Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Prawn and spinach curry with lemongrass paste

After Kitty was born I had been writing quite a lot about the general lifeshock of having a baby, the discombobulation, the adjustment, the anxiety, the occasional moments of despair - you know. My usual thing.

And I had been thundering away on my laptop and capturing, I thought really brilliantly, the whole thing. TRUTH, I said to myself *tappety tappety tappety* It's all about TRUTH. I also thought it was quite funny.

Then separately two people "took me aside" and asked me if I was "alright". Was I, maybe, suffering from a bit of post natal depression?

My first instinct was to laugh. It struck me as hilarious that I was writing fully consciously about the difficulties of new motherhood in an, I thought, totally self-aware and solid, non-mad way and these people took me to be nuts. So I felt like laughing and laughing and then vomiting and bit and crying for a few seconds from sheer mania. Then my second instinct was to yell "Of COURSE I've got post natal depression. Having a baby can be a bit DEPRESSING." And my third and final instinct was to say "I'm just telling the truth! This is how it is! You think I'm a fucked up basket case because you haven't got any kids and don't know what it's like!!"

In the end I think I just said "No honestly I'm fine."

Any idle chatter about post natal depression enrages me, as it is to diminish actual sufferers (I understand what hell it must be) and to diminish the, I don't know, the... noble suffering of motherhood. It can be terrible and God fucking damn it, I can take it. (But not without a lot of moaning.) So it irritates me that absolutely any even slightly negative emotion related to having a small baby and suddenly you've got PND. It's the equivalent of liking to wash your hands before you cook dinner and suddenly you've got OCD.

People also talk about it in a slightly hushed way, as if rather than just feeling a bit tired and claustrophobic you were Bertha fucking Mason charging round your attic in your nightie gibbering and clawing at your eyes with long dirty fingernails.

I wish this sort of caper was referred to as post-natal stress or post-natal trauma or post-natal anxiety - or even drop the post-natal, thanks. Can we all just assume, please, that anyone who's just had a baby - first or second or third or eighth, is not going to find life and the world a constant bellylaugh for a bit? Maybe for quite a long time!

It doesn't need to be fixed or solved. Nobody needs to go and see a flipping doctor (unless you really are charging round the attic in your dirty nightie). All you want, when you've just had a baby, is a bit of discreet sympathy. "Mmm yes it's so hard," is what you want to hear. "It's the same for everyone. It'll get better."

A strange side-effect of post-natal gloom is of course that you are absolutely delightful to your children to compensate. Kitty knows I'm a bit down in the dumps because she gets showered with attention, smiles and an unusual enthusiasm for Play-Doh and drawing. ("Mummy Mummy look at my picture!" "Kitty I love that picture."I usually do, after all.) Sam cannot believe how many weird noises I am capable of making and for how long I can play Where Is Sam? There Is Sam! (Where Is Mummy? She's In the Dark Teatime Of The Soul!)

Anyway here is my very handy guide to Post-Natal Trauma. It sounds, in abbreviation, like PMT. But then so does PND. My message is: it's all different sides of the same coin.

Your schedule, if you have just had a baby, ought to go something like this.

For the first year you will be suddenly, randomly hormonal and cry at strange things and shout at your husband for no reason (or sometimes for perfectly good reasons). If it is your first child you cannot believe how tired you are. You feel like you have been expertly beaten up by secret police. You live on coffee. You cannot remember anything.

On top of this you will experience:

First Weekend as Mother depression when you realise Oh My God there are no days off.

First Fight with Husband over child/childcare/child's routine etc. He says you're uptight and tense about everything. You say Fuck You you've got no idea what this is like. You realise Oh My God we're not a sexy carefree couple anymore. We're not this, like, perfect soul matey match that nothing can tear asunder. We're just a couple of idiots who barely know each other with a child to look after.

Three Months In depression when you realise Oh My God this is going to go on forEVER. If it is your second child, round about now it hits you how little of the way through the first year you are, and how much longer you have to go before Child 1 and Child 2 can interact in any useful way (even if this means fighting). You also suddenly remember: teething!

