Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fear of Babysitters

Sonia over at Life Love Hiccups posted on finding a babysitter last week and I was all blase in the comments - 'yeah, we have a number, someone on hand if we need then'. This is all true, but what I've realised since, with that post sitting in the back of my mind, is that I'm not sure I'll ever be able to call it.

My own experience with being the babysittee (the babysitted?) means I'm honestly not so keen to leave Dear Boy in the company of folks I don't know so well. There are three pretty good reasons for this (four if you count my oldest sister who loved to shove us off to bed the moment my folks were out the door - but I won't). I shall call them Exhibits A, B and C.

Exhibit A

Six-ish. My aunt's wedding was lovely, but we kids weren't invited to the reception. Instead we were packed off to a friend of the family where we were looked after by older teenagers (and possibly the oldest sister, come to think of it - hey!). We were plonked in front of the telly, watching Conan the Barbarian,while the teenagers were being teenagers in the kitchen. Towards the end of the movie, one of them ran in and said someone was breaking into the house and we had to hide. My three year old brother and I crammed into a little box cupboard and quietly hyperventilated for what seemed like hours. Someone wearing heavy boots stomped in and we very quietly shit ourselves (not literally, thankfully, given the cupboard was incredibly small). The teenagers came back laughing sometime later.

Exhibit B

Eight or nine-ish. My mama hired a babysitter to look after us over the summer holidays while she worked. We'd watched a stream of candidates come in for interviews. I was sold on the gymnast but we ended up with someone a bit older who lived nearby. We spent long days that summer at the local pool, unsupervised and frying golden brown as our babysitter pashed her boyfriend through the chain-link fence.

Exhibit C

Eleven or twelve-ish. Mama heads overseas for a ski holiday with her best friend, leaving us in the care of said best friend's adult sons and one of their girlfriends. The day she leaves I am offered my first bong. One of them blows pot smoke in my kitten's face and she spends hours clinging to the flyscreen door before disappearing out of my lives for good.

So, to say I'm skittish about leaving my boy in the hands of babysitters is probably an understatement. When I had to head north for work and took Dear Boy along, I hired an older lady through Dial-an-Angel because I figured there wouldn't be too many pot-smoking grannies on their roster (you know, police checks and all). But I was still nervous as all get out. Apart from that, my folks, my brother or a close friend with a boy his age have been his only babysitters. Finding that trust with other people is hard. I might just call that number we have and arrange to meet up to chat, to get a feel for her, see how we go.

Am I the only one with crazy babysitting stories? Do you think you can ever really 'know' a babysitter until you've left them alone in the house with your little ones?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Intentional Play: August (the wrap-up)

This month's Intentional Play theme was 'science'. That's a broad path to tread so I broke it down into two different parts: dinosaurs and fossils on the one hand and experiments and empiricism on the other.

Small world - building a dinosaur small world was relatively easy. In our trusty bikeseat box, which we've been using to contain all our small worlds indoors, I added our existing collection of plastic dinosaurs, plastic and wooden plants from our various duplo/train sets, green shredded paper leftover from Easter (for nests) and a whole bunch of rocks and shells we've collected over the years. The small world was a great springboard to lots of science-related discussions, craft and sensory activities:

  • Meat-eaters versus plant-eaters (and the old omnivores as well);
  • Classifying rocks (igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary - he loved looking for layers and striations; holding the crystals up to the light; sorting by colour; examining textures);
  • Examining soil (looking for rocks and bugs and things that have become buried);
  • Volcanoes (videos of eruptions; I was planning to make a vinegar and baking soda eruption but the flu stole our time);
  • Paleontology (an episode of Sesame Street with paleontology as the 'word on the street' and Amy Ryan and Elmo pretending to be paleontologists came on this month - excellent timing, ABC4Kids).

Fossil craft; toddler activity; dinosaurs and science

Fossil craft - Dear Boy has only just started getting into playdough, so this was a great craft activity for him. These fossils are made using a basic salt dough recipe (1/2 cup plain flour; 1/2 cup of salt; enough water to make a smooth-ish dough), pressing objects into the dough and then baking them in a very low oven (approx 100 degrees celcius) for around three or four hours. We made our fossil shapes with shells, plastic dinosaurs (feet and faces) and... err... cars (he's obsessed). I added leftover black colouring to the dough to make it a grey-ish colour, but these could easily be painted after they've come out of the oven to help highlight the indents and shadows or to mimic different types of rock.

