Monday, 1 June 2015

Mixed vegetables and yoghurt with green chilli oil

Of course, for all my new-life evangelical shit about how my kids are all so easy now and we're in the broad sunlit uplands and so on, it sort of only applies at home.

Going on holiday with two children under 5 is a bit like being tossed back into the frying pan, having narrowly escaped the fire by clinging on to the mantlepiece and trying to hide behind some invitations and a Jo Malone candle. You think you're so bloody clever, then you strip away nursery and the au pair and everything familiar and suddenly you're not high-fiving yourself quite so much.

So we found ourselves in Ibiza last week in a strange villa, dazed and confused. It was not our first-choice villa - we had booked that a full calendar year in advance, but then it was rented out from underneath us at the last minute by an owner dazzled and corrupted by a 3-month block-booking.

The dead lizard on the front step of the replacement "real Ibiza", "rustic" villa was an ominous sign.

The sheets were gritty, the towels were threadbare and mismatched. In the kitchen there were two ancient slices of brown toast still in the toaster, forgotten by a previous occupant. I wondered how I was going to get Sam to sleep in his assigned room next to the kitchen, which had no curtains and no door.

Giles yawed around the place a tornado of fury, chewing great chunks out of the pool surround, beating his chest and throwing furniture into the dank, leaf-sodden pool bellowing "WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS FUCKING HAPPEN TO ME?"

So we made phone calls to every important person we knew and managed to swap to a better villa and then swapped cars as the Ford Fiesta we'd rented grated its undercarriage sickeningly on the jagged 45 degree inclines that are everywhere in Ibiza.

Then Kitty got ill with a mysterious illness, the symptoms of which were a high fever and nothing else. Then she recovered. Then I got my period which is always such total bullshit on holiday. Then Sam got the same illness as Kitty and the combination of a high fever, the second strange house in the space of a week and tiny little sets of stairs everywhere, which he could not tackle on his own, sent him spiralling into a clingy state the like of which I haven't seen since he was very small.

MAAAAHMEEEEE! he would shout whenever I was out of his sight for two seconds. MAAAHHMEEEEEEEE! WHEEEEEEAAAAAAOOOOOOO????

Don't get me wrong, when Sam no longer wants to hold my hand everywhere with his little fat soft baby monkey paw, I will be sad. But God Almighty...

Oh God and I also had to share a bed with Sam, because the bedrooms in the hell villa were arranged in such an insane way that I just had to and I was astounded at what a mad, restless sleeper Sam is - even when in full health. I bitch and moan to everyone about how he wakes up once a night, but now I've witnessed the full range of his thrashing, sleep-talking and night terrors I'm amazed he only wakes up once a night.

I'm not even going to describe what the mosquitoes did to Kitty's face on the final night.

Our neighbour in London, Tom, has four children. Then youngest is, I don't know... 12? He once said to me about going away with toddlers that "It's not really a holiday though is it? I mean, there are moments of glory..."

That's very true. Moments of glory. And we had some! Having seen the state of the roads, when Giles went back to the car rental place he went full tilt. He roared back to the hell villa, wearing a white singlet and a pair of aviators, at the wheel of a  huge black Wrangler Jeep, which we all loved every single second of. We took bends at 60mph and blasted Cheerleader out to some surprised hippies on our way to Benirras beach, which we staked out daily in the hope of catching sight of SamCam.

It did take the kids a couple of days to get the hang of the beach, but once they did they liked it. I even managed to give Sam (my Sam, not SamCam) the slip and go for an actual swim on my own in the sea. But then he caught sight of me and cried until I swam back to shore.

Of course, to anyone without children this will seem like a litany of complaints, but to anyone with small children, it will probably seem reasonably standard.

And I don't want you to think I'm complaining. I think it went quite well. My ideas of what constitutes a "holiday" have been readjusted in the last five years. The fact is that when you go on holiday with small children, you simply have to close your eyes and jump and not have a single hope or expectation beyond getting home alive.

