Austerity Bites, Food, Health, Personal

Austerity Bites Gets A New Home

For those of you who only pop by here for the Austerity Bites series, I am delighted to tell you that Austerity Bites has a new home.

While I initially thought I’d only blog about food and cooking for six days, I found I enjoy it so much, I really want to continue.  From now on, my recipes and musings on food can be found at http://www.austeritybitesblog.wordpress.com

Come on over!

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Health, Parenting, Uncategorized

10 Lies Women Hear in Irish Maternity Hospitals

Women in Ireland are, finally, realising that they have – for the longest time – been sold a pup when it comes to how they are treated with regard to maternity care in this country.

For as long as I can remember, I have had an interest in mothering, maternity, babies and birth. Before I’d even turned 18, I was sure I would not give birth in a hospital. By the time I was 20 and trying to conceive a baby with my first husband, I was doing more and more research on the subject and learning more and more about ‘normal’, ‘natural’ and what they should look like.

Years later, after the birth of my second daughter, I became a doula and my outrage at the lies women were told increased to the point that I needed to watch my blood pressure.

I operate from a belief that birth and pregnancy are normal, everyday occurrences. In more than 80% of cases, there is no need for intervention and women can safely birth their babies without interference from outside forces. The problem is that birth has become medicalised.

Doctors are wonderful people.  They do tough jobs in difficult circumstances. The problem with doctors being involved in birth, though, is that they are trained in the abnormal. They come to your bedside believing that there is something wrong with you – and then they set about finding that problem. If there is no problem, they need to invent one.

Hospitals are designed around the medical model. They are set up to save the health and lives of people whose health and lives need saving. They are not set up to watch and wait – which is what normal birth requires. And normal birth is what most women will experience if they and their bodies are trusted.

In order to coerce women to submit to unnecessary medical intervention, they are routinely lied to. Here is a selection of those lies:

1. Your baby is too big to be born vaginally. (Women grow babies big enough for their own pelvises. A small woman can birth a big baby no problem).

2. Your baby is breech, so you must have a C-section. (Breech is just a variation of normal – there is no reason why you can’t have a vaginal birth).

3. Your waters have broken. You must give birth within 48 hours, or you will have a dry birth and that’s more painful & dangerous for you and the baby. (Amniotic fluid, like saliva, does not just ‘dry up’).

4. We have to ‘check’ you – i.e. perform (often painful) vaginal examinations – to see how you’re progressing. (A VE is not necessary and does not indicate how dilated a woman’s cervix is. The cervix – like the anus – is a sphincter muscle. It will contract involuntarily when touched.)

5. Once you go ‘over’, we’ll have to induce you. (Babies come when they’re ready. The ‘rule’ about pregnancy lasting 40 weeks is a load of nonsense. Women have different cycles and pregnancy length is affected by a number of variables. A normal pregnancy can last anywhere from 37-44 weeks if dated from the last menstrual period).

6. Normal progression is one centimetre an hour. You have 12 hours to produce this baby, or we’ll have to induce you. (Women are different. Babies are different. Many things affect the rate at which labour progresses. This 1cm per hour rule – known as the ‘Dublin Rule’ because it was invented in Holles Street – is a load of nonsense and does more harm than good).

7. If you don’t submit to X your baby will die! (women are routinely told that their babies will die if they are ‘careless’ enough to ignore doctors’ wishes.)

8. Your last baby was born by Caesarean section. Therefore, it is too dangerous for you to have a homebirth. (A previous c-section does not automatically preclude a homebirth or vaginal birth of any sort.)

9. Push when we tell you. (This practice – known as ‘purple pushing’ – is actually bad for you and your baby. It increases the likelihood of you bursting blood vessels in various parts of your body – including your eyes. It also affects oxygen getting to your baby and works against your body.)

10. You are lucky I did a Caesarean section. The cord was around the baby’s neck and it would have died if you’d tried to have it vaginally. (About 50% of babies – my own included – are born with their cords wrapped once or twice around their necks. This is not dangerous because an umbilical cord is not like a rope, but soft and squidgy like a full garden hose).

There are many, many more lies that women are told. Please feel free to add yours in the comments section below.

Our collective outrage is being collated under the hashtag #maternityire on Twitter and you can join in the conversation.

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Austerity Bites

Austerity Bites – Ratatouille

There’s something about so-called ‘peasant food’ that makes it far tastier than haute cuisine.  It’s comforting and wholesome and earthy. Most of my favourites dishes are, essentially, peasant meals. Like ratatouille.

