This is an excellent chicken pie. It’s what I made for Mother’s Day in some muted moments of contemplation in the kitchen. If you swiftly need a pie that takes inspiration from the cosseting chicken casseroles of the deep south (poppyseeds and all), but isn’t topped with broken Jatz/Ritz crackers and chubby with cans of cream of chicken soup (I’m deadly serious), skip straight to the photos and recipe at the bottom.
But first, a little prattling. Mother’s Day this year gave me a brief period of intense navel gazing. Here we are, nearly three years on from when I first took my own tottering steps into this role. It’s an old adage that on the day a baby is born, a mother is also born. I think it’s taken me this long to really come to grips with what that means.
I can say that nothing made me feel stronger and at the same time more broken than the first year of Will’s life. It’s as if in life BW (before Will) I had access to a pack of 12 coloured pencils, and now I have the whole kit of 256. Some pictures are brighter and shinier and some are pit-dark. Being his mother, and building this little family is the best (and hardest) thing I’ve walked through – and if I’m honest, there were some crummy days BW. On dim days, I’ll often look back at photos from when he was hours old for a re-up of the dizzying, tears-of-joy, life expanding newborn serotonin flood. There aren’t many drugs like it I hazard.
I would not change for a second having my son. But I would, in an instant change so much about how I behaved in that first year. I wish I hadn’t tried so hard to impress people. I wish I hadn’t been so concerned with being ‘excellent’. I wish I’d spoken up to the midwives when breastfeeding felt like a pincing cheese grater in the eerie light of 4 am. Perhaps then we would have found his tongue tie earlier. I wish I hadn’t felt the need to present as perfectly capable and ‘nice’ to every health professional I came across. Great white shark mothers eat their young who don’t swim away fast enough after birth. Confessing to a bad day does not look so bad in comparison. I wish I’d joined a mother’s group. I didn’t have time when they first started (I was busily writing Cut the Carbs!), but didn’t realise what they could offer when that all finally calmed down. I wish I’d swallowed the need to comp feed and moved on. I wish I’d put my need to rest ahead of an insane pumping schedule. I wish I’d said ‘no, I won’t do that’ more often.
I wish I hadn’t accepted the abnegation of myself as a tolerable norm.
There are a things I won’t take back. I don’t take back writing ‘Cut the Carbs!’ when he was first born. I’m proud of that book, even if its timing was wretched (be careful what you wish for- you may just get it all at the same time). I won’t take back selling a flat and buying a house while we were still in the badlands of being woken upwards of 5 times a night. I love our home here by the ocean and we were so lucky to get it when we did. I don’t take back The Hungry One returning to work straight after Will was born. We’d just moved back to the country, we were fortunate that he had managed to secure a job he could go go back to so swiftly. I don’t take back writing the blog during those first months, I now look back on posts like this and this and I see that they were part of the therapy I needed. And I don’t regret the time I spent cooking. Because spending time in the kitchen can be a grounding source of great, great joy.
But if there is a next time, things will be different.
And it’s with that mindset I found myself typing and sending a list of random tips to some old friends who live in a different state last week who have just had their first baby.
I should have just sent it with one sentence as a header. ‘Don’t be me’.
I sent it with the caveat that I was sure they were being bombarded with advice, so do with this what they needed. And I say this also to anyone else who is reading and in the same boat.
Here are some tips that were handed down to us and a few we learned the hard way. Welcome to parenthood.
1) Realign expectations of what your KPIs are. This is brutal for those of us who like to be excellent. If you all get to the end of the day with a small baby and you’re all still breathing, that is excelling at your jobs right now.
2) If one of you is up at night with the baby and the other is grabbing sleep, be sure in the morning to ask them how last night was. The hours between 3 and 5.30 am can be very dark and lonely and you need to know that your partner cares about what went down while they were tucked in bed sleeping.
3) Podcasts and audio books are your friend for late night feeds- for one, they don’t wake your eyes up too much, which means it’s easier to go back to sleep. For two, it can help to feel still connected to the adult world. Slate’s ‘Mom and Dad are Fighting’ is a good parenting one if you don’t already listen and I love This American Life, Listening Ahead (a podcast about podcasts) Story Club and The Ezra Klein Show. Do not be me. I chose to read ‘Lean In’ on my phone while feeding and nearly sent myself mad. LEAN OUT.
4) Eat protein for snacks. Having a stack of hard boiled eggs in the fridge is great for keeping the wobbles away mid feed, as are nuts, bowls of bircher muesli with linseed and chia and hummus.
