There's a distinctly puritanical mood sweeping society at the moment, and I for one am not happy about this fairly sober state of affairs. Every time I read a lifestyle feature about a young clean liver who "rarely drinks" all I can think is "You're wasting good boozing and eating time with all these macros and 'rarely drinking' and metabolic fitness!"
I guess this is mainly because I was a reluctant teetotaller for pretty much the whole of 2016. As a pregnant woman, it's not really the done thing to admit how much you're missing the drink — there's something unseemly about it, but feck it, I was so looking forward to a fat vodka tonic by the end of my latest gestation.
People would say: "would you not have one glass of wine?" mistaking my abstention for a devoted, maternal instinct to protect my unborn child. In actual fact, the reality was I didn't want one glass of wine, I wanted about four glasses of wine.
It's not that I find not drinking much of a challenge. For about five years during my twenties, I was a happy non-drinker. I think what I found most challenging about abstaining this year was that I find parenting sober quite challenging. Before you go alerting Joe Duffy or Social Services hear me out. This is science, I'm sure of it, a glass of wine in the evening is practically medicinal when there is a hectoring, irrational three-year-old screaming at you for not allowing him to incur third-degree burns from the stove.
I have, three years into parenthood masterminded the perfect alcoholic beverage pairing for every type of toddler tantrum. O'Briens, for example, do a lovely dry Riesling aptly called Insight which has the instant effect of dulling the irritation a toddler tantrum can invoke and as toddlers are basically exactly like mini, belligerent drunks themselves, a couple of glasses of Insight has the added bonus of bringing you down to their level.
Coming down to their level is a strategy all the parenting books recommend. I suspect they mean actually crouching down rather than lowering our mental faculties through alcohol consumption to match those of a developing human child, but hey ho I am also sure I read something somewhere about a happy mother means a happy baby...
Plus crouching when heavily pregnant is not practical — getting down there is fine but whether you're going to make it back up becomes pretty hit and miss as the weeks drag on.
My year of non-drinking lead to my consuming a lot of booze-laden desserts and passive-drinking — this is when you booze-bully those around you into drinking so that you may glean a contact high through sheer proximity and revel in your sober superiority by making fun of their drunkenness — hands-down the best thing about being the sober sista. My constant shoehorning of alcohol into food this year lead to this gorgeously rich Guinness-infused cottage pie.
Guinness Cottage Pie
You will need:
-- 1kg (2 ¼ lb) potatoes
-- 150g (5oz) butter
-- 1 tablespoon oil
-- 2 onions, peeled and diced
-- 2 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
-- 300g (11oz) beef mince
-- 100g (3 1/2oz) mushrooms, sliced
-- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
-- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
-- 100g (3 1/2oz) tomato paste
-- 400ml (14 fl oz) Guinness
Preheat oven to 210°C. Peel and boil the potatoes until tender and then mash together until smooth and salt to taste. Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan over a medium-high heat and add the diced onion and the carrots and sauté until softened slightly, then add the minced beef, using the spatula to break it up and cook evenly. When the beef in fully cooked, add the chopped mushrooms, the dried thyme and the sliced garlic. Stir together and allow the mushrooms to cook. Finally stir in the tomato paste and add the Guinness, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes, until reduced and thickened. Pour the filling into a deep oven-proof dish — I used an oval one about 30cm by 15cm — then top with the mash and bake for about 20 minutes or until the top is golden and slightly crunchy. First published Sunday Independent 8 January 2017
Rice Krispie Marshmallow Brains
Halloween is my favourite time of year. I really like being scared — being scared, in the right circumstances, gives one a giddy high. I once did a skydive, and the adrenaline was incredible. I wanted to do it again immediately.
A shock of fear jolts us out of our routine, and scary movies give us just the right level of fear. We know, ostensibly, we’re safe, but we still get a chemical buzz of endorphins, dopamine and serotonin — a party in our brains.
On occasion, I have experienced actual danger, and I was surprised by my lack of emotional response. I was mugged once, alone at night, and I was totally numb. Not afraid or upset; not anything. It was odd. I felt stirred enough to run away, but my responses were oddly sluggish. Then, one day, about a week later, I got very upset for about 10 minutes. It must have been a delayed reaction, and luckily the situation hadn’t been life-threatening or dire.
Similarly, the one and only time that I ever saw a ghost, I didn’t feel afraid either. Now, believe me, I know how that sounds. At least 60pc of readers will now abandon this post with a HARD eye-roll, but stay with me. I’m not an “I see dead people” kind of person. I’m pretty cynical. I don’t believe in the afterlife, or anything.
However, I know what I saw. This being the week of All Hallows’ Eve — the night when the gap between the living and the dead, yada, yada — I figured I’d tell my one-and-only ghost story.
It was Christmas Eve, 1999. I was having a bath in my parents’ house, a house that dates from the 1800s. The main light of the bathroom was off, and I had a few scented candles lighting; it was like a Flake ad, only without the sheet music tumbling around me.
I was reading a book and generally relaxing, when I noticed the shadow of a woman on the wall behind me. The water didn’t run cold. The hairs on the back of my neck did not stand up. All I thought was, “What is causing that shadow?”
I hopped out of the bath, turned on the light and the shadow disappeared. When I turned it off again, she was back — her profile perfectly defined on the wall — I flicked the light on and off once more, and she was gone. I hadn’t moved anything that could have been causing the shadow; I hadn’t moved from the switch by the door. She simply vanished.
Most ghost stories seem far-fetched. What makes mine so damn believable is how mundane it is. If — and it’s a big ‘if’ — ghosts exist, I believe it’s far more likely that this is the kind of unremarkable encounter we would have with them, rather than elaborate tales of possessions. If you were dead, would you bother haunting someone? Unlikely.