It would be easy, of course, never to go on holiday again, but I would fear that I might get out of the habit, I'd build it up to be such a terrifying, impossible task I wouldn't ever again. Not ever, not even when everyone can wipe their own bum and apply their own mosquito repellant.

And I do, really, like being on the beach. I like a swimming pool on a really hot day. I like the thing where Giles goes out in the morning for fresh bread from somewhere and we have it with butter and jam and coffee. I like how solid and refreshing and excellent England seems when you come home again.

Speaking of which, before we left on our travels I cooked this thing from Plenty More by that sacred cow Ottolenghi.

It is great, but a flipping great hassle. I mean serious hassle. A labour of love, really - a bit like going abroad with the under-5s.

Mixed vegetables and yoghurt with green chilli oil

serves 4 as a side with some barbecued lamb or something

300g plum tomatoes (or a lot of baby tomatoes) cut in half or into wedges
frying oil
400g courgettes, cut into chunks
1 aubergine cut into chunks
2 red peppers, cut into .... CHUNKS
150g greek yoghurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
small handful shredded mint
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper

for the chilli herb oil

1 green chilli chopped
small bunch parsley
small bunch mint
1 tsp ground cumin
60ml olive oil

preheat the oven to 170C

1 Spread the tomatoes out on a baking tray and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 40 min

2 to make the herb oil put all the ingredients in a whizzer and whizz (this herb oil, by the way, is very delicious on all manner of fish or grilled meat on its own)

3 now deep-fry in about 3-5cm of frying oil ALL the chunked vegetables!!! I know, fucking mental, really really insane. this takes ages, about 45 mins I'd say. you have to do them in batches and the aubergine takes forever. But despite this ballache, I have made this TWICE, so it must be special. drain them all on some paper or in a colander, and sprinkle with salt.

4 Stir the yoghurt with the garlic, mint, lemon juice and black pepper.

5 Turn everything together in a bowl carefully to avoid turning it into a big mush

Eat, while trying to remember where your passport is.


  1. I completely sympathise with what you say about going on holidays with your children. It's a total logistical nightmare but it has its moments of glory!
    We recently went on a city break to Barcelona, booked a place to stay through airbnb which was totally not baby friendly. We travelled with a 3 year old and a 9 months old who's crawling and standing everywhere. Very unsafe low-lying glass table, hard tiles etc which meant that he was confined to the travel cot in the appartment.

  2. My brother and sister in-law are terrified to take their three under 10 kids anywhere. They are the most boring family ever. They don't have any stories about that time their son swam with a turtle or the time their other son charmed the pool staff so much they brought him belated birthday presents that day. It is a giant pain in the ass to take your young kids on holiday. Giant! But there is something to be said about the bonding that occurs through a shared trauma when we got stuck inside the Indiana Jones ride for 30 minutes. Or that time in Urgent care on Maui when my eldest had to have stitches but then having the most hilarious lunch ever at an Irish Tiki bar. (i'll just let think on that one for a moment) These stories are alarming to my in laws but for us, these are the foundation of our shared family in-jokes.

  3. The recipe sounds lovely but I am not sure I can face the 45 minutes of individual vegetable deep frying. Do you think it would still be nice if you just (shock, horror) put all the veg together in one pan with a splash of oil instead?

    1. no, sorry - that will turn into ratatouille. you have to really sweat over this. no shortcuts x

  4. I have made this. It took years. I was most scared of deep frying the tomatoes because I thought they were too wet and would explode or something. I also made it for a dinner party which was obviously a huge mistake because it's completely impractical and I served it with some very experimental lamb belly dish I'd made up which failed spectacularly and everyone was really hungry afterwards. You're right though, it is very tasty.

    1. you don't deep fry the tomatoes you loon! you bake them in the oven...

  5. Why not just grill the veg and then toss with yogurt and oil?