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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Raising Hell

My nephew is a godsend. He is the most beautiful little cherubic 3 year old with chubby Raphaelian little cheeks and curly yellow  hair that you will ever meet (of course, I’m not biased at all- how dare you suggest such a thing.)

My brother has him two days a week whilst Brandon’s mother has him full time, and since my brother is staying with me at the moment I get to see quite a lot of my favourite little person. As with most 3 year olds, he is a ball of non stop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle loving energy. It’s quite a sight to behold, him jumping over nothing but air, using belts as lifelines to save me from the sofa which is clearly not a sofa at all, but a dangerous life threatening precipice.

When he is here with us, or with my mother he is well behaved- all be it slightly mischievous. He doesn’t hit, he doesn’t shout. He doesn’t push his luck and he is full of sweet innocent one liners. Recently it was his birthday, I took it upon myself to make him a cake from scratch. He was overjoyed. At least I like to think it was joy causing those tears in his eyes and not absolute fear of this blue and white monster of a being with a flame on it’s head lurching toward him whilst everyone did in the room did this strange ritualistic chant.

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We had been at the zoo all day, my nephew, my brother, our parents and I. It was a lovely day. He looked at the Meerkats and was a joy really.

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Seeing him for these periods of time- the high points, the weekends were we do fun things and take him to fun places, I had never really thought how it was when he was at home with his mother. It didn’t occur to me that his behaviour would change or that he would be different to how we see him. I realise now that it was extremely ignorant of me to think that he would be as cherubic as he is with us all of the time. An unfair expectation to say the least- he is a 3 year old boy after all.

There have been a couple of times in the recent weeks that I have been to see Brandon at his mothers house. Cue Jekyll and Hyde toddler tantrums, fist throwing and leg kicking awe. It’s all ‘I want to watch’, ‘I need this’, ‘Stop doing that!’. I’d like to say at this point that Brandon’s mother is a good mother. She is hardworking, she tries hard to give him all the things he wants. His attitude with her is  ‘If I keep shouting, she will give me what I want.’Clearly a tried and tested method, at the end of her tether she will usually give in. She knows that she is a master of her own demise but is stuck in a relentless loop.

It’s not for me to question how she disciplines him- it’s not my place and it would be inappropriate. My main point is that this must be a very common problem among broken families. Whilst the full time parent is there on the day to day school run basis, the everyday days of life, the ‘part-time’ parent often has the time and the opportunity to have the fun days, the zoo and swimming days, the cinema days.

If I look back on my own early childhood, I recall much more vividly the weekends and the smiles and laughter I shared with my father as he made the most of his precious time with me. I do remember good times with my mother- but fewer stick out in my mind.

It can’t be easy to be the consistent one, the one who is there to remind them to do their homework or brush their teeth, or the one who works a lot in order to provide a good life, at the expense of quality time.

This isn’t to say that both sides don’t have their downfalls. I know my brother would give anything to be there to put Brandon to bed every night and wish him good morning. It seems to me this single parent gig is a double edged sword, no matter what side of it you are on.

As I’m 3 months away from embarking on this journey myself, I can only say one thing.

I hope these are tears of joy in my eyes and not fear!

The Cats Out of the Bag

 

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What can I say. I’m obsessed with cats. I’m surely not the only one to have been in love with these little balls of fluff since an early age. Whether it’s cat pictures, cat videos, cat memes, the sound of cats, the feel of cats…I am just a nutjob for our feline friends.

I have been graced with a couple of furry companions in my life.

The king of them all was Nelson, a beautiful brown tabby cat who we adopted when I was merely a kitten of 4 myself. Nelson was one of a kind. A classic tom cat with a chip on his shoulder and a holier than thou attitude. Did I care one bit that I was drastically allergic to my new best friend?

Not a whisker. He was my partner in crime. We cuddled together, sneezed together and plotted the demise of my elder brother together. He was priceless and irreplaceable. Unfortunately Nelson left me in the summer of 2000, after falling victim to the big C. Sleep tight, brother.

After that, I felt as though there was a void that couldn’t possibly be replaced. My mother for one swore never to let another paw step foot in the house again. A promise she kept to this day. (She did however attempt to keep budgies, which perished at the bottom of the cage after a failed attempt at coitus. It was a tragic affair worthy of Shakespeare himself).

Nelson definitely left one thing undying behind him. He had ignited in me a lifelong passion for these animals. As I previously mentioned, it is merely an inconvenience that I am terribly allergic. A cruel twist of fate that sees me sneeze painfully in succession until my brain threatens to dribble out of my nose, and my eyes itch to the point of blindess. Do I let this stop me from going googly over every pretty kitty I meet? Hell no.

In just over two weeks time me and my little girl bump will be greeting a new feline friend into the bosom of our family. Meet Dot.

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The only white kitty in an otherwise jet black litter. I’m sure Dot and I will get on famously.

Apart from taking this post as what it clearly is- a crazed rambling confession of love for cats- I guess you could also take a higher meaning from it if you were so inclined.

Sometimes you need to suffer a little to get the good things in life. Even if it means you will be on Benadryl for the rest of your life.

Paws out, kitten lovers.