remember the day. 
The very first day that I was left alone with the tiny little thing. I was petrified. This little thing didn't come with user manual. 
I rely on manuals; for guidance and reassurance, so I can tackle it with confidence and familiarity.
What was I supposed to do?

The night before Toby went back to work, I struggled with momentary resentment. I was scared of the concept of being solely responsible for our new born baby. I was envious that he will be able to slam shut the front door next day and wiz back into the normality of his everydayness. I felt hard done by the lack of existence of my everydayness; aloneness; the ability to enjoy my own company. 
Everything I knew and was comfortable in was gone, overnight. 
Being mum didn't come natural to me.

Hold your breath right there if you're thinking I am being an ungrateful first time mother being miserable for the sake of moaning. Because I am not.
This new job of being mother hit me really hard. Although planned and prepared for, it was a mayhem.

I loved having her. I felt truly amazing being able to give birth. I felt like a super hero. 
I didn't mind having to change dirty bottoms ten times a day. Those sleepless nights weren't too much of a big deal whilst my body pumped out the adrenaline. I could watch her face all day long and be amused by the tiny weeny movements and the sounds she created. Sometimes I worried she was too quiet and other times I worried because she won't stop crying. Many nights I stood by her cot holding my breath so tightly in an attempt to listen if she was still breathing so I can be assured to finally roll into my bed knowing she's alive; that I haven't failed as her carer; that I have accomplished another day of being 'a mother' - a word that felt so alien to me at the time. 
Heavy dose of caffeine kept me going by day and steady supply of wine gave me the strength to look forward and survive another day by night.
But I was lost. I felt incompetent.
Everything felt so infinite. It was relentless. I couldn't shout time out. I was so lost I didn't even know who I was anymore. I just wanted to figure out who I was. It felt as if though I've been put through the washing machine. It stripped me, washed every inch of me, spun me round the few times, squeezed me out empty.

I suppose you could say identity crisis. Or perhaps it could have been a form of post natal depression. In either case, I was fortunate enough to be able to see it through.
It was and still is tough going at times though. Even with the most loving husband on your side, even with the most supportive friends standing by your side firmly, the truth is, that the real battle of learning to be the best mum you can be when everything is so alien and unfamiliar, and trying to finely and carefully tune yourself back into this new found identity without upsetting the dynamics of your newly formed family, can really be somewhat lonely. Because, as I happen to discover my fellow mama friends, a lot of us, still, for whatever the reason, find it hard to speak out and share the true feelings. We, for some reason tend to fluff it up. Because, deep down, we know majority of general public will expect you to bond, be maternal the moment that you give birth. And whilst nursing and caring for your new born, you're almost always put under the unspoken pressure of to be that perfect earthy mother.

It took me a while. A while to understand and articulate what was exactly going on in my head. What it was exactly upsetting me and made me feel confused and unhappy.
And I am happy to say, once the hormones settled and the reasonable amount of time had passed by, those tiny little things and feelings used to bother me started to fade away.
I understood our relationship now has different meanings and we're now no longer dynamic duo but a trio.
Do you know what, actually what really affected me was in fact, the fear; fear of finally becoming a proper grown up; the changes that I cannot predict or dictate. The prospect of life-long project that I am ultimately responsible to influence and nurture really did take my breath away. It was a fair weight to carry. Every night, I tucked myself under my duvet deeper and deeper in an attempt to escape that sinking feeling.
Tiredness, no actually, exhausted sleep deprived body, as well as hormones can really do funny things to your mind.



Braised Radishes and Toasted Freekeh
Serves 2 as side

for the radishes
120g radish, cleaned and quartered
1 small shallot, finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
sage leaves, finely sliced
250ml chicken or vegetable stock
1tsp white wine vinegar
some butter
little olive oil
salt and pepper

for the freekeh
50g freekeh
some butter
pinch of salt

to dress
some extra virgin olive oil
pinch of chilli flakes
1/2 lemon juice
good handful of parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Koreans do cooked radishes very well.
Although strictly speaking this recipe isn't rooted in my heritage, this, I could prepare and make well under an hour, and be completely satisfied with its simple offerings and feel completely at home.
Peppery radish cooked mellow in sort of dirty sticky buttery way with nutty wheat grains dressed perfectly with little chilli flakes, generous coatings of olive oil and the sharpness of lemon cutting through the rich butter, indeed, is comforting.
It's what I'd say easy food. I can it the lot.

