Friday, 3 May 2013

Baked aubergine

There are very few things I feel genuinely guilty about - especially when it comes to parenting. Sometimes I pretend to feel guilty, but actually I don't. There are things that I do with Kitty that I know are not ideal, but I do them mostly knowing why I'm doing them and being okay with the consequences.

For example, Kitty probably watches more TV than she ought to at the moment, because I am so immobile I can't sit on the floor and play Megabloks, or toss her in the air or chase her round and round the garden. But I am okay with the odd bad mood and screamy bedtime brought on by too much telly because I don't really have a choice right now.

But there's one thing I do, that I do endlessly, even though it makes me feel really guilty and I'm not okay with the consequences - and that is fucking about with my iPhone while I am supposed to be looking after Kitty.

I mean I love, LOVE my iPhone. It makes me about 70% more productive because I can do an Ocado order while hanging about waiting for something to boil, or reply to emails in the car while Kitty is kipping in the back.

But it also makes me, I think, a 70% less good parent because when I am supposed to be concentrating on Kitty, I am usually scrolling through Twitter. I also love Twitter, by the way. I think it is a brilliant resource filled with excellent people and endless, helpful information. Without Twitter this blog would have fewer readers and it would have been significantly harder (i.e. impossible) to sell any copies of my book, as most sales have come off the back of tweets and re-tweets.

At times, I think Twitter is the only thing that has stopped me from going mad during this most recent long, dark winter - but in fact I now suspect that it may have made everything harder. Trying to combine childcare with absolutely anything else - making dinner, ironing, working, Tweeting - turns something occasionally boring into a real chore just because you are suddenly trying to do two things at once.

Housework and childcare mostly have to go together but anything else that doesn't absolutely have to be combined with childcare, shouldn't. Especially the childcare of toddlers, who have a witchy sixth sense for when they are not your priority; it makes them incredibly nervous and liable to fling themselves down the stairs, or draw all over your Dune embellished pink suede loafers with green Crayola felt tip. For example.

And Twitter has just become a habit now, for me. In any lull I will automatically have a quick poke about and see what's going on - because there's always something going on on Twitter. But the compulsiveness of it now makes me feel a bit ill - staring into that tiny screen, poke, poke, poke. Not looking up, not looking around me. And Twitter sucks me into other areas of the internet that make my day jagged and stop-start, (mostly online clothes shops), rather than relaxed and linear. Rather than surrendering to childcare, I find myself fighting it. And it's not working.

Added to this, Kitty has just got into the nursery at the top of our road and will start in September. Although I don't feel remotely sad about it - she will love it and it won't come a moment too soon - it does make me realise that we have a limited time left together and I should probably be more mindful of what I do with that time.

I don't say all this to sound martyrish or holy: I am never motivated by anything other than laziness. I don't want anything to be hard that doesn't have to be - the Lord knows that life is full of necessary hardships without creating more for yourself. I want anything that can be, to be easy and convenient. Any fool, as soldiers say, can be uncomfortable. If I thought looking at my iPhone a lot made childcare easier, more relaxed and less onerous, I would do it. But when you've only got half a brain to start with, letting half of that half wander off into the internet is the equivalent of a brisk trepanning.

So last weekend I took Twitter off my phone and have a rule now that I don't look at my phone at all unless I get a text message or a phone call, which is hardly ever. Twitter is reserved for when the nanny is here and I am working at my laptop. It's much better already. When I get to the end of the day I don't feel so twitchy.

I'm also allowed unlimited access to newspapers, magazines and my Kindle as a compensation. I have blamed my failure to do any reading recently on being pregnant, but it's not that. It's that I'm always on bloody Twitter. If Kitty is engaged doing something else, like messing about in the garden or drawing, I reckon it's alright to be reading a book because it's not so blinkering, so tunnel-visioning. And it doesn't set quite such a ghastly example to Kitty that one ought to constantly have one's face lit up by a blue screen, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, endlessly scrolling.... if she wants to grow up with her face in Kindles or newspapers - god rest their souls - that can only be a good thing.

Having Twitter on my iPhone also makes me a shit wife. Any second that my husband is not talking - and sometimes when he is talking, frankly - I've got half a mind on Twitter, which isn't fair because my husband is not boring and doesn't ask for much in return for providing me with a roof over my head and private healthcare, other than my complete attention when he is saying something to me.

Other than taking Twitter off my phone, I'm making amends to my husband by being supportive about the no-carb thing he's doing at the moment. Cooking without carbs is a fucking chore, but I might as well get back into the swing of it as once this kid is out - if it ever comes out (despite my due date still being 5 whole days away) - I plan to diet myself out of existence. I want people to say "Oh my god she's got so THIN!!!!"

