Friday, 26 September 2014

A few ways with broccoli; or a bit about living with depression

It's been a tense few weeks at Dodsley Towers, tbh. It's enough moving house - or rather waiting to move because the damn thing doesn't seem any nearer being built than in March, but to add in a few dollops of stress from other quarters and suddenly life borders on the near-despairing.

It's very hard when you hit despair. It's even worse when someone you love hits despair and there is nothing you can do. You watch them sink into themselves, a sort of right-way-round version of The Twits, disappearing from view; conversation becomes monosyllabic or downright emotional, an endless repeat of "why me?" and "what can I do?". You aim for staunch and supportive, bluff and stiff upper lip, but get accused of being actually unsupportive. You hug and cuddle and make myriad stupid, meaningless gestures they don't see anyway, like always doing all the housework, looking after the children, and end up feeling resentful and unsupported yourself. You veer away from making conversation - any kind - other than to relate something funny a child did today to lift their spirits, because conversation always ends in the same way: "I hate my job/my life," or "another shit day" or another rant about the new house not being built because that's something tangible to focus on. You can't actually face those phrases again so you choose to say nothing. You dread waking up because the day ALWAYS begins with them saying "Another shit day..." (It ends with it too). You find yourself tensing, waiting for the familiar soul-deep sigh that seems to emanate from them at almost minute intervals. You find your eczema, sensitive to mood at the best of times, appearing in places hitherto unexplored and want to yell "Why is your mood ruining my body?" (Remember: staunch and supportive at all times). You want to - and in fact do - repeat platitudes IN THEIR FACE like the one about the light at the end of the tunnel, but then see that they can't see that light; they're just stuck in the howling darkness with the freight train rushing down on them AND THEY CAN'T SEE THE DAMN TRACKS. You cry. A lot. Over nothing. And hide it. Or sometimes you don't in order to get a response, some notion you exist in their heads too.

We've been waiting for some news that will potentially change all this and finally, yesterday we got it. And it was good. So now, in theory, all this goes away. MCD Sr is bouncing away like Tigger on ketamines - suddenly all the despair has vanished, he found the tracks and is running, helter-skelter, towards the light. And I'm wondering why I still feel low, as if nothing's changed. And I think it's because it's become a habit. Because for months now, I haven't felt another way other than that of feeling my way blindly round a timebomb, constantly tiptoeing so that all that feeling, all that sadness, doesn't come surging out again like a tsunami taking us under again and again, leaving us blindsided and gasping and fighting to get to shore and security. Husbands, we are told, are not supposed to cry, are not supposed to be the ones making us feel unsafe and insecure just by being "a bit sad". They go manfully off and strive through their jobs, just as we do and crucially, get on with it. When, suddenly, they can't, when that MANLINESS becomes just a frightened child waiting on the hills for the wolves to come, you have to rush in on your charger, holding up the light so they can see it. And sometimes it takes a fucking long time before they can. Meanwhile, on you muster, a very pillar of wifely support, trembling, frightened, resentful, sympathetic, loving, hating, exhausted and wired. Because that's what you do. Because that's what marriage means. But no-one talks about that.

So every little helps and eating your greens at such times at least keeps your iron levels up when all you want to do is eat nothing but macaroni cheese. MCD Jr maintains he only likes broccoli "in stuff" so I've been exploring a few ways to get it in. Moronic, I know, but over-achievement has always been my byline.

3-veg Pesto:
This is dead easy: Take a big handful of spinach. frozen peas and broccoli and a peeled clove of garlic and cook in boiling water till just tender. Drain and bung in a food processor. Add a small handful of toasted pine nuts, a squeeze of lemon, olive oil and a good handful of grated Parmesan and whizz together to make a pesto consistency. Cooking the garlic with the veg softens the flavour if you've got, like me, a child with sensitive tastebuds that hates the heat of raw garlic.

Ham, Cheese and Veg Quesadillas
Blitz a good handful chestnut mushrooms and a few stalks broccoli with a clove of garlic in the food processor then add to a pan with a good lump of butter and a splash of water and cook until softened. Lay a tortilla wrap on a baking sheet and top with a slice or two of nice ham. Spread a thin layer of the veg over the top then sprinkle on grated cheese of your choice. Top with another wrap and bake in the oven until the cheese has melted. Cut into small wedges and serve.

Broccoli Cheese Sauce.
Blitz some broccoli again in the food processor then add to a basic cheese sauce, either the b├ęchamel variety or cream with cheese stirred in. Use to coat pasta, cauliflower, leeks, chicory, anything really.

This blitzing is a great way with greens: I'm trying it with kale and leeks but would also work with cauliflower or even Brussels sprouts, which love cream and cheese.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

A Smoky Porky Tex-Mex Baked Beans; Or What To Do With Leftover Roast

I really love a Sunday roast. Really love it. Plan it all week, down to the glass of very cold, dry sherry that I have while preparing it, which reminds me almost painfully nostalgically of Ma making the same meal, drinking the same drink while we swung off the wooden chair in the kitchen watching Antiques Roadshow and irritatingly asking on a loop "Is dinner ready yet?" Summer Sundays seem to have a bit of a gap in them because there's not two hours spent in the kitchen chopping, par-boiling, roasting, stirring.

Last Sunday was when I broke. We were having roast pork shoulder come what may, weather-wise. As the weather gradually brightened up, even I had to admit roast potatoes and creamed leeks and luscious gravy were perhaps not the way forward as we sat squinting in the sunlight. So I changed tack, nicked a recipe out of Delicious magazine for an apricot, sherry & hazelnut stuffing and slow-roasted the joint while we went blackberry- and damson-ing. Leftover pork is obviously never an issue, given that I'll make apple sauce just for the sandwiches the next day (mayonnaise and stuffing also obligatory), but 3 days on, I needed it out of the fridge. So...

Serves 3

1 onion, finely sliced
1 red pepper, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
6cm-ish piece of chorizo, choppped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1-2 chipotle chillies (or dried chilli flakes or Tabasco or whatever you have, however much you want)
1 x400g can butter beans (or haricot or cannellini or whatever you have)
200ml beef stock
1x 400g can tinned tomatoes
Leftover pork, chopped (This would work really well with beef, lamb and chicken as well)
S & P
To serve: chopped avocado, sour cream, chopped coriander, tortilla chips...

This is dead easy. Cook the onion, pepper and garlic in a little olive oil until golden then throw in the chorizo and spices. Cook until the oil runs from the chorizo and turns everything reddy-brown, then add the beans, tomatoes and stock. Simmer for 20-25 minutes until reduced a little, then add the pork and heat through. Check for seasoning and spice, then serve with the accompaniments. MCD Jr had his with buttery corn on the cob which would also hit the right notes.

You can add any vegetables to this you fancy and use any beans or meat, but it's a wonderful sweet, smoky take on chilli and baked beans. We ate shed-loads and I've got some leftover for lunch. You can extend it easily with more beans and more tomatoes if you want to bulk-cook and freeze.

PS: MCD Jr's veg count is at the moment a bit low - he seems to be on another picky phase. So I'm back to putting out batons of carrots, cucumber and sugar snap peas as an appetiser if he's hungry before dinner, which means at least some fresh veg is eaten.