Best Laid Plans – Growing It Myself

here’s hoping

I’m quite excited.  In January the storms came, the wind huffed and puffed and blew our fences down.  State of our garden!  Weirdly the neighbours have a fence backing right on to ours (still upright), and in-between there’s the original low metal fences that ran between the houses.The man of the house dismantled all the wonky panels and left all the parts, nails and all piled up just outside the back door.  The weather has started to improve and I’m dying to let the kids run free out there but it’s a health hazard right now.

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Jumping the kale bandwagon: healthy fried rice with kale & spring onions

Just call me Gwyneth, the high priestess of worthy eating herself.  I bought 2 bags of kale last week, for the first time in my life.  I went to trusty twitter to find out what to do with them, forgetting to mention I don’t have a juicing contraption so green smoothies and juices are pretty much out.  I learned that it can take the place of spinach in most things, so that set me on the right path.   But also, kale crisps.  Crisps is an overstatement, but I ate a 250g bag of kale in 2 days that way.

Then I go to write up this post only to find that this very weeks Irish Times magazine has a write up on the Superfood Du Jour.  The health benefits are outlined as below, pretty impressive I reckon you’ll agree:

A single cup of chopped kale is estimated to contain 134 per cent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C – and 206 per cent of the recommended intake of vitamin A. That’s not quite as impressive as the 684 per cent of vitamin K. So kale delivers vitamins A, C and K, copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorous and lots of alpha-linoleic acid, which is good for the brain. The same cup of kale contains just 33 calories. 

I couldn’t just buy kale for snacking, and there was no selling them as ‘crissups’ to a 4 year old boy so I found this lovely Gwyneth Paltrow recipe on the Red website – Healthy Fried Rice with Kale & Spring Onions

So the original article declares that the Paltrow-Martin children call this green rice, which I think is stating the obvious on their behalf, and they couldn’t really claim any copyright to what is just in essence a statement of fact rather than some sort of creative naming on their part.  In fact I’d say give my 1 year old another couple of months and he’ll come up with that one himself.

Image:  Ellen Silverman/Red Online

Image: Ellen Silverman/Red Online

Scoffing at celebrity children (or rather the media portrayal of) aside, this really is delicious.  It packs a punch as a light meal in itself, but I served with with some quorn pieces baked in pesto and creme fraiche. To be honest I was afraid the rice would be entirely rejected.  It was eyed with suspicion by Dominic who doesn’t like you to tell him he’s having something he knows and likes (rice) and then fill it full of something else (kale). But he ate it happily enough after a fashion.  Teddy attacked it with gusto, and was the recipient of the leftovers for lunch the next day too.

I would say that kale is a little faffy to prepare.  So if you can at all trim the leaf from the stem during nap time/before work/while kids are at school/the night before.  You do not want to be doing it with a small child screaming for their grub.  After you’ve worked through a bag with a  kitchen scissors (way easier than a knife), then it just works like spinach but takes a little longer.

If you’re worried about offering your children something you don’t think they’ll eat, here’s how I approach it.

  • You’re not allowed say you don’t like something if you haven’t tried it.
  • There isn’t alternatives offered.  I may, in this instance, give the tricky customer a serving that has a bit more plain rice, and a bit less kale, to entice them in.  Or in an easier scenario than this, keep the new ingredient a bit separate so it can be just sampled then eaten around.
  • Nobody has to clear their plates.  If you say you’re full or done, then I believe you if you’ve eaten any reasonable amount.  I cannot be doing with a half hour of cajoling.
  • Re: the above, I am a reasonable adult and realise that even if there’s food left on your plate and you say you’re full there’s always room for ‘something nice’.  That’s how I operate, so I get that you do too.

Of course this has worked on the elder child for the most part, but come back to me in a couple of years to check the toddler isn’t living on just orange food.

Meanwhile, kale FTW!

- Jill

In which a cake nearly breaks my heart but turns out well in the end.

how this…

The elder child went and turned 4. Despite my protests that I’m only about 20 I appear to have 2 cats and 2 sons and am Quite Grown Up really. So it was about time we bit the bullet and hosted a party for him and his buddies from Montessori. For birthdays so far we’ve stuck with family affairs except for his 3rd where I was so busy feeding a small baby I was never going to entertain anyone at home. The young lad had a little party in playschool surrounded by friends and everyone was happy. Honestly I think parties could be banned til age 5 at least and kids wouldn’t really notice.

