I am not MacGyver. Yet there is something about motherhood that has made me so.
A caveat. I am swiftly discovering that parenting doesn’t always look or feel like you imagined it.
I didn’t imagine that I would cry along with my son when he got his first set of immunisations. It was the look of abject, incredulous horror on his face as he stared straight up at me- ‘but this hurts…?’
I didn’t realise that it’s only a small percentage of women for whom the weight miraculously sheds while breastfeeding. That’s an excellent myth to circulate. In the latest chapter of my body’s ongoing plight to feed the littlest hungry one it has now begun clutching at every calorie it can and squirrelling them away in snug little pockets, which I only discover when I try and pull on a pair of my favoured trousers.
And in the last few days I’ve become well acquainted with a new code; a 10WS.
That’s a ten wipe situation. That’s what happens when you swap over the formula you’ve been comping your baby on and it takes him two days to have it digest through his system. It’s a good discovery bleary eyed at 3 am. All you other seasoned parents out there are now laughing behind your lattes, I can tell.
These days, I reason if I make it through a day without being covered in at least two differing bodily fluids, it’s a good one.
If I make it through a day and manage to test a recipe or two, answer an email or two, get dressed and do a load of washing or two- it’s a good one.
And if I make it through an evening without the wheels completely falling off the bus, it’s a good one.
A few days ago, it was another necessity of transportation that failed me. Half way on my walk to the grocery store my shoe disintegrated. There was no warning- out of the blue the left sole of my slipper wrenched itself free and began to flap and flounder against the pavement, like a fish out of water. It had plum given up on life. It was carnage. I was more than a mile away from home. It’s a hot Sydney day in September. The bitumen burns a bit. And then, I became MacGyver. I calmly surveyed the surroundings, then took the elastic band that was holding back my ponytail and wrapped it around my foot, anchoring the sole in place, like the strap of a Mary Jane. I then went and bought the groceries. I went to the chemist, as planned. All in time to get the baby home for the 1 pm feed. And on the way back I discovered an outlet store that I never knew existed, for one of the nicest brands of ballet slippers for sale in Sydney- where everything was up to 70% off. And ten minutes later I walked out wearing a new pair of slate grey flats.
As one of my friends later said ‘See? The universe takes care of MacGyver’. And tired mothers on a schedule it seems.
This is a dish that has its own elements of reinvention to it. It takes a meatloaf- that classic, hodge podge of dish- the sort of thing I imagined I’d be making once I was a weary-eyed resident in Mummy town. It’s resilient, thrifty and filling- and here it’s given it a bit of a lift.
If I’m honest, there are few things in the world (bar my waistline) that aren’t improved by swaddling them in pastry. By wrapping the meatloaf in a few errant sheets of filo- you know you have half a pack skulking in the freezer somewhere- it gives this midweek staple the crunch it so desperately calls out for. The end result is half way between a family pie and an oversized sausage roll. It’s easy to slice and just as good hot as cold.
I’ve discovered over time that what you need to make a proper meatloaf are three key elements; the first is decent mince- a mix of beef and pork gives a nice balance of fat and flavour. The second is milk soaked breadcrumbs- that gives it the downy texture that you crave in a good, fluffy meatball. And the third is seasoning. You’ll get sweetness from softening your onions first. You’ll get a bit of umami richness from grated parmesan. And we all know that ground meat, mustard and ketchup are good friends.
By taking a couple of things that were lying around the house; a loaf tin and some stray strips of filo pastry from the freezer- this manages to MacGyver your midweek meatloaf into something special.
Add some pureed white beans or mash to the side and a big green salad. Put some extra mustard and tomato sauce on the table. And pour yourself a glass of red wine. The universe may take care of MacGyvers and mums, but as I’m also discovering- a glass of Grenache at the end of a long day never hurt either.
Serves 4-6 (with mash and some salad)
1 x 20x 12.5 cm/8/5 inch loaf pan, greased. Damp tea towel (for filo pastry)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 cup breadcrumbs (1/4 set aside)
3 tbsp milk
500 grams of mince (I like a mix of 300 grams of beef and 200 grams of pork)
1 egg, beaten
40 grams of grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
4 sheets of filo pastry
2 tbsp of butter, melted (for pastry)
Here’s how we roll
1) Sautee the onion in the olive oil until soft and translucent- about 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2) Preheat the oven to 180C/350 F.
3) Combine the breadcrumbs and milk and leave to soak.
4) In a mixing bowl combine the mince, beaten egg, grated parmesan, chopped parsley, tomato paste and dijon mustard.
5) When the onion is cool and the breadcrumbs have absorbed the milk, add them to the bowl too. Season with a little salt and pepper. Use your hands to squelch together into a cohesive mass.
6) Take one sheet of filo pastry butter it. Lay it horizontally across the loaf pan, leaving the excess to drape over the sides. Then butter another sheet and place another at right angles, like a cross so it covers the narrow ends. Repeat twice more until you have used all your filo.
7) Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs along the base of the pastry lined loaf tin (these will help soak up any juices). Transfer the meatloaf mixture above that and pat in so it is well squelched down and there are no air pockets.
8) Fold the overhanging edges of the pastry over to cover the top of the meatloaf. Butter the top. Use any excess pastry scraps to decorate the top.
9) Bake for 45 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden.
11) Carefully transfer the loaf onto a serving platter (I find it easiest by first running a knife around the edges to ensure everything is free, then placing a small board ontop of the loaf and inverting it, while holding tightly onto both the board and the tin. I then use another small board or platter to do the same thing again, to place the loaf the right way up for slicing.
12) Slice the loaf with a bread knife. Serve with mashed white beans, potato, steamed greens or a big salad (and a splodge of tomato sauce/ketchup wouldn’t go astray).