When it comes to having children, I’ve run a pretty lonely race. During their late twenties, my close friends were carving out careers, buying flats and going out on the lash.
Meanwhile, as they were out partying, I was discovering that if you’ll just put in the nine months of pregnancy, the NHS will let you get high for free. It’s a great big acid-esque roller coaster, but alas for every high there is a low. The hangover comes in the shape of sleep deprivation for at least the next two years and a small crying baby whose needs you may not feel capable of meeting.
When I had my first child, my lovely friends rejoiced. They sent cards and gifts and smiled the smile of those who can sleep until midday, read the papers when they want, go out for dinner on a whim and not have to touch anyone else’s poo.
When baby number two came along, all the lovely friends beamed all over again. They came bearing gifts, eyed the state of my house with alarm and marvelled at just how often a baby needs to breastfeed. Then they tripped out the door to have wall to wall sex, glug champagne in some trendy wine bar all the while wearing tops that exposed their taut, toned stomachs. Well, that's what they did in my imagination anyway.
With baby number three so close to number two, my friends were surreptitiously counting the age gap on their fingers, and their smiles had sagged into horrified O’s of alarm. I received worried phone calls and tender emails, are you coping? Are you ok? Can I help with anything?Their calls, emails and concern helped me through those hazy days of having three tiny children.
They thought they were safe for a while, then along came number four. I well remember the disbelief in my brother’s voice as I interrupted his bank holiday with the news that I was pregnant. Again. There was a pause, ‘When are you going to stop?’
So – now that I’ve stopped and I get more sleep – I was very happy to learn that two of my lovely friends are pregnant. Alas, one is half a world away and I’ll have to see her baby over the internet, but the other is very close to home. It’s still very early days, so I’m not allowed to get over excited, but I was looking forward to seeing her for dinner last week and giggling over her future.
I gathered all the ingredients into the house for our dinner, and even permitted myself to buy a little gift for the baby; it’s so easy to be thrilled about someone else going through labour and sleepless nights. I resisted buying wine and chose a lovely healthful juice for us both.
The afternoon was the usual blur of scurrying around whilst my toddler slept, mulling over our menu, chopping ingredients, getting the snack for the school run, then picking up the hungry children. After the three-hour, brutal home straight that culminates in all children in bed and a quiet house, I popped our feast into the oven and turned my thoughts to my soon-to-be-arriving, up-the-duff mate.
You know, one should always check one’s mobile on the day of a dinner. As I did some last minute tidying I picked up my phone.
The first was from my friend,
‘Still on for tonight?’ – smile, text back, ‘yes!’.
The second from my husband, ‘will be late home tonight’ - well that's hardly front page news.
Messages 3 and 4 were in fact missed calls, and message number 5 read something like this;
‘I’m really sorry, just so tired, can’t face dinner tonight, need to go home and sleep’.
Well, if you’re going to use pregnancy as an excuse to duck out of dinner, I’m probably a good person to text. How many times in early pregnancy have I sat through meals, nausea playing around my lips, fatigue threatening to push me off my chair?
With a deep sigh and a long lonely evening with just me and the washing stretching ahead (really, don’t feel bad), I replied,
‘Not to worry, no problem. It’s the progesterone making you sleepy; it won’t last long. Talk soon x ‘
Then I sat down to my feast all by myself. I even drank healthful juice instead of wine. It’s official, I am indeed a paragon. And thank the contraceptive Gods that I’m not up the stick!
Family Way Aubergine, Mushroom & Artichoke Bake (serves 2)
I'm sure it's really trashy to use tinned artichoke hearts, but I really love them! Also - culinary half wit - I don't know how to cook fresh artichokes. Oh the shame, why do I pretend I can cook? Do feel free to enlighten me.
6 cloves of garlic
5 great big mushrooms
1 medium aubergine
2 tins artichoke hearts
3 tbsp olive oil
salt, black pepper, chilli flakes, dried mixed herbs or a fresh herb of your choice
1 tbsp gluten free yeast extract
For the topping:
100g sunflower seeds
100g pumpkin seeds
Salt, pepper, herbs and dried chilli flakes
- Heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius
- Dice the aubergine
- Cut the mushrooms into thick slices, then each slice in half
- Finely chop the garlic
- Place all of the above into a large ovenproof dish
- Open the tins of artichokes and drain away the juice (i'm wincing as I write that, but my shame is not as great as my fetish) . Add to the dish and mix everything together with your hands
- Put the 3 tbsps of olive oil into a bowl. Grate in lots of black pepper, go easy on the salt (heart disease, raised blood pressure, but tastes so good), add a big dose of chilli flakes (if you wish) and a good scoop of dried / fresh herbs. Stir with a spoon, then pour the seasoned olive oil over the vegetables
- Mix it all together with your hands until the veg is coated in oil. You may need an extra glug of oil if it seems a bit dry
- Put the tbsp of yeast extract into a large bowl. Pour in about 3 tbsps of passatta and mix to a paste. Add the rest of the passatta and mix it all around. Pour the passatta over the vegetables and mix until everything is covered
- Cover the dish with foil and place it in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes
- Caress your swollen uterus, then move onto the next part.
- Put the quinoa, seeds and seasoning into a blender and blitz until you have a crumb-like texture, this will be your topping. That was easy wasn't it?
- When the veg has had 20 minutes, take out the dish, and stir everything. The mushrooms and aubergine should have added their juice to the passatta and all will be looking good
- Replace the foil, reduce the oven to 180 degrees C and put the dish back in for about another 25-30 mins. You might want to check it after 20, you want the aubergines to be soft but not mushy
- When the veg is cooked, remove the dish from the oven and remove the foil.
- Turn on the oven grill
- Scatter the quinoa and seed topping over the surface. If you wanted, you could scatter some whole sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds over the top, why didn't I think of that when I cooked it?!
- It should only take a minute or two to brown the surface under the grill, do be vigilant and don't get distracted by checking your mobile or something
- You could serve this with lentil rice, or just a green salad. Both are yummy