A long time ago, when we first started trying to have a baby, I gave up coffee. It nearly killed me. I love coffee with a firey passion. I drink it black, and I savour every mouthful. I never drank more than 2, perhaps 2 and a half cups of black coffee a day, and I enjoyed every bit of it. I was quite fussy about what quality of coffee I drank. No instant coffee, no bad meeting-room coffee, no Americanos unless I was absolutely desparate. The only coffee chain in the UK which actually brews coffee rather than giving you an Americano is Starbucks, so that's where I went. At home we drank single-source coffee, from beans roasted the day you order them.
Initially I cut back a little by ordering a half-decaf, half-normal brewed coffee at Starbucks on weekdays. Then Starbucks stopped brewing decaf coffee in the UK so that was out. Around this time a study was published which showed that consuming levels of caffeine above 300mg a day was associated with an increased level of miscarriage. We'd been trying for about 6 months. I wasn't consuming that much coffee, but I figured that if 300mg caused a problem, why was I tempting fate by consuming any coffee at all? So I went cold turkey. I also gave up diet coke, mostly because of the aspartame, but I could not countenance giving up chocolate, so that stayed on the cards. So I was getting some caffeine but not much. I substituted funky teas for coffee, and I missed it, particularly at the weekend when H would brew up a pot of lovely smelling coffee and I'd be there with my cup of green tea.
And then I found out that green tea can reduce absorption of folic acid. Which I'm already prone to be deficient in, given my MTHFR homozygosity, so green tea was out. I switched to the Tazo tea, Calm, but clearly it wasn't the same. No jolt of energy, no lovely complex smell to inhale.
This went on for some time. Gradually I started to feel resentful. I'd had enough of deprivation. Two years of failed cycles and miscarriages made me feel I deserved to eat the things I liked. And given everyone around me seemed to get pregnant happily on a diet of coffee, wine, and rich food, I didn't see why I had to suffer. So the coffee started to sneak in. At first it was just off-IVF cycle, while I was on zoladex anyway, so no chance of conception. And it was half a (small) cup of coffee, at the weekends, at home. And then sometimes on weekdays too, if I wasn't rushing off to work. I still hadn't picked my Starbucks habit back up.
And then we went on holiday to Morocco for my birthday. And we know now that I was already pregnant. And I had wine every evening for dinner, and coffee, plenty of it, for breakfast. And somehow, not that miraculously, this embryo hung on despite me creating what Zita West would term a 'toxic uterus' for it. Given this, even once I knew I was pregnant, it was hard to justify being that abstemious again. Of course I stopped drinking alcohol again. To be honest, I can take or leave alcohol anyway, so that hasn't been too much of a hardship. I've allowed myself a few sips of H's wine at dinner, and that's been mostly ok. But the coffee? No, that's a different story. I stuck to the 'coffee at weekends' rule for a while. And then I had a less busy period at work so I was able to have a bit of coffee at home on weekdays. And that turned into most weekdays. The passenger was thriving anyway. I kept going, limiting myself to only drinking coffee from our home brewing, not buying it elsewhere.
Until last week. Last week was very very busy at work. I had to work til 10 a couple of nights (normal in my job, but not normal for me recently). By Thursday morning I felt really really rough. So I went to Starbucks. And I ordered a tall black coffee. Which I drank about 3/4 of. Oh baby, forgive me. But it was good. I haven't been back. But I worry I've now crossed the Rubicon and I'll find another day when I need that weekday cup of Starbucks. And there won't be an obvious reason to resist.
Anyone got any suggestions for how to wean babies off their caffeine addiction?
1 tablespoon olive oil 1 1/2 cups chopped onions I large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces (if you stab it a few times, then put it in the microwave for a minute, it becomes much easier to peel) 1 cup vegetable stock 1 1/2 tablespoons minced seeded jalapeño chili About 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced 1 can unsweetened coconut milk Juice of 1-2 limes (depends on how juicy they are) 2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste 2 shredded lime leaves 12 ounces dried futonaga udon noodles Additional veggies if you want - e.g., Pak Choi, mange tous etc. Some chicken if you want - I use breasts, cut into 1"-ish pieces 1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander (ciilantro)
Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Add onions, sauté until golden, about 5 minutes.
