Cheap eats: Sausage and spinach pasta 

I try not to eat too much pasta but it’s definitely a cost effective way of feeding the family. I also got some new pasta bowls for my birthday (not the one pictured which came from a pound shop about 10 years ago) which are just screaming out for a big tangle of linguine or tagliatelle.

I used just two pork sausages for this from a pack of 8, plus half a bag of baby spinach and a few spoons of creme fraiche. It will depend on how good the sausages are, but I estimate this cost about £2.00 for two portions.

What you need

  • 2 pork sausages, skins removed
  • Half a bag of baby spinach
  • A clove of garlic, crushed
  • 2 fat tablespoons of creme fraiche
  • A teaspoon of wholegrain mustard
  • Enough long pasta for two people
  • Splash of olive oil

What you do

  1. Put your pasta on to cook
  2. Fry off the garlic in the olive oil, then crumble in the sausage meat and brown
  3. Add the creme fraiche and mustard to the pan, then add the spinach and cook until it wilts
  4. Add the cooked pasta to the pan with a drop of the cooking water and mix together. Done.


Make it veggie: Hmm, probably not worth it. You could try Quorn mince but I wouldn’t bother, frankly
Make it low-carb: LOL. Pasta.
Make it child-friendly: Use a mild mustard.


Kid-friendly meals: Savoury mince and vegetable pie

Big G has very strict rules on what constitutes a pie. It should have both a pastry top and bottom, none of this “casserole with a pastry lid” nonsense. He’s not alone – there was even a petition about this a few years ago.

But time is of the essence, so this pie only has pastry on the top. Sorry, Big G.

This pie is the food of childhood. Your mother probably made one; your grandmother definitely would have done. It’s very plain, using basic mince, but so tasty.

Feeds a family of four with plenty of leftovers.

What you need

  • 500g beef mince
  • 1 brown onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup of diced vegetables
  • 250ml beef stock
  • Tablespoon of flour
  • Tsp tomato puree
  • Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Block of ready-made pastry
  • 1 egg

What you do

  1. In a little oil, soften the onion.
  2. Add the diced veg and cook until soft but still firm. I used sweet potato, carrot and frozen peas. Mushrooms would have been good but Big G doesn’t eat them. I see a lot of recipes suggesting tomatoes and celery; I say, it’s not a bolognese. Once cooked, set the vegetables to one side.
  3. In the same frypan, brown the mince until all moisture has evaporated. Stir in the flour, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Add the veg back to the pan and pour over the stock. Simmer for 20 mins, until thickened.
  5. Pour the mixture into a pie dish and allow to cool.
  6. Cover with a pastry top. Decorate with pastry shapes, if you like, and make a small slit to allow steam to escape. Brush with beaten egg then bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is brown and crispy and the filling is hot.

There is enough in the pie that you could serve it alone, but I served it with mash and creamed spinach.

Make it veggie: Quorn would be the obvious substitute here, but with enough ‘meaty’ veg you could omit it. Try lots of mushrooms, kidney beans and finely diced sweet potato and swede.

10 little acts of self care you can do right now

Sunday blues. I still get them, even with a new job to look forward to and a lovely weekend with the family behind me.

It’s a feeling of unnamed dread, the sense that something terrible is looming, it’s all moving too fast, and I won’t be able to cope. Perhaps you’re going back to a job that makes you anxious, perhaps it’s the thought of five days without your partner to help with the kids, perhaps you’ve seen your friends this weekend but the week ahead is long and lonely. But while our brains are going flat out, there are things we can do to calm them, and still our bodies, and ground us.

Whatever makes you anxious and stressed, here are a few quick things you can do to manage you situation and how you feel.


Tidy up It could be as simple as making your bed (which you can then lie in) or folding the washing (which can be done sitting in front of the TV). Or you could sort your spice rack, or pair the tupperware with their respective lids, or arrange a bookshelf, or throw out some grotty old pants. You don’t have to go all Marie Kondo, just bring a tiny bit of oder into your environment, which a feverish brain will appreciate.

Have a bath I know, this a terrible cliche, like people suggesting you ‘book a spa day’ as revenge for your partner going out on the lash, but there’s science behind the suggestion. Specifically, if you have trouble falling asleep, have a hot bath before bedtime. Your body temperature naturally drops before you fall asleep, so forcing the change will help you drop off.

