Heads up, there’s a lot of chat. If you’re just interested in the recipes, skip to the end.
Almost a year away from the blog, just over 9 months – says a lot doesn’t it? I remember when Pete first set this up for me, I used it as a way of trying to get my life in some sort of order after Archie died. Throwing myself into cooking and looking after my little unit, trying to rebuild my confidence. It was my way of coping and trying to do something constructive when I felt like I was drowning. Fast forward to the end of last year (oh if only it were that simple!), 2.5 years later, and I’m pregnant again. 3rd pregnancy in 3 years. Cue an emotional shut down. I had no interest in cooking or blogging and my main goal was to get through the day. As someone who is normally pretty open I felt totally incapable of talking about what we were going through, all I could focus on was the clock and ticking off the hours and days. Most days I felt like I was walking a tightrope and just about (but not always) keeping my shit together.
I wish I could have been a bit more open, we’ve had a rough few years. A further loss and secondary infertility made life feel pretty dark at times, and maybe I could’ve helped someone else by opening up? Maybe when I was losing my cool people would have been more tolerant? Who knows. But equally I didn’t want to be ‘that’ person, I didn’t want to be seen as solemn and struggling – I was sick of people treating me differently. Archie was different, his impending arrival was visible, everyone knew of our pain. You can have a miscarriage or go through IVF though with no one knowing (in hindsight I wouldn’t recommend this, both are horrifically lonely). Also how is it that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss – and yet no one really talks about it? A heartbreaking reality.
So here we are, it’s August 2017 and I’m back. I can’t even being to tell you how it feels to be able to say our rainbow is here. She’s here! The most beautiful little girl I’ve ever laid my eyes on. My heart feels like it’s going to burst almost constantly. Persephone is now 3 months old, a whole trimester, and I still stare at her and can’t believe she is ours (whilst also checking she is breathing every 5 minutes like a real life nutter – does that calm down?!). All babies are miracles, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say this kid feels like a little bit of magic. The amount of people involved to get her here is unbelievable, so many hurdles and such a little fighter – she really is an absolute blessing. On the other hand however I am fully aware that I don’t want this to sound like a ‘happily ever after’. Life isn’t a Disney story. Not to be sombre about it all, but not everyone gets their rainbow. A fact that is not fair or right, but heartbreakingly true. And if you are blessed with a rainbow, having a baby after loss brings up a whole new set of emotions. Hello again resurfaced grief. Hello new set of challenging questions. (‘Is this your first?’ waaaaaah). Also who knew singing ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ could make you cry like a banshee? BUT this is our life right now. We are blessed and happy and could not be more grateful. This little girl has arrived and we are besotted.
THE FIRST 40 DAYS/ 4th TRIMESTER
Something I had discussed with Pete towards the end of my pregnancy was ‘sarantismos’ (what the Greeks call the 40 days after birth) and what we in the western world call ‘the 4th trimester’. It took a bit of persuading and discussing. Pete, like a lot of people I am sure, is convinced nothing can’t be helped with a bit of fresh air and a good walk – which I would usually agree with. However I was adamant that once Persephone arrived I wanted to knuckle down, take time out and really get to know our little girl. I didn’t want to have to deal with visitors, expectations or challenges and there was plenty of time to go for walks and coffee dates (there is so much pressure for mothers to be out and about straight away with their babies, looking fabulous and carrying on as normal when really you’re just trying to muddle your way through the day). I know Pete was concerned I would become isolated, and given what we have been through concerned about me becoming depressed – I was already being watched like a hawk for PND by the health professionals however I was adamant. A friend recommended the book ‘The First Forty Days‘ which really helped Pete understand what I was on about. Of course once Persephone arrived I wanted to introduce her to everyone I knew, but the instinct to protect her and just get to know her was strong. Only family visited for around 5-6 weeks, and they always brought food or washed up or did our laundry (whilst cooing over the baby of course), but they made sure they looked after us as a unit – not just the baby. Our first walks were to our local green and back (a 5 minute walk at that) and that felt brilliant. Secure. Then slowly we introduced more things – close friends started to visit, walks to the park, lunch in the local baby friendly pub where I didn’t feel self conscious to feed her. We learnt quickly to limit how much we expected to achieve in a day and that we always needed more time – as a result everyone was, and is, happier. We’ll never know if these are the reasons that Persephone is such a relaxed and happy baby, it could be just luck of course, but she is. I’ve never put pressure on us to do anything (which isn’t easy when you live in a bustling and enticing city like London) and as a result we’ve had few melt downs. Maybe she would always have been a happy baby, but it definitely helped me be a calm and happy mum.
Something I know now is that when friends have babies I won’t (just) be buying cute outfits. Oh those little rompers are adorable! But you know what new parents really need? They need food. Help to look after themselves when they have no time or free hands or energy. This can be said for lots of situations – on the other end of the spectrum if you know someone is having a tough time, through illness, grief etc take them food. Flowers are beautiful but they’re just something else that need looking after.
I didn’t have a kitchen in the lead up to Persephone being born, we were having building work done (talk about cliche) and struggled to eat day to day, let alone batch cooking. However I did manage to escape to my parents for a few days and get a few things in the freezer. The first thing I made was Emma Cannon’s ‘Queen of Soups‘. A delicious, delicate, blood nourishing chicken broth. As someone who is very anaemic ( I was having to have iron transfusions during pregnancy) and was scheduled to have a caesarian this appealed to me. And it was a God send. I made a huge batch and froze it in portions. We would eat it as the base of a soup with noodles and vegetables but mostly as the base of a comforting congee – slowly cooked with rice and topped with a boiled egg, sesame and spinach. I can’t recommend this recipe enough, and if you can’t get hold of the Chinese herbs don’t let it stop you, it is still worth making and will still taste delicious (and be good for you I am sure).
