Top 10 Vegetarian Cookbooks or Why I’m Back on the (Cashew Nut) Sauce

veggiesHere are some things I don’t want to put in my mouth; Blue Peter pets, Bambi, trotters, Shergar. Which is why, after a seven year break, I decided to return to a predominantly vegetarian diet at the beginning of this year. My New Year’s Resolution was of the ‘lets pencil that in’ variety until the whole ‘there’s a pony in your pie’ story exploded and I thought I was going to gag up an equine kidney. Literally.

I first became a veggie in my late teens on the grounds that  I didn’t approve (in the way that only a 15-year-old can ‘not approve’) of the Diet of Diminished Responsibility as I called it. I had the idea that I would only eat what I could kill. Having experienced gut-spewing hours on the water, both lake and and sea, with just my dad, a fishing rod and a thunderous sky for company, fish were totally on my menu. Dad taught me how to reel in the thrashing creatures, unhooking their bloodied mouths before stopping, in a moment of bizarre reverence, to admire the rainbow-beauty of their silvery scales. Dad would gaze at the gasping fish, his eyes moistening, reading the scales like tea leaves before administering a merciful clout to the fishes head. Queasily, I’d watch the perfect silver ring of the fishes eyes retract making way for the wide black pupils of stillness. It felt raw, but somehow natural and oddly ok to skin, gut and cook ‘em up with garlic later that night. But maybe I’d just  read too much Hemmingway.  But so it was that my diet was veggie/pescatarian for some twenty years until the traumatic birth of my second daughter, the Biscuit Thief.

Within hours of the emergency C-section I had undergone, I became desperately anaemic and needed a blood transfusion. I still remember the sensation of a stranger’s blood seeping into my architecture like tar through a straw. It crept into me like a burgundy, life-saving syrup, carrying with it so much heat that I could trace its path around my broken body. Over the next few days, as the anaemia ebbed away, a gnawing started in my belly. My husband came to visit me in hospital and I looked at him like a shark looks at tiddlers.

“I think I…I…I think I need…I need a fucking steak!” I said, horrified.

I was like Alex the Lion in the Madagascar films when he imagines the lemurs and zebras turning into little sirloins such is the intensity of his meat-lust. Since that moment seven years ago, there has been nothing I wouldn’t do for a sausage until recently, the smell of meat, let alone the taste of it, started to make me feel unbelievably squeamish.  Thank fuck I’m not French.

And so I am back;  back to the demanding cooking, back to the endless peeling of root vegetables, back to the exotic adventures with cheese, back to endless reconfigurements of falafels and humous. Unfortunately for a vegetarian/pescatarian, I am not on speaking terms with eggs after a salmonella incident on top of a mountain in Spain where I puked and also pooed in front of a pop star and my new born baby had to sleep in a suitcase ~ but that’s another story. So without eggs, I have to work hard to get my protein.

Having been out of the quinoa-loving lifestyle for some years, I asked Twitter and Facebook for some vegetarian cookbook suggestions and these ones came out top. Enjoy!

TOP 10 VEGETARIAN COOKBOOKS

The Mystic Cookfire by Veronika Robinson

River Cottage Veg Every Day Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Sundays At Moosewood Restaurant Moosewood Collective

Plenty Yotam Ottolenghi

Gaia’s Kitchen Julia Ponsonby

Rose Elliot’s Vegetarian Cookery Rose Elliot

River Cafe Cookbook Green Rose Grey

The Vegetarian Pantry  Chloe Choker & Jane Montgomery

Paradiso Seasons Denis Cotter

The Accidental Vegetarian Simon Rimmer

Letting Men into the Cult of Motherhood

HiResI’m having a dilemma.

Am I a parent, or am I a mother?

Am I a uterus, or am I a person?

It sounds funny, but actually, it’s quite serious.  From the age of eleven, I have been reminded every few weeks of my ‘reproductive potential’. Now, in my mid-forties, the odd sweat emanating from my left armpit as I embark on an apparently one-sided menopause, reminds me of that potential coming to an end. Now more than ever, I am consciously unpicking what it means to be a woman. What it is that really constitutes the ‘feminine’ and the ‘masculine’ beyond body parts and hormones?  What are the scientific facts about ‘gender’ and how many of my assumptions are the result of nothing more than cultural mythology and social conditioning?*

I have always bought into the idea of ‘the feminine’ as a universal principle. I absorbed the western interpretation of Taoist yin/yang thinking from childhood and have never really questioned it until now.  This idea of the feminine representing the creative dark, the yin, the nurturing principles of community and communication has much appeal, but I am beginning to understand the ways in which this concept as a subtle cultural principle polarizes men and women. It narrows the economic, social and human potential of both sexes.  I have been thinking a lot about whether it would be helpful for women’s equality if I played down what I feel is my ‘difference’ from men; the fact that I birth and breastfeed, the fact that I bleed.