First thing's first, place the pan over the low heat, melt butter with little oil to stop it from burning and gently sweat shallots and garlic with little salt until soft. Add radishes and sage, and fry them off a little for couple of minutes. Then goes white wine vinegar followed by stock. Your choice of stock should cover the radishes really well.
Over the medium to low heat, you will continuously cook radishes for about 35mins or so until it's soft and coated well in glossy sticky buttery mess.
If at any point you require more liquid to loosen it up, just add little water as and when.
Season when ready.

Braised radishes itself can be a great component to any roasted meat, if that's where you're going with it. I'd just make sure to increase the volume that I cook. Depends on the quality of radishes you source, you might need pinch of sugar to balance the flavour. I also find good glug of white wine helps to give the wonderful sharpness as well as some extra herbs such as tarragon.

Whilst braising of the radishes are happening, melt some butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat, add freekeh with little salt and toast until nut brown, to the point when you think it's slightly over done.
Add water just enough to cover the whole thing loosely and lower the heat with the cover on.
Cook for around 10 mins or so on the lowest heat possible. I use diffuser to do this. Then turn the hob off. Let it sit for another 5 mins. This will allow the grain to cook slowly in residual heat that was left in the pan. In return, you will be guaranteed with nutty crunchy golden bites.

Toasting of grains really intensifies the nuttiness. If you're not used to freekeh, you could do exactly the same with cous cous, bulgar wheat and quinoa. I often use mixture of some or all. Once you pimp up your grains this way, I promise you that you will never go back to your old ways.

Now the assembly.
In a large bowl, put both the radishes and freekeh. Add pinch of chilli flakes whilst both of the components are warm. Add good helpings of olive oil as well as parsley and lemon juice. Season to taste.

As with most of recipes, this is the sort you can add and experiment as much as you'd like depends on what is available in your larder.
Toasted pine nuts may also be welcomed as well as good handful of sweet raisins or sour cherries.
It's an idea I'd like to share. 
Now go, go, go and make yours.



12 months on, I am in a much better place.
I seem to have slightly clearer visions on what kind of mother I'd like be and feel content the way things are going. Well, for now anyway.
You know, it is true. Time really is a healer.

I hope you're all well.
And thank you for patiently waiting, as always.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

allow me to tell you.

Where do I start?
Well, if you asked me this time last year, how I felt about being a responsible grown up and doing the whole starting a family thing, I might have laughed off sheepishly and quickly changed the subject. Just so I can avoid possible embarrassment of not necessarily feeling too maternal about the subject matter, and also in a slight fear that you might judge me, or categorise me into something which will only result in heated debate that I don't wish to get into. Because it is meant to be a very personal thing, right?

See, rewind the time back a few years, thinking about this whole baby thing, it was at the core of my relationship really. Whether it be with Toby, close friends, neighbours or even almost complete strangers, they will all quite happily and confidently ask me/Toby about the possible prospect of little baba of ours, assuming that we will, deliver one day.

I, over the past three years, thought long and hard about this little chicken.
Was I ready? Did we have enough financial security to afford a child? Was I physically and emotionally ready and fit enough go through this most mental changes in my life? And did I have any faith and hope in my dearest Toby to support me along the way and be my punch bag that I can hit hard, as and when I felt beaten up with the uncontrollable surge of hormones? Did we have enough room in our very grown up shack to accommodate the little chicken roaming freely around? Were we ready to love and coo over this non communicable little thing, just so we can allow it to be sick on our dry-clean-only tops, change their pooped nappies and wipe its enviously plump and soft bottom that will ultimately make me feel like 100 years old sack? Oh, lets not forget, I definitely was not ready to even think about life without WINE and our from time to time madly-in-love date nights where we can behave as wild and bad as we wish to feel each other to remind us who we are!
I mean the list of questions just goes on. 
The more I asked myself those questions, the more I tried to justify and find the reasons why the possible presence of chicken would be a negative attribute to my life.
Then there was people. You know, the ones that tell you 'oh, there never is right time, you just do it because that's what everyone else does.'. 
That, really, made me retaliate. Why would I ever put myself through this most biggest and greatest commitment in my life without having the clarity and confidence in decision making process? I lived my 34years of life being an absolute control freak(-ish), I wasn't going to change over night and suddenly adopt a just-go-with-the-flow mentality, because that's what everyone else does! 
I was so sure that one day, when the time is right, I will, for sure, know about it. I will be able to make the conscious decision to go a head to let my womb to be the home for our grain of rice, or not.

