Are you after a way to shovel a few more vegetables into the people you love (yourself included) that doesn’t include kitchen pantomimes or bribes? Are you after a strapping soup/stew, that can also be blended into a nifty alternative for ‘red sauce’ that gilds pizza, pasta and lots of other comfort food staples? Are you after another multi tasking meal, because you do it all day long, so gosh darn it, something else in your kitchen should start pulling their weight? If so, I think I can help. This six vegetable, pear and pulse ‘red sauce’ is kid-approved in this house (that’s not an easy feat). It can be made in bulk, frozen in ziplock bags or ice cubes and sit there waiting for you, so when Friday night rolls around you can make dinner, even after a second Campari and a toddler tantrum. If this sounds like something you need in your arsenal, skip straight to the matching photo and recipe at the bottom. If you have some time for chat and context, read on.
Straight up confession;
Is anyone else sick up to their back teeth of trying to get their offspring to eat a vegetable? For the love of heaven, give me strength. They say if you want to make God laugh tell her your plans. I say, be a food writer and then have a selective eating child. That’s a situation properly ripe for humour.
I cannot do any more ‘I’ll fall of my chair’ charades at the sound of you crunching a carrot/ folding up spinach leaves to ‘post a letter down your gullet to a Superhero’. I’m tired of julienning them to hide in noodles only to have them identify a scrap of green of a zucchini and refuse to eat one more bite. Yes I’ve taken him shopping to fresh produce markets. He’s actively involved in the selection and preparation- he just won’t eat it without a Dayton Accords level of negotiation. I’ve served them cold and hot and in different textures, with different dipping sauces and we have star charts and rewards for ‘brave tasting’. I’ve gone through phases of ignoring the issue completely. I’ve put the vegetables on his plate every night for consistency and eaten more crudites of futility than I thought possible. I’ve assumed the scary Mum voice every once in a while that sounds a lot like Gollum after a hard night on the tiles who just says ‘THIS. IS. DINNER. EAT. IT” and then grimaces like a vexed chimpanzee, a little close to her offspring’s face for comfort. But guess what? I never win. Genetics is karma and I am parenting myself, circa 1985, without the Punky Brewster braids, or knee high socks. My offspring will just hiss back and then won’t eat it. And then wake up up 4 times a night telling me they’re hungry.
I mean, it’s not always like that, but sometimes I wish there were just a few more things in the rotation beyond salmon sashimi and nori paper with avocado rolled up into ad hoc sushi that were greeted with ‘yum! Great Mum!’ rather than a battle.
Enter this red sauce.
Once upon a time I discovered that a red sauce that slicked a deep dish pizza we ate in Chicago was gifted depth and sweetness care of a pear. It changed how I thought about red sauce since that day. I will often lob a blitzed pear into all bolognaise/red sauces when it’s in season since then. It helps temper the acidity of the tomato without the need for refined sugar. So what if you had a sweet-ish red sauce that also managed to smuggle in the goodness of leek, onion, celery, carrot, sweet potato, tomatoes and red lentils? What if you could use that in place of passata or tomato paste on pizzas, calzones, noodles, or as soup to dip quesadillas into?
What if you made it in such terrifying bulk that you could stash your freezer and know that dinner that wouldn’t be a battle was only a few minutes away?
Well, you might just give yourself a pat on the back. And pour yourself another Campari. May the force be with you.
Here are a few other things that are going on.
Visiting: We had a glorious long weekend out in Orange a few weeks ago, to visit some of my oldest friends who have just shifted there. Four hours drive over the Blue Mountains, Orange is a piece of regional NSW idyll. There are vineyards and orchards, great coffee, booze and some cracking spots to eat while the kids rumble in fresh country air. Current endorsements: The Greenhouse – a fenced, kid safe rooftop retreat with great pizzas and roast vegetable sides made from local produce, cubby houses and an indoor kids’ play room. Heaven is getting to sit and have a real conversation, beginning to end with friends over wine in the sunshine while the kids happily bob about, perfectly contained and entertained. Also; Heifer Station winery. Farm animals to visit, large sandpits to play in, enormous cheese tasting boards and a very quaffable local pinot to sip make for a very easy way to spend a few hours. Plus it’s just down the road from an orchard where you can pick your own Pink Lady apples and take atmospheric photos like this one (please excuse the take away coffee cup. I think we have now reached the tipping point where they are no longer socially acceptable. We remembered everything but the kitchen sink and our Keep Cups to take to Orange).
Reading:’The Motherhood edited by Jamila Rizvi; Australian women share what they wish they’d known about life with a newborn’. This is a great baby-shower/ initiation to the ‘hood present. It’s some real talk from well known Australian women, including writers like Em Rusciano, Zoe Foster Blake and Rebecca Sparrow about their experiences in the first flush of life with their first child. It’s raw and revealing, with some searing stuff about post natal anxiety, illnesses, breastfeeding and family dynamics. I found particularly illuminating the essay by Carla Gee about how assuming a new role as a mother ‘ put into stark relief her cultural identity. She writes; “Dear Carla, ‘How to Deal With a Postnatal Racial Identity Crisis’ isn’t a chapter in What to Expect When You’re Expecting but, oh, how I wish it had been”. There is one premise of the book that doesn’t quite land for me though; a lot of it is written through the prism of ‘how to survive the first six weeks’- as if things are going to get magically easier once you turn the calendar through to week seven. But don’t let that stop you from buying it. I’m just waiting for the next edition; ‘The Four Month Sleep Regression (where you contemplated walking into the ocean with a baby strapped to you because at least it was quiet down there)’, or the sequel ‘Motherhood once again; backwards, with a screaming toddler on your hip’.