First Winter depression when you realise Oh My God winters used to be fun! With log fires and spending entire days in bed reading spicy novels! Long red wine lunches with friends! Now winter is about Noro - who's got it? Who's had it? - indoor play, one streaming cold after another and long dark afternoons.

Going on Holiday depression when you realise Oh My God going anywhere with a baby is a flipping hassle and they don't want to sit about all day on a sun lounger reading Life After Life. They want to eat sand and wake up at 0500 due to flimsy holiday rental window treatments. This is combined with First Flight depression where you do 5 hours with a 13 month old and vow never to leave England by air again.

Childcare Depression where you realise Oh My God I cannot buy my way out of trouble. "I'll just get a nanny/send it to daycare if it's annoying," you said breezily when you were pregnant. Then you have the little weasel and realise that nothing is ever that simple. You realise that no bastard can look after this baby properly except you. They will upset it, they will get it wrong, it will feel abandoned. You'd rather do it all yourself. Which leads to...

...Self-Image Depression where you realise Oh My God how did my feet get so disgusting? I cannot remember the last time I got my hair cut. Why is my wardrobe full of clothes from 2007? Why do I only ever wear grey skinny jeans with Converse and a Breton top? Where did it all go? Who am I?

If you don't experience any of the above with your child or children then I salute you and congratulate you and envy you. But, hear this: you are the freak, not me.

Well I don't know about you but all that talk about feeling blue has cheered me up no end and made me feel really quite peckish. So let's turn with appropriate haste to this prawn and spinach curry that has been a big hit with us dieters.

It has been aided by a thing I found in a tube in Waitrose called lemongrass paste.

My basic curry mix, which I turn to in times of stress and confusion (but not depression, you understand), goes like this:

1 chilli, seeds in
2 spring onions
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 small bunch coriander if there's any in the garden/I have some hanging about
some grated ginger - about 1 tbsp
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 large clove garlic, peeled
Some lime juice? Lime zest?

Then in it all goes into the little whizzer - whizz whizz. And if I ever come across some exotic thing that might change the flavour and thus our entire dinner, I like to throw it in too just for fun. Because I am that wild. I worked my way through a pot of tamarind paste a few months ago but just between you and me I didn't see what difference it made. And when I have fresh lemongrass I add that. But this paste, in a tube, which you keep in your fridge for curry emergencies is my idea of a good time. There it is: an instant new note to dinner sitting gamely in the fridge.

So what you do with your curry paste/mix once it has been tamed in your whizzer is fry it off gently in some groundnut oil, then add one small can coconut milk, (Waitrose do mini ones, about 170ml, which has enabled me to make curries regularly. Those normal-sized cans of coconut milk are insane - I am not making a curry for 400 people, people!), then add some chicken stock, about a pint (a cube will do) and simmer all this gently for about 30 mins. If you feel your curry is still too liquid at this point, you can simmer further until it reduces to a pleasing consistency.

To this you can add whatever you like. I am into frozen peeled prawns at the moment, also tofu and spinach and fried courgettes (see previous post). AND we recently had this with some Zero Noodles, which you may have read about in MailOnline, (don't pretend you don't), which are those noodley things that are made of some strange seaweed and taste of nothing but add reassuring bulk to an otherwise sparse curry.

Zero Noodles are, disappointingly, not available at Waitrose, only online or from Holland & Barrett (and some other shops I can't remember). They are fiendishly expensive so I use them sparingly, only about once or twice a month. But when I remember that it's time to get them out I'm always pleased and relieved: that's the thing about diets - you just have to try not to let them depress you. 


  1. Perfect embodiment of motherhood, for me, anyway!

  2. I will confess I have not made a single thing you have blogged about, however I may have pinned or bookmarked a few of them (likely something with Cheese).

    I am currently childless but at the point where I am considering turning my life upside down with one, and I have found your accounts VERY refreshing opposed to bloggers who romp all over New York in perfectly coordinated baby outfits with their double wide strollers. I love reading your posts, and I send them to my friends. So thank you, and I wish you many nice, quiet blocks of time where everyone naps at once.

  3. Am sending this to a friend who recently had a baby. Last week she hissed 'NO ONE TOLD ME YOU HAVE TO MOURN FOR YOUR OLD LIFE' while gulping red wine and resentfully glaring at her baby.
    Sounds like you're back in the game! Keep up your writing!