Two other things I made were recipes from Stirring Slowly. I didn’t have time or energy to start creating new dishes – I just wanted to make things I knew would be comforting and full of nutrients and these are two of my favourite recipes. Khichdi is a slow cooked lentil and rice dish and is easy on the digestion so perfect for postpartum mums. The other is pho which uses a beef stock base, is hugely nourishing and comforting – and both are packed with iron. Out of the three the khichdi is the only recipe that doesn’t need finishing at all – make it, freeze it and it is ready to go. The other two however are wonderful bases that need finishing simply with noodles or rice, a little garnish. If you are making them as gifts, you could make up a bag with the extra ingredients needed, a really thoughtful gift.
And even if you are not an expectant mum/ making gifts/ batch cooking? Then still give them a try, they are all just great, delicious recipes.
I adore this recipe, it is a traditional South Indian dish which is nourishing both to make and eat – it is filled with goodness and follows a lot of the ayurvedic principles. It is perfect as a side for a South Indian meal or just on its own, in a bowl, with a spoon. Make a batch on a Sunday and it’ll keep you going for a few days (picture above).
- 150g split mung beans
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 onions
- 1 green chilli
- 2cm piece of ginger
- 3 tablespoons ghee
- ½ tablespoon cumin seeds
- 300g basmati rice
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 15 curry leaves
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 300g kale or spinach
Wash the mung beans in a sieve under running water. Peel and finely slice the garlic, and peel and finely chop the onions. Halve the chilli, deseed and finely slice. Peel the ginger and keep to one side.
Heat a little of the ghee in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the cumin seeds. Once they start to turn golden and smell wonderful, add the rice and mung beans to the pan. Season well with salt and pepper and add 1.25l water. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cover with a lid. Leave to cook on a low heat for 45 minute, adding more water if it gets a little dry.
While the rice and mung beans are cooking you can temper the rest of the spices. To do this, heat the rest of the ghee in a frying pan over a medium heat and add the garlic. Fry for a minute and once the garlic has turned lightly golden add the onion, chilli and curry leaves, and finely grate in the ginger. Turn the heat down a little and saute for 5 – 10 minutes until the onion has softened but not coloured. Turn the heat up a little and add the mustard seeds, turmeric and cinnamon stick. Fry quickly for a couple of minutes, then stir through the rice and mung beans when they are ready. Cover and cook for a further 15 minutes.
Wash the greens thoroughly and remove any tough stalks, then roughly chop and add to the pan along with the sautéed spiced onions and a splash of water, if needed. You want a creamy texture, so add up to 200ml of water if it feels too thick. Cook for a further 15-20 minutes, then season to taste. Perfect with warm chapatis and a feast of other Indian dishes.
PHO FOR ONE
Living near a famous East London street full of the most incredible Vietnamese restaurants means that pho has become a weekly staple in our house (and even prompted an incredible trip to Vietnam). Pho for breakfast or anytime of the day is my idea of heaven. When I am cold/ tired/ hungry/ blue I want pho. It’s the childhood comfort food I never had. I’ve made proper pho’s, where the beef bones are cooked for hours and you end up with the most delicious intense flavour. And there are lots of authentic Vietnamese recipes for that. However I don’t always have the time, and I’m not the person to tell you how to do it. This, however, is my sped up version, a great ‘pho for one’ when you are home on your own and want to curl up with something delicious.
Serves 1 (multiply as needed. You could easily double or triple the broth, infuse it and then freeze it for a rainy day, making it an even quicker meal)
- 1 small onion
- 2cm piece of ginger
- 400ml good quality beef stock
- 1 star anise
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- ½ tablespoon fish sauce
- 100g flat medium-thick rice noodles
- Handful of bean sprouts
- 1 spring onion
- ½ red chilli (birds eye if you like it hot, regular for a normal heat)
- 150g rib-eye, or steak of your choice
- 1 teaspoon golden caster sugar
- A few sprigs of coriander, mint and Thai basil
- ½ lime
- Sriracha, to serve
Start by charring the onion and ginger. Place them both, unpeeled, over a direct flame on your hob and char them both for around 10 minutes, turning occasionally so evenly burnt. If you don’t have a gas hob you can do this under the grill. When they are ready, halve them and place in a medium sized saucepan with the stock, star anise, cinnamon stick and fish sauce. Gently bring the broth to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Leave it ticking away for 30 minutes.
While your broth is simmering, prepare the rest. Cook the noodles according to packet instructions and refresh in cold water. Place the noodles in your serving bowl. Wash the bean sprouts thoroughly and finely slice the spring onion and chilli. Place a small frying pan or griddle on a high heat. Rub the steak with a little oil, salt and pepper and fry or griddle it for a couple of minutes on each side, until cooked to your liking. (Remember it will continue to cook in the hot broth, so it’s best to under cook it a little). Leave it to rest for a few minutes and then slice it up.
When your broth is ready, stir in the sugar and season to taste, adding a little more fish sauce if needed. Turn the heat up to bring it to the boil again and then strain it into your serving bowl. Top with the steak and add the bean sprouts, spring onions and sliced chilli. Serve the herbs and lime on the side, and tuck in.