Dinosaur tar pit; toddler activity; dinosaurs and science

Dinosaur tar pit - our successes with messy play this month meant we could attempt even more gooey types of dinosaur activities. Doing some dinosaur research, I saw quite a few weird and wonderful sensory experience (dinosaurs in jelly?) and figured I could make something a bit more realistic or context-specific or at the very least less appealing to eat. Cue the cornflour tar pit. I'd almost run out of black colouring by this stage so the tar is less tarry than I would have liked but the impact was still there. I added around a cup of cornflour to a container then added small amounts of water that I'd shaken up in my black colouring pot to get every last drop of colour. Adding small amounts is key to this activity because you're after that awesome texture where it's both solid and liquid and truly tarry.... aaaaand cue the lesson on non-Newtonian fluids, although that's not a new one for Dear Boy who gets this one any time we make custard. These types of goo are completely weird and wonderful - you can pinch a glob of it as a solid and then watch it ooze through your fingers as it converts back to liquid.

Dinosaur stomping - this was my pick for a gross-motor activity this month, combining imaginative play and dress-ups with some bashing about inside and out and just a little bit of one-leg balancing. I put on Justine Clarke's 'Dinosaur Roar' quite a few times this month and Dear Boy stomps around the lounge room shouting at the top of his lungs: "one day I'd like to see a big Tyrannosaurus; the pterodactyls they would all join in the chorus!".

Dinosaur TV and DVDs - I picked up a copy of Play School's Dinosaur DVD a while ago and was amazed that I remembered most of lyrics to 'The Prehistoric Animal Brigade'. We also caught an episode or two of ABC4Kids' I'm a Dinosaur, which are short cartoons, each featuring a different type of dinosaur that describes itself and how it lived. I think Dear Boy is just about the right age for Land Before Time - he's okay with some scary scenes now and doesn't really emote with the death scenes like I do (waaah!).

Dinosaur Books - Tyson the Terrible - Fox and Fox; I Love Dinosaurs: Dinosaurs big, dinosaurs small, fast and slow we love them all! - Priddy Books; This Dinosaur Is So Big - Sharratt;  Dinosaurs Galore - Andreae and Wojtowycz; Ten Terrible Dinosaurs - Stickland; Oh my oh my oh dinosaurs - Boynton; I Wonder Why... Triceratops Had Horns and other questions about dinosaurs - Kingfisher Press.

Experiments - To start off the experiments and empiricism portion of this month, I introduced Dear Boy to hypothesising, asking him before we did just about everything what he thought was going to happen. He got quite good at predicting or making educated guesses. Some of the 'experiments' we tried this with were:

  • Sink or float (collecting a pile of objects to drop into the bath)
  • Absorb or not (dropping water onto different surfaces like benchtops, glass, paper, tissues, carpet)
  • How many trains Cranky the Crane will be able to hold with his magnet
  • Which car/truck will reach the bottom of the slope fastest
  • Colour mixing (adding drops of food colouring to glasses of water)

The possibilities are endless as it's possible to hypothesise with lots of play activities or just being out and about in the world.

Lessons - you could argue that there were quite a few lessons this month, but one I deliberately worked on was testing temperature. Since winter hit Melbourne, I've been making a conscious effort to keep him safe around our heaters - encouraging him to use his hands to test the temperature of the heaters and stove, keeping them at a distance and then moving closer to feel the change in temperature. He's been pretty sensible about it, not burning himself once. I've also encouraged him in the kitchen to look for signs that things are hot - the glow of an element, the flames of the gas burners, steam rising from saucepans or the kettle or his plate.

Outings - We've done the Dinosaur Walk at Melbourne Museum before, but they also have a great range of supplementary material online including: videos with paleontologists, kids activities, lesson plans and experiments, etc. This time we headed off to Scienceworks. They had a great Science Fiction/Science Future exhibition (OMG, they have a Star Trek-esque teleporter - geeked out a little) but the really genius for kids is upstairs in the Nitty Gritty Super City area.

