Vietnamese salad

We spent the half term in Dorset on a huge family holiday. 17 people across 3 generations. The Gs had an absolute blast – spending time with cousins is good for the soul. We had glorious weather for the most part, and the perfect mix of beach, swimming pool, rockpools and Monkey World.

Did you know you can hire a beach hut if you’re a National Trust member? It’s such a great perk. We found the hut was a godsend with kids – if it’s a bit wet or windy you can go inside for a cup of tea; if the kids are over-sunned you can have lunch inside for a bit of respite.

Catering for 17 is no mean feat. You have to factor in small kids who want to eat early and grownups who have a sundowner or two and would be happy with bread, cheese and another G&T. Not to mention a range of likes and dislikes. So we ate delicious but fairly straightforward dishes: chicken pie, lasagne, pizzas. And the requisite BBQs, of course. Proper holiday food!

When we got home, though, I quite fancied some meals to suit a more grown up palate. Plus, the last weekend of the half term had glorious weather, and I didn’t want to cook much in the heat.

This Vietnamese salad was perfect. Cold and juicy, and sour and spicy. It takes just minutes to prepare and there was enough left over for lunch the next day. It was so good I made it again a few days later.

Vietnamese salad

This salad is perfect just as it is, but you could add all kinds of protein: shredded poached chicken breast, grilled prawns, fried tofu or finely sliced rare steak.

You don’t have to deseed the chillis but I didn’t recently and found it quite burn-y…and I love chillis.

What you need

For the salad

  • Big handful of bean sprouts
  • Half a pack of mange tout, julienned
  • 3 or 4 spring onions, finely sliced
  • A carrot, julienned
  • Half a green cabbage, finely sliced
  • Half a cucumber, julienned
    A handful of fresh mint, finely sliced
  • A packet of fine rice noodles, softened in boiling water.

For the dressing

  • Equal parts sesame oil, rice vinegar and fish sauce
  • Juice of a lime
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 red chillis, deseeded and finely chopped (keep some back to garnish)
  • 2 crushed cloves of garlic

To top

  • Crushed peanuts
  • finely sliced red chilli

What you do

  1. Slice all the veg and throw it in a bowl with the noodles. I use one of these julienne peelers for the carrots and cucumber – life’s too short.
  2. Add any protein you fancy, if you’d like
  3. Mix all the ingredients for the dressing together; amend to taste. I like mine quite sour but you may want it a little sweeter.
  4. Toss the salad in the dressing and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
  5. Scatter over peanuts and sliced chillis. That’s it!

What do you like to cook when it’s too hot to cook?


An interview with Josephine Blythe just before she turns 3

G Minor is nearly 3. She is counting down the days. And the sleeps. Today was the first birthday party she’s had. She had a great time. I shattered.

Every year, I’ve asked her sister some questions. And now I’ve asked G Minor the same questions.

Both my kids like pigs. And pizza. And staying with their grandmother in Australia. And no one yet knows what I do for a living.

How old are you? Two
How old am I? 7
How old is Daddy? 7
What’s your favourite food? Pasta. And pizza
What’s your favourite colour? Pink. And orange and yellow and blue and green and orange and blue. That’s a lot!
If you were the king of the world, what would you tell everyone to do? Stay in bed What’s your favourite book? The Runaway Bunny
What’s your favourite TV show? Peppa Pig, and Topsy and Tim
What’s the best place to go on holiday? Mimi’s house
What are you very good at? Running
What would you like to do for a job when you are older? Put my clothes on (Better than taking them off, I guess)
What’s your favourite thing to do with Mummy? Cuddles
What’s your favourite thing to do with Daddy? Cuddles as well
What’s something you would like to learn to do? My letters
What does Mummy do for a job? Play
What does Daddy do for a job? Play
What’s your favourite animal? Piggy
What makes you happy? Smiling
What makes you sad? Crying
If you had superpowers, what would they be? Shouting (You’re already there, my love)
Who is your best friend? Poppy

Happy birthday, Shoutface x

An interview with Eliza Dorothy, aged 4 years and 364 days

G  Major turns 5 tomorrow. And she started school on Wednesday, so it’s been a big week. This time last year, I asked her some questions. Today, I asked her the same questions. Some things changed – I got younger. And some things stayed the same – she’s still a stickler for the rules and thinks it’s important to be kind.

