Tuesday, 29 September 2015

New home

Hi Rifler!

What are you doing standing about here? I've moved; join me for a housewarming over at The Spike. Everyone's been asking where you are. Just watch out for the punch... 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Goodbye, the end

Now it's here, the end, I find myself uncharacteristically unable to think of anything profound to say.

I'm sure there's so much I've forgotten to tell you. The "drafts" folder of this blog is full of half-written posts, that stop in mid-air, trying to say something. But the thought was too vague, or I was too tired, demented, angry, self-pitying, or just busy, to finish it.

Some of you understand why this blog has to stop and others don't. The best way I can put it is that if I carry on, I will feel like I am betraying something.

Let me explain. Life with a two year old and a four year old is still demanding, but I can't deny that it's easier. At times it's even nice in the way that life with two under-threes, or a new baby, or being pregnant or whatever just isn't ever. Well not for me anyway. I was always having a good time despite something and I would briefly think "Look! Look it's not relentlessly crap!". Whereas now I find that, as a family, we all bring something. We all, also, take turns to ruin everything, don't get me wrong, but it's never one person consistently making it all bad.

And I really don't want to start writing posts that coyly go "And you know what, we actually had a pretty good time..." because that's just fucking annoying.

I've changed, too. When I was in the eye of the storm I was a better person, I thought more deeply, I was more sensitive, attuned and intellectually alive. Now all I think about is my career and clothes. That's it. I chase the high of a new commission and the high of total, sheer, vanity. It's abominable really and has no place in a blog that started out charting self-taught cookery, but has become a safe place for mothers demented and deranged by small children but unable to express how they are feeling, unable to find anyone else who can express what they're feeling either.

There's no shame in it - not everyone is good at expressing themselves. I'm not good at maths - in that I can barely even add 7 + 4. And I also can't really express myself in person, watching me trying to finish a sentence in real life is gruelling. But I can do it in writing.

So that's what I did and this is what this blog became. But I can't do it any more. I'm too distracted and shallow, and I don't want to let you all down.

I don't like goodbyes. Who does? Maybe there are some over-emotional people who relish leave-taking, the hugs, the vestibuling, the promises they don't intend to keep. Not me. I don't like it. I am an expert at what is known as the "French exit", which is when you go "I've just got to make a quick phone call" and then disappear in a swirl of cigarette smoke and Coco Chanel, not to be seen for the rest of the night.

There will be another blog. I'm working on it! I'm sure many of you won't like it and I'm sorry about that, but, you know, things have to change. Modernise or die! Anyway I will post a link here to the new blog when it's ready for those of you who aren't on Twitter - and everyone else will be able to find it on Twitter.

There has to be a farewell recipe,  of course, and here it is. This is a very old-fashioned thing I made recently from a recipe written by the Irish cookery writer Theodora FitzGibbon (no, me neither), which my husband absolutely and totally loved in a way that is actually quite unusual and noteworthy. (Though he may have just been hungry.)

It's a bizarre recipe - I've never seen call for boiled onions before - that speaks of a time and a location where there wasn't terribly much available and you had to use your imagination with what you have. I didn't hold out much hope for it, pork chops aren't that easy to render edible, but in fact this works very well.

So, for the very last time, here we go:

Theodora FitzGibbon's Stuffed Pork Chops
Serves 4

4 best pork chops
black pepper
4 medium onions, peeled and sliced
50g butter
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
150ml warm milk
2 tbsp cream
4 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 extra large blob of butter
about 10 sage leaves, chopped.

Preheat your oven to 220C

1 FitzGibbon says "trim the chops" and, like, fuck knows what this means, but I just cut the skin off and tidied them up a bit. No idea if that's what I was supposed to do, but that's what I did. Put the chops onto a grill pan and scrunch over some turns of black pepper

2 Put the sliced onions into a saucepan, just cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid.

3 Heat the butter in another pan, then add the onions and sugar, and cook until they are soft - probably about 15 mins. Then mash with a fork or masher (I told you this was a mad recipe).

