Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Lamb meatballs stuffed with cheese

I am not the sort of mother who feels sorry for people who don't have children. Not even in my most smug moments (literally, only fleeting moments) do I think "People without kids are missing out!" or "People without kids must be so sad".

I think, quite honestly, if I hadn't had kids I would have been alright. I would have done something else, been someone else. I would have bred Shar-Peis or collected guns or become a foreign correspondent or something else equally child-unfriendly. But it would have been alright. I wouldn't have been sad. I would have Christmassed in Barbados and spent Sunday mornings browsing in foreign antiques markets. I would cook more elaborately. I would read a lot of books.

But there is one area in which my heart does go out to the childless and it is this: they have to pretend, especially women, to like children they are not related to. They either have to pretend to like them, or self-defensively announce loudly that they are not "crazy" about kids or they are "bad" with kids or turn it around and claim that kids don't like THEM. (It's not me, it's you.)

The plain fact is that it is hard to immediately take to strange children. Your own are fine. Your nieces and nephews are delightful. But other kids? Well, they're just... whatever, really. Not repulsive or anything. (Although sometimes yes, totally repulsive) But mostly you just feel... nothing.

Unless you get to know them of course. Any child, once you get to know it, becomes the world's most precious thing. But unless you see each other reasonably often, it's hard to go wild about them.

This is a perfectly okay attitude to have if you already have children. The other day a friend whom I was supposed to be seeing for coffee asked at the last minute if she could bring both her kids. Both of mine would be occupied elsewhere. "No," I said, guiltlessly. "Let's do it another time."And her children are perfectly nice. Any other time, when I also had my kids, they would be welcome at my house to smash the place up - we would all put funny hats on and sing songs and have a wicked time - but spend time with her kids, on one of my kid-free mornings? No. Unthinkable. Never.

But you can't say that if you haven't got kids because people go hmmmmm and think Oh, she doesn't like children. Like one of the Witches in Roald Dahl. And it's not that, s/he just doesn't really like children she doesn't know. She doesn't hate them!! Just doesn't really want to socialise with them. They operate at such an odd tempo, do little kids, and unless you are tuned to it, it can seem bizarre.

It's all the interrupting that the childless can't cope with. They probably think you shouldn't let your children interrupt you, that Kiddo ought to just sit in a corner eating PVA glue while you gossip on for 3 hours about someone's hideous new kitchen extension. They think you, the mother, ought to turn and say NOT NOW I AM TALKING.

Or, worse, they do that thing where they reach over to stop the hand of an eight month old who is banging a spoon on a table, because they believe that you are not stopping the child from making this awful noise because you are blinded by love or helplessly out of control.

(The fact is that there is so little joy and light in an 8 month-old's life - can't speak, can't move, probably teething - that why shouldn't the poor little bugger have a bit of fun banging a spoon about?)

Before I had children, all those utterly bizarre things kids do used to do my head in and I thought I didn't like kids, but now I know that 1) you don't really like kids you don't know and 2) I didn't understand them.

Now I don't even notice when I am interrupted. In fact these days I am quite grateful for it - I talk so much and so fast that I can really wear myself out if left to rattle on unchecked.

And anyway I am usually just sitting in my kitchen with Becky B - in the middle of saying something scandalous - and I will be dragged hither to clear up a spill and she will be dragged thither to look at a Peppa Pig rocket and when this strange little ballet brings us back to within shouting distance of each other, we pick up where we left off. That's just how it is. We don't care. We usually manage to cover quite a lot of ground that way.

But when you don't have kids you don't GET to not want to be with them. People act like it's "good" for the childless to spend time with their own ratbag kids to "get practice". Me? I never expect anyone to want to spend time with my kids if they haven't got their own. Why would they? Moreover, why would I? If I am going to see a friend who hasn't got children I want to sit about in clean, fashionable (?!?!?!) clothes drinking alcohol and talking, uninterrupted, about that hideous kitchen extension.

Which brings me rather abruptly to lamb meatballs. Things have been a bit hair-raising round here the last few weeks. One of those times in life when eating, let alone cooking, sort of goes out of the window. We've been getting a lot of takeaway or having things that I can cook from memory, which only require 1 stale cabbage, some nutmeg and pre-grated Cheddar (strength 2).

But the other night, despite feeling pretty sorry for myself, I did have the chutzpah to conjure up a BRAND NEW THING, which are these cheese-stuffed meatballs. Not as hard as they sound and actually really unusual and delicious, sort of half-Greek, half-Indian - like a really beautiful supermodel.

So here we go, this would serve 4 people with sides.

500g best lamb mince
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 small bunch coriander
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds (leave these out if you don't have them)
1/2 small pack of Feta cheese
salt & pepper
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 pint chicken stock
1 large handful medium Matzoh meal
1 egg
groundnut oil for frying

1 Put the onion, garlic, 1/2 the bunch of coriander and all the spices into a whizzer and whizz. Don't clean the blender out.

2 Add these to your lamb mince and smoosh around with your hands for a bit. Then throw over the matzoh and the egg and a large pinch of salt and smoosh about more to combine. Try not to think about how cute lambs are.