Add squash; sauté 2 minutes. Add broth, jalapeño and garlic; bring to boil.
Add the chicken here if you want to (uncooked)
Cover; cook until squash is getting tender, about 4 minutes (it really doesn't take long and you probably do want the liquid to reduce, so I'd minimise time here so that the last step doesn't result in over-cooking)
Stir in coconut milk, lime juice, lime leaves and curry paste. Simmer uncovered until squash is tender and liquid is slightly reduced, about 4 minutes. When liquid has mostly reduced, add whatever additional veggies you want - Pak Choi is my favourite to add at this point
Season to taste with salt and pepper
Meanwhile, cook noodles in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain noodles. Return to pot. Add squash mixture and cilantro to noodles; toss to blend. Serve.
Well, as you can tell by the presence of this post, I bought the Mac. H will be delighted so I don't feel too awful about spending that much money. He can't access many websites from his work laptop so he regularly borrows mine to find what he's looking for, which irritates both of us. And a Mac with all the lovely imovie-type software is just the ticket for that increase in photo taking and home film-making that we hope will start sometime in September. It's really silly to buy one here when I could have bought one in the US for half the price. But I'm not doing any more long haul travel until the baby can come with me, as a separate person, so if we want a Mac any time soon we have to pay UK retail prices. Ouch.
It's been 8 years since I've regularly used a Mac, but my love for them has in no way diminished. They've only grown more beautiful, not to mention faster and with better software. Just touching this MacBookPro is making me happy. The brush against the metal, the resolution of the screen, it's all, just so yummy.
Sorry, lost myself there for a minute.
I now need a bunch of technical help. I managed to download Firefox but it doesn't seem to have loaded properly - it's sitting on the desktop as if it's a separate disk. I downloaded Acrobat but Firefox doesn't recognise that it's there. Any ideas? I also can't turn off the underlined links thing in Firefox - I think it makes things look very messy so I always turn it off in IE.
Although I haven't had the relaxing day I had planned, I did go and spend an entertaining couple of hours (I had no idea how long I'd spent til I got home) in West London's new foodie mecca. It's a very seductive place. I don't usually get to do the food shopping as H has us set up with a weekly delivery of an organic veggie box, and he picks up the other stuff we need himself at our local providers. I'm a very bad food shopper. I buy what looks good with only a small care for what we might actually cook with it. So I've come home with very exotic items, like soft tortillas and salsa, some oven roasted tomatoes and some fresh heirloom tomatoes the like of which I've never seen in this country before; and some simply extra delicious items, like British organic strawberries. I do have a plan. I'm going to roast some corn-fed organic chicken thighs with lemon and basil for dinner, and eat them with some new potatoes and asparagus. I've already snacked on some edamame. For dessert I'll have some of those strawberries with cream. Then for H tomorrow night, not that he deserves it, I'll make a butternut squash curry with chicken, ginger, chard, and thai red curry paste, and we'll have roasted peaches for dessert.
I'm feeling a bit crampy now but I'm hoping it's the passenger settling down after a busy day. More water is on the horizon, and I need to start cooking. Tomorrow I'll get on with relaxing.
Briefly, because I really should be working - or sleeping, one or the other. Apple snow, as ManhattanAnne guessed (or knew?) is a meringue-based dessert, but the odd thing is that you don't bake it. Basically, you peel, core and slice about 5-6 flavour-full apples (I used some yummy English coxes), then put them in a pan with a dash of filtered water, put on a low heat, clamp the lid on and cook until soft (about 10-15 mins). I also added some lemon zest and grated ginger, but it's not compulsory.