Let me tell you. 
That day did come. Like the lightbulb moment.
One day, I woke up and everything kind of started to make sense in my head. I revised my list of questions, had more serious discussions with Toby about pros and cons of our life dominated by chicken/s, and reached the verdict of 'Yes, we do want to put ourselves into many sleepless nights and we will find the joy in pooped nappies because we're here to reproduce, and we endorse the imminent need to start the Scott Empire before we face the limits of our frail infertile body clock. '. 
I suppose the fear of us two getting old on our own, the visions of Christmas in 30years time without children, and us staring at each other bickering over nothing because we're bored shitless definitely contributed huge part in my decision making process. And yes, there was number of weekends where Toby and I just stared the hell out of our empty hall way like two lost souls as we didn't have any plans nor the enthusiasm or will to do anything because it all felt a bit same old and meaningless.
But it was an advice from a good friend gave me the kick up the back side. 
She said 'you'll always doubt what life would be like with one and think I wish if I'd done it, if you don't do it. But if you do it, you'll never regret it.'.

Well, action speaks louder and we made many many endless attempts of try an error of exercising making chickens, of which I can tell you, for me it was not fun. It wasn't sexy and it was damn frustrating when unwelcome period visited me every month. This monstrous blooded witch made me feel very inadequate. Over 15 years of trying hard not to get pregnant, it was as if my body has just completely forgotten how to accommodate the wriggly worm. Peeing on the stick obsessively just so I know if my body was even doing what it suppose to do was getting tedious and I almost nearly gave up. 
Honestly, I learnt a lot about female body and have huge respect for our amazing human organism.
Then one day, and who knew that I could be in owe of the little digital stick that I just peed on, when the little plastic stick, really unexpectedly read I was 2-3 weeks pregnant, my heart raced and I cried, relieved that I, my body does bloody work!

So for the past 26 weeks or so, I have been quietly embracing the changes.
I've been learning about how my body functions as I create a comfortable home for our then grain of rice, now a rice cake; mochi. 
I demolished many bowls of spinach and lentils, craved a lot of sweet pastries and cakes, and ate more bread than I ever consumed in my entire life. I sweated over the sudden weight gain, and fret over the possibilities of double chin I hate to carry. I am getting used to my fat chubby feet and comfortably crack a joke about it as Toby cheekily offers to lend me his shoes. Feeling sick from time to time gave me a great comfort in a weird way. And most surprisingly, I am sort of enjoying my ever growing tummy.
My wardrobe is getting very limited, and yes, it does piss me off when people make a comment about how big or small my tummy is and poke it around a bit as if it is a public property. But nevertheless, it is, for sure, an incredibly wholesome experience that feels so warm and precious. 



Lemon Polenta Cake (Inspired by Lemon Syrup Cake by Nigel Slater)

for the cake
210g butter (room temperature)
210g vanilla caster sugar
50g almonds
50g pistachio nuts (plus some extra, toasted and finely chopped for topping)
3 eggs
125g ground almonds
150g ground polenta
1 tsp baking powder
1 orange juice and zest
pinch of salt

for the syrup
1 lemon juice and zest
1 lime juice and zest
1 orange juice and zest
250ml water
75g golden caster sugar
30ml limoncello

I came across this recipe quite a while back and successfully used time and time.
Original version is absolutely divine. It is very moist and lemon syrup cuts through the cake really nicely. I played it around few times and found pistachio gives really nice bite to the cake. Also kept the syrup a bit sharper with additional lime and less sugar.
The cake above was made with blood orange which gave beautiful colour and sweetness.
It makes a decent dessert served with nice dollop of saffron yogurt.

First of all, finely chop almonds and pistachio nuts using either food processor or knife.
Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy in a large mixing bowl, and slowly whisk in the eggs one at the time making sure eggs mixed in thoroughly each time.
Add grounds almonds, chopped almonds and pistachio nuts into the egg mixture. Gently stir in the polenta, baking powder and pinch of salt along with juice and zest of orange.

Spoon the mixture into the lined cake tin, and bake for 25mins at 180º initially then for further 30mins or so at 160º.
If the cake is browning too quickly, cover the top with tin foil.
Check if the cake is baked through before taking it out of the oven. Depending on the depth of the cake tin, it may need little longer in the oven.

To make the syrup, pour all ingredients except limoncello into small sauce pan, and bring to boil. Keep bubbling at high temperature until the liquid has reduced to about 150ml. Remove from heat and add the liqueur.

When cake is ready, take it out of oven but keep them in the tin. Spike few holes, pour over the syrup, let it cool and top generously with chopped pistachio nuts.
Delicious.


So, what have you been up to?