Ring your mum There’s something comforting about ringing your mum. You don’t have to talk about what’s troubling you if you don’t want. She’ll tell you all about the neighbour’s new conservatory and what the dog did and a bargain she got at the supermarket, and you can pretend you’re at school again and that you’re going to wash your hair and watch Top of the Pops.

Eat a salad As tempting as it is to mainline cheese, try to put something nourishing into your body. A good salad is fresh and interesting and has the right ratio of time to prepare vs time to eat. I made three suggestions of salads to eat when you are sad last week. Conversely,

Eat a cake You could make one, or better still you could go to a coffee shop and order something stupendous. Have a decent cup of tea, and use a fork. Make it an occasion. Cake is delicious.

Read a comfort book It’s nice to regress. And a book from your teens with which you are familiar will keep your mind occupied but not require too much brain power to keep up with the narrative. My go-to is the Dark is Rising series, but consider Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte’s Web, Pippi Longstocking, Adrian Mole, some Austen or some cheeky Chalet School.

Get creative It might making be an elaborate meal, knitting a pair of socks, doing some colouring, or building with lego. Give yourself a shit hot manicure. Fold some origami. Or even a paper plane. Write some rude limericks. It doesn’t matter what you do, or how complex it is or isn’t – the act of creating will be satisfying.

Do some exercise Yeah, this is one you’ll have heard a lot. The trick is to find the right exercise. I can’t take long walks or do yoga, because my brain recognises the silence and starts making lists and harrassing me.  I prefer a class at the gym, something very fast and complex, so I have no time to think about anything. But walk the kids to the park, do some gardening, cycle to the pub in the next village – just move a little bit. On the other hand, if circumstances allow,

Have a duvet day Do it properly: clean sheets, clean jammies, a good box set. Eat cereal and scrambled egg on toast and drinks many cups of tea. Snooze and read in between.

Give back Acts of altruism have a positive impact on our own mental health. Donate to a charity, knit something for an organisation  that needs knitters, clean out your wardrobe and take stuff to a charity shop, see if your elderly neighbour needs anything from the shop.

Above all, be kind to yourself. We all have good days, and bad days, and on the days when we are feeling fragile it’s ok to retreat from the world. But take care of yourself, too, and please talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Self care will help day to day, but you should seek help if you need it longer term.

What do you do to look after yourself?

Salads for when you are sad

If you are feeling miserable, and cannot bear to get dressed in anything more than leggings or sweatpants, it is tempting to eat a tray of macaroni cheese, followed by some chocolate eclairs. And, indeed, I would encourage you to do that.

But…perhaps not every day.

Some days, you should eat a salad. Not just because it’s good for you, but because a well-crafted salad is a thing of beauty. Its lovely little tasty bits will wake up your mouth and interest your palate, and by taking care of the ingredients – separating soft leaves, slow roasting veg, careful peeling – you begin to take care of yourself.

A great salad has the following elements:

Something crunchy – This is often the salad leaves themselves, but could also be nuts, or crispy bacon, or a crips apple
Something soft – A different type of salad leaf, perhaps, or some roasted vegetables, or, best of all, cheese
Something bright and sharp – some citrus fruit, or a sharp vinaigrette
Something salty – bacon or cheese again, or a handful of capers, or some wee anchovies scattered over

Here are three salads I’ve eaten this past fortnight, sometimes in my trackie bottoms.

Pear, hazlenut, watercress and blue cheese

Cut a ripe pear into bite-sized chunks. Mix in a bowl with a handful of watercress, then scatter over some chopped hazlenuts and blue cheese. Make a dressing of 2 parts oil and 1 part wine vinegar.

Fig, walnut and goats cheese

Add some honey, balsamic and salt to the bottom of a salad bowl and warm briefly in the microwave to melt the honey. Toss the walnuts through to coat. Throw in some leaves (I used lamb’s tongue lettuce) and the figs, then scatter over the goats cheese.

Lentil, sweet potato and feta

Chop a sweet potato into small pieces and roast until soft. Take green lentils (you can cook them yourself, if you like; I used a pre-prepared packet) and add the cooked sweet potato and some rocket. Crumble over the feta. Make a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and garlic; add some chilli if you’d like.

(These are guides, rather than exact amounts – keep tasting and adjusting. Most of the leaves can be substituted for something else, depending on what you have in the fridge.)

What’s your favourite salad? And what do you what do you eat when you’re feeling down?

Kid-friendly meals: Tortilla nachos

I know, I know, nachos are pretty junky. But they’re such a nice Saturday evening tea – perfect before a movie night, and you can eat them with your fingers.

