ready-in-30 minutes red lentil dhal

{Image from Jamie’s recipe – you don’t want to see mine photographed}

So, I’ve been in a bit of a funk around cooking lately. My darling toddler has been extra clingy with me, specifically, and wants me to finish his bedtime routine off every evening. That takes 20 minutes out of my dinner making time (if we are going to eat before 9pm, and maybe, just maybe, squeeze in an hour of Masterchef!) All the normal things I make are ±45 minutes, and I’ve just not had time or been much in the mood for them.

A few weeks (or maybe months?) ago, I came across this recipe for red lentil dhal on Jamie Oliver’s site. After watching Save with Jamie last year (I also have the book), I have new respect for this guy, and my current funk persuaded me to follow the recipe (something I usually don’t do). It was amazing! Simple, quick and easy, and I’ve made it roughly once a week since that first time. It’s spiced without being spicy, though you could easily build the heat, and everyone from my lovely and fussy sister to my picky toddler loves it. It’s warm, comforting and the perfect thing to tuck into after a long day.

I have (OF COURSE) freestyled with it a bit, and I have to say, I think mine are improvements, not just tinkering for the sake of it. Make the recipe as stated in the link, but add in these things to take it to another level:

Extra ingredients:

  • 1 can coconut cream
  • 1/2 -1 tsp fenugreek
  • 1 tsp ground cumin

Optional ingredients:

  • 1 can chickpeas or 200-300g protein, like chicken breast or mini fillets
  • 1-2 diced carrots
  • 1/5 – 1 cup frozen peas

Method:

  1. When you’re cooking the lentils, I add in 2-2.5 cups of water to start*, then bring to the boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the top.
    • *My lentil cooking ratio is 1:2, so 1.5 cups lentils to 3 cups liquid, which I divide here between water and coconut cream, for a richer, tastier result.
  2. Then, when the initial liquid as cooked off and they are looking a bit dry, but not quite cooked yet, I add ± half a can of coconut cream, and cook until soft and porridgey.
  3. I never remember to buy cumin seeds, so I skip that step, and just add ground cumin to the onion/chillies mixture, along with some fenugreek, and a few lumps of asafoetida (which I picked up at Faithful to Nature ages ago, but which they don’t stock anymore). The asafoetida adds another onion-garlic flavour, and the other spices just add to the depth of flavour, instead of letting the turmeric run rampant.
  4. I cook the onion mixture at a fairly high heat for colour and caramelisation, but when it gets too dry, I splash in some more of the coconut cream.
  5. When the lentils are cooked, add them into the onion mixture, and cook until it is the desired temperature.
  6. If you are adding chicken or something that needs to be cooked, cut it into small, bite size pieces, and add it into the onion mixture, then finish cooking when you’ve integrated the lentils. If you’re adding chickpeas, just toss them in sometime towards the end, as they are cooked and will only need to be warmed through.
  7. You can also dice up some carrot, or toss some peas in, if you want to up the veggie ante, which I’ve done a few times.

Serve over basmati rice in a bowl, and eat with a spoon.

I have a problem with attaching guilt to food

So, this might be a bit of a rant, but I feel there’s a valid point to be made here, and Twitter just doesn’t have the space for me to air it.

I’m the first to admit that my relationship with food is not the healthiest. I have a long history of eating my feelings (for reference, the year we were planning our wedding and the daily cupcakes I ate as a way of ineffectively managing my stress levels). However, I’m seeing increasing references to “guilt-free” and “guilty” food from the media, bloggers, people, shops, everyone, and it concerns me. It concerns me deeply.

You see, there are two ways of approaching guilt:

  1. You imagine that eating “guilt-free” food gives you some sort of halo or immunity
  2. You imagine that eating “guilty” foods makes you some sort of demon

And neither of these approaches are healthy, to my mind at least. There’s been a huge movement towards “cutting out” food and “demonising” some food choices.

