Just Like Mama Used to Make…My Top 5 Comfort Meals

As I touched upon in a previous post, pregnancy comes with it’s fair share of changes. In my case, second to waking up four to five times a night to go to the toilet is my new found appetite.

I say new found, but it’s always been there lurking away in the background. I go through phases with my diet. For instance, for the months leading up to falling pregnant I was a follower of the Raw diet, which you can read about here. It’s not for everyone, but it worked for me. I felt good, I had more energy, I lost a healthy amount of weight (and apparently became extra fertile in the process). Then there is the other half of my diet. The little demon that most of us have, telling me that just one more slice of cake can’t stick to my hips that badly. I’ll just do that extra ten minutes on the run tomorrow. Ten minutes later, a whole Battenburg down and dribbling of remorse, it doesn’t seem like such a great idea, does it?

I to and fro with my diet, I’ve never been able to quite get it down to a T. Being pregnant has of course accentuated my cravings for certain foods. Among sour sweets and ice pops, my main cravings are for my mothers home cooked meals. There’s something comforting about not just the food, but the care that goes into preparing them.

My mother is one of nine siblings in an Irish Catholic family. My grandmother, a good god fearing woman has had her fair share of culinary blunders. There was the time when we realized her mash potatoes were so awful because she didn’t know you had to drain the potatoes first. There was the occasion when she made vol au vents for my mothers birthday…instead of using puff pastry she used big Yorkshire puddings for the prawns. Then we have the ongoing battle of the tuna sandwich. We’re still debating how to tell her that you have to drain the sunflower oil out of the tuna first.

I don’t quite understand where my mother has gained her culinary prowess from, but I thought I would share with you my top 5 favourite comfort home cooked meals.

1. Boiled Bacon, Cabbage and Potatoes

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If my mother ever wants to see me, the only three words she has to utter are Bacon, Cabbage and Potatoes. It’s like magic- through hell and high water I’ll be there in ten minutes flat. Hell, you can just say Bacon and I’ll pretty much appear in a puff of smoke salivating. You can get an easy to follow recipe from the lovely people at BBC Good Food here.

2. Bubble and Squeak 

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Okay, so not the prettiest dish- but what a classic. With the state of the economy at the moment, who can afford to throw out leftovers anyway?! Try Nigel Slater’s painfully quick recipe. For a nice twist, throw some mature cheddar in there too.  Be warned, this does not flip as easily as a pancake. I should know.

3. Shepard’s Pie

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Rivaled only by the great Tuna Pasta Bake. The comfort in this dish is almost second to none, especially after a long day or in place of the family Sunday roast. Or on a Monday after the kids have been swimming…or a Tuesday…why not every day?! This dish has everything you want, vegetables, meat and potatoes. Traditionally this English dish is made with lamb mince, although my mother does it the ‘American’ way, with beef mince, perhaps due to spending a few years in Texas. Whatever your preference, Jamie Oliver has a great How-To right here.

4.Tuna Pasta Bake

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How did you know that was coming next? This is a great dish for any family. It’s quick, it’s easy and incredibly filling- also great if you’re on a budget, hence being the staple diet of many a student. One tip I’ve picked up from my mother is to avoid the in the jar sauces, especially the ones that say the pasta doesn’t need to be pre-boiled. They never work and you end up with a mouthful of charred pasta akin to glass that will also poke a hole in your culinary ego. I like mine with lots of cheese. If you want a good tip to give it that extra crunch, try crushing up some cheese and onion crisps and sprinkling over the top. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! You can get the basic recipe from Sainsbury’s here.

5. Chicken and Mushroom Pie 

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Anyone else starting to notice a carbalicious theme here? Next to Bacon, anything to do with pastry is pretty much a dead cert way of getting my ass at the dinner table. Just last night I had a dream about these delightfully light little puffs of deliciousness. I know pregnant women salivate more than usual, but really… I have had a love affair with pie since an early age, although I shamefully admit that I have never been quite able to master the pie power. My mother on the other hand, can bake pies in her sleep. I do however make a damn good cake and that works out pretty well as she can’t do a fondant to save her bacon. There’s something about James Martin’s pie recipe that makes me think I may just be able to pull something that vaguely resembles this mouthwatering picture together.

So, there you have it. What are your top 5 comfort home cooked meals? I’d love to know. Now, what’s for dessert?

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Another Link in the Daisy Chain

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When I was little my mother used to take me to the park nearest to where we lived.

We would sit on the grass and play my favourite game- Cinderella. I was always Cinderella of course- my mother still is a bit sore about having to always be the ugly sister (seriously, she always states the unfairness of my childhood games. After all, can’t adults get a good part?)

I just loved to play Cinderella. Weather it was helping with the dishes or at these instances in the park, slaving away at making endless daisy chains for my ugly stepsister to wear at the ball. In these moments, I was happiest.

Those daisy chains. They’ve haunted me ever since- in the best way. I love them. I have a deep rooted loyalty to these little pops of flowers with their delicately juicy stems and happy yellow hearts, to their beautiful halos of white. They will always hold a pride of place in my memory, taking me back to those long summer days with the gentle lift of breeze. In these moments I had my mother all to myself. I greedily gobbled up these times. In these moments, she wasn’t my stepfathers wife or my brothers mother. She was this beautiful entity of motherly love that was entirely and implicitly mine.

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These stolen moments, whilst we waited to pick my brother up from big school, or took time out before a doctors appointment to laze in the shade, I think were the makings of our bond. Don’t get me wrong, as the years ticked by and my hormones raged on we fought like cat and dog. Spatulas were thrown, rooms were wrecked in a pubescent rage, mountains shook and the wrath was felt. There were times when we felt more uncomfortable in each others company than Tiger Woods defending his fidelity.

But in another surge of time, things pass and subside. Normal service is resumed. The unthinkable happened- I grew up. I’m proud to say that my mother is my best friend. In fact, she can’t get rid of me. I call her one, two, three times a day for absolutely no reason other than to be comforted by her voice. That’s not to say we don’t have our moments- we do. We are both of a fiery disposition which sometimes leads to us burning holes in each other, but the constant is always there.

We went for a walk today and chose a spot on the grass in a patch of daisies. I made chains, letting my bump soak up the sun. Instead of playing Cinderella we spoke about life- mainly the new one growing inside of me. Where we would hold the christening, who we would invite, what she would wear…what she is going to look like. Having this moment with her to sit and do nothing was priceless, being able to sit side by side  (not just two but almost three) made me even more excited to meet my daughter.

My mother ate as I plugged on at this daisy chain, adding the links systematically.

I am a bundle of hormones, from good to bad- with a big dollop of excited thrown in.

I’m looking forward to meeting the new link in our chain…we’ll love her right from the centre of our bright yellow daisy hearts- although I may hide the kitchen utensils for the next 18 years just to be on the safe side.