Now, I won’t lie to you. This dish takes a bit of time to prepare, but it’s worth it. Due to the time it takes to prepare, it’s a lovely one to make with your family over the course of an hour on a lazy weekend afternoon. The most time-consuming part is the tomato sauce, but making it from scratch is well worth the effort.  This tomato sauce is a great basic sauce – perfect for slopping on pizza (thicken it up with a bit of tomato puree for that purpose, if needs be), running through pasta, using as a dip or crusty bread, or – as in this case – providing the base for a stew.  In fact, this sauce is good enough to put in an attractive pot (or a kilner jar) and bring it (with or without a baguette) to a dinner party. (We all have those weeks when the budget doesn’t stretch to a bottle of wine.)

This week – with tomatoes and courgettes both on special offer in Aldi – is the perfect week to make big quantities of this recipe. It freezes well and, in spite of (or maybe because of!) its humble origins, I think it makes a lovely meal for sharing with lovely friends.

Start with the tomato sauce:

800g Tomatoes (fresh or tinned)

10 cloves (Approximately 1 Bulb) of Garlic

3 Tablespoons of Dried Herbs OR 8-10 Leaves of Fresh Herbs

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper

If you’re starting with fresh tomatoes, slip them out of their skins: With a sharp knife, cut an ‘x’ on the bottom (the opposite side to where they were attached to the vine) and pop them into a bowl of boiling water. Leave for about 30 seconds, then tip them out of the hot water and into cold. The skins should come away easily from the fruit.

Chop the tomatoes, removing the hard white membranes.

If you’re starting with tinned tomatoes, open the cans 🙂

Peel and bash (or press) the garlic.

Pour enough of the olive oil into a medium-sized pot to cover the bottom. The fruitier the oil you have, the better.

Heat the oil over a medium heat.

Turn the heat to medium-low and add the garlic.

Saute the garlic until it turns golden. Garlic burns really easily, so be vigilant here! If you’re worried that your pot may be too hot, take it off the stove and let the residual heat in the pot cook the garlic.

When the garlic is golden, add the tomatoes, the salt, pepper and herbs. I know it may seem like a lot of herbs, but please be generous with them. Forget your little dainty spoonfuls of dried herbs and add a good handful. Trust me on this! I use a selection of whatever is in the kitchen – or a pre-mixed Herbs de Provence . If I have a live plant knocking about, I’ll add fresh leaves – maybe 4 basil leaves, 4 sage leaves and 20 rosemary spines.

Add a sprinkle of salt and a really good grinding (about a teaspoon) of pepper.

Turn the heat up until the sauce is just under the boil, then reduce the heat to low and leave the it alone – partially covered – for about 40 minutes.

At the end, you can add a glug (maybe 3 tablespoons)  of red wine if you happen to have a bottle open, or a splash (about 2 teaspoons) of balsamic vinegar. (Don’t despair if you find you’ve been too heavy-handed with the vinegar – a teaspoon of sugar, dissolved into the sauce should right things)

Tomato Sauce

While the sauce is cooking, prepare the veg. You’ll need:

1 Medium Sized Onion

1 Aubergine

2 Courgettes

1 Bell Pepper

Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

I salt aubergines and courgettes before I use them. This removes excess water and ensures they don’t disintegrate in the stew.  Top and tail the vegetables, cut them into discs and pop the disks into a plastic sieve or colander (metal, salt and water not being the best combination). Shake a generous amount of salt over the eggplant (you can use cheap salt like Saxa for this job!). Leave it to drain over a bowl for about half an hour. Then (and I know this seems counter-intuitive) rinse the salt off under running water and gently squeeze the discs against the sides of the sieve to get all the water out. If you like, you can pat the discs dry in kitchen paper or a tea towel.

Sometimes, I manage to time it so my sauce is ready at about the same time as my vegetables are salted, but that’s only when I’m pretending to be really efficient.

Anyway, while the veg are salting, peel and roughly chop the onion.

Cut the pepper into bite-sized chunks.

Halve the bigger aubergine and courgette discs, so they are roughly the same size as the peppers.

Get a big pot (possibly your biggest) and, over a medium heat, warm enough olive oil to cover the bottom.

Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes.

Add the aubergine and courgette to the pot and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes, until they are slightly coloured.

Add the bell peppers and, still stirring, cook the lot for about another 5 minutes, until the peppers start to colour as well.

Tip in the tomato sauce and cook the lot, partially-covered, over a gentle, medium-low heat for 20 minutes.  A few more herbs won’t do it any harm if you fancy lobbing them in.

Season with salt and pepper and serve with plenty of grated cheese.

We have this with rice, quinoa, pasta or – if we’re feeling Continental – fresh baguette.

Pot of Ratatouile

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Austerity Bites, Food, Health, Parenting, Personal

Austerity Bites – Jackfruit Curry

We descended upon our local Asian shop the day before yesterday and stocked up on some of the things we needed. Fortunately, there was a bit more in the coffers than usual, so I went a bit mad.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. I just decided to buy food rather than pay my phone bill.