  4. God Esther, honestly, you blog exactly what I've tried to say to girlfriends in the past week but in a MUCH more eloquent and intelligent way!! I do love reading your work, am now off to send the link to everyone I was ranting at about Not-post-natal-depression the other day and title my email 'this is what I was banging on about'!!!! Xx

  5. Funnily enough I bought some lemongrass paste in a jar yesterday as couldn't find the real thing. It's brilliant. This looks great, I love curries like this.

  6. That was fucking delicious last night. Thank you. Whingebag.

  7. Have you tried these from ocado?|20000|47765&entry=eat+water&groupSimilarProducts=y#

    B has them

  8. I don't have kids yet but find this all fascinating in a kind of 'prepare as much as you can, but you'll still go to hell anyway' sort of a way. Maybe when Kitty was new it seemed more like depression to outsiders because you didn't write much about the good bits of new motherhood (surely there must be a few of those...) - which, as you rightly said, was because you didn't think it would be helpful to write about those parts because nobody struggles with the nice bits of parenting.

    But maybe the cumulative effect of all the desperate bits was a bit overwhelming, which gave the impression that you were overwhelmed? But it's all such good writing, please don't stop.

    Nice curry recipe, also! xx

  9. What no-one ever says either is that expecting your second child makes you feel like someone said "Ok, you did them maths/physics/chemistry (sub subject of torture) exam ok the first time around. Now go back and do it again - without notes". I feel an unexpected pressure to "get it right" again. This time with the added bonus of less sleep with toddler in tow and more insight cos you're more aware of what could go wrong. And who the fuck forgets their first labour? (You might guess I'm not dealing all that well with a second pregnancy...)

    1. OMG sorry to butt in here, but am SO with you with the whole who forgets their first labour bollocks. OMG that drove me MAD when i was having my first....oh you forget the pain! Is that not the most pointless thing to tell someone who has to GO through the pain before they forget it, or what?! I am TERRIFIED of my next labour (in 2 months!) and my first one (3 years ago) is CRYSTAL in my mind. I wish you Good luck + lots of pain relief.

    2. Oh elective Caesarean. I'm not going through that non-dilating foetal distress crap again. This one is IN THE DIARY. But good luck too

  10. Being able to think ahead and see all the pitfalls of breeding listed above is the reason we don't have kids! I mean, what the bloody hell did you imagine was going to happen?

    Anyway, I have a simple fallback curry recipe that might just benefit from a touch of lemongrass paste too, so I might just give it a go.

    Cheers, and good luck!

  11. I'm almost curious to know how i would have felt about this blog before i had kids. I mean, i would have definitely enjoyed it, your writing style is hilarious. But i am not sure if i would have thought i would relate to it so much. Because by fuck it's almost a mirror image of my experience with a toddler/another baby on the way etc. And i had NO idea i would feel like this about motherhood. I actually really thought it was all going to be lovely and fluffy and "a bit tiring". I must have taken leave of my own senses. I can't actually believe i was so naive. Of course, of COURSE there's brilliant parts. LOADS of them. The kids themselves are the embodiment of brilliance, even when they are being shits. But sometimes it's really, really fucking hard. and that's all your blog says. It's hard. Brilliant and hard. And if people are reading anything else into it, then they're not very bright. In my opinion.

  12. Elizabeth Medovnik2 August 2013 at 00:19

    I agree with absolutely everything you said here apart from the bit about wearing skinny jeans (because I can't fit my thighs into them).

  13. This is brilliant.


  14. This is absolutely hilarious and so true. Have you had the "All you need is a good night's sleep" comment yet? Apparently this will eliminate all of the depression from the above. Which I seriously doubt myself but as it never comes with an offer of "and let me take them so you can have that sleep", I'll never know ;-)

  15. As per Giles's comments, delicious. My addition was some nice chunks of halibut & a few thickly sliced new potatoes. Best thing i've cooked in a while!! Thank you.

  16. Hello, I have just spent last week reading your blog from start to end, its brill. Best word in this post: discombobulated. The curry looks fab too. Best wishes x

    1. you must have been incredibly bored to do that. still, I am very pleased it held your attention. welcome.