So I  made this version with whole tortillas, instead of shop-bought corn crisps, and a homemade sauce. There was much less sugar than there might have been, only what’s in the tortillas. And I got a surprising amount of veg in: tomatoes, kidney beans, sweet corn and avocado. Which is pretty good going for a Saturday night.

G Major did nearly all of this herself as well, under supervision, so this is a  nice one to do with the kids.

What you’ll need (Feeds 2 hungry children and one hovering adult)

  • 3 mini tortillas or 2 regular sized ones
  • 250g beef mince (I froze the other half of the pack for some distant bolognese)
  • Small tin of kidney beans
  • Half a brown onion, finely chopped
  • Sprinkle of paprika and ground cumin
  • Small tin chopped tomatoes
  • An avocado
  • Grated cheese and sour cream, to serve

What you do

  1. Cut the tortillas into small triangles. Put them onto a baking tray and drizzle over a tiny bit of oil, then bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes, giving them the occasional shake, until crisped up
  2. Chop the kidney beans to roughly the same consistency as the beef. I did a short burst in the food processor but go easy – you don’t want mush, just unidentifiable bean-y bits
  3. Heat a little oil in a fry pan and brown the onion and then the mince. Sprinkle in the paprika and cumin
  4. Add the chopped kidney beans, the tomatoes and sweet corn and cook for another few minutes
  5. Meanwhile, mash the avocado. You could add a splash of lemon juice if you like. This isn’t proper guacamole, FYI, just a cooling accompaniment; if you want to make authentic guac, go for it
  6. Plate up. Traditionally you layer up the corn chips, put the mince mixture on top then cover in cheese before grilling. I couldn’t deal with  the drama of hot plates, though, so I served the meat in the middle and tortilla chips around the edge to scoop
  7. Let the kids help themselves to cheese, avocado and sour cream

Make it veggie: Use Quorn mince or just stick with the beans

Silent reflux – what helped us

Silent reflux is a bastard.  It’s tricky to diagnose and exhausting to manage. G Major had it, and I caught it, amazingly, in the first two weeks. But only because both my mother and I had had reflux, and I was on the lookout for issues, and because a friend’s baby had suffered with diagnosed silent reflux, and I was familiar with the signs.

Compared to ‘normal’ reflux, the lack of exorcist puking makes silent reflux difficult to diagnose. Symptoms of silent reflux typically include: crying after feeding; arching their back; persistent hiccuping and coughing; extended suckling and excessive feeding to sooth the burning. You may also see milk being regurgitated into the mouth.

Because your baby keeps feeds down, as opposed to projectile vomiting them across the room, it’s likely the’re gaining weight well. You don’t have that permanent sour milk vom smell attached to you and it’s safe to venture out of the house without a whole separate bag of muslins. So people, and your GP, might be unsympathetic. They won’t understand that you and your partner literally, genuinely, hold your baby 24/7.

I actually cried when G Minor fell asleep flat in her basket seconds after taking a massive feed. I had no idea it could work like that.

The good news is, silent reflux doesn’t last forever. In the meantime, here’s some advice from the front lines.

Here’s what might help:

  • See your GP as soon as you can. And keep going back. Not all GPs are familiar with reflux, and certainly not silent reflux. It will be harder to get a diagnosis when they’re not a puker. Persist until you get help. Then keep going back to get your meds adjusted as baby grows.
  • Keep a diary. Then you can show the doctor how often you’re feeding, how much (if you’re bottle feeding) and how long they hollered for after a feed.
  • Film your baby. I took videos of G Major’s bawling mouth and you can actually see the milk rise to the back of her throat and then drain away again. I showed this to the GP when they were umming and aahing about what it was.
  • Drugs! You’ll probably initially be prescribed Gaviscon, which neutralises the stomach acid and forms a little blanket on to of the feed to help keep it down. You may then move on to ranitidine, which reduces the amount of stomach acid being produced. Beyond this, your GP can prescribe something like omeprazole, a proton pump inhibitor, which again inhibits the production of stomach acid. Make sure you give meds regularly – don’t just stop when you start to see an improvement.
  • Propping baby up to sleep. You can put books under one end of the cot or a wedge pillow under the mattress to elevate baby’s head. At one point G Minor was sleeping almost upright – we made a nest in the moses basket out of a wedge cushion and a V cushion and dropped her down the hole.