…became this.  This is Bucky.
(image courtesy of

The other small boy is a different affair because he has a July birthday so we got to go to the park for his 1st birthday and invite absolutely everyone we wanted with kids to come along because we didn’t have to squish them in our tiny house or clean up afterwards.

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Glut of eggs. Gleggs. Egglut.

Back on form

Back on form

How did I end up with 14 eggs 2 days ago?  By doing the most unplanned and frequent supermarket pop-ins you can imagine over Christmas, that’s how.  Dominic was at the point of eating 1 egg, scrambled in the microwave each day for lunch.  No toast, no bagel, no cheese, just an egg.  All the better for leaving space to spend the rest of the day begging for a go of his selection box or a half a candy cane.

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Starting the year the sugar filled way

I’m destined to always start the New Year on the wrong foot.   Nearly 4 years ago Bump wasn’t playing ball, and didn’t appear til January 8th, so we are bound to a life of always needing copious amounts of cake when all around are dieting.

Picking fancy cake for a growing boy

picking a fancy cake for a growing boy

Plans are afoot.  Books are being flicked through.  The boy is having his first ever not-just-cousins (much as we love cousins!) party and some of his little mates from Montessori are coming.   He is involved in the choosing of friends and of cakes.  He has sophisticated tastes and landed upon a Strawberry & Marscapone number from the Like Mam Used to Bake cookbook.  I’ve decided that I want to enjoy that one in a languid fashion and not with 10 grabby little hands nearby.  So I’ve settled on a pirate ship cake, inspired by Bumbles of Rice and I’ve ordered some Jake & the Neverland Pirates partyware.  (Cunning plan to reuse some of it for someone else’s 2nd birthday…)
Besides that there’ll have to be something not too bad for them – I’m thinking popcorn, fruit salad and cheese straws. Kids are mad for breadsticks so these cheesey ones won’t go astray. I also have a bean dip recipe that if ignored by children should keep me and husband’s energy levels up.

Then of course, there’s his actual birthday which is midweek and cannot go unmarked in ‘school’.  His teachers are wise to my baking, and will be expecting something to appear I’m sure. I’m going with tried and tested Rice Krispie Marsbies which appeared in tray bake form last year as his actual cake.

I’ve made the list, and have disgusted myself by the requirement for a kilo of butter for all these endeavours. Healthy eating starts the day after the party!

The reason I tell you this is for a twofold motivational reason:  If I tell the internet I’m doing something, then I’d better follow through.  So here you have it: I’m recreating Bucky in chocolate cake, and if I eat a mountain of baked goods I’ll be fine because I’ve also signed up to do a half marathon in a couple of months.

Wish me luck & check in again to see the results!

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It’s a most wonderful time of the year…

…when your kids eat up pink fillet of beef on Christmas Eve-Eve and you don’t know whether to cheer or shed a tear.

The veggies were ignored save for a potato gratin. Can an almost 18 month old get gout?

For balance, Teddy also seemed very enamoured by the chestnut-nut roast I was having yesterday. (Made by my mother in law, and made so well that I never even attempt to make one myself because hers is so damn good)


Mr. Old Elf, our seasonal visitor

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I have a small bit of creativity in my blood.  My Mum taught primary,  Junior Infants mostly – so finger paints and leaf rubbings were par for the course in her working life. I know she’s busy knitting matching jumpers … Continue reading

You know we belong together…

I had a very lovely conversation the other week with a girl I know at a wedding.  Whereupon I learned I have fans in Australia.  Ok, Ciara didn’t use the words fans, she said her and some of her mums group in Melbourne read the blog.  I immediately screeched “I HAVE AUSTRALIAN FANS!” (probably, I was standing very near the lady dishing out oodles of prosecco for quite a while…)

So I’m dead chuffed with that and it made me consider some aspects of where our journey is right now. I feel the weight of expectation, thinking of real life actual mums (as opposed to theoretical virtual ones) reading my words, taking my advice on board as an experienced parent of two. EEEEEK!

Hands up wimmin!* My knowledge of parenting in Australia currently extends to 90′s soaps, Kath & Kim and Summer Heights High. Is BLW common there – recommended by health visitors or frowned on? Have you any questions? Is there anything in particular you’d like me to talk about or cover? Are any of your daughters called Epponnee-Rae?