4 Add the flour to the onion mash and let it cook for a minute then add the warm milk and some of the onion liquor to make a thick sauce. Add a good quantity of salt and pepper and then stir through the cream and the chopped sage.

5 Grill the chops well on one side only and then transfer cooked side down into a roasting pan and cover the tops with the onion sauce. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top, then a dot of butter and pepper.

6 Cook at 220C for 20 mins

Anyway so while you're thinking about all that, if you'll excuse me, I've just got to go and make a quick phone call. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Avocado and crayfish tails

I am not sentimental. My husband complains about it a lot. "Don't go near her, Sam," Giles will warn my son as he toddles towards me, eyes shining, with his chubby arms outstretched. "Your mother doesn't like clinginess. Don't ask for a hug or anything, she hates that. That's not the way to her heart. "

"Oh fuck off, you dickhead," I will snap. But he is basically right. How I have ended up with the world's neediest husband and, in turn, the world's neediest toddler, must some sort of dastardly revenge wreaked upon me by some unknown force.

At least there's Kitty. Thank God for Kitty! She couldn't give a flying shit whether I'm alive or dead.

Anyway, I'm not sentimental. And I've never been more sure about anything as I've been about not having any more kids. I want to want to have more children, just like I want to want to enjoy clubbing, ski-ing and "girlie dinners". But I don't.

Yet even I feel a bit fuzzy about the passing of Sam's babyhood and there are real signs afoot that it's over.

His potty-training is imminent. So the little box-room off the living room downstairs, which has for nearly 5 years been a baby-change room, is from this week going to house a new fridge freezer. Our little integrated fridge in the main kitchen is ludicrously small and I am fed up of having to fit everything in it like a game of Tetris. It's just not a suitable fridge for a family of four (plus au pair).

We no longer need to give over that precious space in our narrow London townhouse to a luxurious lying-down changing area: these days Sam's nappy is changed in ten seconds while he is standing up. I would no more lie him down to change his nappy than I would lie him down to put his clothes on. So it's time for the changing room to find a new purpose.

The changing unit in Sam's bedroom, Kitty's old nursery, is also obsolete. It's a nice piece of furniture from John Lewis, with a little changing-area, space on the side for your bits and bobs and then a cupboard and shelves underneath for muslins, nappies, blankets and so on. My babies lay on it first thing in the morning and last thing at night, until they were probably about a year old. Both babies absolutely loved opening and slamming closed the little door and drawer and pulling out all the neatly folded sheets and blankets and throwing them around the nursery.

I was so pleased with that changing unit when I bought it. It was just right. I have many times been gratified at how natty a storage area it is and marvelled at its smooth surface as I wiped away the memories of some awful illness or shit explosion or analgesic mis-application.

I don't know why I feel any pangs of loss. It's going to a lovely new home. And I also have mixed feelings about that nursery.

Both my children have slept well in there - Kitty better than Sam - and it's a nice room with pretty wallpaper and a lovely en-suite bathroom.

But I have also spent many sleepless, anxious nights in there with feverish or crying infants. The carpet is spattered with old vomit stains. I keep, permanently, a pair of rubber gloves and a bucket in the bathroom. There are rows of bottles of Calpol and Nurofen and a clattery collection of plastic syringes that speak of your real purpose as the mother of very small children: damage limitation.

So the changing unit went. I agreed to the sale of it before I had time to think,  to regret and say no. It was collected while I was out. I had wanted in the days leading up to this to change my mind, to ring up and say "No, not yet, I'm not ready." But I didn't.

Because I know I won't miss it next week. I miss it now. I feel like I have given away a family pet. I dragged over the chest of drawers from behind the nursery door to cover the glaring gap - as glaring as a missing front tooth - under the purpose-built shelf that holds the nappies and wipes. And I will forget about it. I'm sure I will. By next week. I will have forgotten about it that soon.

I often forget about avocados as being the perfect diet food. I am STILL on a diet, a whole entire week after starting it. Lunch is always tricky. I am tired, hungry and ratty by lunchtime and at my most vulnerable to eating, say, a huge white egg-and-cress bap from Spence Bakery on Fortess Road. But today I dutifully bought a tub of crayfish tails and an avocado and had that instead.