  17. Hi Esther - recipes all look awesome recently with the hot weather and savoury foods looking so much more appealing. Did not want to post on twitter as tweet but PT(personal trainer)posted me this recently. Hope you find it helpful Btw this is the osteopath fan of yours! Love your writing. You and @BelsiveBovary impress me with your insights. I LOL legit - you ladies got skillz Oh I am @DualVitality - THAT osteopath - Susannah xx

  18. My mother moved herself into my house for 3 weeks after my first-born was born. She smoked in the house, put glasses in the microwave so they smashed and repainted the house according to her own taste whilst I had to look after her as she was "the guest." When I foolishly queried all this she told me (and all her friends, neighbours, the milkman and the vet) that I had PND. NO I DIDN'T. I WAS JUST ANGRY!

    1. ... and the bizarre thing is that she would have thought that she was helping...

    2. Yes. And then she got upset, so I had to apologise to her, whilst trying to intercept the postcards she'd written discussing my "lactation problems" in intimate detail to all her friends.

      When my own lovely daughter has a baby, I'll just pay for one of those night maternity nurses and a cleaner.

  19. Try having a third child, wearing the same breast feeding crappy clothes and looking like a crazy lady! People tend to thing you have gone beyond PND and just need to be sectioned! Hey maybe I do, but might try making this curry first, loving this blog, my husband found it and said it will cheer you up, this lady gets it, and lady you do! I salute you

    1. I would love to have three children. Three, four, five, six!! I love my sisters, I love kids. But I do not have the guts for it. I would go CRAZY. I am too weak in mind body and spirit. I salute YOU

  20. I know it sounds gross but julienned courgette is a good skinny replacement for noodles. You can get the julienne peeler at Lakeland about £3.

  21. I have just laughed out loud at work reading this, my God its so true esp the bit about no longer being a sexy carefree couple and never having time off bit. Gah!

  22. Thanks for answering that never-ending question: what the HELL am I going to cook tonight, after making about 4,000 family dinners? (sad that I actually sat and worked that out just now)

  23. This is JUST what I needed to read. My four month old daughter has reflux and an intolerance to dairy (as if first time motherhood isn't hard enough!). The first three months of her life were miserable. My mother constantly pressured me to go on antidepressants so I wasn't so awful to my husband. What I really needed was a baby who didn't scream all day and a bit more sympathy from my mum! My baby is now much more settled thanks to Losec and amino acid formula, but motherhood is still really tough!

    1. Anthea I am so sorry that your daughter had reflux. I know a lot of people with refluxy kids and it is nothing short of torture. It was the only thing I prayed hard for with mine - "Please... don't let them have reflux..." But, terrific that you got a diagnosis and treatment, so many people are just told that it's "colic" or whatever. :(((

      All the best
      Esther x

  24. I have just discovered your blog and read this post laughing and almost crying. I have an 18 months old and another one due in March. After my first, my dad told everyone in my home town I had PND because I couldn’t Skype him EVERY SINGLE DAY. He didn’t understand that just turning on the computer was an achievement. I also cried every day for the first two weeks and sometimes my husband and I would ‘joke’ about leaving our son in a box at the end of our drive in the hope someone would take him. Obviously now he’s an amazing, happy little boy, who does have his moments...I’m reading about your experiences with no. 2 with interest.

  25. Esther, you tell the truth! I don't know why it's so comforting to read, but it really is. Thank you, truly.

  26. i was just about to give up on cooking twice, once for 3 small people at 5pm and once again for a hungry husband and i at 8pm. i am never that hungry at 8pm as i have eaten all the kids tea at 5pm and also, once the kids are safely in bed, all i want to do is lie down in a dark, quiet room. so, i told my husband. no more dinners for you. you can either eat at work, eat out or have a disgusting ready meal. he said he was moving into a hotel.

    so as much as that would reduce my domestic load, it didn't seem an ideal solution 6 years and 3 kids into our marriage so i looked to your blog for inspiration and made this curry which was so easy and so amazingly delicious. i made it again a few days later to use up the other half tin of coconut milk (i need to get to waitrose)

    thank you