Anyway, the other night I made for Giles a baked aubergine, which sounded absolutely disgusting from the recipe, but I was running out of ideas, (if we have another chicken salad I might DIE), and I actually managed, using a bit of store-cupboard cunning, to turn it into a really quite appealing thing.

I have used parmesan to top this, but equally you could use goat's cheese. I, personally, ate this with some pitta bread because let's not get too carried away - but Giles skipped it.

Esther's low-carb baked aubergine of devotion

1 aubergine pp
1 400g can chopped tomatoes
2 heaped tsp capers
2 tbs pitted black olives
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 clove garlic, peeled
4-5 anchovy fillets (non-essential, if you are a hater... but if you are ambivalent, I urge you to give these a try - they will not make everything fishy and disgusting, they will just add a salty, savoury interest)
2 sage leaves (if you have)
1 tbsp vinegar - red wine for preference but any old shit will do
some plain yoghurt (again, if you have)
a few strips of lemon zest
1 small handful chopped parsley
1 handful grated parmesan per aubergine half

preheat your oven to 220C

1 Slice your aubergines lengthways and score through the flesh with a small sharp knife to produce a lattice effect. Then sloop over a lot of olive oil and put in to roast for 35 mins.

2 Meanwhile chop up on a board the anchovies, olives and capers. Gently fry in a small pan with some groundnut or LIGHT olive oil. Tear in the sage leaves and squeeze or grate over the garlic. Let this cook together for a bit until the anchovy fillets have disintegrated.

3 Now plop out the tomatoes into a sieve and shake over the sink to let the tinny tomato juices flow away (but don't rinse). Add to the pan with the tomato puree and leave to cook for a few mins. Throw over six or seven turns of the pepper grinder. Now add a dribble of water - maybe 2 tbsp - just from the kettle and give it all a stir.

4 Now add a dollop of plain yoghurt if you have it, the lemon zest and the vinegar. Stir together and leave to cook very gently without drying out. The composition you are after is spreadable and juicy but not too wet. The consistency, I suppose, of bolognese.

5 Take the aubergines out of the oven - they ought to be a bit collapsed and blackened in places. Spread with the tomato mixture, top with whatever cheese you like then finish off under the grill.


  1. This looks delicious, Princi does something very similar but with quartered squash (more caramelising?) and green rather than black olives but thanks to you I now know how to make it at home! I think Twitter and iphones are both great in all the ways you mentioned, but especially because they help mothers feel less isolated, in particular with their first babies. I am usually really good at being alone - but nothing prepared me for the relentless loneliness of early motherhood. Good luck for the coming weeks! Xx

  2. You are very wise. My boyfriend is only at home every 2nd weekend and I am *very* guilty of still scrolling through twitter when he would prefer to have my undivided attention. I may follow your example and delete twitter from my iPhone when he's home next weekend. Elaine x

  3. When The Daughter (who is your age) was Kitty's age, there weren't any mobile phones. Think of it! In our house, we had yet even to get a PC. I think that happened the following year, but I barely touched it, not until I was back in college doing a PGCE and had to produce assignments.

    There was no Internet, unless one was an academic geek.

    What did I do, apart from Housework and Childcare? I am trying to think. There was virtually no daytime TV either, except for sport in the summer (which was, apart from Wimbledon, a yawn).

    R4 burbled in the background. I gardened a bit. The Daughter "helped" which led to mud in hair. Her hair, not mine. Or I just played on the lawn with her and caught some rays. Other mothers came round, or I went to them. Sometimes our children didn't bite each other, but it was for US, not them...

    I shopped and cooked. I did bits of handicrafts, like knitting and needlepoint, occasional clothes-making. I read in bed before my eyelids clunked shut. It was positively VICTORIAN next to what you describe, and yet it was barely thirty years ago!

    I am glad you have managed to sideline the Twittering instead of sidelining Kitty while she is still little. You are not going to arrive on your deathbed wishing you had tweeted more, I promise you...

  4. I was having the same phone issues myself... Thinking of pursuing phone/twitter/facebook etc once kids in bed or when i have time alone. Its not fair..half arsed job really. Anyway if you are going carb free check out this website

  5. I completely agree with you. I have recently deleted my Twitter account as was always on it, every fucking spare minute of the day. There is nothing more annoying (and damn right insulting) than talking to someone who is has one ear on you and two eyes on their mobile. I had turned into that person. Goodbye Twitter.

    Love your blog still though.

  6. Try making bab ganoush - THE best dip for non carbers - BBQ some aubergines to hell, then peel and blitz with oil, tahini and garlic. I could literally die from over eating the stuff. (Also makes an awesome pasta sauce - but we won't go there...)

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  8. well I just want to say Twitter rather misses you...