Writing: This piece for Harris Farm all about onions. It also includes my default recipes for beer braised onions (have with sausages and white bean champ), quick pickled onions (have with roast pork belly tacos with coriander and black beans) or balsamic roasted eachallots (there are some crottins of goat cheese that are crying to meet these).
Also this interview with Tree Changer Will Davies, from Australia’s first neighbour to neighbour car share community; Car Next Door about how he makes it work living in Berry and his work hacks to achieve the enviable goal of Inbox Zero (I didn’t tell him I currently have 15 587 unfiled emails).
Listening: The podcast ‘The Habitat‘ ; the true story of six volunteers who live for a year on a fake planet, in a continuing experiment to deduce the impact of human group dynamics and isolation on a manned mission to Mars. Great stuff, perfect for a long drive. Some really interesting transferrable lessons about why people can stomach a grinding, isolating situation for about six months, before really starting to spit the dummy (transfer that reasoning to any situation that’s relevant; tricky jobs, housemates…parenthood).
Watching: ABC’s ‘Back in Time for Dinner’; worth it for Annabel Crabb’s wardrobe alone. An Australian rendition of a UK series where a suburban family are taken back into history and have to live with the furnishings, social mores and foods that were the norm of the time. There’s only been one episode so far, starting in 1951. I think the major takeaway is; nobody wants to be a 1950’s housewife. Nobody.
Also: Solo. Ignore the reviews. It’s glorious. Anyone who grew up with Star Wars in their childhood who isn’t a men’s rights fan-boy should love this. Just think; the origin of Han and Chewie as friends! A droid equality plot line! Donald Glover as Lando! Emelia Clarke’s eyebrows! Lando’s capes! You know you want to.
Crafting: I am not a craft-mum. My nightmares often involve a furious perfectionist four year old having a meltdown because he needs to make a PJ Masks CatBoy flat for the back of his bike, but the one that he’s made won’t stand up straight. Yet the other day I found myself spending a good hour making fake ice cream with Will for colour mixing/sensory play that wasn’t nearly as foul as the slime he wanted to make and didn’t involve borax. Simply mix together 1 cup of cornflour with 1/2 cup of the cheapest hair conditioner you can find. Then colour with natural colourings and add a little water if the texture isn’t quite right. It should feel silky, not chalky. Then scoop, and play until the child insists you put it into bowls, pretend to bake it, you then throw it out and they lose the plot because you didn’t preserve their precious creations.
Cooking: I’ve been making a lot of spelt and coconut banana bread at the moment. It’s the weather for it. Plus it’s hard to find one out and about that’s dairy free for Evie. This is my default recipe. Nb, tip for the day, if you’ve got bananas that are snappy and fresh and not black and scary and you still want to make banana bread, you can quickly transform them by putting them on the oven tray while you preheat the oven. Pull them out when they’re black all over and squidgy. Then make the banana bread from there. You need; 450 g ripe mashed banana (approx 4 bananas), 2 eggs, 125 g honey or rice malt syrup, 125 ml liquid coconut oil, 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 3 tbsp chia seeds, 175 g desiccated coconut
175g wholemeal spelt flour (or oat flour). Optional; chocolate chunks, frozen raspberries/blueberries. Preheat oven to 170 c/340 F. Grease and line a loaf tin. Mix together wet. Fold in dry. Bake 1 hour. Let cool for 15 mins in tin. It’ll keep happily in the fridge for a week.
Kid Approved Six Vegetable, Pear and Pulse ‘Red Sauce’
Makes a freezer-load.
2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 red onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 leek, root and green part trimmed, then halved, rinsed to remove any dirt and cut into slim half moons
3 carrots, trimmed, peeled and diced
2 ribs of celery and diced
1 pear, cored and cut into chunks
1 medium sweet potato/500 g peeled and cut into chunks
700 g tomato passata
3 1/2 cups/ 875 ml water
1 cup of red lentils/200g rinsed
Salt to taste
2 large rinds of parmesan (you can buy these at many delis, or else save yours in a ziplock bag in a freezer. They add an enormous amount of flavour, so do try to get them. Also, if you reuse yours you’ll feel doubly thrifty)
1) Add the olive oil, garlic, onion and leek to a large heavy bottom Dutch oven or slow cooker. Sautee for 7-10 minutes until they have softened.
2 Add the diced celery and carrot and sautee for another 5 minutes until they have begun to soften.
3 Add the sweet potato and pear into a food processor or blender. Blend until they are finely chopped.
4 Add the tomato passata and blend until smooth.
5 Add the tomato/vegetable puree to the sauteed vegetables as well as the rinsed red lentils and parmesan rinds.
5. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring often to stop the lentils catching on the bottom, or slow cook for 4-5 hours on low. The lentils should be soft pliable and the rest of the stew smooth by then. Taste and season with salt.
6. Remove the parmesan rind before serving. Either serve as is, as a rustic soup with garlic toasts, or kale folded through with chilli and parmesan on top or blend until smooth and use as a sauce for pasta, pizza, or thin with water or stock soup to have with cheese toasties.