While the apples are cooking, whip two egg whites until stiff peaks form. Then add about 1/2 a cup of castor sugar, slowly while you keep beating, to make the meringue.
Drain the apples in a colander, put them back in the pan and squash to break up the slices- or you could use a potato masher to make a real puree. Then just mix the two mixtures together.
That, officially is the end of the recipe. It makes a lovely, soft, cloud-like desert with soft chunks of apple hidden in the cloud. I like to make things complicated so I used our blow torch to crisp up the top so that we had a lovely contrast of textures.
Wow I feel just like a food blog. But then I'd need to be posting a really sexy photo of my finished work, and I'm just not that technically accomplished!
When, a month ago, H.said told some friends of his they were welcome to drop in for lunch today, he forgot that Passover starts tonight. I made him feel bad about it for a while, then said that so long as he cooked and cleaned up and didn't make anything traif it would be ok. So he did. At the last minute I decided that being pudding-less was a bad idea so I whipped up some caramel oranges which turned out surprisingly well.
Anyway, there's me being distracted by food again. The point of this entry was to say that on my way home last night I was suddenly stricken by a belief that these friends would announce today that the wife, P., is pregnant. M and P met three months after we did, got engaged 2 months after we did, moved in together 2 months after we did, and got married 2 months after we did. So I decided that since the universe is good at throwing these kind of curve balls, they would undoubtedly be pregnant having started trying 2 months after we did.
I freaked out a bit, and my lovely husband managed to calm me down. He called M on a pretext about something else, and managed to elicit the information that P is not pregnant. He didn't ask if they were trying, so I've no idea if this is ok by them or something that they're finding hard. My guess is the former since she is much younger than me (around 30 I think) and they spoke excitedly about a trip to Indonesia this summer which I don't think they'd be planning if they were trying.
I don't know how I would have coped if they were pregnant. I teared up just thinking about it last night. I know that's mean and irrational but there you go, I guess that's just where I am right now. Perhaps it's being compounded by a little Passover stress. Contemplating the next 8 days full of Matzah doesn't fill me with joy, but there you go. It's even worse for H. because he's such a bread addict. I've bought some matzah meal which I don't usually do so I'm going to see what I can make from Evelyn Rose's cook book that will help get him through next week.
In the meantime I need to go and get changed before we head over to my cousin's house for Seder. Happy Pesach to everyone, I hope your Seder this evening goes well. And if you're not the Seder kind, I hope your Saturday evening is a lovely one.
I'm getting a tad pissed off with Nigella. Too many recipes recently have had problems. I think I mentioned that the muffin recipes in How to be a Domestic Goddess invariably make less than they say they will. In addition, the banana muffin recipe makes horrible tasting muffins - tough and tasteless. I tried them this morning and they were nasty. I think it may be the lack of egg. I've been googling for all I'm worth and I have yet to find a non-egg containing muffin recipe, even if it specifies egg whites or egg substitute. I have made these before but I think I must have added an egg without thinking as they were quite edible, if not actually delicious.
So the first batch went in the bin, and after extensive googling I found a recipe that had been rated highly by others, and was incredibly simple, so I decided to go for it. They are delicious. Lovely and crispy on the outside, warm and lightly chewy and banana-y on the inside. H. is very happy.
It's a beautiful day but I need to work. H. is not happy about that but is taking it well. But as usual I'm finding it hard to get going. Once I've posted this I have no more excuses as H. has now settled down to a long afternoon of watching live Moto GP. He rides bikes whenever he can, and loves to dream that he is Valentino Rossi. I think Valentino Rossi is cute, but looks a bit babyish. I'd rather have H.
Two major attempts at cooking today. One blueberry pancakes, one banana cake.