So here’s an idea:

How about we let people make their own choices about what to eat, how to eat and how to feed their families?

How about we look inwards, look at our own bodies, our own experiences with food and we let that be our guide as to what, how and how much to eat.

How about we stop looking at what other people are eating as a way of informing our choices?

What’s right for that girl on Instagram may not be right for you, and tying the negative emotion of guilt up in your food does nothing to improve your relationship with the very thing that nourishes you.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what food is. It’s been fetishised and over-analysed for so long that we’ve forgotten that the primary role of food is nourishment. Nourishment is a positive attribute. It prolongs and fosters life. It has the ability to prolong and foster relationships and friendships. And the more positive associations and relationships we have with food, the better off we’ll all find ourselves.

What I find healthy and what you find healthy may not be the same thing. I think we can all agree that we should eat more veggies, and if that manifests as veganism for you, well, that’s great. But assuming that eating “healthy whole grains and veggies” is healthy for everyone is just shortsighted. For people suffering certain dietary diseases and intolerances, the very thing you are touting as “guilt-free” and “healthy” may be just the opposite.

I can’t say it enough: what works for your body may not work for all bodies.

Your way is not the only way.

So, to end off, how about we stop attaching these negative emotions to food? How about we remember that it’s all about nourishment, and not about guilt? That would make the world a better place far quicker, at least to my mind.

Going out alone into the big, wide world…

It’s a funny thing, but when you find yourself making your living from writing, you have less writing left in you for the private things. I wonder if that’s the same for everyone? I found that, when I started my last job, writing about food, kitchen things, and all the things that had occupied my ‘just for fun’ occupation of blogging, I no longer had any steam left for blogging. I used all my steam up for my 9-5.

Similarly, I now spend my days writing all manner of things (and sending emails, oh the endless emails), and it leaves very little brain space for other things.

However, today is the first day of doing this gig full time, and it’s made me think good and hard about how things are and where I’d like them to go. Since I left my job at the end of October to pursue the freelance writing life, my little boy had his time at daycare cut in half. So up until now, I’ve been doing a daily dance, where I rushed to drop him off, rushed home to get some work done, shower, feed the dogs, do the shopping, and then rushed off 4 hours later to fetch him. It’s been a wild 4 months, with Christmas and his daycare holiday (and very unproductive time for me) in the middle, but now I’m heading out into the wild west without a baby on my hip.

See, last month I had so many queries, requests and quotes that it looked as though the future was rosy, and that I needed much more time. Our day mom was encouraging me to let him go back full time, and truthfully, he gets much more stimulation from the other kids there than I can realistically give him. So we did it, and committed him back to full time, four days a week (we’ll stick to swimming class on Friday morning and spending the day with mom).

But now I’m facing 8-9 hour days alone with my computer (who am I kidding? I’m still working from my iPad until I can scrape together the money for a Mac – my PC snobbishness runs deep), and I’m wondering if this was the best decision?

So I guess this is my (wordy) way of putting it out into the universe. I’d like some more work, please. I’d like all your article writing, editing and proofing. I’d love to help you make sales and sense of your world, and take your words and help make them make magic. I’d love nothing more than to work with a variety of clients from all industries, and help them make their words make sense. It truly gives me a wonderful feeling to help bring words to life, and see my work out there in the world, helping.

If you know anyone in need of a writer, send them my way, ok? Thanks :)

What a great start to the year! We were burgled.

Wow, it’s 25 days into 2017 (well, 26 as I write this), and we were burgled. I came home from picking my son up from daycare, to find the alarm going off. Now, I’ve set the thing off plenty of times myself, and at first glance everything looked ok. I thought I had accidentally set it off myself. But once I went inside, I realised something was off, which was when I noticed an enormous hole in the front door.