The problem, as I see it, is that if we stick with the feminine and masculine principles as cultural rather than something housed within each individual, how can men ever meet us in the domestic sphere so that we ‘parent’ our children together? If we assume that women are innately better at nurturing, we tie ourselves to the kitchen sink and limit our possibilities, at the same time sentencing men to a life outside the home, chasing some intangible goal that takes them away from their families and the hard work of bringing up children. Men too can be nurturing, intuitive, loving, and caring; these qualities are not somehow innately bound up in motherhood are they? Before you say it, men get a hit of the love hormone oxytocin when they hug their children too!

Does it empower mothers and increase their status in society of we say they are nature’s homemakers and innately nurturing?  I am beginning to see how this helps to keep mothers in a place of cultural servitude, maintaining nothing but status quo. Equally, does it really ‘empower’ men to have a social script that says they should be ‘out there’ earning money, locking them into a lifetime of ladder-climbing and provider-stress that keeps them away from their offspring?

Yet, I am left with a glaring issue if I deny the glory, power and mystical wonder of my uterus!  HEAR ME ROOAAAR! The issue is where to put the fact that mothering my daughters has been the best, most enlightening and empowering experience of my life. Of all the ‘careers’ I have had (and there have been many) mothering my children has been the most natural fit for my personal strengths and weaknesses.

But I have begun to question whether I am ‘mothering’ my children or actually just ‘parenting’ them? What, when we go beyond birth and breastfeeding, am I giving them that my husband does not, other than some experience-based empathy about periods? If I’m honest, my husband is a better shoulder to cry on. He is the ‘nurturing force’ of calm in our home. I am not innately better at laundry and finding lost homework folders. I am far more the outwardly-focussed forager-spirit traditionally associated with masculinity. My partner and I have found ourselves in different (and I would claim, the wrong) spheres as a result of our own social/cultural expectations, education and upbringing.

I despair when gentle fathers who are great with their children, get derided for ‘being in touch with their feminine side’ as if it’s a bad thing. Surely these men are simply evolved human beings. If I hear one more excuse for friend’s sons being allowed to hit me with sticks because, “Oh! They’re just being a boy,” I might choke on my yin/yang necklace. How limiting, how sad. LET’S SHAKE IT UP!

If you take the gender-based social conditioning out of parenting (as in the case of many single sex couples) things get really interesting. It becomes a question of individual temperament, laying the groundwork for a more equal distribution of the task of bringing up children. Plus, a whole load of women can unburden themselves of the guilt they carry about the fact that motherhood, for them, is not enough.

I have found motherhood to be very tribal and divided, with no unified or unifying political voice. Part of the problem is that we see ‘the other’ woman’s choice as the thing that holds us back. Stay-at-home mothers view full-time working mums and nanny-culture as part of the reason motherhood is not valued, and working mums see the stay-at-homers as upholding cultural stereotypes that maintain inequality in pay and rubbish parental leave legislation. We are at a paralysing impasse.

Can and should ‘motherhood’ be absorbed into the word ‘parenthood’, or is it more important to raise the status of motherhood as a ‘career choice’? Can we ever go beyond gender and simply be humans, together, doing this thing called life? Do we need to let men into the cult of motherhood and bridge the divide, one dirty nappy at a time?

I’d love to know what you think and especially hear about any good books on the subject; I’ll compile them into a reading list and share.

*Gender Delusions by Cordelia Fine is a good starting point on all this.

A Chaos of Edges: Welcome to the Perimenopause

Sara BranMost women are born with their life quota of egg follicles, somewhere around 2 million of them. In an average life, these eggs diminish to about 750,000 by the onset of puberty to around 10,000 by the age of 45. Medically, the menopause describes the moment when a woman runs out of eggs and has her final period. The menopause is only ‘diagnosed’  after a year without menses, but actually this varies greatly from woman to woman.

For a long time before this menopausal ‘moment’, women experience seismic shifts in their chemical make-up at a pace as individual as their life stories. This is the perimenopause, a process which begins around the age of forty to forty-five and takes several years to complete.

Although many women (and men) view the prospect with dread, the perimenopausal years present a precious opportunity for healing and spiritual growth ~ if only more of us embraced them fully, fiercely with wild and open hearts. Yep, the PM. It’s where it’s at sister. Provided there’s somewhere to sit down and it’s not too far from a toilet.

