It’s a very strange thing to realise that the being you’re harbouring can now hear.  I’ve only seen you three times – the first time you looked like a mass that had got caught in the bottom of the sink, punctuated by a heartbeat and some static. The second time, when we first saw you move on a screen, it was like the advent of talkies; we were incredulous. And the third time you were bashful and just showed me your rear.

Yet somehow you’ve gone and got yourself some ears.

I’ve been thinking that the soundtrack to your day must be an odd one. There’s the noise of the neighbours upstairs, thumping and obsessively scraping a  vacuum over hard floor boards, then occasionally screaming at each other late at night over suspected infidelities.

There’s the occasional sound from me, talking to myself during the day- converting recipes from cups to grams, reminding myself of things to add to the Great Life Administration Spreadsheet and occasionally swearing at the newspaper, the price of real estate or a piece of technology.

I’m guessing that now would also be a good time to apologise to you for what must have been a startling incident last week when I stumbled upon the video of ‘goats yelling like humans‘ and laughed so hysterically that I ended up a weeping, breathless mess on the floor next to the bed. I have no idea why I found it so uproarious , I just did.

There’s the sound of your Dad. You’ll come to recognise those confident footsteps and considered noises- beyond that he’s really a pretty quiet sort. But then there is the funny voice he puts on when he’s mocking Ina Garten at 7pm on the Food Channel; ‘how easy is that…?’

And then there are the things that other people say to you. Now that you’ve popped -literally serrating fabric and launching buttons off my favourite pair of black jeans last night, you’ve become public property.

Everyone has stories they want to share. You got five minutes from a woman at the end of a yoga class who was suddenly compelled to tell me about the terrible impairments to a child she knows after an umbilical cord became entangled around a neck during birth.  You had the man at the fruit shop who felt the need to share that his wife cried every day of her pregnancy and every day since their 8 mth old baby was born. And then there are the smug sounds that came from the left when I yawned during my hair cut, telling us that if we’re tired now, then gosh, we don’t know anything, because just you wait until we face the other side. We have no idea what hardship sounds like.

All the while I tuned into the blurs of the blow driers and snip of the scissors and tried to cover your ears. SHHH.

Lastly, there are my favourites; the random sorts who look at The Hungry One, then back at me and say with a smile smudged with schadenfreude; ‘best of luck getting something the size of him out of something the size of you’.

But mostly, I’m guessing what you hear are the sounds of my stomach and a low, constant grumble, like the drone from a nearby airfield.

I’ve known hunger before. Not, life-at-risk-capital H- Hunger- but I’ve logged a few hundred hours in fund raising famines and been held in airplanes with nothing but the salt in the bottom of a bag of nuts to sustain us. Though this bottomless pit;  this compulsion to consume is entirely new.  It’s the sort of hunger which means I could happily park a chair in front of a fridge and start at the olives on the top left and track the shelves like a returning typewriter, until I polished off the kale scraps in the bottom right drawer.

In this week when I learned that you- my stowaway have unfurled to the size of a red pepper I’ve been looking and listening out for things that will sustain us. And so, I turned to this tagine. From the strips of red pepper, to the onions and date it has a quiet sweetness. There’s protein from the chicken and  there are chickpeas to help bulk it out. I’ve served it once over more traditional cous cous, taking us straight back to the hush of a riad in  Marrakech-  but my preferred way is to fold through two cups of cooked quinoa at the end. The quinoa soaks up the juice and somehow, keeps me from going back to the fridge quite so soon.

And the best thing about it? I can do a little bit of early prep, put it on a low heat to potter along and sneak off for a nap before dinner. Because if I’m  honest, the sound you’re still hearing the most is my snoring.

Red Pepper, Chicken, Onion and Date Tagine

Serves 4-6

Equipment

1 Dutch oven, or slow cooker.

Shopping/foraging

1/2 tbsp mixed spice/pumpkin pie spice (or 1 tsp ground ginger and 1 tsp cinnamon)
1/2 tbsp cumin
1/2 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp olive oil
600 grams of skinless, boneless chicken thigh, trimmed of fat and cut into pieces the size of a matchbook (do not substitute chicken breast, it will dry out and turn tough).
2 medium red onions, peeled and cut into thin half moons
6 dates, pitted
1 red pepper, cored and cut into strips
1 x 400 gram tin of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

To serve

Cooked quinoa or cous cous (around 400 grams)
4 tbsp yogurt
Fresh coriander or mint
Pickled chillis, sliced
2 spring onions/shallots, thinly sliced
Hot sauce (optional)

Method

1) Place the Dutch oven over a medium heat. Add the spices and toast for a minute until they are nutty and fragrant. Add the olive oil and brown the chicken pieces.

2) Add the sliced onions and sautee over a medium heat for 7 minutes until soft.

3) Add the dates, diced pepper and chickpeas.

4. Add a cup and a half of warm water to the pot.Scrape the bottom of the pot to help rescue any flavour that is clinging to the bottom. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook, with the lid half off for an hour, and up to three, until the dates have softened, stirring occasionally. If it is getting dry, or catching on the bottom, add a little more water. If it is too wet, cook with the lid off for 20 minutes. In the end you should end up with a modest amount of sauce, not a soup (the amount it reduces will depend on the heat you cook it on as well as the surface area of your pot).

4) Before serving check the seasoning. It may need salt to help balance the sweetness of the dates, peppers and onions.

5) Serve either cooked quinoa folded through (as above), or over cous cous. Top with yogurt, fresh herbs, spring onions and pickled or fresh chillis for bite.

 

Forty Weeks of Feasting

Each week mad websites and baby books will tell you how big your baby now is in comparison to a seed, fruit or vegetable. It starts as a poppy seed and goes from there. To make this process a little more palatable, join me as I bake my way through. Here’s the journey so far.

Week 16 Avocado Mint Salsa with Pea and Mozzarella Quesadillas. Recipe here.

Week 15 Orange, Polenta and Rosemary Cake. Recipe here.

Wk 14 Lemon Creme Fraiche and Parmesan Pasta. Recipe here

 

Wk 13 Clementine/Mandarin Curd. Recipe here.

Wk 12 Plum and tomato tartines. Recipe here

Wk 11 Sprout and mushroom gratin. Recipe here

Wk 10 Date tart. Recipe here

Wk 9 Roasted grapes with baby chickens. Recipe here.

Wk 8 Raspberries and elderflower spritz. Recipe here.

Wk 7 Blueberry pancakes. Recipe here

Wk 6 Lentil and ginger soup. Recipe here

Wk 5 Sesame Miso Crisps. Recipe here

Wk 4 Poppy seed scrolled loaf. Recipe here.