Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Steak tartare

A friend of mine has just got pregnant and she was worried that she was feeling suspiciously well. Go and have a viability scan, I said. You can do that from 6 weeks, they stick a wand thingy, like a light sabre, up your whatsit and can see what's going on before 12 weeks.

And I've just realised that I never found out if she had the scan or what's going on (this is the kind of really on-it friend I am). So I texted her to find out what was happening and it suddenly crossed my mind that she might have had a miscarriage.

Which of course led me to thinking about my own miscarriage, a few years ago, that I never mentioned.

I never mentioned it because I did not want sympathy. I didn't want sympathy because I didn't need it or deserve it.

There I was, lying in the dentist's chair of Handsome Richard the dentist, all the way back in June 2012, getting my teeth done before going to see Alison at Ultrasound Diagnostic Services to get the light sabre as I was, in theory, six weeks up the duff.

I sat up in the chair and something felt terribly wrong.

"Are you alright?" said Handsome Richard, handsomely. He knew about my condition (we don't keep things from each other).

"I'm okay," I lied, although I'm sure Richard would have dealt with the situation like a pro. I raced wobbily out onto Bishopsgate and hailed a cab, ringing UDS on the way to see if they could see me early. I sat on a free newspaper to save the cabbie's upholstery.

After getting the light sabre treatment from Alison, who dealt with the unholy torrents of effluvia with complete stoicism ("It happens all the time"), my obstetrician came to see me. It was all over. No Baby. There never had been, it didn't look like - it was most likely a small collection of cells large enough to register as a pregnancy but it had stalled there. Fail.

"The most important thing," said Guy, my obstetrician, "is that you don't blame yourself for this."
"No, no it's okay," I said, suddenly feeling slightly high and mad, "I blame you."

To his credit, Guy thought this was hilarious, (he's mostly very straight-faced), but he actually slapped his thighs and laughed. Good old Guy. Almost enough of a dear to have another baby just to see him again. NOT FUCKING REALLY!!! HAHAHA.

I went home, where it was very quiet, everyone was out - though I now can't think where. I sat down in the living room and cried. Not because I was sad but because I just felt sorry for myself and lonely. And irritated - I was keen to get on with another baby because being pregnant is so shit. Now I had to start all over again.

The strangest feeling was that I now had to just sit there and wait. When one thinks "miscarriage" one thinks about drama: hospitals, grey faces, drama drama drama! But it was just me, sitting there still in my blood-stained leggings with no husband and no toddler - no baby - weeping for all the wrong reasons.


and she texted back "OMFG I AM COMING OVER" and she came round and we had tea and biscuits and went "God!!!" at each other and it was actually quite jolly.

Do not misunderstand me: miscarriage when there is an actual baby there, or when it is your first go at getting pregnant or have been trying for a long time to get pregnant or when you have suffered multiple miscarriages is … well, I can't  imagine what that must be like. But having a very early miscarriage when you've already got one baby and you're just speculatively having a go at another one - it's not anything. It's just annoying.

So I didn't want to bandy the M-word about willy nilly because when you tell people that you have had a miscarriage, they go quite bonkers with sympathetic grief - in a perfectly charming way - but you mostly have to spend the next 30 minutes talking them down off the ceiling (I would be the same) and it's perfectly exhausting.

Now, with a lot of critical distance, I can give you a run-down of the whole thing in a de-mystification of this awful, awful word, knowing - hint hint - that you won't all go bonkers in the comments asking me if I'm okay. YES I'M FINE NO I'M NOT NOW I'VE GOT TWO KIDS AND NOW IM FUCKING OSRRY.

And I learnt why you mustn't tell a soul that you are pregnant before 12 weeks, because if you do miscarry, it's not just the weight of your own feelings, (whatever they might be), that you have to deal with - it's everyone else's, too.

We're going to move on now, gear change! Gather up your skirts, "ladies".

I may have mentioned before how the new butcher up the road has changed my life, but I thought I would tell you again. It's changed my life! We can have exciting things for dinner, like steak tartare.

I absolutely love steak tartare but we've never had it at home, not once, because I rarely get hold of good enough fillet steak to do it with. You need the best fillet steak you can get your hands on - nothing from a supermarket will do. It must have been handled with care and never known plastic, let alone shrink-wrap.

Steak tartare is, to my mind, the only and very best thing to do with fillet steak. You must worship it and the sacrifice the animal has made, by eating it raw, simply, devotionally, praising each mouthful. To apply heat to it would be sacrilege. We normally get by on eating offcuts and odds and ends here - I do not believe in encouraging the damaging and wrong practice of intensive farming by eating best cuts, but we are happy to eat the bits of animals that no-one else wants: marrow bones, sweetbreads, wings, feet, ears with a clear conscience. I don't care if the best stuff is going to Gaucho Grills across London. (When I am Queen it will all be different.)

Anyway because I know where this butcher gets his meat from - small farms with a range of exciting extra-curricular activities and complementary therapies for the animals - I decided we could have steak tartare and bore it aloft to the table, accompanied only by a few pink fir apple potatoes baked for 30 mins, humming Mozart's Requiem. It was out of this world.

I took inspiration for this from Nigel Slater

Steak Tartare - for 2

200g best fillet steak
1/2 a small spring onion
4 small cornichon
2 tsp capers
6 drops tabasco
2 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 egg yolk
salt and pepper

This arrangement of seasoning gives you a very mild tartare, which I like - but I think it is customary to present on the table with the steak the bottles of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, plus more salt and pepper so if anyone wants to really blow the back of their head off (there's always one - maybe it's you?), they can.

1 You must chop the steak with a very sharp knife, not mince it or blitz it. This is an almost religious act of worship, here. Chop, chop and chop again until the pieces are small then put in a bowl.

