The travels on my plate.

There are some advantages to the Doctor in the house being away. Which he is, a lot.

Mealtimes are just for me. Fishfinger sandwiches were one of the first things I ever wrote about on here.

Last night however, was a bit more elaborate. I enjoy my food, relish strong flavours and sometimes a meal can take me somewhere else completely in my head. Yesterday evening had me eating tofu with ginger, pak choi and jasmine rice. It was delicious. The recipe called for Sake, and the heady scent of plums, or is it cherries, took me straight to a Japanese snow covered mountainside.

Somewhere like this...

Somewhere like this…

I have never been to Japan and one day I would love to go. When the silence closes in around me, when the children have gone to bed and the quietness of the house hangs around me like a cloak, I think of places I have been to or might go to in the future. Those ‘glamorous getaways’ that I am sent emails about and that I can only sigh at before pressing the delete button.

Cooking has never been quite the same for me since I had children. My eldest son, at nine, is convinced that most food is actually poisonous. Black bits, green bits, fatty bits, lumpy bits? All qualify food for instant rejection. Don’t even mention fruit. Don’t even talk about it.

Then there is my daughter, who will gnaw on bits of meat like some kind of warrior queen. Provide her with a piece of steak that looks so rare that it is possible that the cow only just walked past the frying pan before ending up on the plate, and you will be greeted with a beatific smile. The little one is somewhere in between the two of them. I can never, ever, make them all happy at once.

Sometimes I like to forget the need to take a deep breath before putting a family meal on the table. Instead of waiting for a vote out of ten, or a thumbs up or down, I will eat a Thai curry with creamy coconut and the twang of kaffir lime leaves, remembering the time I spent in Bangkok in my twenties.

I will smell the rich enveloping fragrance of a lemony, buttery roast chicken and recall Sunday lunches for fourteen at my Grandma’s house, getting slightly tipsy on homemade ginger beer, and being allowed whipped cream from a can on my ice-cream for pudding.

Hand me a paper parcel of fat golden chips and freshly battered cod and I will be instantly transported to a pebbly Suffolk beach, on holiday, the sea so far away from where I am now.

I can’t wait until my children really start to love their food all the time, as sometimes they show me they do. They are missing out. In a world full of diet shakes, calorie counting and low fat, low taste, are you?

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The Greenhouse

One of the things I love in life, and won’t scrimp on, is food. My theory is that since you never know what is going to happen next, there’s no point in wasting the time you have and it’s the smallest things that often make the difference. For example, if you can afford it, why eat what my mum used to call ‘plastic bread’ (the sliced white kind that weirdly lasts about two weeks before it goes off), when you can pay a little bit more and really enjoy eating an amazing piece of sourdough, a slice of kalamata olive loaf or a freshly torn off wedge of baguette. As you can tell, I’m clearly never going to survive on the Atkins diet. In fact diets in general upset me. You are never going to persuade me to eat fat free yoghurt, diet Coke, margarine, or any other fake food; especially when it doesn’t even taste good.

I am fussy about restaurants. If I could cook something perfectly well at home, I don’t understand why I should pay someone three times the price to make it for me when I’m out. I dutifully attended my husband’s aunt’s 70th birthday party at the weekend. It was a happy occasion but the hotel where we ate was stuck somewhere in the 1970s. As I scanned the menu, I almost spat out my Chardonnay at the mention of an orange juice option. There is no reason why ‘natural fruit juice’ should appear on the menu as a starter, anywhere, ever, in the year 2013. I suppose we should have been grateful it was natural though, as I wouldn’t have liked to try the unnatural sort.  The meal was fine, my children ate it (mostly) but it was equivalent to eating a British school dinner. Boring, a bit heavy, it smacked of mass catering. There was no joy evident in the making of it and yes I could have cooked something better myself.

I contrast this with The Greenhouse, which I had the very rare opportunity of eating in two days ago. This is not a restaurant you would find by chance. Hidden down a little Mews street in an exclusive area of London, you suddenly come across a path bordered by clumps of bamboo, their tall green leaves waving in the breeze. The feeling is as though you are about to enter a spa not a restaurant. As you wander in, already feeling relaxed, you are met by waiting staff who seem to have been born in charm school. They are knowledgeable, polite, friendly and warm but not overbearing. They seem to love their jobs. It is waiting staff as waiting staff are meant to be. I want to bring their trainer home and get him to educate my children. Are you sensing my rapture about this place yet? 

Then there’s the food. I took a few pictures but since I only had my phone, most didn’t come out very well. So you will have to imagine the the tandoori Highland scallops with green asparagus, ginger and lemon. However, I’ll allow you a glimpse of the line caught sea bass with yuzu, chlorophyll herbs and polenta.20130416_132636 (2) 
One picture my friend took really does show what I am talking about.

 What came with coffee

Like something out of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory,  this is more than food, it’s art. The chef who made this has passion for what he does. Every dish is beautiful, every mouthful a flavour bomb. I don’t believe in doing things without putting in 100%. Clearly he doesn’t either. I’m not one of those people lucky enough to be able to afford to eat in this kind of place very often but maybe I don’t want to as I don’t ever want to take this kind of opportunity for granted.  The memory will keep me happy for weeks.

In praise of the fishfinger sandwich.

I’ve been parenting solo this week. This will be the second week this month. As my husband would say ‘we’ve had a bad run of it’. This is the nature of his job and I’ve had to get used to it. As the children have got older, it has got easier; they don’t wake up in the night, they don’t cry themselves to sleep because daddy isn’t there and they are confident he will come home again.  As another local mother whose husband is often only there at weekends once said to me, ‘you get into a routine’. And you do.  I try to keep things as ‘same as usual’ as I can, making sure they still get  to football training, brownies, cubs and swimming. Even more so than normal, as in an average month I do allow myself to drop the ball occasionally. We don’t speak about dad much while he’s away. There’s a huge elephant in the room – but we’re ignoring it.

What I’m not great at though on these occasions, is looking after myself. I love food and I’m fussy about restaurants. But when I’ve just spent the last half an hour making three packed lunches, I can’t be bothered to whip up a gourmet meal for one.

Packed lunches – I hate them. I made my own lunch every day from when I was 14 years old.  Opening my lunchbox at school, I always wished I would find something other than a badly made door step sandwich (mum didn’t do sliced bread), oily with peanut butter, slightly squashed and sweating under the clingfilm.  I don’t know what I was expecting but somehow I always hoped that the packed lunch fairy might have been and furnished me with something slightly more interesting, having utilised better presentation skills.  Whipped goats cheese with sun dried tomato and a few rocket leaves maybe?

So when there are two of us at home, I make an effort. I don’t eat meat so the traditional (and easier) meat and two veg are out.  Mr N once ate guinea pig in Peru, I’m pretty sure he’s tried haggis and we’ve shared deep fried chilli crickets in Mexico so he’s not afraid of a few lentils and an experimental beetroot risotto.  But when you’re by yourself, it’s late and you’re tired, this kind of meal just isn’t going to cut it. There have to be some advantages of being by yourself.  Green and Blacks white chocolate and wine for dinner probably being one of them. Sometimes I just go to the fridge and gather together what is in there. It is picnicking in your own home and normally it wouldn’t be allowed. When I want something a little more nutritionally balanced though, I don’t think you can beat the fishfinger sandwich.  It’s the only time I ever eat ketchup but it’s delicious, reminds me of my student days and is somehow comforting. Go on, you know you want to.

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