Don’t be shy, connect here or on my Facebook page. Now, I’ve got porridge to scrape off the walls and peas to take out of the cats’ bed.

- Jill

*my call to arms (keyboards) extends to all parents and readers, not just mums. But I do want to give a shout out to these Aussie ones.

Ultimate (very tasty) Winter (autumn) Couscous (couscous)

Scus-scus was one of Dominic’s ‘big hits’ when he was little, but I don’t make it as often as I used to.   I tend to do that with grains – I go through bulgar wheat spells,  couscous moments and quinoa crazes (feel a bit bad about that one now for environmental reasons so need to read up a bit more before I go back to it).   After about 5 rice based meals in a row, I dug out Plenty, the Yotam Ottolenghi book I love dearly in search of something new for our repetoire.

Usually couscous is a fridge-fallout affair.  Whatever is left in the bottom, plus some frozen peas, and a bunch of herbs and spices go in.  In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever actually followed a recipe involving couscous before.

lots of stuff

lots of stuff

The ingredient list is long, but most of it (for me anyway) is store cupboard, and whatever isn’t is replaceable/omitable. My amendments are in brackets beside the ingredients.  As ever, most of the recipes from the book can be found on The Guardian website.

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks

2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks

8 shallots, peeled (I have onions, so I’ll use 2 smallish ones thanks)

2 cinnamon sticks (hmm. Some ground cinnamon will do)

4 star anise (not on my watch)

3 bay leaves

5 tbsp olive oil

1½ tsp salt

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp chilli flakes

300g squash, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks (cleaned weight)

100g unsulphured dried apricots, roughly chopped

200g chickpeas

350ml water (or chickpea liquid)

170g couscous

1 big pinch saffron fronds (not right now dudes, haven’t got any)

260ml vegetable stock

20g butter, cut into small pieces

25g harissa

25g preserved lemon, finely chopped (the lemons in the fruit bowl were there at least 2 weeks, do they count?)

1 handful picked coriander leaves (stirred in some of that stuff in a tube)

halfway there

halfway there

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Put the carrots, parsnips and shallots into a large, oven-proof dish, add the cinnamon, star anise, bay leaves, four tablespoons of oil, half a teaspoon of salt and all the spices, and mix. Roast for 15 minutes, then add the squash, stir and roast for 35 minutes more, by which time the vegetables should have softened but retained their bite. Add the apricots, chickpeas and liquid, then return to the oven for 10 minutes, until hot.

Around 15 minutes before the vegetables will be ready, put the couscous in a heatproof bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil, the saffron and half a teaspoon of salt. Boil the stock, pour over the couscous and cover with clingfilm. Leave for 10 minutes, then add the butter and fluff up with a fork until it melts in. Cover again and leave somewhere warm.

To serve, fill the base of a deep plate with couscous. Stir the harissa and lemon into the vegetables, taste, adjust the seasoning and spoon on to the centre of the couscous. Garnish with lots of coriander.

I will say if you and your family are not used to harissa paste – proceed with caution in its use.  I tested it, and ended up halving the dish, and only adding  a small bit to half and the prescribed amount to me & the husband’s half.  I did leave in the paprika and chilli flakes – the boys seem well able.  As ever, I stirred in some creme fraiche to cool down any over-spiciness for them.  And lets face it to make the couscous/floor interface slightly less overwhelming to clean up afterwards.  That stuff clumps tiny foodstuffs nicely!

It’s a lovely warm-the-cockles-of-your-heart dish.  The sticky couscous adheres to a spoon nicely, and a toddler gaining cutlery skills can stab a roasted bit of butternut squash with a fork like a pro.  It’s not difficult, but does take a bit of time, so I recommend it on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  You’ve got time, but would rather be snuggling on the sofa with your kids than being stressed in the kitchen.  This recipe makes a mountain, so there’s monday’s lunch sorted too!

As a side note, can I also point out, dried apricots are the bee knees for a kids snack.  They’re a little bit of work for a toddler, so if you have the very dry rather than semi dry ones soak them for a bit before you give them for a snack.  I found the Tesco Wholefoods range ones grand to give straight to them.  And a nearly 4 year old thinks he’s eating sweets so win-win!

- Jill