How old are you? Four
How old am I? 30 (This is good, last year she said I was 40)
How old is Daddy? 31
What’s your favourite food? Pizza
What’s your favourite colour? Blue
If you were the king of the world, what would you tell everyone to do? Follow the rules
What’s your favourite book? Winnie the Witch
What’s your favourite TV show? Angelina Ballerina
What’s the best place to go on holiday? Disney World (I have literally never spoken to her about Disney World)
What are you very good at? Drawing
What would you like to do for a job when you are older? Work in a shop
What’s your favourite thing to do with Mummy? Dressing up
What’s your favourite thing to do with Daddy? Going to Amsterdam (Hmmm. This sounds like people trafficking. They went on a daddy-daughter trip earlier this month)
What’s something you would like to learn to do? Hula hoop
What does Mummy do for a job? Don’t know (Me either)
What does Daddy do for a job? Don’t know
What’s your favourite animal? Giraffe
What makes you happy? What I do nice things
What makes you sad? When someone is unkind
If you had superpowers, what would they be? Flying
Who is your best friend? Eva

Happy birthday, Liza-Loo x

Mushroom and spinach stronganoff

Last September, when G Major started reception, I dropped my hours at work a bit to enable me to do pick up three days a week. I have always felt very strongly that it’s a good idea, if at all possible, for an adult to be at home after school in the early years, when the kids are knackered and need a decent feed and help with reading and there are playdates and extra curricular activities and not enough hours in the weekend to do everything you want to do together. I’m very fortunate indeed I’ve been able to wrangle the hours I do.

I rather thought it would be a breeze – I’d pootle home after work, have a chat at the school gates, relax with G Major while providing a gently stimulating environment, serve a balanced hot meal, and then collect G Minor from nursery early enough to also spend quality time with her.


I am running ALL THE TIME. I battle Southern Trains to get home; I race up the hill to get to the classroom door on time; we now have swimming and dance after school; reading is fraught when G Major is tired; she doesn’t want to go back out to nursery; G Major wants her sister’s post-nursery snack and G Minor wants her sister’s supper; no one agrees on what TV show to watch and what bedtime story to have; I have to pick up on work in the evening and connect with my US colleagues.

Part time work does not always equal less work.

I am knackered. So to avoid feeling utterly shattered, I’m keeping an eye on my diet. This recipe is a good boost for iron and vitamins B and D. Clearly, one meal is not going to make any difference to your energy levels, but it’s a good recipe to have in rotation. And it’s veggie.

Serves 2, plus a bit left for lunch the next day

What you need

  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms, preferably a mix of different types
  • Half an onion, sliced
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • Half a bag of baby spinach
  • Half a small pot of sour cream
  • 3 tbsp brandy
  • Same of Worcestershire sauce
  • Ground black pepper
  • Pinch of paprika

What you do

  • Fry the onion and garlic in some oil until soft
  • Add the mushrooms, paprika and a good grind of black pepper and fry the mushrooms for about 8 minutes
  • Add the brandy, sour cream and Worcestershire sauce and allow to bubble away for a couple of minutes, then add the spinach and allow to just wilt.

I served this over rice, but you could also have it as a side with steak or a pork chop. It would also be delicious over a baked sweet potato.

Big G won’t eat mushrooms so I cooked this when he was out at a work do, and ate it slumped comatose in front of some bad TV, while I ignored the washing that needed folding.

Living. The. Dream.

What’s your go-to meal when you’re feeling a bit tired and flat?

Old school Aussie rissoles and gravy…in the slow cooker 

G Major starting school has got me thinking about my primary school days. Growing up in Australia, it was pretty different from her experience: starting school in the baking heat of summer; no school dinners, only packed lunches; enforced laps of the playing field every morning.

I’ve also been thinking about the evening meals I ate. 80s suburban Queensland wasn’t known for its adventurous palate, in the main, but Mum served up all sorts – Asian, Middle Eastern, Greek, pastas other than spag bol, Eastern European goulash-type dishes with dumplings, Mexican, mouth-melting Sri Lankan curries for Dad…we were very lucky.