Anyway believe me, or don’t, but do make these chewy Rice Krispies treats this Halloween; they’re a no-brainer.
RICE KRISPIE MARSHMALLOW BRAINS
You will need:
-- 35g (11⁄4 oz) butter
-- 250g (81⁄2 oz) mini marshmallows
-- 150g (51⁄4 oz) Rice Krispies
-- 25g (1oz) icing sugar
-- 1 teaspoon water
-- 1⁄2 teaspoon red food dye
- Put the butter in a saucepan over a medium to low heat and allow it to melt. Pour in the mini marshmallows and stir frequently until they are completely melted.
- Spread a sheet of parchment paper on a tray and place a bowl of water beside it. When the marshmallow-and-butter mixture is fully melted, pour in the Rice Krispies and stir until the Rice Krispies are well coated with the melted-marshmallow-and- butter mixture.
- Using two dessert spoons, spoon out a palm- sized quantity of the mixture. Dampen your hands to keep the mix from sticking to it, and form a Rice Krispies ball.
- To shape it into a brain, press your thumb down on the top, partially pull the two sides of the ball apart, then press them back together to resemble the two hemispheres of a brain.
- Place the ‘brain’ on the parchment and allow it to set. Repeat with the remainder of the Rice Krispies mixture.
- Mix the icing sugar, the water and the food dye together to make icing. When the brains are dry and firm, pipe little squiggly icing ‘veins’ down the centre of each one, to make them appear more gory and brain-like!
When a sudden nocturnal craving for pickle strikes, panic ensues, as the last time Sophie White craved pickle, it subsequently transpired she was in a bit of a pickle
My last thoughts in bed at night are usually about what I’m going to have for breakfast the next morning and, yes, I know that I have a problem.
A few nights ago, however, I was revisiting the delicious sandwich I’d had for lunch. I was making a fairly ho-hum sandwich from leftover beef, when an all-consuming desire for sauerkraut hit. Never one to not indulge a culinary whim, I immediately procured some and enjoyed it with a daub of Dijon mustard. Again, I am aware that I have a problem.
Suddenly, however, it occurred to me that I might have an even bigger problem on my hands than just obsessive consumption disorder; the last time I had an all-out love affair with sauerkraut, I was pregnant. My overriding reaction to this potential pregnancy was nausea, which unfortunately only seemed to confirm the prognosis.
I said nothing, as I knew that Himself would be delighted. Himself gets a couple of unbroken nights of sleep, and now he’s started mooting the idea of a second child. Meanwhile, I cannot imagine what compels people to do it all again.
Some actually seem to experience powerful joy in procreating. I am feeling a little bit cheated in this department, as no ‘joy’ has really kicked in. But then part of me suspects that I am not a ‘joy person’ — maybe I am just too cynical for profound emotional responses. I mean, I really like Yer Man at some points — he’s fun and he makes me laugh, but I feel expecting joy from the little fellow is putting far too much pressure on him.
Fact is, maintaining ongoing joy is exhausting and unrealistic; I’m over feeling bad about not feeling joyful. I am so grateful for my lovely boy, but a few months on and I just don’t think I have the fight in me for another newborn.
Of course, several close friends have multiple children and have begun to wage war on my resolve to not be outnumbered by my offspring. Their arguments include wild claims about the kids virtually raising each other, along with sound logic like the fact that multiple children means you’re hedging your bets, should you ever need a donor.
Luckily, the sauerkraut test is not accurate, and I am enjoying this riff on pickle, safe in the knowledge that I am not gestating. Phew.
ASIAN PICKLE AND PULLED PORK
For the pulled pork, you will need:
––2 cloves garlic
––1-inch piece of fresh ginger
––1 tablespoon olive oil
––Salt and freshly ground black pepper
––2 teaspoons chilli powder ––1 teaspoon ground cumin
––1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
––1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
––600ml (1 pt) chicken stock
––3 tablespoons ketchup
––3 tablespoons soy sauce
––3 tablespoons honey
––4 whole star anise
––4 bay leaves
––1 pork steak, approx 450g (1lb), cut into four ––Rice, or a warm bread roll, to serve
For the Asian pickle, you will need:
––200ml (7fl oz) rice wine vinegar 200ml (7fl oz) water
––100g (31⁄2 oz) sugar
––1 tablespoon salt ––1 cucumber, thinly sliced 1⁄2 red onion, thinly sliced
To prepare the pulled pork, peel the onion, the garlic and the ginger. Roughly chop the ginger and place it in a food processor, along with the onion and garlic. Blitz for a couple of seconds.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add in the now-blitzed onion, garlic and ginger, along with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper, the chilli powder, the ground cumin, the ground cinnamon and the Chinese five-spice powder. Stir over the heat for a few minutes to soften the onion and incorporate the spices.
Add the chicken stock, the ketchup, the soy sauce and the honey to the saucepan, and stir. When the liquid is simmering, add in the star anise, the bay leaves and the pork pieces. Cover with a lid and simmer for 40 minutes to one hour; if the liquid doesn’t quite cover the meat, just turn the meat a few times during the cooking.
To make the Asian pickle, combine the rice wine vinegar, the water, the sugar and the salt in a bowl, stir to dissolve the sugar and add the thinly sliced cucumber and the thinly sliced red onion.
The pork is ready when it is tender and pulls apart easily, and the sauce should have reduced down and thickened.
Using two forks, shred the pork and serve it on a bed of rice or in a warm bread roll, whichever you’re using, with the sauce spooned over it, and topped with the Asian pickle.