little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: this would go better if you’d eaten your lunch

Putting things together

20170123_122043I’ve done boot camp, Christmas, Trump, summer holidays, the return to work, gardening, adventures with children, movies, books, terrific whiskey, and a sleepover for 11-year-olds. Yesterday it rained and I had a cold, so I lit the fire, made hot drinks and retreated to the sofa. I wouldn’t describe it as restful, exactly — the children were tired and scrappy and stuck indoors — but it was a necessary grinding to a halt, of sorts.

It’s often hard to know what will save a day, but in this case, it was minestrone. I don’t always like minestrone, but this was a light, summery number with enough savour and steamy heat to restore just enough wellbeing for me to get to bed.

20170123_122942Ian made it, so I don’t know the fine details of the recipe, but here’s what I think he got right. The vegetables were sliced at angles, thin enough to fit well on the spoon, but large enough to offer definite taste and something distinct in each mouthful. There weren’t too many carrots, giving a layer of sweetness but not overwhelming the fundamental earthiness of the dish. The cooking started with bacon and ended with strong, fresh chard from the garden. I had extra tomatoes in my bowl, and a scattering of feta. The pasta was rigatoni, thick and knubbly. There were broad beans from our garden. The zucchinis were young and flavourful, with firm, peppery skin. The stock was light and hot.

20170123_122034The Rabbit was home sick today, so I had another quiet day. He made a Lego lawnmower — my role was to find the pieces and offer moral support. We succeeded, but only just. I left my work phone on, which was a mistake.

20170123_121854I reheated some of the minestrone for lunch, something I would avoid with a less robust pasta. Still, it needed a bit of tarting up for a new day, so I sliced in a couple of dusky Nigella tomatoes, a few shredded leaves of chard, some leaves of purple basil from the glasshouse. Feta again, of course.

The sun came out after that. We went to the gardens, kicked a ball, flew a kite. The Rabbit rescued his toy bandicoot from the animal rescue boat. We put ourselves together, not perfectly, but from what we had.

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Peasant soup

P1080936It’s one of those scrambly afternoons today (soccer), so I’m going to be making peasant soup. That’s my name for it. Jamie Oliver wrote the recipe I base it on, and he calls it “Leek and Chickpea Soup”, which is either a more or a less descriptive name depending on your leaning towards connotation or denotation. You can probably figure which way I tilt.

P1080934Anyway, it’s a terrific soup and at the moment everyone in the house seems to be on board. I often find a meal that I think everyone likes, but, with time, preferences for variations emerge and so I can end up making three different tweaks of the same meal, which is a big pain in the arse. And, yes, they could all cope with the same version (apart from the allergy issues), but what can I say, I’m a sucker for an appreciative bunch of eaters, often to my own detriment.

This is another of those earthy protein and greens type soups. You can blend it to varying degrees or leave it unmushed. I used to blend because that’s what Jamie says to do, but now I blend half for the boys and leave the adult version straight. I find the textural ying/yang of al dente potatoes, round chickpeas with their slippy skins, melty leeks and hot, sweet broth deeply satisfying — the blended version tastes good but is more boring.

As opposed to an actual proper recipe, I’m going to live-blog this one. If that turns out to be a DISASTER, I’ll bail and update once everyone is fed. There may be typos. Fair warning.

5.25pm It would be good to get started now. We got home at five after soccer practice. The Rabbit was tired and hungry and the Cat was tired, hungry, hysterical and thirsty. A drink, some food and the iPad seems to have solved most of those problems FOR NOW. Preemptively, I am going to have a drink and unpack the lunch boxes.

5.30pm Am actually going to start now. First empty lunch boxes, then light the fire.

5.49pm Fire is going well, lamps are on, curtains are pulled, screen time is in final lap, compost is out, animals are fed, bedroom heaters are on. I CANNOT BELIEVE A UNICORN DID NOT MAKE DINNER WHILE I WAS DOING ALL THAT. DOES THAT MEAN I HAVE TO DO IT? Briefly scan what is left of my brain for other chores that need to be done first.

5.51pm Right, will get out ingredients.

5.55pm Have bread, parmesan, yoghurt, leeks, chickpeas, potatoes, salt, pepper, stock, olive oil and garlic. Forgot to have a drink. Doing that now.

5.57pm Boil kettle and peel potatoes. I’m not going to give you quantities. It’s too hard. I do what I need to do in this household, but if I had my way, there’d be less potato and more leek and chickpea.

5.58pm Ian is home and I hand over responsibility for children.

