Sunday 12th April
We arrive home from our travels oop North. So much changes in a week. The cherry tree outside our house is suddenly covered in white blossom; the rhubarb patch in the back garden has new leaves shooting up everywhere; and I am relieved to see that the raspberry canes have survived my severe pruning and new shoots are appearing.
The children run from room to room, delighted to be home. The cat follows them, flopping down for a few minutes at the top of the stairs before trotting after them to the next location.
Tom and I take advantage of them getting on and have a cup of tea in the garden down by the vegetable patch. As I have a captive audience, I take this opportunity to outline my ambitious plans for a walk-in chicken run. I’ve been taking the softly-softly approach vis-a-vis keeping chickens, but I’ve become more brazen recently. I told Daisy that I wanted chickens for my birthday (9th JUNE, PEOPLE!!), to which she replied:
“Not a chance, mum, not a chance.”
I have a little more confidence than her.
I go to bed that night alone (Tom is engrossed in The Vikings). It’s strange not to have my little side-kick next to me (Ollie), throwing his leg over me; nor to hear the loud honking of the geese over Rowntree Park as I fall asleep.
Monday 13th April
7.30am. It’s back to school. Daisy is standing by our bed in her school uniform (unheard of), trying to negotiate an early morning episode of Horrible Histories. She seems to have forgotten that the holidays are over.
The phone rings. It’s Tom making sure I’m up. I’m not. He’s almost at Swaffham; Ollie and I are snuggled up in bed. I’m not sure when he appeared. He can be stealthful when he wants to be. We’re going to be horribly under pressure, but getting up and starting the school routine again seems an awful proposition.
There’s a minor riot when I discover there’s only muesli for breakfast. The cupboards are bare from our week away. Poor Daisy has only one option for lunch: last night’s leftover takeaway pizza. In some weird role-reversal she asks for carrot sticks with it, or at least a banana, I do a big sigh and say:
“Can’t you just have a Twix instead?”
Ollie is squawking because someone has dressed him in long shorts and he’s cold.
“It’s spring-time!” I say, as if the shorts are an intentional choice rather than the only choice because all his other clothes are dirty. I put some long socks on him to compensate, but he’s not stupid, he knows this is not a good look.
Somehow we all make it out of the door but Ollie cries all the way to preschool.
For dinner I need to cobble together something from what we have in. I find some chicken drumsticks and thighs in the freezer, and we have rice and raisins in the cupboard. The only vegetables in are onions in the fridge; Ollie will be delighted.
This one-pot chicken dish is easy to make and is perfect comfort food for that back-to-work/school kind of a day. It is based on Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe but I have added greater quantities of the spices, and have cooked it a bit quicker. We all reconvene at 6.30pm around the kitchen table, glad to have got through the first day back.
- olive oil, 4 tbsps
- medium onions, 2, finely sliced
- chicken thighs & drumsticks, 1kg
- cardamom pods, 12
- whole cloves, 1tsp
- ground cinnamon, 2tsp
- currants or raisins, 30g
- basmati rice, 300g
- boiling water, 550ml
- parsley, coriander, dill, 5g of each chopped.
- salt and pepper
- Greek yogurt, 100g (optional)
Using your largest casserole dish (which has a lid), fry the onions in 2tbsps of the oil over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally, until the onions as golden and caramelised.
In the meantime, put the chicken in a large bowl with the other 2 tbsps of oil plus the cinnamon, cardomom pods, cloves, 1 tsp of both salt and ground pepper. Rub it all in with your hands.
Once the onions are cooked, remove them from the pan and put into a bowl. Wipe the pan clean, heat it again on high and sear the chicken for 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the pan.
Pour away most of the oil leaving only a millimetre. Add the onion, rice, currants and 1tsp of salt. Stir it all around to coat it in the oil and spices on the bottom of the pan. Push the chicken pieces into the rice and pour over the boiling water.Cover and cook on low for 30 minutes.
Check the chicken is cooked. If the meat doesn’t come off the bone easily, leave the casserole dish to stand for 10 minutes with the lid on, off the heat.
Add the herbs and use a fork to fluff the rice and to stir them in. Serve with a drizzling of Greek yogurt if you wish.