Perimenopause is a time of enormous change as significant and bewildering as its reverse mirror, puberty. Women’s later years are potentially  a time of crystallization, a process of obtaining clarity as we gather up the fragmented self and cluster into new forms. The elements are all the same; we are still us, but we are arranged differently. I personally feel a need to reclaim the missing pieces of myself, those fragments lodged in unfulfilled dreams and unfinished business; those pieces still stuck in the hearts or minds of old loves. I feel the need to gather myself home before it’s too late.

Many of my female friends over forty are feeling daunted by the imminent onset of the ‘change’. It looms on our horizon like a gathering storm of ancient soot and carnage. Our air is heavy with anticipation, we’re all forecasting doom and it has to stop.

Native American traditions view the older woman as ‘the gatherer’ who ‘walks in beauty’ replenishing her internal landscape while her external shell decays.  For women with children, the perimenopause can feel like a homecoming, a reintroduction into a extraordinary place called “the self” after many years of caring for others.  Sadly these days, there are few elders lining the streets and cheering us on in this endeavor. Many women, just like me, are going through this stage of their lives with young children to look after and the push/pull of opposing needs is aching.

As far back as fairytales, older women have either been the ‘stepmother’; malcontent, skeletally thin and brimming with poison, or the wizened yet wise. In the mainstream media,  older women are pretty much invisible. With such a narrow choice of role models, it is no wonder that, although the menopause is not a disease, around 2.5 million women in the UK choose to medicate their journey from fertile to infertile. We commonly turn to HRT or antidepressants at mid-life and risk increased chances of developing breast cancer, thrombosis and strokes among other side-effects.

Botox may freeze an older woman’s face into a fictional eternity, but we still rot inside if we hate who we are. We are so terribly bad at ageing in the West ~ it can feel lonely facing the challenge of these years in a world that takes it’s beauty one way; neatly packaged and low-fat.

As I age, I am a chaos of edges, an ill-defined mess, a burgeoning of bosom, a geology of indiscriminate crevices and I am determined not to loathe it although, sometimes, bravado crumbling, I do.

I am so tired of women hating the skin they’re in. So, so tired.

[This piece is abridged from an article, “Coiled Snake Unwinding” originally published in The Mother Magazine]

When Did I Become the Oracle at Bollocks?

The Family Trivia

Confession: I am held together by Post It Notes

In ancient Greece, the area of Delphi contained a sanctuary where Apollo was said to speak through an older woman ‘of blameless life.’ This woman, Pythia or the sibyl, was the priestess of  ‘the Oracle at Delphi.’ She would fall into a trance and her ecstatic ramblings would be interpreted by priests who put them into neat rhyming verses. People consulted the Oracle on all sorts of important matters from the timing of wars to personal and political crises. That Pythia had power…such PowHer!

And I too,  a woman of <cough> blameless life, am consulted regularly by my offspring and husband.  They wait until I have entered a trance-like state fuelled by caffeine and the therapeutic vapours emanating off Liz Earle products (hopeful brand mention, fishing for freebie) before asking me questions of vital importance such as:

“Do I have any clean pants?”

I take a moment to gaze into the small crystal monkey that I won in the school tombola and, before I know it, cryptic couplets just, like, materialize. Enlightenment comes pouring out of my gob. My wisdom positively SPRAYS FORTH like spittle from a cross footballer’s mouth.

“Do you have clean cacks? I’m not sure what you mean,

But there’s this thing in the kitchen called a washing machine.

You put in dirty pants and clothes that you have worn,

Put in soap, turn the dial and press the button orn.”

Or:

“What’s for dinner?”

“I’m not sure, 

it’s hard to discern

But it will be something you don’t like

and very likely burned.”

Or:

Muffled voice from behind locked bathroom door:  “Argghhh…<ruffling sounds> Do we have any more toilet roll?”

 “If the silver roll thing is empty

The answer my child, is no.

When did I become the Oracle at Bollocks?

That’s what I would like to know.”

Etc etc, you get the picture. And so my question is, when exactly did I become the Oracle at Bollocks? The Font of all Shizzdom? When did I become the receptacle of all family trivia? I am like a human fucking cork board. I am the person equivalent of a fridge covered in crappy notes and timetables held on by crappy miniature Eiffel Tower magnets and those ones that say ‘I Love Ibiza’ on them. Post It Notes should come in flesh colour so that  when I stick them on me, from a distance it will just look like I’m one of those really cool women with lots of ‘up yours’ tattoos all over my body when actually I am a walking To-Do List of Trivia.