2 Chop finely, too the small spring onion and the cornichon and add them to the steak, along with the capers, the Tabasco and the Worcestershire sauce, a bit of salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder.

3 Form this into a neat shape the best way you can see how, then make a small well in the middle of the steak and put into this a single egg yolk. Mix this together just before serving.


  1. You're absolutely right. I had the misfortune of the whole effluvia/magic wand business a few years ago at 6 weeks. Unfortunately my sister-in-law had the same... at the same time. (for both of us it was baby 2, after next to no "effort"). The difference was, she had told EVERYBODY that she was pregnant the very moment she peed on the stick, and sadly hers turned out to be non-viable. Mine was a complete secret, and turned out to viable.

    So while everybody was outpouring massive amounts of grief and sympathy for months about an accidental cluster of cells that never was, while she yelled at every poor sod in the NHS (including formal complaints), I had to quietly and apologetically announce a few weeks later that I was pregnant. She was understandably upset and I was understandably guilt-ridden. But I didn't expect her fury over my not having shared my 6-week scare with everyone - it was declared anti-feminist to have "suffered" alone. What I can never get across was that I never suffered. I was never scared to lose the bundle of cells because, mercifully, it was so early and had been a lucky accident anyway.

    Like you, I don't want to diminish other people's beliefs, losses or experiences, but I also want to stick up for people who behave quite practically about this sort of thing - we're not cold-hearted bitches. After all, a non-viable 6-week loss is pretty much just a cyst - it's so common as to be something virtually everyone will experience at some point or another. So yes, like you say, when there is an actual baby there, or when it is your first go at getting pregnant or have been trying for a long time to get pregnant or when you have suffered multiple miscarriages... yes, I do get the tragedy. But otherwise, if you want to shrug, have a weep (mainly because it's not very nice spending an hour with a hair-straightener up your hoo haa), scoff 3 brownies, before going about your day, then that's OK too. It's life.

    1. I don't like the sound of your sister in law much

  2. This reminds me of another NCT story. I was crossed examined by an NCT 'leader' (dreadful woman called Trina) as to why I'd kept my 13 week pregnancy quiet up until now. I explained that I had lost the last one at 10 weeks and found it easier to keep it to myself incase I lost another one. She was really quite cross. SHE had had 5 miscarriages, yes 5! And had shared all of them with her NCT friends. She made it sound like a competition FFS!
    But I did cry copiously with both of my miscarriages, even though the second one was came out's a personal thing.
    Loving the blog as ever.
    Lindy x

    1. hello? if I had a baby-shaped miscarriage I would have a complete fucking nervous breakdown

  3. I've had 8 miscarriages, 7 of which were when I was 5-6 weeks. I coped ok, I think it helped that i found out I was pregnant as I was miscarrying. The last one I was 11 weeks, had told everyone, it just wasn't to be. That one was the worst, not telling others (although my MIL said to my husband "why didn't you tell me sooner? (she had been on holiday and we waited until she came back) and sobbed on our couch. Poor husband was really upset to) but because the baby was baby shaped.

    moving on, always wanted to try this, but am feeling odd about the egg, bizarrely not the raw meat!

    1. when it's all mixed in you don't notice, see or taste it. it just adds ballast, umami. I wouldn't want anyone sobbing on MY couch if I had just had a baby-shaped miscarriage. but I'm sure she's nice really

  4. nom nom nom. I want this in my mouth.

  5. I had the same as you, but with a third child. Add in the guilt of firstly not really being that keen, then desperately wanting it afterwards :/

    Anyway. The food sounds great.

  6. PS - Ha, bet you were really keen to hear all your readers horror stories x

  7. I'm glad you told this story and I hope people remember it if they have a pregnancy that never was. My sister had one of these - and did not want to be pregnant anyway. She was understandably a bit sad that the pregnancy would not be happening when she was slowly coming around to the idea (and had told everyone....) and probably a bit guilty at her relief. Unfortunately her husband was a nurse and took a fairly matter of fact approach to the whole business as it was clear that there was never more than a bunch of cells. It was the straw that broke the camel's back and she divorced him for his lack of sympathy over a miscarriage that never truly was...

  8. After many typings all I can say is Yes - been there(ish) - nice to know I wasn't alone, despite being alone at the time.
    So yeah - Thanks :)

  9. Eating raw meat is a big challenge to me. I do like raw seafood, especially Japanese sashimi, but rarely raw meat. If eating raw steak, probably I would try to add little bit of lemon juice and sesame oil. :)

  10. I have been reading Recipe Rifle for a long time and when you announced your pregnancy with the baby that would be Kitty, I realised that our due dates were exactly the same. Except I had lost my (first, yearned for) baby at 7 weeks. Tiny sac exactly like a clear marble with a tiny marble baby inside. Very beautiful really. Its testament to how much I like RR that I carried on reading ;) I was lucky and ended up conceiving again the next time we tried and our own daughter was born in May '11, and now I'm ten weeks along with number 2 (TOUCH WOOD). My miscarriage changed me but for the better I think - although I did go mad for a little while, partly because it felt so utterly taboo to talk about it in public. So I nod vigorously and gratefully to myself when people discuss it publicly. Cheers.

  11. Had one of these last year. Gruesome and sad at the time but knowing it really wasn't a baby, just collection of cells, helped a lot in the moving on process.

    What did drive me bonkers though was having to wait 12 WEEKS for my body to get back to normal. I was prepared to wait for the 4-6 week average. Moving towards double figures sent me a bit over the edge.

    I take the attitude of being quite open about it as I found it helpful to know my friends and friends of friends had been there too.