I have been reduced to two functioning gears.
If I was a car, I’d be tempted to put myself in for an emergency service.
There is ‘go’; a slightly frenzied manic pace which sees me hunched over scrubbing the kitchen sink, dumping everything out of my hospital bag and then repacking it again and folding together batters for loaf cake after loaf cake- and then wedging pre sliced portions wrapped in foil into the last remaining corners of the freezer.
At this point of the game I’ve got something approximately the length of a leek curved up inside.
I do not doubt these dimensions. I can feel the exploratory toes up under my ribs twice daily.
The flip side to ‘go’ is stop; a sudden crashing wall of exhaustion that strikes like a King tide. It often descends at 4pm, but is also visible from 9.27 pm onwards. It’s accompanied by a deep, abiding need to lie down.
It also carries a sound track. I wish I was an elegant pregnant slumberer; Sleeping Beauty perhaps. But I think in the same spirit as I embrace the Duchess of Cambridge’s perfectly normal, natural post-birth-bump it’s time to bust a myth or two here. There is nothing sweet about my current mode of sleep. The heavily pregnant me snores like a freight train. It’s horrific. It’s got to a point during the last two nights that I’ve woken up furious at all the noise. I’ve been all set to give The Hungry One a not-so-subtle push to tell him to hush- only to realise that the only person in the bed is me. He’s sensibly taken refuge in the study hours ago.
Now it seems these two alternating gears have would their way into the Stowaway. Whereas a few weeks ago I hosted a regular blip, blip, nudge nudge throughout the day and night; a gentle flashlight that let me know he was still tinkering away inside, now there are hours of deep blanketed silence.
Which is fine. Great even. Long sleeps I can appreciate. What is not so great is when you wake and realise you haven’t felt him much for about seven hours now. So you lie in the dark, patiently on your side with your hands on your stomach for 20 minutes, willing him to rouse. And then you begin a few not-so-meek pokes in the side. ‘Hey, buddy’. ‘Hey, little man- how you doing?’. And… nothing. So you slink downstairs to see the clock above the fridge strike 3 am. You pour a glass of orange juice. You place three ice cubes in it. And then you down the whole thing.
It’s 27 minutes later that you feel the first shuffle. It’s faint, but it’s there. So you breathe a sigh of relief and go back to sleep. And then the next afternoon you go to your now-every-ten-days midwife appointment. It’s supposed to be a quick one, so you park in the expensive-but-convenient paddock out the back. If you’re in and out in 25 minutes it’s only $3. If you’re more than three hours, it’s up to $40. The midwife takes your blood pressure. She takes some more blood samples and measures your bump with a withered tape measure. She checks her paperwork. She shakes her head slightly. And then she asks ‘has he been very active?’ To which you are compelled to say; ‘well, actually, for the last 18 hours he’s been pretty sleepy’.
And then you’re off. Cue another ultrasound (and the two and a half hour wait in a grey and green waiting room, with magazines from 2011). Cue a CTG, where two elasticised belts are strapped to your stomach and you’re left on a faded brown Ezi Rocker, clutching a trigger you must pull every time you feel a movement. The heart beat is fine, but they won’t let you up until he shuffles. So we sit, and we wait. And we wait. And we wait. After 40 minutes the midwife returns with some very cold apple juice. ‘Let’s try and wake this little one up’. Twenty minutes later, his frosty invitation to a party finally arrives- and then it’s on- suddenly he’s wriggling and cavorting like someone pressed play on ‘Single Ladies’ and necked three glasses of cheap cava. So the upshot is that at 38 weeks gestation the Stowaway is measuring less on my belly not because he’s stunted, but because he’s tucked his head down so low. You’re locked and ready to go. And just like me you’ve now got two gears; awake and very, very asleep. Let’s hope that continues onto the other side.
This here is a dish that manages to combine two states for the mutual benefit of both. There’s the pliant repose of leeks- softly braised and roasted until they sigh into soft green threads- and then there’s a vibrant and alert sauce for contrast.
These leeks remind me of roasted calcots; Catalonian spring onions that are traditionally roasted and served with a sunset- orange romesco during grilling festivals in the window between the close of winter and the arrival of April.
The smokiness of the paprika and piquancy of the peppers and red wine vinegar in the chunky sauce help wake up the lazy sweetness of the leeks. This is delightful on its own with charred bread as a light lunch, perhaps with some cava, jamon or coins of chorizo on the side. It’s also an absolute treat for supper with grilled or roast chicken (and you’ll probably have enough romesco left over to stretch to another meal- I like it with grilled white fish, squid or pork fillet).
Together it’s the perfect union of sleep and awake- a third gear that’s been sorely missed around here. It’s also just the sort of thing to tuck into before that day arrives when you’re just too bloody tired to care what it is you put in your mouth.
Roast Leeks with Romesco Sauce
Serves 2, with bread, or a side of grilled pork, chicken or fish.
Nb, the below makes around 2 cups of Romesco Sauce- it will keep in the fridge for up to a week and freezes well. Try it also with pork loin, roast chicken or grilled white fish or squid.
2 leeks, cut in half lengthways and rinsed well
4 tbsp water
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 inch thick slice of bread from a bloomer loaf, cut into cubes, or 1 cup of rustic breadcrumbs.
1/2 cup/100 grams blanched almonds
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely diced/grated.
1 tbsp smoked paprika
175 grams of grams of charred, jarred bell peppers (this is the weight of the peppers- otherwise take 3 small peppers and roast them, remove skins and cores)
1.5 tbsp tomato paste
2.5 tbsp red wine vinegar
Optional: 2 tbsp of toasted hazelnuts to serve
Here’s how we roll
1) Preheat the oven to 200C/392 F.
2) Place the washed, trimmed and halved leeks cut side up in a baking dish. Add the four tablespoons of water and cover with foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil, drain the water and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for another 15-20 minutes, until soft and lightly burnished on top. Set aside.
3) To make the romesco add the 1/4 cup of olive oil to the fry pan. Add the almonds and the bread and place over a medium heat. Toast until the bread and almonds are bronzed.
4) Add the garlic and sautee with the almonds and bread for 1-2 minutes, being careful not to burn.
5) Add the smoked paprika and stir to combine. Set aside to cool. You want the bread cubes to not be hot when you blend them (they will turn it a little mushy).
6) Add the drained peppers to a food processor, or a bowl that you can use a stick blender with.
7) Add the cooled contents of the fry pan, plus the tomato paste and red wine vinegar.
8) Blitz until you have a rough, chunky paste. Taste and season with some salt and pepper. If it needs a bit more kick, add a slosh more of red wine vinegar.
9) Dot the roasted leeks with the romesco sauce. Serve as is, or grill for a few minutes with some hazelnuts scattered on top.
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.