My heart nearly leaped through my chest. I had just cancelled the armed response! In a panic, I called them back, frantic, worrying there was still someone here, and my baby was sleeping in the car! They were right outside, having come when I didn’t answer my phone. The burglars were gone, and so were both our TVs and a DVD player. None of them state-of-the-art, but still ours. And they left behind a gaping hole in the door, and one in my trust levels.

I work from home. I’m here pretty much every day, and most of the day. I work in the mornings, and fetch my son at lunch. We come home, eat, play, go to the park. I always lock up when we go out, but I don’t always set the alarm. I don’t sit here with our security beams on, cloistered inside the house. I let my son play outside, while I am inside (within earshot, and with frequent visits, because silent toddlers are scary). We leave doors open, I rarely lock my car once I’m parked inside. Why bother? I thought.

But today, my trust in my own home, my faith in the security of my space has gone. I have had the doors locked, the panic button next to my workspace, the security beams on all day. What would I have done if we had been home at the time? It appears as though they waited for me to leave, which I can only be grateful for. But why do I keep saying to myself and others “It could have been worse.” Yes, it could have. But why are there people who feel like they can walk into your house and take your things, violate your privacy, and walk out again with no consequences. How crap is our justice system, that someone can crowbar open a panel of your front door, safe in the knowledge that nothing will happen to them? 

Today, I feel sad, vulnerable and panicky. I also feel angry and pissed off that we have to live in a prison to protect what’s ours, while the perpetrators will never see the inside of one. Having experienced this once before, I know that this feeling will fade. But I don’t know how I will ever be able to leave my son to play unattended in the garden, like a child should, knowing that someone with a screwdriver and a crowbar can make their way into our home. How do you get back the trust?

Not Recipes and why I like them

I think it was Food52 who started Not Recipes. At least, that’s where I first saw the idea, and I loved it. You see, since I ‘learned’ to cook (mostly trial and error over quite a few years) I’ve been a ‘just wing it’ type of cook. I love cookbooks, I read them from cover to cover. I love looking up recipes, reading food blogs, and watching Masterchef. But I rarely follow a recipe to the T. For some reason, I simply can’t. And related to that is, I suppose, why I stopped food blogging. Do you know how hard it is to write a recipe when it’s completely counter to how you cook?

You see, the way I cook is driven by ‘Not Recipes’. I think of them as ideas for flavours that go together, little techniques and habits that form and inform the way I cook and what I make, and a mental list of successes in the past that I can build on. Occasionally, I’ll see a recipe that takes my fancy, and the first time I make it I’ll try to follow it, but usually end up substituting or changing the recipe somehow. Thereafter, I just wing it, then redo it from memory, until the outcome is how I want it to taste.

I was watching Masterchef Australia a little while ago, and in Nigella week, Nigella said something that so appealed to me, I wrote it down. She said, “you don’t feel like it, or feel like you’ll enjoy it, but the act of necessity, of having to get dinner on the table means you do it, and you enjoy it, and you get it done.” That quote might be a bit off the original, but what she was saying that it is the very act of necessity that means we do it, and in just doing it, we usually come to enjoy it.

I didn’t always love cooking. In my early 20s, when I was still learning, it was a pretty harrowing process which involved lots of packets you add water to and lots of over- and under-cooked food. Boiled chicken breasts and the mince I mistakenly added a ton of cocoa to (I had read about Mexican mole and was woefully under informed) are two of the major food lowlights of my learning days. But over time, the simple act of needing to be fed and then needing to feed other people meant that I got it done and, as I gained more confidence, I began to enjoy it.

So, while I plan to post more recipes here, you can be assured that they will probably remain badly photographed (because unless I can find a photographer/food stylist partner in crime, that ain’t gonna change), and they’ll be Not Recipes. Guidelines )that I hope you’ll have the confidence to try, but wing it where you need to) with lots of suggestions and variations. 

Because I think true enjoyment of cooking comes when your risks and trials are more successful than unsuccessful and you can have confidence in your ability to get a great meal on the table (and enjoy it).