I really wanted to get prawns but I have it in my mind that crayfish are some sort of ecological menace and you are doing the world a favour by eating them. But in fact, they're not especially nice and next time I will just get the cold water prawns.

Avocado and crayfish tails
serves 1

1 ripe avocado
handful or so of crayfish tails. one of those tubs, you know what I mean
some mayonnaise
some ketchup
salt and pepper
a lot of lemon juice - probably the juice of about half a lemon

you could also add a scraping of garlic and some hot paprika if you were feeling racy

1 Put the crayfish tails in a bowl and dollop over 2 tablespoons of mayo, a squirt of tomato ketchup, a pinch of salt, a few turns of the pepper grinder, a long splash of lemon juice.

2 Taste this. What do you think? More ketchup? Salt? Lemon juice? Keep adding and mixing until it tastes pretty great.

3 Slice the avocado and eat alongside your ecologically sound shellfish mixture.

Say, "Bye bye, Baby Sam":

Friday, 12 June 2015

Steamed sea bass with ginger, chilli and pak choi

I have rarely done video posts on this blog because I think my actual presence probably spoils whatever voice you have for me in your head. Historically I have posted videos and everyone has gone "Oh my god you're so posh fnar fnar!" which I have found embarrassing. 

But in these last days, I feel I have less to lose, maybe it's time to throw a video into the mix just for a laugh. 

So the way I did this was just to write a normal post in a document and read it out - recipe and all - sitting at my desk in my "study" (our junk room). 

Here it is. This is what I really sound like, I'm afraid. Thank you in advance for not being mean. 

Monday, 8 June 2015

Matzoh balls

I often marvel at how similar I am to my husband.

Neither of us ring friends "for a chat", we are suspicious of ski-ing, believe Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, to be the best film ever made, like to go to bed promptly at 10pm, get lonely and think about death, talk too much and too fast and don't think Monty Python is funny.

Even after we had children, we broadly agreed on things - that we ought to do our best to make sure our children eat well, sleep in their own beds and get plenty of exercise, but that we ought not sacrifice a happy family atmosphere in order to achieve those things in paramount.

But a sticking point has emerged. A terrible chasm in our marriage and parenting:


Giles thinks that ideally our children ought to watch no telly at all. He knows that this is not practical but believes that this would be best. No telly, no iPad. Ever.

I, on the other hand, do not care.

I don't care because I know that I don't let the kids watch telly all fackin day long, (unless it's very bad weather outside and/or someone is ill), but they telly that I do allow the kids to watch is essential.

A bit in the morning so that I can get ready and eat breakfast in peace. A bit when Kitty gets back from nursery/Sam is waking up from his nap and trying to achieve equilibrium and then a bit around teatime.

My husband dislikes the fact that the kids thoughts immediately turn to telly and wants to encourage them to do something else. I, on the other hand, think that if you give them telly as soon as they ask for it and then say "One more Team Umizoomi and then the telly's going off" is easier than forbidding it from the outset, or making them wait until some arbitrary time for it. They don't understand "later". And they don't understand why. Is telly "bad"? Is telly "good"? If your attitude to telly is inconsistent and fucked-up then theirs will be, too.

My attitude towards telly, such as it is, is that it's good for a bit but not too much. What's "too much"? Well, that depends!! What an easy and straightforward thing modern parenting is.

My husband would consider an entire day without the telly going on once to be an achievement. I would just be sobbing and exhausted from shrieking "No telly!!" all day and liable to get uncontrollably drunk to recover.

I also think mammoth telly-watching is a phase. Kitty was obsessed with watching telly at around about Sam's age and just wanted to watch Peppa Pig and then Tom and Jerry all day long. There wasn't much else she could do: of all her play options, telly was the best.

She is four now and for a while has been able to do plenty of other things. You can also reason with her and say "after this, the telly's going off and we'll find something else to do" and she more or less goes along with it.

I am able to use, rather than abuse, the telly much more easily than I could have done with her when she was Sam's age. Sam is the same as Kitty used to be. If you tell him no, he has a freak out - but will of his own accord just wander off and find something else to do once he's had enough of it.

