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.

    img_0538
    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

Kid-friendly meals: Creamy chicken and sweet potato pie

My family loves fish pie and cottage pie, but the Gs eat both most weeks at nursery. I wanted something a bit different that didn’t need pastry.

Frankly, there’s not much that can’t be improved by the addition of mashed potato. So this takes all the best elements of a fish or cottage pie – meat cooked in a creamy sauce and clouds of mash on top – and adds more veg and tasty chicken thighs.


What you’ll need

  • 6 chicken thighs, cut into small chunks
  • Half a cup of frozen peas
  • Half a cup of sliced mushrooms
  • 3 or 4 shallots, finely sliced
  • About 50g butter
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • A decent glug of cream
  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, plus  butter to mash

What you do

  1. Peel, chop and boil the sweet potatoes until soft. Mash with plenty of butter and seasoning to taste and put to one side
  2. Using half the butter, brown the chicken pieces then set aside
  3. In the same pan, heat the rest of the butter then cook the shallots until soft. Stir in the flour and cook for another 2 minutes
  4. Off the heat, slowly whisk in the chicken stock. Return to the stove and bring to the boil
  5. Add in the cream and mustard, the chicken pieces and the vegetables and cook until the sauce thickens
  6. Pour the mix into a pie dish and cover with the sweet potato mash. Bake at 180C for 25 minutes.

I served this with green beans on the sides for me and Big G but the Gs just ate it as it came.

You can prep all of this in advance to make life easier – I made mine before we went to swimming in the morning then put in the oven for supper.

You can also freeze all the elements if you wanted to make double – just take the filling and mash out in the morning, let it defrost in the fridge all day then assemble half an hour before dinner.

Things my kids happily ate this month 12

I’m squeezing in one more post before the new year. I missed November as we were renovating the house and decamped to my lovely parents-in-law most weekends. So for November, things my kids happily ate were mostly cooked by Big G’s mum. But the renovations are done, the dust has cleared and I am again responsible for at least two meals a week that counter the advent calendar chocolate and Christmas pudding. Here are some of them.

Tuscan chicken

I don’t know what makes this particularly Tuscan, but I’ve seen several versions of this recently. This is mine.

Fry chicken breasts in a splash of olive oil then remove from the pan.

Add a little more oil and some crushed garlic and cook until soft.

Tip in half a tin of chopped tomatoes, several handfuls of baby spinach and a good slug of cream and cook until the spinach has wilted.

Return the chicken breasts to the pan and heat through.

Serve over pasta


Orange mash

I make this quite a lot. It feels more virtuous than regular mash, and I usually have a bit of each of the veg that needs using up. It tastes great with sausages or white fish. You can also freeze this if you have some left over, or use it as an alternative filling in these croquettes.

Peel and dice a sweet potato, half a butternut squash and two carrots.

Cook until soft – I used a microwave steamer, but you could boil or slow roast them instead.

Mash with a big knob of butter, a handful of Parmesan and a tiny sprinkle of paprika


Dauphinois bubble and squeak

This was a bit of post-Christmas decadence. No sprouts but I added other veg. This wasn’t the prettiest of suppers but it was delicious.

Smoosh up the left over dauphinois.

Add some chopped meat – I used chicken but ham or turkey would also work and certainly would be more appropriate to the season.

Add finely sliced veg. I didn’t have sprouts so threw in some braised red cabbage, some frozen peas and some sliced mushrooms.

Put the mixture into a fry pan and push down so it is packed into the bottom of the pan. Cook until it starts to get a bit crispy on the bottom, then flip and repeat.


Chocolate-orange bread and butter pudding

This was another Christmas leftover recipe, of course. I used day-old French baguette, Nutella, Cointreau and ready-made custard; feel free to make yours from scratch. 

Butter a baking dish.

Take slices of old bread and butter one side then spread the other side with chocolate spread.

Layer into the baking dish, and splash over something boozy.

Pour over the custard (I loosened mine a little with milk) and leave to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Bake at 180C for 20-25 minutes. Serve with more custard, cream and/or ice cream.

What to take when you visit a new mum

So your friend has had a baby. You’re heading over for newborn snuggles. You have the cutest baby-gro ever for the new arrival. But what do you take for mum?

Food! Food is the correct answer. But you need to take HELPFUL food. Whenever I see this discussed on parenting forums, people suggest cottage pie. Which is nice, except then your friend has a bloody great cottage pie taking up room in their fridge, which they have to eat for three days until they’re sick of it.

What your friend really wants is small portions of food they can freeze and then use to build bigger meals. Food that is simple to make, tastes nice and is nourishing.

Two dear friends have had babies this year. One is a first time mum, so it’s all new to her; the other has a two year old so needs to feed child 1 easily, as well as look after child 2. So I took a few portions of my easy microwave cheese sauce and a few portions of my hidden veg pasta sauce to them both.

The cheese sauce can be used for macaroni cheese (pour over cooked pasta, bake, serve with salad) or as a gratin sauce (pour over cooked cauliflower and broccoli, bake, serve alongside minute steak or sausages).  The pasta sauce can go straight over pasta, be added to mince to make a bolognese of sorts, or spread on pizza bases.

Here are some ideas for other meal bases you could take. Marinate or part cook at home, then freeze, ready for your poor, tired new mum friend to just defrost and go.

  • Marinated chicken thighs. Defrost, bake, serve with rice or potatoes and frozen veg. I love BBQ chicken thighs
  • A vegetable soup base of roasted veg, cream and stock. Defrost, heat, blend
  • Generic mince, onion and tomato mix. Defrost and eat as is over baked potatoes; add beans and spices to make this into chilli; or add carrot, celery, a bay leaf and seasoning to make bolognese
  • Pie filling of cooked chicken or beef, with appropriate cooked veg plus a gravy. Defrost, top with a puff pastry lid and serve. Here’s my lazy chicken  pie recipe
  • Asian-style marinated prawns, beef or chicken strips. Defrost and stir fry quickly with a mix of green Asian veg
  • Sausage roll filling. Defrost, roll in puff pastry, bake. Try my veggie version
  • Burgers. Defrost, fry, put in bun with cheese and salad. I like the bean burger recipe here
  • Meatballs, Defrost, bake, serve with mashed potatoes or with pasta and tomato sauce. Try a turkey version

And don’t forget, while you’re visiting, make your own tea, do the washing up and fold any clean laundry you see sitting about.

What did friends and family do to help you when you had a newborn?