5) If breast feeding, find the name of a good lactation consultant and put it in your phone. The day when you need it may not be the day you have the wherewithal to track one down. Similarly, it can be worth putting a small amount of formula in the house just for emergencies (vomiting baby who is starving and screaming and you have no supply left at 3 am). There is an excellent online community called ‘Fed is Best’ which is there for morale and support if things aren’t working out the way you want them to.
6) Ask for help. Now is not time to be a hero. Anyone who has had children will understand. There are no medals for being brave in these lands. This can be (glorious) and brutal trench warfare.
7) Take lots of videos as well as photos (The Tinybeans app is great for storing). Two years on you’ll still look at videos of the baby snuffling and get misty about it.
8) Get serious about date night. Make it a priority, put a line item in the household budget for it, even if it includes having to fork out for a babysitter. You need to still spend time the two of you, outside of the house. Your child is sacred, but so is your relationship. (As a friend said to me -‘Babysitters are expensive, but they’re cheaper than marriage counselling’).
9) Revisit The West Wing. It’s perfect for rainy Sundays feeding and mooching on the couch. You don’t have to pay too much attention, they don’t shout too much and each episode lasts for nearly the exact length of a feed (my son developed a Pavlovian response where the theme music made him think a feed was imminent).
10) Get into a habit of leaving the house/getting in the car the exact same way every day. It needs to become muscle memory, so you’re not constantly looking for your phone/keys/ accidentally driving off and leaving the baby on the side of the road (I’ve seen it done- again, see above about sleep deprivation).
11) Stock the freezer with some delicious things. Casseroles, low GI cookies and soups. Maybe pies. Comfort food is good for morale.
Chicken, Leek, Porcini and Poppyseed Pie
This pie is the perfect thing to cook when you’ve got the time and space to contemplate (a Mother’s Day afternoon alone in the kitchen while your toddler and husband cavort in the back yard), or to gift to friends in need. The blitzed porcini mushrooms aren’t an essential component, but they do add a delicious earthiness to the sauce as it cooks. I find chicken thighs braise much better than breasts, but if you were looking for a way to use up leftovers you could easily substitute these with 600 g of shredded cooked chicken. As for the sauce, you can use most flours or milks you prefer to fashion the bechamel, but what works well for my palate and body is chickpea flour and full fat dairy milk. You don’t have to serve this as a pie, it would be fine as a casserole over noodles (courgette, wheat, rice, ribbons of cabbage, etc) or over a mound of mashed white beans, peas or potato. The oat pastry is rich and crumbly and imitates well the effect of the cracker-crust in a classic chicken poppyseed casserole, without their preservatives and wheat, though again, a sheet of good quality store bought pastry would be just as good in a pinch.
1 tbsp olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs/ 600 g , cut into pieces the size of a wine cork
1 leek, tough green ends trimmed, with the white part cut in half lengthways (then rinsed to get rid of any dirt) and cut into slim half moons
30 g butter
25 g chickpea flour/plain flour/spelt flour/oat flour
250 ml milk/almond milk/oat milk
1 double handful of Tuscan kale leaves, finely shredded into ribbons
1 1/2 tsp/4 g of porcini mushrooms, blitzed into small pieces/(take 4 porcini mushrooms and blitz them in a small food processor or spice grinder until they are a little larger than a piece of rice. Alternatively, chop them very fine).
1 tbsp poppyseeds
1 sheet of store bought puff pastry/flaky pastry, or oat flour pastry, as below.
1 egg, for egg washing the pastry
Salt and pepper to taste
Oat flour pastry
175 g oat flour (made by blending oats in a food processor until the texture of flour)
125 g cold butter
50 ml cold water
To make the pastry blitz the flour and butter together in a food processor until you have small pebbles. Drizzle in the water and pulse until it starts to clump together. Pour out onto a clean surface and bring the dough together, adding a little more water or flour if needed. Pat into a disc, wrap in paper and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up, before rolling out into a circle large enough for your pie dish.
Here’s how we roll
1) Preheat the oven to 200C/392 F. Add the tbsp of olive oil to the bottom of a large frypan and sautee the leek over medium heat for 5 minutes until it is soft and translucent. Remove the leeks from the pan and set aside.
5) Pour over the milk and add 3/4 of the poppyseeds. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon. 6) Return the leeks to the pan and add the shredded kale.