White Bolognaise

I understand now why the  UN counts sleep deprivation as a form of torture.

I have seen its inky depths up close and I have named it. It was during one pitch of a night when I first saw the clock trace its way past every number, when my hand had long ago learned how to  stretch and click the light on in one swift motion that I first dubbed it.

To start with it seemed my much-loved son was living up to his father’s legacy.  He may have arrived as a considerate size, but genetics can be a curse as much as a blessing. And I don’t call my husband The Hungry One for nothing.

At 1.14 am, 2.35 and 3.47, the newest hungry one will loll his head to one side from inside his sweet white cot,  open a slate eye and stare up and at me. Not so much up at me, but through me, with the  blank, possessed desperation of an unquenched appetite. Then things will start to wind up-  his  head will begin to thrash from side to side and his mouth will go slack. If there’s one thing it reminded me of in the haze of receding sanity, it’s this.

And so in the depths of  those broken nights I have come to refer to those moments as belonging to ‘Bruce’.  Bruce being what the cast of Jaws named their flailing mechanical beast. Bruce; the alter ego of my sweet son’s appetite. And like Chief Brody, we’re going to need a bigger boat.

The compound interest of feeding a small, sweet smelling, squalling creature every 70 minutes, night after night sneaks up.  It’s scratchy and pinched and unspools you from the feet up. It’s a sensation I first noticed at the beginning of the week . It arrived at about 5.15 pm, when the light started to recede from the sky. Instead of welcoming the evening, as time of food, trashy television, wine and winding down I have started to dread the lonely hours that stretch on, while his Dad and most other sane people slept, recouping their energy for the big days that waited for them on the other side.  The closest feeling I can point to is of Sunday nights in primary school, when you’re staring down another week with a mean substitute teacher.

The effects of sleep deprivation are curious. It started with misplacing things. I have lost count of how many times in the past two weeks I have been unable to find my phone. Strange, since it’s luridly pink and rarely not by my side. It’s there for an app which records exactly how long he has fed for and on what side. It is cynical data to review. It’s with me for the twitter, which keeps me in touch with London and entertained at 2.28 am when I am trying to skim with one eye open. And it’s there for the Kindle App- which allowed me to download Sheryl Sandbergs’s ‘Lean In’ to read one handed at 3.13 am- a move that was either inspired, or insane. `

Our flat is not large, but yet, I cannot find my phone.

Then there’s the wayward emotions. There are the occasional tears which snake out, usually in the shower, or when someone presses too hard when asking how you are. I’ve now learned that the quaver and water only arrive with the third syllable; ‘I’m just tired’.

Sometimes texting is easier.

But those moments are rare. What is more common is my slightly maniacal laugh-  it’s tight and breathless, comes with a tilt of the head and a  high pitched and borderline inappropriate response to basic questions like ‘what would you like for dinner?’  ‘Food’ is what I’m most likely to say before reverting to patting a petite nappy padded bottom with the intensity of a metronome.

My emotional range is not large, but yet, I cannot find my north.

And then there are the misplaced objects. The greatest culprit is the milk. In the past two weeks I have returned the milk to the cupboard next to the tea cups, to the pantry and next to the washing machine. You have a greater chance finding the milk next to the bathroom sink than in the fridge at the moment.

My tolerance for chaos is not large, but I cannot find the milk.

I had estimated weeks ago that a metaphorical winter was coming. And so I stacked and stocked the freezer like an advanced level of Tetris, so we could revert to survival mode if needed. We have now started to raid the stash.

But never fear, we are ok.

I am still writing. I’m still writing, because writing to me is like running for others like  The Hungry One. If I don’t let loose once in a while I start to fizz and bubble on the inside. This releases a valve. This makes the nights pinch less.  I for one, have never been one to get tongue tied.

Which as it turns out, is the exact opposite of my son.

After two weeks of a feeding frenzy that took us nowhere, where no matter how long he ate, he still wasn’t gaining as much weight as he should, we now have an answer.  As it turns out his tongue is attached too close at the bottom; it forms a sweetheart that prevents him from extending, latching and swallowing efficiently. He’s working much too hard, for far too little reward. My poor tongue tied possum. And so next Tuesday, it will be cleaved. The idea of anyone  taking a scalpel to my son, and holding him down pierces my heart and causes all parts of me to leak.  But I know it’s for the best.

So until then, we shall continue to raid the freezer for things like this- and we’ve called in the big guns – joining us in the flat are now some terrifyingly expensive pumps and gadgets to help us get the good stuff to him more easily over the four nights to follow.

