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.

‘Twas the month before Christmas…

Wow, what a whirlwind November was. I mentioned that the first week was kind of quiet, but things definitely picked up much more than I was expecting. If there’s one thing I can say about freelancing, is that when you’re starting out, it isn’t the kindness of strangers so much as the kindness of friends that gets you going. 

Do you remember when you were looking for your first job? I do. I remember reading ad after ad, every one of them for an entry level position ‘with experience’. And where, I asked, were you supposed to get experience when you had only recently finished studying?! Welcome to the working world, honey, where nothing is as you think it should be.

Anyway, starting out freelancing feels a little bit the same, as though I’m starting my career from scratch again and, I guess, in many ways I am. This time around, though, I’ve had years of work experience and strong relationships to fall back on, which has been invaluable. I’ve had work from an old colleague who now works elsewhere, and a referral from another ex-colleague, who started her own business a while ago. Aren’t friends just the best?! Guys, I’ve even been paid (more than once!), and taken on a retainer client, all in my first month! 

Is there any wonder that I’m feeling a bit exhausted? Because, truth be told, even though I’m not ramping things up for the busiest time of the year, as I’d have to be at my old job (still feels weird to say that…), I’m shattered. We are 24 days to Christmas, 31 days until 2017, and I’m tired. 2016 has been… real. In many ways, it was amazing, and in many other ways, it has been really, very, incredibly hard. 

I’m trying to look ahead now and see what next year might look like, and I’m a bit stumped. I’ve always mostly known what at least the next few months might look like (except when I fell pregnant and then had a baby, those were both curveballs I was not prepared for) and this next year looks like it might be the same. A hard grind, with some rewarding moments and possibly some tears (hey, my emotion control is pretty wrecked after pregnancy hormones).

I’m getting this same feeling from many people at the moment. 2016 was hard for a lot of people, and while we naturally want to look forward positively, it’s hard not to look at 2017 with a bit of trepidation. How are you feeling about the next year? Are you glad to be waving goodbye to a crap one? Or looking forward with a touch of anxiety? How can we work to make this one a good year, guys? I’m keen for a nice one, for a change…

Captain’s Log: we are one week down…

So, it’s been a quiet week. The last two months, since I resigned from the full time job I held for five years, were a frenetic whirlwind of trying to get everything done that I had promised to do, and trying to put in place all the things I needed to start my own business. Some of those things I managed to do, and others not. Overall, it was a positive few months.

It’s hard to leave a job that you were not unhappy at. Yes, every job has ups and downs, up weeks and down months (a certain year in social media is not one I look back on fondly). But overall, my experience of the past five years was extremely positive, and I left in a blur of tears (mine and others), hugs, and an outpouring of love from my now former colleagues and friends. Yes, it was hard to leave.

Leaving has left me open, vulnerable to the world. When I went on maternity leave last year, I realised for the first time how much of my personality and self-worth is derived from my work. I had always imagined, before that, that I worked to support my life, but it was at that point, when I was not working, except as a full time mother to a newborn (which is, it should be noted, a pretty hard job without much in the way of positive feedback), that I realised that I need to have something that I do every day and something that I do well in. I guess it was a good time to learn that.

Knowing that now, though, means that I am not happy to simply parent my son and clean the house. God knows, that isn’t something I’m good at, anyway. So I have spent the last week signing up to all the freelance sites I can find, trawling job postings, and generally trying to hunt down something to do. I sent out my first quote, which was then declined. I have even offered to do some pro bono charity work, just to have something to do, so you must know how desperate I feel.

The anxiety behind selling myself, selling my skills – it’s high and it’s real. But I know that I am good at what I do, and that is what spurs me on. Setting a price to my skills and my time? That’s a whole other ballgame, and one I’m afraid it may take me years to figure out.

So one week in, and I’m not much further than I was when I started. A little greyer, a little more anxious, and all the laundry is done (until the sun stopped shining, and laundry had to be put on hold). 

Have you got any advice for a budding freelancer? Anything I should do to keep myself busy? Any sites I should sign up to to find work? I’d appreciate all of that. Here’s hoping things pick up a bit next week. And now that I am unemployed (unemployed until I start earning money – then I will be self-employed), does anyone want to meet up for coffee?

on knowing when what you needed is no longer what you need

Over the years, my relationship with change changes. Sometimes I welcome it, others I run screaming from the room if you so much as mention it. I guess I could read something into that, like maybe when I run it’s because the change isn’t a good idea, and when I’m happy for it, it is. But I think it also has a lot to do with my current mental state. When I’m overwhelmed, I just need everything to stay the same, for things to be stable, or I fear collapse.

So it’s quite a thing for me to be excited about a big change that’s about to happen in my life. No, stop looking at me like that. I’m not bloody pregnant. I promise (I don’t get nearly enough sleep yet to be walking down that road).

No, I’m talking about work. Over the years, I’ve thought on and off about working for myself, and almost every time I have looked at the idea and laughed, while running screaming from the room. The idea of going out and working on my own, for myself has been daunting to say the least.

But (yes, this is the news) I think I’m finally ready. As I look at the next phase of my life, I know it features adventures, probably quite a lot of hardship, lots of growth and a ton of learning. I hope it features clients, people to collaborate with and fun projects. I look forward to reconnecting with old friends and colleagues, and figuring out what my work life will look like. I’m taking the plunge, guys. I have resigned from my day job, and I’m going to be a freelancer.

Once upon a time, not very long ago, I needed the stability of my 9-5. I needed to know I was going in every day, getting a salary every month, and I needed to know what was expected of me. The company I work for is awesome, it’s filled with incredible, hardworking, passionate people who also have a ton of fun together. I would never trade working there for working somewhere else. The only thing I would trade it for is working for myself, and getting to spend a lot of extra time with my little guy as he grows up.

So, this is my sign to the universe. Universe, if you’re listening, from the beginning of November, I’m all yours. I’m a helluva proofreader (I can spot a double spacing from across the room), I copy edited my friend’s doctoral thesis on a science subject I know nothing about (and she did super well because of it), and I love to write. Food, kitchen and hospitality are my main strengths, but I’ll take on parenting, babies and almost any other subject (not golf) because I also love to research. So, hit me up. I’ll put a website together with some examples of my work, so keep an eye out for that. And, if there are any of you out there reading this, hold thumbs for me? This is a big leap for this almost-32-year-old girl, and I really, really want it to work.