Mushrooms, mindfulness and multitasking

I took down my copy of Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef from the shelf this evening. When it was printed back in 1999, Jamie was a fresh-faced TV chef fond of sliding down the banisters of his trendy London flat and zooming around on his moped.  I was a newlywed girl with a kitchen full of beautiful new stainless steel cooking equipment and Denby crockery carefully unpacked from our wedding gift boxes.  Nothing gave me greater pleasure in those days (and still does) than leafing through my recipe books and planning something delicious to cook for my husband.

I wanted to make risotto today.  The cold air has returned and a bowl of something rich, warming and simple seemed fitting.  I chose mushrooms, thyme, parsley and garlic to flavour the creamy arborio rice.

The real secret of a good risotto, I’m afraid, is that you have to stand over it and give it your loving and undivided attention for about 17 minutes, but it’s worth it. (The Naked Chef p.170)

Undivided attention.  I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit recently as I read about mindfulness practice and mindful parenting.  I’m part way through Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn’s Everyday Blessings and am finding myself really challenged to give my full attention to my daughters in our everyday moments together.

Back to the risotto – how did I get on with the ‘loving and undivided attention’ it needed? The recipe calls on the cook to add the stock ladle by ladle over 17-20 minutes. Each time a ladleful is added, you stir smoothly and continuously until the stock is absorbed. Over time this gently and slowly swells the rice giving the risotto its creamy texture.  Here is what actually happened after each addition of stock…  I clearly still have some way to go in practising everyday mindfulness!

Ladle 1 – stir, clear up the vegetable peelings, realise the food waste bin has a gross blob of Weetabix inside the lid, take off the lid and wash it, tie up the food bin bag (in between nipping to and from the hob to stir)

Ladle 2 – stir, turn the heat down, kiss husband hello, look at Little One’s picture, ask Eldest to put some TV on for Little One and please set the table

Ladle 3 – stir, shove cardboard for recycling into the cupboard, stir for a little while and enjoy the waft of white wine and celery rising from the pan, congratulate myself on a moment of mindful attention (!)

Ladle 4 – stir, think about this blog (!) and make a mental list for the grocery shop tomorrow

Ladle 5 – stir, wipe the table and kitchen surfaces, look at Little One’s house-point certificate from school

Ladle 6 – stir, chop parsley in a cup with scissors, taste the rice to see if it’s cooked, wish that I was better at just staying still and paying attention to the risotto

Ladle 7 – stir, think about what I’m going to cook for the rest of the week, grate cheese and put it on the table, shout the family to tell them dinner’s ready

Although in many ways this is a funny example, it really got me thinking about how my modus operandi is multitasking.  I have this idea brewing…  What about using a 17-minute ‘risotto space’ to practise just stopping for a while to give what I’m doing my full and undivided attention?  Little One loves to play ‘babies’ – but we often need to set a timer to help her understand when the game has finished and mummy needs to do the next thing. Why not set a timer for 17 minutes and be fully present, holding a baby doll and changing its clothes, watching my Little One smile up at me, listening to her little names for the dolls, being grateful that she loves to nurture?  Could I manage a 17-minute cup of peppermint tea with no smartphone, no agenda? How about 17 minutes to sit down with Eldest and hear about her day, or look through our baking recipes together?

I do want to make a risotto without multitasking.  I want to create and enjoy moments where I am fully present with my girls and my husband.  Life means that there won’t always be 17 minutes of uninterrupted bliss, but maybe there will be 17 minutes to live just that bit slower and more purposefully.

Recovery recipes

Gallant Husband is having a few weeks learning how to be an invalid after hernia surgery.  Little One has been surprisingly understanding about his ‘tummy holes’ from the keyhole surgery and is refraining from using him as a human climbing frame! Eldest is teasing him about his shuffle and uniform of pyjamas…

We’ve had a couple of delicious meals focusing on protein for muscle repair (!) so I thought I’d share them with you

Spiced roast chicken with vegetable freekeh

  • 1 free range chicken
  • Salt, garlic powder, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper
  • 100g freekeh (green wheat)
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 1 red pepper
  • bunch radishes, diced
  • green beans, finely sliced

Roast the chicken coated in the spices for 1-2 hours depending on size

Take the chicken out of the oven to rest

Deglaze the chicken roasting tin with a glass of white wine

Pour in the vegetable stock

Cook the freekeh with the stock for 15 minutes

Meanwhile, steam the green beans and sear the red pepper over a hob flame

When the freekeh is cooked, drain and reserve the cooking stock for gravy

Stir the roasted red pepper, steamed beans and radishes into the freekeh and serve with the roast chicken

Lamb and pearled spelt hotpot

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 500g minced lamb
  • handful pearled spelt or pearled barley
  • 3 sticks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • vegetable stock cube
  • worcestershire sauce
  • soy sauce
  • herbes de provence
  • 2 large potatoes, thinly sliced

Fry the onion, celery and pepper in olive oil over a medium heat for 10 minutes

Brown the lamb along with the vegetables, and add the vegerable stock, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and herbs

Stir in the pearled spelt or pearled barley and bring to the boil

Top with sliced potatoes and bake in a low oven for 1.5 hours

Barefoot in the kitchen

With my trusty ancient copy of Cordon Rouge in hand, I’ve spent a peaceful afternoon cooking today.  A dear friend is going away on holiday and I wanted to make something delicious for her to take to the cottage.  I’ve been practising ‘slowment’ as I cook, a concept shared with me by a wonderful colleague from my Rethink days.  Bare feet touching the floor, I’ve taken the time to dice the vegetables slowly and purposefully, enjoying every sensation.  With accompaniment from Molten Meditation it’s felt a very Zen way to cook, in comparison with my normal flurry of pots and pans.  It’s a rare treat for me to take time out to cook without Little One tangled around my feet asking if she can help out!

The Cordon Rouge cookbook came from a (sadly now departed) cafe called The Red Herring from my Newcastle Uni days. The vegetarian and vegan food there was out of this world, and the whole place ran on ‘love, pure love’ as a worker’s co-operative.  When I cook one of their recipes it instantly transports me back to the feeling of wellbeing and comfort promoted by the delicious food and the staff.  Recently, I’ve found my goodgirlgapyear solution to Red Herring nostalgia; Herbies vegetarian cafe in Exeter.  The most fantastic dhal and delicious salads, an incredibly warm welcome (especially for Little One) and free cakes with a drink before 12pm.  It’s the perfect way to round off my day when I pop into Exeter for yoga.

What did I cook while barefoot in the kitchen?  Well that’s a surprise for my special friend.  If you love veggie food, I’d definitely recommend treating yourself to a copy of this legendary book. x

A spring supper

Thought you might like this, a very green ‘speltotto’ recipe to celebrate the joys of late spring.

1 red onion

2 cloves garlic

250g pearled spelt

1 litre chicken stock

1 glass white wine

bunch asparagus, sliced into 3 cm pieces

3 courgettes, grated

pecorino or parmesan cheese

1 tsp lemon thyme

  • fry the onion and garlic over a low heat for 5-10 mins
  • add a glass of wine and the spelt, simmer til absorbed
  • add half the chicken stock, the lemon thyme and simmer til absorbed
  • meanwhile, fry the courgettes and asparagus with a pinch of salt
  • add the remaining half of the chicken stock to the spelt
  • when absorbed, mix the spelt and vegetables together
  • serve with pecorino or parmesan

Yum x