  9. But on another topic completely - FIVE DAYS??! Golly. That was quick (for me. felt about 17 months for you I'd say). If poss you must embrace the tv thing. In fact, if you do nothing over the next few days, get yourself to Argos and buy a portable dvd player, and a stack of toddler-friendly dvds. They'll save your mother-of-newborn life. I used to put eldest in the (empty) bath with a dvd on, while baby lay in her moses basket and I had a shower. only possible way I could have a shower.

  10. Oh I hear you on the Twitter front. I've managed to extricate myself from the clutches of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram... I just found myself more involved with social media, than actually socialising with the real world. Sad. Plus I found that my almost-6-year-old daughter has started to grab my phone and 'switch off' to the world to play games, and when I try to speak to her she's suddenly deaf. Scary, then I realised she's only mimicking what she sees me doing.. even scarier!

    On the foodie side, I do love a baked aubergine/eggplant. Tell Giles though that this carb-free bollocks is absolute nonsense. I can't imagine going without bread!!

  11. I'm too lazy and boring to bother with twitter. Seems like too much hassle trying to come up with witty, insightful observations every few hours. Instead, my addiction is Mail online. I fucking hate that paper, it makes my head hurt with equal parts rage/disgust - and yet...I'm always clicking on it. I've recently cut back to just once a day (15 mins) and I feel much happier and more relaxed for it.
    Good luck with the upcoming birth. Good news is: labor with a second baby is a lot quicker.

  12. Elizabeth Medovnik4 May 2013 at 21:57

    Can't believe your due date is so close! I was reading what you said and thinking 'shit, I don't use twitter but I spend the whole time reading books and newspapers rather than concentrating on playing with Mimi', so I'm glad you think that's not too bad :o). I did try Twitter once but I really couldn't get the hang of it. That's probably a good thing.

    Best of luck with everything xx

  13. If you want ideas for low/no carb meals I'm full of them at the moment, since it's what I'm doing (I got fed up with not being able to do up any zips for my favourite dresses any more). Delia has a great recipe for chicken thighs called Oriental Chicken (I just use legs rather than all thighs) which is great with steamed green veg.

    Mostly the challenge of the change in my diet is replacing starch with low-ish carb veg. Thank you for Polpo's Courgette Salad - it's been very helpful.

  14. I have found myself pulling back from Twitter too, it's too addictive and now that I have spent less time on it recently, I find I can read books like yours. It is so good and far more enjoyable. There is something quite stressful about Twitter in how it pulls you in.
    Love the sound of this aubergine dish but would find it totally insubstantial without a dash of carbs.

  15. Oh God. So true.

  16. Recently, my smartphone went wrong (if you ever WANT your smartphone to go wrong, by the way, just lend it to your toddler for twenty minutes), and I am now using a phone with WAP capability, but no WiFi. Twitter does not work properly on this phone. My tweets have dropped from about a hundred a day to about four. At first, I was devastatingly frustrated. Now, I quite like it. I do not need to know that someone I've never met does not like hummus. I do not need to read forty football jokes that I don't understand.
    I do miss email connectivity though. But gawd, remember the olden days of having a phone that could only store 10 texts? And 30 contacts? Ah, innocent times.
    Hope the baby doesn't hold up too much longer. I *do* keep checking twitter for that...

  17. i think baby Sam arrived early on the 6th May

  18. Have just seen Giles' tweet - MASSIVE CONGRATULATIONS!!! Hope everything went ok and that you're all well xx

  19. Esther, stuff the cooking where is a picture and lengthy birth story about your wonderful new boy... I can't wait much longer, I think I may pop

  20. Nice recipe - which I will try, but great news about little baby Sam. Glad it seems to have gone well and you are finally no longer pregnant! I will miss your Twitter chats with Giles when you clearly were sitting next to each other on the sofa but chatting on Twitter. Sometimes I wish I could wean myself off Twitter...but not yet.

  21. Congratulations! Hope all is as well as can be.

  22. Great recipe, thanks for sharing (& congratulation!)

  23. Aww, little Sam has the same birthday as me! Congratulations, and I hope it all went well. How is Kitty coping with being a big sister?

  24. I did have a cellphone but kept losing it and as you say could not stop fiddling with it. So am so pleased it has got lost. My husband doesn't have a cell phone either which might mean we are the only couple in the USA without a cellphone and it feels great! Will call the Guinness Book of Records to see. Good for you for turning off Twitter. Love the aubergine recipe.

  25. delicious flavours looks wonderful

  26. My hypocrite of a boyfriend berated me endlessly for being on my iphone, until he got one himself. Now he is a staring, gormless waste of a man (a bit unfair but occasionally that is what I think when I look at him).

    Anyway, grumbles aside, if you roast half a butternut squash with a knob of butter and a clove of crushed garlic in it's hollow bit, then scoop out all that and mix it with roast walnuts and blue cheese. Then roast it a bit more with some cheese on top... that... that is something special. But i've had that. This sounds yummy. I want to eat it NOW!