The former were nearly a disaster. I used Nigella's recipe from How to be a domestic goddess, and my recommendation to you, dear reader, is don't. I thought it was odd while I was mixing the batter that she uses only baking powder, and no bicarb. And indeed, chemistry will out and the bloody things stayed as flat as, well, a pancake. So I speedily looked up my favourite recipe from It's all American Food, and realised that yes, american-style pancakes should have both bicarb and baking powder, and actually more sugar than Nigella recommends (I never thought I'd say that, Nigella usually makes things too sweet I think). So I added a slug of bicarb and sugar to the remaining batter, mixed well, and lo and behold, the pancakes rose. My husband had four large ones and declared them delicious. I had two and declared them too sweet, but you live and learn. The best thing about them was the way the blueberries exploded as they cooked. Yum.
The banana cake was my best yet. It too is a recipe from how to be a domestic goddess, and luckily I've learnt from experience to reduce the sugar somewhat and not to melt the butter. The first time I made it I melted the butter and then tried to mix in the sugar, and nothing happened. For a really long time. Until I gave in and started again with solid, room temperature butter. Don't know what Nigella was thinking.
I also beat the butter and sugar for a really really long time. I feel good doing this because I now understand cake chemistry. I kept finding that my cake mixture would start to curdle when I added the eggs, no matter how room temperature they were. So I went off googling and found The Joy of Cooking which explains what is going on.
At the point where the butter and sugar mixture is light and fluffy, room temperature eggs are added. (The use of cold eggs will reduce the volume of your finished cake. ) You may have noticed that there may be curdling of the batter at this stage. This is particularly so when the recipe is for a high-ratio cake (see below). This is caused by the addition of more liquid (eggs) than the batter can handle at one time. Once the flour has been added it will smooth out the batter so don't worry. One solution is to add the eggs to the batter more slowly as opposed to one egg at a time as most recipes state. Lightly beating each egg first and then slowly adding the egg down the side of the bowl as the mixer is running will help. If you see curdling, stop adding the egg and beat the batter a little to smooth it out before continuing the addition of more egg
So that explained my curdling problem. The site also provided this:
The creaming of the butter and sugar produces air bubbles in the fat created by the rubbing of the sugar crystals against the fat. These holes will get larger and multiply as you continue beating. Starting on low speed and then gradually increasing the speed allows the air bubbles to form and strengthen. Starting at too high a speed could damage or break the fragile air bubbles which will cause the finished cake to be heavy with a compact texture. The goal is to have maximum aeration, that is, lots of air bubbles in the fat. A well aerated batter means a cake with good volume and a soft crumb.
So I creamed for a long time, then I beat my eggs together before slowly dribbling them in, and look ma, no curdling! I also added orange zest and a few drops of orange oil to the recipe. It turned out perfect and has made H very happy.
I've done my work for the day, and am about to go to the gym. At least since I'm not pregnant I can push myself on the treadmill without fear (or excuse). Today I'm not despairing. Not happy, but ok.
Well, if you read the previous entry you'll have had a hint that we're staying somewhere rather nice for Easter, which also happens to be my husband, H.'s, birthday. This rather nice place has a one-star Michelin restaurant where I'd booked a table for Saturday night. The other nights, I thought, we'd eat at their smaller, Spanish-style restaurant. Well, it turns out that on all nights but Sunday the one-star Michelin is the only restaurant that's open. And the hotel is a way out of town so we haven't felt like getting a car in to find a less serious place. So by Monday, suffice it to say, we'll be very fat. Not the least because since it's the first time since we met that Easter doesn't coincide with Passover, so part of H's birthday present is a rather lovely Easter Egg from La Maison du Chocolat.
But oh, the food. So far we've resisted the tasting menu, we'll have that tonight. But even without the tasting menu they bring you at least 6 different dishes before you get to the starter. On the first night these included caremelised seaweed paper, a quail egg coated with a salty caremel coat, and little balls of maize powder flavoured with chilli. Last night they included tiny mandarin jellies, caramelised slices of grapefruit, praline covered in nuts which had been dipped in salt first so that the whole effect was savoury rather than sweet. The food comes from the El Bulli near Barcelona, the one that they laugh at you if you try and get a table any time for the next 12 months. The chef here studied there and is producing food originally created at the original restaurant. It's really delicious.