Anyway you ought to hear some of the ding dongs I've had with my husband about the wretched box! I feel defensive about it, you see. I'm sure that it IS best that they watch no telly. I am envious of other families where the kids seem to just play and not shriek "PEPPA PIG NOWWWW ABNEY TEAL NOWWWWW." But I need it. I need the telly like I need my Ocado app.

Our friends Henry and Jemima now have a rule in their house that there is no telly allowed at ALL during the week and then the kids gorge on it from 7am - noon on the weekend. But their youngest child is three! A grown-up! A reasonable person! Sam is still two years old! An animal! An alien!

I have no answer, there has been no rapprochement. Every time I reach for the remote it's like an act of war.

It's a shame because in other areas, my husband and I are a great time. Like in making this matzoh ball soup.

This matzoh ball soup is pretty much the only soup I can abide. Matzoh balls are not that straightforward to make and the ideal result is quite doughy and chewy and I can see why a lot of people would wonder why you'd bother, but I love them.

Matzoh balls by Claudia Roden
Makes about 15

75g medium Matzoh meal
2 eggs, separated

1 Beat the egg whites until stiff

2 Add the beaten egg yolks and then the matzoh to the whites and carefully turn it all together until combined. Add salt, quite a lot - probably 2 big pinches. You could also add some chopped parsley if you had some - about a tablespoon probably.

3 Stick in the fridge for 30 mins.

4 With wet hands, form the mixture into little balls, much smaller than a Ping Pong ball as they will swell on cooking. Probably the size of a biggish marble. Does that make sense? Don't worry too much just don't make them huge.

5 Now simmer these - don't boil them as they will fall to bits - for 30 mins before adding them to your chicken soup.

I am touched and moved by how sad everyone is about the end of Recipe Rifle. I will be wrapping things up around July 15th as that's when my nanny goes off to have a baby and the au pair goes on holiday.

I will have 2 children on my own all day from then until September and will be using my evenings to  drink right up until just before then point I calculate my hangover will be very unpleasant.

But I will be back with another blog in the Autumn. It will be a bit more all-purpose, not quite so kitchen/children based. If anyone has any brilliant ideas for a name, (snappy names and catchphrases and headlines being my absolute blind spot), I would be so grateful if you'd leave it as a comment or Tweet me @estherwalker.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Esther's chia seed pudding

I'm very late to chia seeds, like I'm late to everything, except when I have to be somewhere, in which case I am always punctual.

Mostly I'm late to chia seeds because I dislike food fads - I don't like feeling like I'm a sucker for some stupid trend, (she says rummaging through her cross-body bag and kicking off her espadrilles).

But I came across a recipe the other day for a chia seed "pudding", which is actually something you eat at breakfast time. It involved almond milk and a blackberry coulis and was perfectly disgusting. But the texture of the chia seeds, soaked overnight in the almond milk, was interesting.

I thought... there must be something in this. And while I dislike very much stupid health fads and detoxes and exclusion diets, there does seem to be enough good things about chia seeds - (mostly, from my point of view that they are full of protein and quite filling) - for it to be worth having them in your diet once in a while.

So after a couple of false-starts, I came up with an overnight chia seed breakfast-pudding recipe which is good and has a lot in common with the bircher muesli or overnight oats recipe.

Anyway it goes like this:

Esther's Chia seed pudding

Some greek or runny plain yoghurt
1 tbs chia seeds
1 tbs honey
a small amount of cut fruit - apples, peach, grapes, whatever you've got knocking about
2 drops essence of coconut if you've got it, if not don't bother (and actually it can make your chia seed pudding taste a lot like suncream if you're in the wrong frame of mind).

1 Fill a glass tumbler 3/4 of the way up with yoghurt, add the chia seeds and stir.

2 Top with the cut fruit and the honey. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge overnight.

Eat the next morning, feeling very smug. DO NOT THINK ABOUT FROGSPAWN.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Recipe Rifle goes shopping - summer round-up

Once upon a time, going bikini shopping for me was easy. The only stipulation was that the pants had to have NO TIE-SIDES because I find them annoying and they make my hips look w-i-d-e. Other than that, anything went. String, halter-neck, strapless: whatever! I had the world's most buoyant bosom. Literally pneumatic.