Anyway, the main point is that stocks were replenished. I picked up  12 tins of tomatoes for €3.99 and paid €4.99 for a dozen cans of chickpeas. Chillies were €5.99 per kilo – I got about 30 of them for €0.24 – way cheaper than even the cheapest supermarket. Economies of scale, I think it’s called.

In the middle of all this cheapie-cheap stuff, I got us a treat: Jackfruit. If you have been to South East Asia, chances are you’ve come across durian. This is a large fruit (about the size of a basketball) that  very prickly on the outside and, when cut, smells similar to cat’s pee. In colour and texture, it is similar to custard and it’s an acquired taste. A taste, I hasten to add, I never acquired.

The reason I mention durian is because jackfruit is its Indian first-cousin. Less cat-pee, less prickly and less custard-y, though – I love jackfruit. It’s in season at the moment and we picked up 1.5kg for €5.

Jackfruit

After we’d had our fill of the fresh, raw fruit, I suddenly remembered that when I’d been pregnant with Kashmira (ten years ago!) our nanny used to make me a jackfruit curry. Normally, if you’re using a fruit in a curry, you use it when it’s slightly under-ripe. Jackfruit is an exception, though – you can use the under-ripe or the ripe fruit.

To the best of my recollection, this is the recipe Nishanthi used to cook for us:

Jackfruit Curry

150g Ripe Jackfruit

1/2 Teaspoon of Chilli Powder

1/2 Teaspoon of Turmeric

Salt to Taste

100mls of Water

20g grated coconut (I use dried because I can’t get it fresh)

2 Fresh Green Chillies

1/2 Teaspoon of Cumin Seeds

1/2 Teaspoon of Mustard Seeds

1 Red Chilli

3-4 Curry Leaves

2 Teaspoons of Coconut Oil

Cut the jackfruit into bite-sized pieces.

Cut Jackfruit

Put jackfruit, salt, turmeric, chilli powder and water into a medium-sized saucepan.

Bring to the boil and then simmer for about ten minutes.

While the jackfruit is cooking, make a paste using the grated coconut, chillies and cumin seeds (grind with a blender, adding a little water as necessary).

When the jackfruit is done – it will be tender but not mushy and still holding its shape – add the paste to the fruit and bring the lot back to the boil.

Heat the coconut oil in a small pan, and add the chillies, curry leaves and mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to sputter, remove from the heat and pour over the curry.

Jackfruit Curry

Cooking the fruit changes the texture completely.

The raw fruit is quite sweetly pungent – though not unpleasant – it hits the back of your throat rather than the tip of the tongue. It has a thick texture – similar to that of raw mushrooms. Cooked, it’s more like stewed apple before it gets pulpy.

If you can get your hands on a bit of jackfruit, it’s an interesting addition to the dinner table.

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Food, Health, Parenting, Personal

Austerity Bites – A Reflection on the Recipes

I posted my recipes this past week pretty much as I cook them, so I thought I’d add a few words here about things that go on in my kitchen that I didn’t address properly/at all in the recipes I posted.

 

First, a word on… salt: At the moment, I’m using Pink Himalayan Salt – because it’s pretty (!) and because it’s inexpensive – but otherwise I use Maldron Sea Salt.  That table salt stuff I buy to use for cleaning and for salting certain ‘squashy’ vegetables – courgettes, aubergines etc.

 

We need salt. We don’t need lots. The pink salt I use is very ‘salty’, so a pinch is enough. Otherwise, the average adult needs about 1.5g of sodium per day, and we all need more in the heat (when we’re perspiring more than usual).

 

Pink Salt

Himalayan Pink Salt

A word on…..portions: I’m a big fan of cooking once to eat twice. The recipes I used last week allowed us to do just that – and even have some left for sharing/freezing. Few things were finished. The exception being the masoor (red) lentil dish on Day 6.  You could easily halve the ingredients I listed and feed an adult and 2 kids with moderate appetites.

 

A word on…..utensils: We don’t use non-stick utensils in our house. For years, we kept pet birds. Teflon is not kind to little birds (in fact, it kills them) and Kashmira reasoned that if it’s not good for them, it can’t be much good for us, either.  In order to ensure things don’t stick, I don’t increase the amount of fat I use – I just cook a little more slowly, and add a bit of water if I need to.

 

A word on…..chilli: I don’t use buckets of chilli. I think that the purpose of chilli – and other spices – is to add flavour to dishes, not mask the flavours of the food you’re cooking. Being able to eat really hot food is not a sign that you are ‘hard’, ‘tough’, or ‘cool’. It means you need to find a new hobby. And possibly that you’re lacking in zinc.

 

Chillies

A mixture of dried and fresh chillies.