The best thing, though, about staying here, is the breakfasts. They use the same tasting type approach. So when you sit down you are offered tea, coffee or chocolate. Then a basket of baked goods - five different ones including this morning tiny croissants, local cream-cheese filled pastries, mini doughtnus, and muffin-type fruit cakes. To go with these then arrive a plate with six tiny containers - one butter flavoured with coffee, one butter flavoured with strawberry, one cream cheese flavoured with chives, one banana compote, one praline, and one pumpkin jam.
Oh, and I've forgotten that by now you've also received four shot glasses, each with a different juice. This morning they were carrot with orange (I didn't like it - tasted a bit chemically), cherry with blackcurrant, apple with basil (absolutely marvellous) and mango with passionfruit. When all that is gone you get a second plate with five tiny portions of loveliness. This morning it was whipped yogurt (I think it must be whipped with egg white - it tastes distinctly yogurty but with an amazingly light texture), at the bottom of which was a teaspoonfull of white chocolate mousse, a vanilla mousse topped with lemon jelly, a tiny teacup full of an orange soup with tiny chopped pieces of mango, celery and lemongrass, a teacup of mixed red fruits, and some bananas flavoured with coffee.
Just when you think you've died and gone to heaven they give you the savoury menu which includes local anchovies with basil oil, or smoked salmon with aniseed. Today I had scrambled egg with tiny slivers of tender baby garlic and spring onions. And then I cried because breakfast will never be better than this.
Now I need to get ready for our evening of the tasting menu. Wish my stomach luck!
Today my brother was supposed to come for a late lunch. He is always late so we assumed when he said two o'clock, if we cooked for three o'clock it would be ok. So my husband ran around yesterday, bought a lovely joint of organic lamb, the accompanying vegetables etc.. This morning I searched on line for a great dessert recipe which would allow me to use up the seville oranges we bought in a fit of optimism 10 days ago, largely because Nigella always goes on about how wonderful they are.
Two things have gone wrong. First, it's now nearly 5 o'clock and my brother isn't here. We have eaten, although my husband is now really pissed off re lack of respect etc. But the thing that's really upsetting me (apart from the fact that I have a full days work to do and I haven't started it yet), is that I've now tried twice to make seville orange curd, and have failed both times. The first time, the eggs curdled and it wasn't my fault. My husband reached underneath me to get the lamb out of the oven to braise it, and the steam from the lamb hit my pan and poof! curdled eggs.
This led to a crying fit where the words "can't create life, can't even create pudding" were heard. Let no one say I can't make a drama out of life's little set-backs.
After a shower, and a read of the new novel by my favourite author, just released yesterday, I had recovered enough to think that it was worth a second try given the lifetime's supply of Seville oranges we have lying around. So again I measured and zested and chopped and squeezed and beat everything together. I had everything set up well, including a bowl of ice as recommended by Nigella in case things started to go wrong. Unfortunately the mixture was too big for our wedding-present double boiler, so I assembled a make-shift one of a big mixing bowl over a saucepan of water. I suddenly realised that the water was about to boil, let go of the mixing bowl to turn the heat down and the steam rose up from the side of the saucepan, hit the side of the bowl, and....the eggs curdled. I tried the ice trick but it was too late. Bugger. And it all looked so lovely and even had started to taste lovely - sharp orange taste, smooth buttery taste, little bite of the zest. Yum. This time I was able to laugh about it at least, as I poured my lovely-tasting but disgusting-looking mixture down the sink.
The good news is I recovered enough to make a pavlova out of the remaining egg whites and that looks pretty good. Sunk but good. My husband is looking forward to it. But I know that this is just the evil disintegration of my ability to create anything taking hold on my cooking skills. It's a good thing I don't cook most evenings as I get home too late, or my husband would be poisoned by now.