But now. O God! O God save me! Two children later and bikini shopping is hell. Sheer hell. If I find something that supports my up-top drooping woman-flesh then it is so structured with so much padding that I might as well just be fully-clothed and be done with it. Or I find a top that is okay but then cannot find the bikini bottom, as I squat on the shop floor, rummaging through those awful clackety bikini pant hangers, clackety clackety RAGE WHY ARE THERE ONLY 40 SIZE 6s HERE?????

I bought a collection of mad, non-matching things from TopShop and Asos. Then I went to the Selfridges bikini department and considered spending £300 on something from Heidi Klein or Melissa Odabash, but they all felt wrong and bad and felt like medical trusses.

"Go to Biondi," said my friend E-. "Tiny bikini boutique in Chelsea. It's really good. Kate Middleton goes there."

"I hate Chelsea!" I sobbed. But feeling body-ashamed and vulnerable. I went. It really is good (not Chelsea, Chelsea is horrible - the boutique I mean).

You don't have to say what your problem is, they know already: your tits are saggy. Your bum is fat. It's fine. Don't panic. They've got something for you. And if they haven't got something for you, they'll make something. I went for the Taj bikini that gives support where it's needed without using enough foam padding to insulate a house.

The prices are competitive with Heidi Klein - not dirt cheap but not insane Net-A-Porter prices either. Certainly cheaper than a boob lift, which would mean that you can go back to wearing whatever the fuck you like. If you look after this bikini and rinse it in fresh water after swimming in a pool or the sea it ought to last a few summers, making the extra cash lay-out worth it. Obviously also take on holiday some TopShop horrors that you can treat like shit.

Biondi Taj halterneck bikini £115 (ignore the tie-side pants: you can get plain pants too and it's the bikini top that matters).

You will also this summer need some espadrilles. They are absolutely everywhere at the moment but they quite often fall apart by mid-August so it's worth investing in a solid pair. Mine are from Seven Boot Lane, £70 and they are beautiful. Apologies for awful picture, but I feel you have come to expect this from me.

Another total essential is a pair of simple metallic flat sandals. The best ones are already selling out so don't dither. A pair I really wanted from Ancient Greek have sold out completely in my size - both in the shops and online - and I am absolutely fuming about it.

By the way I am so utterly fed up of real shops. You traipse all the way there for something and they've always run out of your size. It's such bullshit. The number of times I've said "It's okay I'll get it online" in the last month is depressing.

A good substitute for Ancient Greek is Steve Madden, available at Dune. Also MUCH cheaper at around the £50 mark. I can't steal an image off their website and I'm CERTAINLY not faffing about with their bloody press office, so you can find the ones I like and all sorts of others here .

I know, because you have told me, that you have all bought at denim shirt and are happy and joyful that you have. Anyone left who hasn't got a denim shirt yet GET ONE. I don't care where from. They're everywhere.

Also get yourself a pair of denim cut-offs. They are right. They are now. Do it. You will have to dig around to find some that suit you, but for what it's worth, I've got these from Zara and they are very good, £25.99. Not high-waisted, most important. Can't stand this high-waisted trend. It's such bullshit. Please note I do not wear mine with a tiny strappy top like this girl here.

I love a pendant necklace, I must have five or six - some metal, some with tassels, all colours of the rainbow. I find they make plain t-shirts come alive even if I'm feeling half-dead.

I came across this "Lifesaver" necklace from Kirsten Goss, which you can stick your own little charms on the bottom - a few letters, a stone pendant, a little skull motif or something. They are very cool - there are a lot of necklace/pendant "systems" out there at the moment, and this is the most inspiring one I've come across and not especially expensive at £80 for a plain necklace and charms at sort of £30 each.

Lots of choice and fun things available at Kirsten Goss

Of course, the thing I really want is a thing my friend C- has, which is this Diane Kordas OMG necklace, but I looked it up online and it's £1,160, which is an awful lot of recipe columns for Grazia let me tell you.