I’m tracing back the moment in time where I became the Oracle at Bollocks. Ah, there it is. The moment I had a baby. The baby came out of me. My partner was sent home while I, broken yet enjoying the opiates, was left holding her. Yes, my partner went home and ‘got some rest’ and I was taught my first bit of bollocks ~ how to put a baby grow on a wriggly new born whilst still looking sexy.  Women’s work don’t you know.

And I didn’t wholly mind it, for a while. Being the Oracle at Bollocks. When my children were very small. But now, they’re both at school and I have time and a brain. Can someone else hold one of my bollocks now please? I’m tired and I want to do something clever.

15 Things I Want My 7 Year Old Daughter To Know

Our cat eating Barbie

Molly our cat protests at the impossible standard of physical perfection demanded of women which contributes to epidemic cultural body dysmorphia and continued gender inequality…

The Biscuit Thief is turning 7 on… wait for it… 12.12.12. YES she is my magic, alien, mystical baby. In preparation for this milestone, I have been thinking about all the things she is now ready to know:

1. It is awesome that you get yourself dressed for school now, but it’s always good to include pants on the inside of your leggings.

2. An apple is a kind of fruit and a mac is a kind of lightweight coat that keeps the rain off.

3. It is not funny to say “cock” in front of granny even though it appears to make daddy laugh.

4. Barbie is not representative of women. Anywhere. In any way. And the cat was right. (See photo)

5. No, it is not acceptable that, as a woman, you are likely to be paid less than your male counterparts doing the same work. The fight for equality goes on and I’m sorry we still haven’t fixed that for you.

6. The one hour kazoo concert you gave was… unforgettable…and  mummy is REALLY SORRY that she can’t remember where she hid put your kazoo afterwards.

7. Disneyland is closed.

8. The ‘F’word is not ‘fanny’.

9. Shreddies are not really “knitted by nannas”.

10. The Tooth Fairy can do all that stuff because a) she’s magic and b) she’s a woman.

11. The feisty, determined, rule-breaking, wildness in you that is so hard to parent sometimes, is exactly what will make you an awesome adult.

12. It is not going to be possible to meet Rapunzel. She’s a fictional character.

13. There isn’t really such a time as ‘Gin O’Clock’.

14 . Mummy and daddy are not perfect, but we love you very much.

15. Actually, mummy is perfect.

Women with Unnaturally Perfect Hair During Childbirth

Rachel from Friends Giving Birth

Rachel and Ross from Friends demonstrate perfectly coiffured childbirth.

Miranda Sex in the City Giving Birth

Ok, Miranda has one small hair out of place but SJP? A ‘real’ birth partner would be knackered and covered in bite marks/poo.

Christina and Will from Up All Night

Oh Come on… a fugging HAIRBAND? Christina and Will in Up All Night

Blonde Woman in Labour

This is how I thought I looked…but I didn’t

Spotted any more…?

Your Story in 6 Words: Can You Do It?

I went to see my lovely artist friend Sandra Turnbull last week. She had an open house at her North London studio and it was, as usual, an inspiration to see her and her work. One of my favourite pieces, tucked away in a corner of her workshop was this: My Story in 6 Words.

My Story in 6 WordsEver since, I have been trying to come up with mine. I finally got it this morning: Fear, Sorrow, Music, Motherhood, Books, Magic.

My Story in 6 Words

It’s harder than you’d think to do it!  If you send me yours, use the hashtag #6WORDS and I’ll add my favourites to this page with a link to your blog. The #6WORDS can be in any format: Photos, Instagrams, Tweets, Facebook messages, comments… etc. I’ve shown you mine, I’d love to see yours:)
**UPDATE**
Your life stories in #6WORDS have been rolling in… some of my faves so far include:
Mum Older Single Story #6Words
 This from @mumoldersingle LOVE. JOY. SORROW. TRUTH. TRUST. SPACE.
 From @coffeecampari LONDON. ITALY. ANXIETY. LOVE. MOTHERHOOD. KARAOKE.
 @katetakes5 made me laugh with  SEND. HELP. DROWNING. IN. ODD. SOCKS.
 @dorkymum has me intrigued with ISLAND. ESCAPE. BOOKS. POLITICS.  LOVE. LAUGHTER.
 Having had a good ol’ life chat with her a couple of days ago, I’m really feeling the one from @oldermum:    TRAUMA. VINYL. ECSTASY. PSYCHE. FEMININE. WORDS.
 Also love WINE. WHINE. SLEEP. MUNDANE. JOY. SHINE. from @actuallymummy although how a loquacious schoolgirl got hold of booze, I don’t know.
 I love them all… please keep them coming and I’ll add as many as I can X