6.07pm Potatoes are chopped and in a pot to boil. You want them in chunks. Small enough to fit on your spoon, but not so small that they’ll fall apart if you boil them five minutes too long.

6.08pm Ian wants to help. I tell him he’s on accompaniments. That’d be oily toast and yummy things. Actually, he just reads this over my shoulder and gets to work. Don’t you, darl?

6.11pm I’ve drained a can of chickpeas and Ian has poured a glass of red. Cheers!

6.17pm Washing leeks is annoying. Nevertheless, do that, then slice then thinly and sweat them in olive oil with sliced garlic and a bit of salt. That’s what I’m doing now.

The children are at the end of screen time and getting ratty. Ian is starting on the bread.

The potatoes are boiling, so I turn them down.

6.23pm Drain potatoes. Decide to move half the leeks to the rinsed-out potato pot so that I can cook the boys’ soup separately and therefore adjust potato/chickpea quantities for their respective audiences.

6.26pm Ian has oiled the bread and put it under the grill. The Rabbit is doing train work. The Cat is dragging out his screen time by deciding to do something too difficult and time-consuming for this point in the evening. The leeks are all sliced and starting to cook.

6.32pm Ian has been commandeered to play hallway soccer. The bread is out and the leeks are a juicy tangle. The garlic is in, more for the big people than for the small. I add the potatoes and chickpeas to each pan, pour on some stock and take a deep breath.

P10809336.36pm Lids on for ten minutes. A word about the stock. I just used powdered, okay. THEORETICALLY, I understand that homemade chicken or vegetable stock would be ideal here, simmered with loving care for an hour or so, the chicken — had there been one — organic, free-range, the centrepiece of a calm and delicious roast meal. But, clearly, we’re not in those realms tonight. We’re never in those realms when I make the soup. If you’re in those realms or are one of those horrendously organised people who not only has homemade stock in your freezer but can also remember which pottle it’s in and how long ago you made it, then bless you and go right ahead and use it.

I have more chopping to do.

6.40pm Oh, and put some pepper in that soup. And turn it down to a gentle simmer.

P10809316.49pm Table is set, soup is done. I’ve put out little bowls of olives, sundried tomatoes, some leftover tuna, cucumber and a bit of avocado. I take photos and realise how much crap lives semi-permanently on our table. Time to blend and serve. Also yoghurt and parmesan.

P10809376.59pm Everyone is eating. Of COURSE I got soup on my top when I blended it. It looks good though. The soup.

If you have lemons, add a squeeze of lemon juice. That’s life advice right there, not just for this recipe.


I’m just going to start right out by saying that Word is driving me up the wall today. I’ll explain (or rant) soon, but first have to sort out problems with Spotify and my memory. Between Word and this sex abuse case that’s national news at the moment and that blatantly and excruciatingly exposes the rampant rape culture in this country, I’m in a vile mood and need music, so I thought a bit of cowboy folk might help, specifically a band I’ve been listening to since uni days, which I damn well know the name of and you will too — two women, guitar, rocking, been around forever and hopefully always will, you know the one — and I’m sure it will come to me by the end of this post, but if it doesn’t, I’m going to have to start eating more salmon and doing crosswords, because that sort of forgetfulness isn’t really acceptable. Anyway, I tried Cowboy Junkies and that wasn’t right, so then I tried the name of one of their albums, and that led me to 10,000 Maniacs, which is also good, but still not right, and now I’m going to talk more about Word and hope that some other part of my brain keeps trawling through its musical archive for me.

So, I am working on a large document that has been hacked about to the point where it may well be in terminal decline: it started off neat and lovely with a full set of nicely organised Word styles, but things have been pasted in from other documents, other authors have added material with different formatting, I’ve broken it into about 20 chunks, all of which have been substantially edited, then I’ve shoved it all back together, and now it’s just sitting there looking pathetic and refusing to do anything I ask.

Somewhere in this (admittedly appalling) process, the bulleting went astray, so I cleared out the bullet styles and have spent the last hour or two trying to reset them. I know exactly how I want them to look and I’m not a complete Word idiot, but it keeps defaulting to List Paragraph, and if it’s not doing that, it’s doing this other irritating thing where every time I try to base one bullet style on another one, it REMOVES the bullets from the original style, perhaps as a tax on excessive style mongering, I DON’T KNOW. I may be complicating things by having separate styles for

  • bullet lists
  • final items in bullet lists
  • numbered lists
  • final items in bullet lists
  • checkboxes, and
  • dashed lists

but I really feel that this isn’t too much to ask. WHAT AM I DOING WRONG? If anyone can help me before my empha-capsing gets out of control, that’d be awesome.