It's a permanent exhibition where kids get super hands-on with every day ideas - a role-play cafe, machines that sort the recycling, construction, weather, pulleys, etc. It's designed with 3-8 year olds in mind but Dear Boy was still completely engaged (although struggled to reach a few buttons, or didn't have the strength to make some things move). The Lego model of Melbourne had him mesmerised for quite a while. We also caught their CFA live-fire demonstration, their fantastic collection of steam engines, and great 'train' playground, as well as various train/car/plane related exhibits that let you pump pistons or slides things around.

I think this has been one of my favourite themes so far, possibly because this one's been the most engaging for all of us, Lovely Husband included. Science is his thing (and he's got the T-shirts to prove it). It's been nice to adventure together and have him make suggestions for things to try. I think we might have even got him singing along with this:

Have you tried simple science experiments with your kids? Are they dinosaur fans?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

His messy play (and what a difference one book makes)

Messy play // via Lilybett and Boy

 There was sunshine over the weekend and, after a week of sickness and bed, we spent hours outside soaking it all up. We put on t-shirts we hadn't seen in six months and stood barefoot on the grass. And then it got messy.

Dear Boy has never liked messy play. He's never wanted to put his hands in the dirt, to put his fingers in the paint or squish into the play dough. He just didn't like it. He would examine his hands and flap about and demand to be cleaned off. With the exception of buckets full of water and the potential for a drenching, he's never sought out or engaged with my invitations for messy play.

This, of course, made me worry about his development. Did he have sensory issues (maybe that'd explain his erratic eating?); was he getting enough opportunities to be an active learner, to explore a range of materials and use them to express himself and his feelings, to develop important concepts, to learn about cause and effect, to solve problems and make predictions, to practice his fine motor skills? Most of all I was worried that he just wouldn't be comfortable inhabiting the world in all its very sensuous glory or be able to find that joy or the release of tension in the experience of dirt and sand and dough. It worried me but I was prepared to accept that that's just part of who he is. I wasn't sure what I'd do with a kid who didn't want to explore, but I could adapt.

A few weeks ago, we walked through the darkness to visit the late-opening library. Dear Boy ran down to the kids' section and splatted into the noisy beanbags and rode the plastic dog-shaped chair-thingies. The little cubby of board books had been denuded. Normally filled with all manner of treasures, it was down to just five books (which is both a sorry state of affairs and amazing at the same time). Dear Boy picked up Messy, shrugged as if to say 'whatever, this'll do' and we went back off into the darkness to pick up our dinner.

We read Messy every night for two weeks before we returned it to the library. We read about messy eating, messy cooking, messy gardening, messy painting, messy toys, messy craft. He didn't seem particularly enamored with the book, but he kept choosing it.

messy play

And then on the weekend, he asked for paint and brushes. I set up the paper and he went to it with green and blue ('dark blue, Mummy, that's my favourite'). And then he painted his cars. And then he painted his hand. And then he bent down and painted his bare legs.

The next day, he asked for his bucket and spade and took himself down to the back corner of the yard where he dug in the bag of dirt I'd grown our spuds in the year before. He put his fingers in and pulled out weeds and rock and a stray potato or two.

And he didn't ask to wash his hands until it was time for lunch.

Then yesterday, his first day back at daycare after our feverish week off, he asked to paint. Then he cast aside his brush, stuck his hands in the blue paint and announced 'I'm going to do hand prints'. The other children put aside their brushes and made prints in red and green.

I couldn't be more pleased.

Are your kids fans of messy play? Are you a developmental worry-wart like me? Any ideas for helping him ease further into this glorious new world?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dear Typhoid Mary: A letter to the student who gave me the flu

Dear Typhoid Mary,

I call you Typhoid Mary because, although she was an asymptomatic carrier, she knowingly continued infecting even after given evidence that she was hurting (even killing) people with her behaviour. You walked into my office and closed the door, knowing you were unwell. You may not have known you were still infectious, but when you sat there and apologised for fanning yourself when you broke out into a sweat from the very effort of sitting, you knew you were bloody unwell. You should have cancelled the appointment.

On Sunday, I started feeling off. Dear Boy pitched a fever up to 40 degrees, and you could have splashed water at him and watched it sizzle on his skin. Did you know that at around 41 degrees, kids brains start to melt down? I had to cancel my student appointments for the next day - at the very least to take Dear Boy to a doctor.

