It’s a curious thing when you lock one eye on the details in the pregnancy  app you bought in a flush of maternal excitement some 22 weeks ago and it informs you that the thing you’ve got inside would now have an ok chance of making it if it came out.

Dear Stowaway. Please don’t get any ideas. To me, you’re just not quite baked yet. Kind regards, Mum.

By now you’re the size of a cucumber. And beyond that, I’ve learned you can dream- in a sort of fashion. I’m not sure why this surprises me so much. I certainly know for sure when you’re asleep and you’re awake. You’re not very subtle about the latter at all, booting and punching your way across my abdomen, like a blindfolded Gruffalo, exploring all corners of a cave with outstretched extremities. I wonder what you dream about. And if yours are as mad as mine.

Sleep when it comes these days is like being sucked down a tunnel. For all the dark hours spent awake, trying not to guffaw too loudly when you poke somewhere odd, occasionally there are snatches of it that are so sound I find it difficult to discern whether what just played in my head was real or fantastical.

The dreams are all pretty cavalier. The last one was one straight from Scarface; I was surrounded by mounds of marching powder (nb, this is not something that has played a large role in my life). As I busily rolled notes and racked up straight lines on gleaming surfaces, The Hungry One appeared in a doorway. ‘Darling- are you sure you should be doing that?’ The violent snort I gave in retort was enough to yank me into another realm. Luckily it was merely my snoring.

Dreams of pregnancy damaging, illegal substances aside-  there have been others that have proved just as startling. In my sleep I’ve been busy slalom skiing and competing in the Grand National, tobogganing and welterweight boxing. I’ve never been this active in my life.

And yet day to day, I’m getting more and more timid. I ventured out in sky high heels once in the last month only to discover my centre of balance has completely splayed. I spent most of the night plagued by visions of going head over boot down 12 stairs at Piccadilly Circus. Ever since a certain episode of Downton Abbey, I’m checking beside the bath with religious fervour, in case a stray bar of soap has jumped ship. And as I type this, and we make our way down the autobahn of Germany (en route to the Black Forest) I find myself instinctively covering my stomach with a pillow, while Mercedes after Mercedes careers past us at astonishing speed.

When there isn’t much physical excitement in your life beyond raising your shirt occasionally to investigate how much bigger your stomach might get, then you come to want it on your plate.

This cucumber dish is both in honour of the stowaway’s advancing size and a cure all for many things. If like me, you’ve spent the last week eating schnitzel and noodles, it’s probably what you’ll be craving. If you need the comfort of a lightning fast dinner, it’s the answer you’re looking for. If you want to take out a little physical aggression, but a boxercise class isn’t on the cards right now, then it’s it. And as for excitement for your palate- that’s just about how much Szechuan pepper you add.

I first discovered the concept of ‘smacked cucumbers’ when reading Fuchsia Dunlop– not only an exquisite writer, she is an oracle when it comes to Sichuan food. The novelty of the dish’s title derives from the action in creating them. The cucumbers are literally smacked- either with the base of a cleaver or a rolling pin. This bashing helps to create nooks and crevices in the flesh and skin, which allow the dressing to creep in further. It’s a great side dish for many Sichuan menus- but my favourite way to serve it is alongside a stupidly fast pork mince and noodle dish. It couldn’t be easier- fresh egg noodles, doused in boiling water, then stir fried quickly along with pork mince, spring onions, chives, soy and Szechuan peppercorns. These peppercorns do most of the heavy lifting in the flavour stakes, giving you a numbing pop and tingle while you eat- a sensation that can quickly become addictive.

It’s both comforting and exciting. It’s a new midweek staple. I like to quickly bash the cucumbers and leave them to steep while I make the noodles. Then while I eat, I’ve been known to place one hand just under my belly button and have a quiet word to the hopefully well-forming  thing inside. ‘I promise to be careful for the next 13 weeks if you do too’. Deal?

Deal.

Szechuan Pork Noodles with Smacked Cucumber Salad

Serves 2 very hungry ones, or 3.

Smacked Cucumber Salad

Inspired and adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop.

Shopping/foraging

1 cucumber (around 300 grams)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp light brown sugar
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced/grated
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp black sesame seeds/toasted sesame seeds
pinch of ground Szechuan peppercorns

Here’s how we roll

1) Place the cucumber on a chopping board and use a rolling pin to give it a few aggressive smacks, until it splits and splinters and generally looks a little worse for wear.

2) Cut the cucumber into thirds lengthwise and then into pieces about 2cm long. Place them in a bowl and salt. Leave to stand for 10 minutes.

3)  Make the dressing; combine the sugar, garlic, soy and rice wine vinegar in a bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves.

4)  Drain the cucumbers of any extra water that the salt has purged from them. Just before serving pour over the dressing, toss to combine and then sprinkle with the sesame seeds and pepper corns.

 

Sichuan Pork Noodles

Shopping/foraging

1 tbsp peanut/vegetable oil
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
2 spring onions/scallions, finely diced
300 grams of pork mince
1 tsp of chilli oil/chilli paste (optional)
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp Szechuan peppercorns, crumpled in a mortar and pestle
1 small bunch of chives, cut into 4 cm lengths
225 grams of dried egg noodles, rehydrated in just-boiled water for 4 minutes, then drained.

Here’s how we roll

1) Place the oil in a wok or large fry pan over a medium heat. Stir fry the garlic and the white part of the spring onions for a minute or so, until the garlic softens. Be careful not to let it burn.

2) Add the pork mince into the pan and turn the heat up. Stir fry until brown.

3) While that is happening pour just-boiled water over the egg noodles and cover. Leave to steep for 4 minutes.

4) Once the mince is brown, if you like things hotter add in the chilli paste/chilli oil. Pour in the soy, rice wine vinegar, sugar and Szechuan peppercorns. Stir to combine.

5) Drain the noodles and return to the work with the mince and sauce. Place over a medium/high heat and stir fry to heat through and combine.

6) Top with the green parts of the spring onions and the chopped chives.

7) Serve the noodles with extra chilli oil and Szechuan peppercorns on the side (for those who like a bit more bite) and the smacked cucumber salad.

 

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 26: Jicama, Chicken and Cashew Salad. Recipe here.

 

Week 25: Corndogs. Recipe here.

Week 24: Eggplant Moussaka. Recipe here

Week 23 Candied Grapefruit Peel and Dark Chocolate Cookies. Recipe here

Week 22 Roast Carrot and Hummus Soup. Recipe here.

Week 21. Spiced Pomegranate Meatballs with Mint and White Beans. Recipe here.

Week 20 Banana Berry Flax Muffins. Recipe here.

Week 19 Mango Pudding. Recipe here

 

Week 18 Sweet Potato, Red Onion and Feta Pie. Recipe here

 

Week 17 Red Pepper, Chicken, Onion and Date Tagine. Recipe here.

 

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 (in which we come out of the closet). 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.