Sweet Jesus, it’s girls. Something girls.

Maybe if I try to create styles in a blank document, then import them? I did get the page numbering to work, so that’s nice. I can’t even charge for the hours I spend being stupid, which is a little-acknowledged downside of the self-employed, freelancing lifestyle.

I refuse to scan my CD rack or do Google Deduction. MY BRAIN WILL WORK.

What do you know, the name was sitting on Spotify next to the 10,000 Maniacs playlist.

INDIGO GIRLS. I wonder how long it would have taken me to get there?


Update: Word just crashed and I haven’t yet dared to look and see what I lost. Vindictive bastard.

A nothing sort of day

This is the second day in a row I’ve sat by the fire and spent too much time on the internet and a bit of time writing. It’s NOT IDEAL. I’d prefer to lose myself in some mildly tricky but non-essential and yet well-paid work like restructuring a document or proof-reading or, I don’t know, entering data in a table. I should be preparing for August workshops or doing my business plan or making things for Nona’s baby or going for a walk or gardening, and, failing that, I should be doing more of the writing and less of the internetting. Still, here we are.

Partly, it’s the cold. I’m in the warmest patch of the house, and if I move more than two metres, I’ll be cold again. That’s not very motivating. Operation Convince Ian That We Need A Supplementary Heating System got some momentum over the weekend when we realised that the wood supply was about to run out and all the suppliers in town are too busy to deliver and don’t have dry wood anyway so we need to gather and chop all the fuel we need from Dad’s place, which is reasonably straightforward, but not as reasonably straightforward as paying someone to dump a load of dry timber in useable sizes on our driveway. Anyway, we’ve got wood for the week and we’ll get more over the coming weekend and then it will be almost August and that’s SPRING, right? Relatedly, the sky is a dense white grey and snow is forecast and none of the bulbs have stuck their pretty green shoots out yet. Also, if you ring a wood supplier and they hem and haw and say that the wood is only 70% dry, what does that even mean? Will it burn? Will it dry out if we stack it for a few weeks? How do they measure it? Yes, so there’s the cold.

There’s also the introversion thing. I’m pretty comfortable acknowledging that I’m an introvert, even if I do have conversations like this:

Colleague: How do you find working on your own?

Me: Fine. I mean, I’m an introvert, and all.

Colleague (total shock): Are you? Really? You don’t seem like one.

Me (confused and quickly doing a self-check of identity): Yes, yes, I really am.

Colleague: Well, you’re a very high-functioning one!

I’m not sure what introversion means in this conversation, and it’s true that sometimes I am capable of carrying out a coherent and meaningful conversation with another person, although the chances are higher if

  1. I know them
  2. I like them
  3. there’s only one of them

but for me what it really comes down to is that I get scatty and tired engaging with other people for long stretches of time and need some time to myself to recharge before getting back in the middle of it all. Sort of like this. And this scatty−recharging dynamic exists even in close relationships, like with my partner and children, which always takes me a while to recognise and admit because, EMBARRASSING, no? Getting worn out by people that I love and have either chosen to spend my life with or have actually given birth to and nurtured from sweet babyhood into long-legged, ball-kicking, book-reading boydom.

Anyway, eight years into this parenting gig, I’ve started to learn how to read the signs, which is why towards the end of a ten-day holiday I had to say things like, “I’m getting a bit peopled-out now” and also why I now find myself sitting very quietly, letting my mind run off in various directions without trying to corral or even follow it very much. I’m just refilling the bucket, is all.

However. I’m also approaching mid-life, if not a mid-life crisis, and I’m a bit bored. I need more work, less daily grind, more crazy projects with the kids, more focused writing time, less Facebook, more reading, more resolution of wider family bullshit, more exercise, less cheese, less coffee, more water, less scatter, more patience, more drive. Watch this space.


Lessons of the day

In which I learn again the things that I have learnt so many times already, and usually not without a bit of hassle and grief.

  1. Playing soccer for an hour after school without having had a proper lunch makes the Cat ratty (to mix my critters).
  2. Hugs are pretty good first aid.
  3. Band aids are very useful when they are not really needed and strongly resisted when they are needed.
  4. Most things can be mopped up.
  5. Speaking of, clean floors are over-rated, but they also take the internal tension down a notch.
  6. The time to cook dinner always comes around too soon.
  7. This is a “windows open” kind of house; fresh air saves us.
  8. Friends are the best.
  9. Two small boys can spend a very long time digging a clump of grass out of the sidewalk.
  10. If in doubt, feed the children.
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