3 Put a non-stick pan on over a medium heat with some oil in it and while this is heating up start shaping your meatballs in the usual way but put in a pinch of feta cheese - about the size of a small marble, and pack the mince around it. You will discover the best way of doing this by trial and error - by the third meatball you'll have nailed it. It is easiest to work with mince if you have wet or damp hands.

4 Fry off the meatballs for about 15 minutes, turning so they are nice and crunchy on the outside. Keep the heat at a medium, at no point out blue smoke to be anywhere in your kitchen.

5 While these are browning, whizz your tin of tomatoes in your dirty whizzer, then scrape it all out into a casserole dish or any pan with deep-ish sides. Add your stock and a large pinch of salt and about ten turns of the pepper grinder, stir and bring this to a simmer.

6 Add in your meatballs as they seem browned on all sides (some may open up to reveal the cheese within, don't worry about this) and cook the whole lot on a simmer for about 45 minutes until the tomatoey sauce seems to have reduced and thickened. Tinned tomatoes are vile and it's only by cooking them and reducing them that you can turn them into anything edible.

7 Sprinkle over with fresh coriander and eat at dinnertime after the little weasels have gone to bed and you finally get to finish a bloody sentence.


  1. As a woman without children, this post just makes me love you more Esther.

    One day I hope we can neck wine together and have a good bitch about kitchen extensions.

  2. I have no kids yet. Most of them are repulsive, except my infant godsons, who are gorgeous. Still dry heave when I feed them though. Is that normal?
    Lamb sounds amazing.

  3. I hear ya! This looks delish! I have a feta stuffed lamb burger on my blog, the combo works well. Will have to make these :)

  4. This is so true, I have a terrible reputation as a child hater. I adore them, except the little shit that comes into my shop and squeezes the living daylights out of all of my roses.

  5. Nice. (That kitchen extension must be really bad.)

  6. Your blogs always make me feel better about the dark thoughts in my head. :-) By the way I tried to make Rocky Road as per your recipe a few months ago, I only wish I could post a photo here, suffice to say it did not look like yours. Tasted bloody marvellous though.

  7. Thanks, you put it really well. I even do often like other people's kids, but I still agree. Of course sometimes you want to get together with a friend, not your friend plus a couple of other (rather short-attention spanned, rather demanding) people.

    It's weird that we're often expected to feel an immediate love for and connection with people we don't know if they're children (especially if you're a women; men are sometimes forgiven for this). It's a bit insulting to kids, even, like they aren't individuals that you have individual relationships with.

    You wouldn't ask someone if they liked 'people' or not, normally. You'd assume that they loved their family and close friends, liked many others, disliked certain people, and found a lot of strangers to be kind of indistinguishable from each other. Not that I would want to see a stranger hurt or anything - I care to that extent, but it's true that a lot of the time I'm just not hugely interested in strangers.

    So why is it so hard to think of children as people, too?

  8. It's so true I personally avoid sitting near kids on public transport - I mean I'm going to see plenty of my own kids when I get home from work so why make my commute worse

  9. I have just finished reading Bad Cook which I loved and was feeling a bit bereft so it was good to have a reciperifle to read and these sound delicious.
    My kids are now 17 and 20 so while I do still love to cuddle any babies I can get my hands on I can see that I am not overly interested in young children anymore - as you say, I am not tuned in to them and would so much rather see my friends without their kids around!!

  10. I liked other people's kids more when I spent some time helping out at the school in reception for a coupe of years. They are fascinating creatures, some I warmed to more than others and some seemed so not ready for school. I now teach the odd kid from time to time and love the junior school age most, just before they reach secondary. Have loads of friends without them though and they are fine and dandy. Do love lamb with Feta too.

  11. My nephews are unbelievably beautiful, charming, smart, and interesting. But before they were born I kind of wondered if there was something wrong with me that I didn't particularly get kids or even know how to talk with them.

  12. Great post. Question. Why do old people love ANY kids though? There must be a third phase when your own kids grow up that suddenly all kids become adorebs to you regardless of ownership.

  13. yum. i'm making these tonight. best with rice or spaghetti do you think? or are you still no/low carbing it?

  14. As one of your "childless" readers I completely agree. What particularly annoys me in Hong Kong is being forced to witness the OTT and saccharine substitute mother skills of Filipino maids fawning over their charges in public. I am aware that makes me sound a terrible person.

  15. Will this work if I leave out the matzo meal? I have someone staying who is on a no carbs diet and am trying to find things I can make that she can eat.

  16. I sneak into your blog like a thief in the night - I feel that I will be found out by your followers saying that (a) i do not live in London or in the home counties or Cheshire (b) i am not upper middle class - which only people who are in fact upper middle class say it is not important (c) i cannot afford to shop in Waitrose and (d) do not have any friends called 'Xander' or 'Letitia'. However I loved the meatballs as only the greedy can really enjoy. Thanks for the blog - my secret, calorie-free treat!

    1. It makes me very sad when anyone brings the issue of class to this blog. I'm sorry you feel like some sort of imposter who is going to be "found out" by my other readers. I can't help how you feel but you ought to know that everyone is welcome here. Although I can't help pointing out that I cannot think of anything more posh than a household where a special heavy pan is bought that cannot be washed up, it must be "oiled". Absolutely every kitchen utensil I own goes in the fucking dishwasher. Doesn't get more common than that.