But the traditional meat and three veg still featured, and especially mince, which then, as now, was economical and appealed to small children. Rissoles are a staple of Australian family cooking, so I decided to declare the school year open with these.

Even better, this is a slow cooker version. So make them up in the morning and forget about them until suppertime.

As ever, there is extra veg hidden in these.

What you need

  • 500g beef mince
  • Half an onion, finely grated or blitzed in the food processor
  • Small courgette, ditto
  • Small carrot, ditto
  • (I also threw in the dregs of a cauliflower but you can omit this)
  • An egg
  • Handful of breadcrumbs (I used panko but stale while bread is good too)
  • Teaspoon of mustard or mustard powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • Squirt of BBQ sauce
  • Splash of Worcestershire sauce

What you do

  1. Mix the mince, egg, veg, breadcrumbs, mustard and seasoning together
  2. Form into balls (this made 10 for me) and flatten slightly, then put into the slow cooker
  3. Mix together the stock and sauces and pour over the rissoles, then cook on low for 6 hours.

And that is IT! So easy. Big G was drifting about the kitchen muttering darkly about mince turning to soup in the slow cooker but they held together perfectly. The kids ate them and Big G ate his words.

Traditionally these are served with mashed potatoes and peas; I did sweet potato mash, peas, runner beans and carrots. Oven chips would be delicious if you like a bit of dirty chips and gravy, or you could even serve over buttered pasta.

A proper taste of my childhood. What’s yours?

My new summer cocktail

A couple of years ago, for once ahead of the curve, Big G and I spent the summer drinking Aperol Spritz. Our then-neighbour, who was Italian, saw us in the garden one evening and roundly mocked us for drinking what he called “an old man’s drink”.

Well, he was wrong, and Aperol got cool.

And now we have a new Italian spirit. And it is tipped to be the next big thing, so remember you heard it here first.


Rosolio is an Italian liqueur dating back to the 15th century and made with rose petals. The new version, Italicus, blends bergamot, citrus, chamomile and lavender, among others, to create something that tastes like a boozy Earl Grey tea. It smells gorgeous, all citrusy and herby, and taste quite sweet but with a bitter note at the end.

If you like interesting gin, then you’ll like this, I think.

The official way to drink it is half Italicus, half prosecco over ice with olives – like the love child of a gin and tonic and a martini. I have done this. It’s delicious. But I’ve also seen 2 parts Italicus with 1 part fino sherry and two drops of orange bitters, served over ice, which I might try this weekend. Or you could use it in a Negroni Bianco.


May all the kids go to bed on time. Chin chin!

What are you drinking this summer?

Cheap eats: Shakshuka

This is not a terribly authentic recipe, but it’s quick and veggie and cheap. It’s a great store cupboard recipe and also good for using up the ends of the veg bin – I’ve aways got halves of peppers lying about.

This is also delicious for breakfast the next day, or you can use any leftover pepper mix in wraps or as an omelette filling.

A pack of mixed peppers costs about a quid, let’s say 20p for an onion and 50p for a tin of tomatoes. Up to a pound for 4 eggs, depending on the quality and provenance. So meals for 2 adults plus leftovers = between £2.50 and £3.00. As always, I’m assuming some basic store cupboard ingredients and aromatics. 

What you need

  • 3 or 4 peppers, any colour, sliced
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Eggs (I serve 2 per person)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Olive oil
  • Teaspoon each of of paprika and cumin (you could leave these out)

What you do

  1. In a frypan with a lid, fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft, then add the peppers and soften these also.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes and spices, and simmer for 5 mins.
  3. Make small wells in the mix and crack an egg into each. Cover the pan with its lid and cook until the egg whites are firm but the yolks are still soft, about 5 mins.
  4. Serve with some bread, or over couscous, if you like, with a splash of hot sauce.

You could, if you wanted to, add sliced mushrooms with the peppers, and/or stir in some baby spinach to wilt, before adding the eggs, but I’ve not costed this.

Add some meat: Some fried chorzo in this woudl be delicious
Make it low-carb: Don’t serve the bread.
Make it child-friendly: Go easy on the spices