I’ve had a short sabbatical, but now I’m back. It was only supposed to last the summer but then The 11yo started secondary school and all my good intentions to write more (and drink less) flew out the window along with a good portion of my sanity.
It’s been tough, for sure. Even though we’ve been through it all before with The Teen, like childbirth, I’d forgotten quite how traumatic the settling in process is. Anxious and disquieting for us, yes, but for him, absolutely bloody off-the-scale terrifying. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that he was sitting on a carpet trading nits with his chums having a story read to him by a kindly teacher who shared his love of pandas. Now he has 19 different lessons in 19 different classrooms with 19 different teachers, in a school that’s double the size with not a familiar face in sight. Jeez.
But in spite of a wobbly start, he is coping admirably. Until a few days ago, I would’ve said he had it nailed, but then he went and got his first ever detention (albeit only a two minute one – for forgetting his reading book in a library lesson (erm, come again?)) and the tears returned. Huge, round, unremitting tears. Tears that, although heart-breakingly silent, said, ‘I’m trying my best I really am, but I’m only little and I’m overwhelmed and I’m exhausted and I’m scared so please give me a fucking break.’ He didn’t say any of this of course. He just looked at me with big, sad eyes and said: ‘I really miss my old school.’
We all crave comfort food at this time of year, but for some of us, it’s not just owing to a change in the weather.
Chicken and barley broth with crème fraîche and salsa verde
Adapted from a veggie version in Caravan Dining All Day, this soup is a hug in a bowl. Don’t even think about missing out the crème fraîche and salsa verde – they transform the flavour from ‘meh’ to ‘yeah’. Best served with good bread,
good any old wine and good company.
Serves at least 6
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- knob of butter
- 3 onions, finely chopped
- 3 carrots, finely diced
- 3 sticks of celery, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 100g Puy lentils
- 200g pearl barley
- 2 litres chicken or veg stock
- 1 large or 2 small cooked chicken breasts (I poached mine for about 10 mins)
- zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- salt and pepper
- crème fraîche
- salsa verde (see below)
- Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan and gently saute the the onions, carrots and celery for about 10 minutes, until softened.
- Add the garlic, bay leaves and thyme and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Stir in the lentils and barley then add the stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 30-40 minutes until the grains are tender.
- Tear up the chicken and add to the broth, stir in the mustard and lemon zest and season with plenty of salt and pepper.
- Serve in bowls with a generous dollop of crème fraîche and salsa verde on top.
- large handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
- large handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- small handful of tarragon, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp capers, rinsed and finely chopped
- 1/2 clove garlic, crushed or finely grated
- 1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- good quality extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
Stir all the ingredients together in a bowl and add enough olive oil to give loose sauce consistency – about 50ml (add half the lemon juice first, taste, then add the rest if needed). Season to your liking.