 

Finally, a word on…..spices: Spices are wonderful to add something special to your food. Don’t be too heavy-handed, though. While a little is good, more is not necessarily better. Again, you want the taste of the spices to enhance the taste of your cooking, not overwhelm it.

 

When it comes to buying spices, don’t forget that they are far more expensive in supermarkets than in Asian stores. In Asian stores, however, they can often come in larger quantities than you’d like. If you don’t use spices a lot in your cooking, why don’t you consider buying with a friend or two (or three)? For about a fiver each, you could buy a bag of each of the basics and divide them up between you.  That way, you can each get ‘starter’ packs of all the basics for way less than you’d get them in a shop with a well-recognised name.

 

Spices

 

Back left: Fenugreek Powder

Back Right:Turmeric Powder

Centre: Ground Cloves

Front Left: Cardamom Pods

Front Right: Coriander Seeds

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Food, Health, Parenting, Personal

Austerity Bites – A Reflection

Six Days of Austerity was a wonderful experience. I really enjoyed sharing my recipes with you – and I was delighted by all the support you gave me in my endeavours.

 

The first post in the series felt like the bravest post I’d ever published. Braver than talking honestly and openly about my own mental health issues; braver than talking about sexual abuse, spousal abuse or other family issues. Braver than taking an unpopular stance on political or parenting issues. Braver than anything else I ever wrote about because, in that first Austerity Bites post, I admitted to being financially insecure.  I have always felt that Ireland is a land of inveterate snobs, where people are judged by material possessions and looked down on when they are in financial difficulties. I’ve always felt that, in Ireland, there was nothing worse than being poor. So to come out and admit that I was trying to raise two kids on next-to-nothing felt like the bravest thing I’d ever written.

 

The kind, supportive reactions of people who read and commented on this blog turned that from ‘brave’ to ‘liberating’. So thank you all for your kindness and support.

 

Of course, after the social welfare cheque hit and I’d paid (a bit) off  (some of) the bills, I realised there’s  not much more this week than there was last week. The thing about this past week – which was particularly punishing – is that I used up much of my reserves. I went in to the six days knowning that there were still certain staples (lentils and tins of tomatoes, for example). They have been used up now. The cupboards are bare. Before heading into the next week, I have to sit down and think how on earth I will manage to replenish the stocks somewhat in order to provide nourishment for my girls.

 

Given all that,  I have a feeling there will be more Austerity Bites posts and recipes in the near future.  Stay tuned! 🙂

 

There will be reflections on the recipes to follow.

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Food, Health, Parenting, Personal, Uncategorized

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day 6

Pancakes

200g Plain White Flour

2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder

1/2 Teaspoon of Salt

3 Teaspoons of Sugar

400mls of Coconut Milk

1 (precious) Egg

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl.

Add the salt and sugar.

Crack in the egg.

Mix in the coconut milk.

Stir the lot together, adding water by dribbles until you have a smooth (though not runny) batter of dropping consistency.

Heat a drop of oil in shallow frying pan.

Drop a soupspoon-full (or dessertspoon-full) of batter on the pan and spread it slightly with the back of the spoon.

Cook over a medium-high heat until bubbles appear on the surface, then turn them over and cook for another minute or two.

There is so much you can serve these with – yogurt, berries, fruit, ice-cream, cream, sugar & lemon, honey….. 🙂

Red Lentils

200g Red Lentils

1 Litre of Water (approximately)

1 Teaspoon of Turmeric

Pinch of salt

1 Tablespoon of Ghee

1 Onion

2 Teaspoons of Panch Phoran*

400g of Tinned Tomatoes

Rinse the lentils. Put them in a sieve and run cold water over them until the water runs clear – otherwise, the lentils will be scummy.

Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover them with cold water.

Leave them to steep for about half an hour.

Drain the lentils and add about 1 of fresh cold water – really, you just want enough water to cover them and come about another 2 cms over the lentils.

Add turmeric and salt.

Bring to the boil.

Turn the heat down and simmer the lentils, covered,  for a half an hour or so – until they are soft, but not mushy.

If they are still too ‘soupy’, take the lid off the pot, raise the heat and boil rapidly for a few minutes. You’re looking for a more like ‘porridge’ than ‘soup’. A bit like this:

Cooked Dal

While the lentils are cooking, prepare your masala:

Peel and chop the onion.

Heat the ghee in a frying pan.

Add the onion and caramelise over a low heat.

Add the panch phoran and cook for another five minutes, until the spices release their fragrance.

Add the tomatoes and cook for 4-5 minutes.

For divilment – and so I can call it fusion (!) – I added a splash (about 1 teaspoon) of Balsamic vinegar.

Add the drained lentils and, stirring, cook for a further five minutes.

*There’s a recipe for this spice mix on Day Two of Austerity Bites 

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