    G Major sleeping at 90 degrees
  • Get a sling. You will die without one. Baby is upright but can sleep on your chest. Parents have their hands free to do stuff. Plus, lovely snuggly baby time and they’re not screaming. Seriously, get a sling
  • A dummy. This will create extra saliva to help sooth any burning in their throat
  • Sleep in shifts. I used to go to bed at 7.30pm, just after supper. Big G would hold G Major and watch Breaking Bad, give a bottle of expressed milk at the late feed then go to bed at midnight. Then I’d be on duty for the rest of the night. That way I’d get at least five hours unbroken sleep, and Big G would get six or seven (depending how late he slept). We barely saw each other in the week for a few months but I kept my sanity.
  • Ignore routines. If your baby has silent reflux, there’s no “putting them down sleepy after a feed” – they’ll scream the place down. Accept that you’ll be holding them in the dark for hours, charge up your kindle and phone, and settle in. You can still keep a bedtime routine of bath, feed, lullaby etc – G Major actually went to bed brilliantly after she grew out of the reflux.
  • Get the hell out of the house.  Baby will still cry after a feed but at least there are other people about. It’s miserable on your own. We went to at least one activity or group, sometimes two, every weekday.

Here’s what won’t:

  • Co-sleeping, in and of itself. Baby will still be lying flat. If you want to co-sleep, all power to you, but just bringing baby into bed with you will not make it any better for you or them.
  • Colief or Infacol. This isn’t gas. Or still-not-actually-defined colic. You need something to thicken the stomach contents and something to reduce the acid levels.
  • Switching to formula. Again, go for it if it works better for you. It will be easier to share the load with your partner. And formula is slightly thicker than breast milk. But it’s still going to come back up. Keep breastfeeding if you want to – it’s not your milk, it’s their digestive tract.
  • Eliminating dairy. Reflux is not CMPI; there is no evidence to suggest they’re linked. Baby will have issues with feeds whether or not you’re drinking soy or almond milk, and you’ll be sad because cheese. (Babies with CMPI might well be pukers, but it won’t be silent reflux.)
  • Cranial osteopathy. Reflux occurs because the muscular valve at the end of baby’s esophagus, which acts to keep food in the stomach, hasn’t developed properly yet. No amount of pissing about with their skull will make that develop faster. That’s like suggesting cracking your knuckles will fix your pelvic floor.

Remember, hang in there. For most babies, silent reflux disappears between 12 and 16 weeks, and keeps improving as they sit up and wean. And the one advantage of silent reflux over normal reflux is that you’ve not had to deal with months of puking, keeping your clothes and soft furnishings intact.

Have you had a baby with silent reflux? What did you find helped?

Cheap eats: Mince and cabbage stir fry

My mum used to do a version of this. I have cobbled it together from memory; it’s not quite as nice as when she makes it, but recipes passed down from mothers and grandmothers rarely are, are they? My grandmother used to make a delicious salad dressing that I’ve never been able to replicate.

Anyway, this comes in at a cost of about £3.00, which will give you 4 adult servings, depending on where you shop and what quality mince you buy, and assuming you have a basic pantry of aromatics and soy sauce.

It’s a little bit crunchy, with spicy, salty flavours. It’s also very quick to make, so it’s perfect mid-week. This taste even better the next day, so take a serve for lunch.

What you need

  • 500g mince (you could use pork, beef or turkey)
  • Small cabbage, finely sliced (I like sweetheart but regular white cabbage is fine, too)
  • Medium brown onion, finely fliced
  • Pack of supernoodles or a cake of fine egg noodles
  • A red chilli, chopped
  • At least 2, maybe 3, garlic cloves, minced
  • A knob of ginger, grated
  • A dash (15 mls?) of soy sauce
  • Oil for cooking
  • Spring onions, if you have them, finely sliced for garnish

What you do

  1. Heat oil in a wok or frypan. Brown the mince then set aside
  2. Meanwhile, cook your supernoodles or pour boiling water over the egg noodles
  3. Add a little more oil to the pan, and when shiny and hot, tip in the garlic, ginger and chillis and cook for about a minute
  4. Turn the heat down, add the sliced onions and cook until soft, then add the cabbage. Pop a lid over and cook until slightly softened, but not soft – you want to retain some bite
  5. Tip the mince back in, and the cooked, drained noodles. Pour over the soy sauce and stir well before serving. Scatter over the spring onions, if using.

Make it veggie:
Use tofu or Quorn in place of the mince
Make it low-carb: Remove the noodles or replace with zero-noodles
Make it child-friendly: Use less chilli