This white bolognaise is a multitasking wonder from the freezer that has saved me the last few nights. It is plumbed with the sweetness of onions, parsnip and carrot. There’s depth of two minced meats, the mild fattiness of veal coupled with the slight salt of pork. There’s some mysterious umami from two sly anchovies and some grunt from garlic and rosemary. And for creaminess, there’s milk- which if it’s going to be turning up in curious places in your flat, makes a lot more sense in a ragu than in the laundry.  Here are some other winning factors; it freezes very well. It pairs well with a multitude of pastas and is easily woken up by a shocking quantity of parmesan and black pepper just prior to serving.

And for those days when one just blurs  into another, and you can’t even remember what you ate for dinner the night before, let alone care- there’s another added benefit. It might be a white bolognaise start with, but with the late addition of a few tablespoons of tomato paste, it will swiftly transform itself o red- and a whole new dish is born.

That way the only thing you have to do, is eat, and go to bed. A good meal and a decent night sleep. At the end of the day, that’s all that really counts.

Next week will be better. I’m sure.

White Bolognaise

Serves 6


2 tbsp olive oil
500 grams of veal mince
500 grams of pork mince
1 brown onion, peeled and finely diced
1 red onion, peeled and finely diced
3 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 parsnips, peeled and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and grated/crushed
2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1 cup of chicken stock
1 cup of milk
2 tbsp rosemary, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
2 tbsp fresh thyme, picked
Salt and pepper to taste

Pasta for 6 and parmesan to serve

Here’s how we roll

1) Place a Dutch oven over medium heat with the olive oil. Brown the mince in batches (being careful not to crowd the pan). Remove with a slotted spoon.

2) Place the diced vegetables in the bottom of the Dutch oven and sautee over a medium heat for 7-9 minutes until the onion and carrot have begun to soften.

3) Add the garlic, anchovies and chicken stock and use a metal spoon to scrape up any flavour that has clung to the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer and then add the browned mince, milk and herbs.

4) Simmer with the lid half off for an hour to allow the flavours to meld together. Taste and season well with salt and pepper. Serve with pasta and parmesan, or freeze for when a desperate situation strikes.

  1. The parsnips are an inspired addition! Good luck with getting some rest.

  2. Hallo my dear, just a quick note. I had the same tongue tie, I couldn’t stick my tongue out more than a mm or two when straining to do so. I must have somehow eaten enough, or perhaps the tongue was not something they thought to check for in babies not gaining weight back then, I have no idea. I had mine cut (or cleaved, as you put it) when I was a little older.
    By that point it didn’t make a difference to my eating. (but as I was learning a wind instrument, we thought it worth doing as I was struggling with that).
    So there you are.
    Oh and it didn’t actually hurt much at all.

  3. I think I could have used that feeding app 25 years ago with my first baby. When my son woke up during the night crying for a feed, I couldn’t remember if I had already fed him in the last few hours or whether I had dreamt that I had fed him. The Nursing Mothers’ wisdom then was, “if in doubt, feed!” I’m sure it’s the same still now (I’m starting to sound like an old person now)
    Tiredness is awful, but believe me, this time will fly by.

  4. What a hilarious account of new motherhood–you’re doing so well! And I’ve never heard of a white bolognaise. Very cool.

  5. Emma Sturgess on 23 August 2013

    Not sure this will help, but Frank is three and today he discovered a half-used bag of ground almonds I’d put away under the sink, in the peg box. The first six months is just about survival. You’re doing it. Excellent work.

  6. Oh gosh, this piece brought back memories of really tough times: the night hours where I felt like my crying, famished baby and I were the only two people awake in the world. When the day started winding down and people around me started getting ready for a nice cozy night in bed and I felt the cold fingers of depression gripping my inside. I remember wondering if I would make it through another night. I remember the terror of that tiny open mouth, that to me looked like fangs, nearing my oh-so-sore body. I remember the droning on of that infernal pumping machine and much too little pouring into it. That was with my first child, when I didn’t know yet that it was ok to revert to bottles. When we finally did start using bottles, the feeling of relief was so great that it was even stronger than the horrible guilt I felt for not being able to sustain my child on my own. And your baby satisfied and well fed has no equals. Glad you too are figuring it out, even if this involves the scariness of a procedure on your precious boy. It all passes, but it is tough when you are in the midst of it, you feel like it will never end.

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