A meal in two chapters.

MONDAY: At least dinner was pretty. It was pleasing to look down at and it was politically correct.  There was no meat on the plate. Beyond that- it was thrifty- the tops of the heirloom purple organic carrots were re purposed in the pesto.  The seeds were pepitas- the very same seeds I wrenched from the gloopy cavern in the centre of the pumpkin. The orange orb was grown organically, locally- in my mother’s kitchen garden no less. And we even ate the skin (roughage, I guess). And there was kale on the plate (of course there was kale).

But everything else? Everything else was a little bit of chaos. I’d spent half of the day chasing around Sydney trying to track down the last remaining canisters of Karicare Aptamil formula. For some reason, it was gone. Plum stripped from everywhere in the city – out of stock with no clear answer on when it will return (there are reports of pallets of it being bought in bulk and shipped to extended families in Beijing). Just as I was considering shutting down the milk bar and reverting to full formula. The universe has a funny sense of humour.

I’d just spent a portion of the weekend trying not to stab my thigh with either a plastic fork or straw when I encountered a glossy haired lass who slipped into conversation that their nine week/ four month/ insert small number old baby, now slept for eight hours through the night. I spent twelve minutes hunting through my jewelry to find some gold earrings and then five minutes holding one to the lower lid of my left eye. Someone had told me that gold was the thing to cure the hulking stye which had taken up residence. I lost my American Express card, only to find it in a sneaky section of my wallet that I had no memory putting it in. And the lift in our building broke-again. Who needs time out to  exercise- when you can donk a stroller full of groceries up 78 stairs?

I’ve spent the rest of the time caught between laughing and shaking my head in dismay as my 7.5 mth old bundle of chub and  grit who tackled the three lower stairs in our flat, again, and again and again. Any time he took a wee tumble, he’d shake it off, like a cartoon character, momentarily doused with water, before setting his jaw into a straight line and starting again.

This is the sort of meal you want to make when you need some order in your life. When you need to feel good, because something is awry. Maybe you dinged your car. Maybe you said something you shouldn’t have. Maybe you cc’d  whole bunch of folk you really shouldn’t have on an  email train. Or maybe because you’re about to seriously enter the land of sleep training. Because after you spent a good 30 minutes in the middle of the night trying to decide whether you would rather lose my little toe, or have a baby who sleeps through- and you honestly can’t decide which- you know it’s time to get real.

What’s so good about this dinner?

There’s some umami exoticism from the miso- this comes with as a painfully persnickety request- do try and use pale white, shiro miso for this- it has a muted, more elegant flavour than brown or red. There’s sweetness from the rice malt syrup- though you could substitute for maple syrup, muscavado sugar or honey. And there’s seasoning from the soy. Soy on pumpkin is a sly trick- it adds just the right sort of savoury note when it’s roasted- try slicking cubes of pumpkin in it next time you deposit them in the oven. It’s robust enough to fill you up properly for supper- there’s heft from the roast root vegetables and protein in the white beans. And it’s self contained. This is another one of the rather genius, chop most of it up, chuck it in the oven, forget about it for an hour and a half and then serve it at room temperature/warm when you’ve got your night in order (whether emails done, exercise completed- or baby bathed and bedded). There’s no need for another dressing- the beans will pick up the remaining marinade in the roasting dish as a sauce. Though if you have the inclination to pull out a food processor the kale pesto proves a nice contrast of texture and colour on the plate (try making a double batch and keeping some aside to put over roast chicken the next night, or toss through pasta).

This was a dinner that started the night well. If only it continued that way.

WEDNESDAY: The less said about the first night the better. But two nights in and we may have progress. I had one stretch of six hours slumber. SIX HOURS OF SLEEP. And then we went and broke it, like a shiny pinada in the centre of a party. We slipped and broke it by going out to dinner, to catch up with long lost best friends who have come for fleeting visits from across the seas.

The original plan was simple; there were two of us to cook dinner for six, bath and bed two rambunctious boys. One of the group is a vegetarian. Three others were very hungry menfolk returning from long days of grist. And so out of comfort I returned once more to this salad. I made it again. It would serve as a substantial main for one and side for five. I paired it with a slow roast shoulder of lamb, green salad and a yoghurt sauce.

The night didn’t go to plan, for a few reasons. And so once again I became acquainted with the appearance of  the numbers 12, 2, 4 and 6 on the face of a clock. But I had a decent meal in me. I had strength on my side. And so  just like baby Will cascading down the stairs, we will pick ourselves up and  start from the bottom again.

One day we’ll get this right. I hope. But until then, at least there are meals like this.

Roast Miso Pumpkin with Carrots, Onion, White Bean and Kale and Carrot Top Pesto

Serves 2 as a main, or 3-4 as a side with a large green salad .

Shopping/foraging

1/2 Kent pumpkin (approx 800 g – 1 kg) , seeds and pulp removed, cut into wedges 2 cm thick (skin on)
1 red onion, peeled and cut into 8ths
1 head of garlic, the top lopped off
1 bunch of Dutch purple carrots (can substitute for regular Dutch carrots)
1 x 400 g tin of cannelini beans, drained and rinsed

Dressing
2 tbsp white/shiro miso
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp rice malt syrup/maple syrup/ muscavado sugar

Kale/ Carrot Top Pesto

2 handfuls of kale leaves
tops of the carrots, rinsed
30 gm parmesan
30 gm pumpkin seeds/pepitas
2 tbsp olive oil

 Here’s how we roll

1) Preheat the oven to 150C/300F.

2) Take a large roasting dish and place in it the pumpkin wedges, onion, carrots, and whole garlic.

3) Whisk together the dressing and drizzle it over the vegetables. Sprinkle them with a handful of pepitas/pumpkin seeds and place in the oven to roast for 1-1.5 hours- until the pumpkin and carrots are soft and the garlic cloves easily pop out of their skins.

4) Gently remove the pumpkin and carrot from the roasting dish and divide between plates, or place on a large serving platter. Pour the rinsed beans, plus 2 tbsp of hot water into the bottom of the roasting dish. Stir around to scrape up any remaining marinade. Tumble the beans and onion segments over the top of the roast vegetables.  Pop the garlic cloves out of their skins and add to the salad.

5) To make the pesto blitz together all of the ingredients in a food processor. Add rustic blobs of it to the plates. Drizzle with a little olive oil and serve either hot or at room temperature.