On Monday, his fever was still sitting on 40 and mine was climbing up to 39. I was tired and sore and hot and cold and sweaty and nauseous. Doctor's appointment for two, please. I drove us to the appointment as carefully as I could, and yelled at my boy to please stop talking and asking questions so I could concentrate on getting us there in one piece. It was all down hill from there. When we got home, I sat him in front of the television with a piece of toast, an apple and an apology and crawled into bed. I have realised that I've never in my life had the flu before if this is what it's really like. I've never felt so very unwell, and I say that after bouts of pneumonia and glandular fever and chronic sinusitis and tonsillitis. I phoned Lovely Husband and begged him to come home. And then the rest of the day was spent vomiting up every tiny drop of water I put in my mouth. None of my meds would stay down.

Hey, Typhoid Mary. I got my first ride in an ambulance that night. Exciting, right? Dehydrated and with a migraine sitting right on top of the flu, it was a blast. Lovely Husband doesn't drive, so my brother came with me to the hospital. I'm hoping he doesn't take the flu home to his heavily pregnant wife.

It was expensive too, that ambulance ride. I checked out the website and I might be able to expect a bill of over a thousand dollars. Hopefully medicare and our private health insurance will cover all of that. If it doesn't we're a bit screwed.

It's been an expensive week, really. Our university - the one where you're a student - has casualised my jobs so I don't get paid for missing four days of work this week. But you know who does still get paid? The childcare centre. You're not a parent yet, so you might not realise that we pay over $100 a day for my son's childcare even when he's not there. Childcare workers and ambulance drivers deserve to be paid way more than they get. I hope you vote for different governments at the next state and federal elections, Typhoid Mary.

More than the cost of missing work, I missed my work. This was an important week for me at one of my jobs - with the culmination of months of planning going into several events on Wednesday that I couldn't attend. In foggy haze, I had to forward a million emails and documents onto unsuspecting colleagues so nothing got forgotten. For my teaching job, I had to cancel more appointments for your fellow research students who are still trying to figure out their projects. I know you have a pretty good grasp on yours, but they don't yet. And 130 undergrads missed out on a lecture this week, just a week before their first assignment is due. I'm sure they're not heart broken about it, but they will be when they actually start their essays and realise they don't know their arses from their elbows. Because we meant to be doing distinctions between arses and elbows in class this week.

My inbox is heaving.

Instead of working this week, all I could do was lay in bed and feel wretchedly awful. I dozed and sweated through a dozen DVDs, miserable and lonely for my family in the next room. Lovely Husband stayed home all week looking after our son, who I didn't get to kiss and cuddle and watch grow for days. His immune system is still fighting. He's still not eating. His fever's only just broken. Lovely Husband is going down.

Screw you six ways from Sunday for being so bloody thoughtless, Typhoid Mary. You should have cancelled the appointment.



Friday, August 15, 2014

A world of wonderment and awesomeness

I have been dreaming of these plants and this light since our snow adventure earlier this month. The weird jusxtaposition between the rainforest-esque and normally buoyant ferns, the gum trees and the snow really got to me. The light was bright and dull, intense and cold, and it freaked me out a little from the wonder of it. Having never seen snow in Australia, it felt entirely foreign but magical all the same.

These last few weeks I've been trying to be all about the wonder and the wonderfulness of the world. There has been tragedy and too many deaths and too many horrid internet trolls, but in amidst it all there have been these little pockets of wonderment and the extraordinary.

My most favourite piece I've read popped up yesterday - with a group of scientists from Monash University's Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute almost literally stumbling across something awesome. Apparently, zebrafish are quite genetically close to humans - so close that it's really only a case of specific genes being switched on or not that turns us into humans and not fish - apparently we could really be considered modified fish. This of course is a new discovery to me but old news for scientists. The new part is that a group from ARMI were studying muscle stem cell biology in these zebrafish (because they're a good model for the same thing in humans) and they found out how stem cells in blood and bone marrow are formed. Unrelated to their own work, they made a scientific discovery that could have implications for growing these stem cells instead of the hit-and-miss process of matching bone marrow donors and patients who need transplants (like those suffering from Leukemia, lymphoma and the like).

What especially pleases me here is that this might shed more light on how creativity and innovation and important advancements actually happen. Not all creativity is driven by intention or internal passions (although some of it is). Sometimes it happens by accident, and the 'magic' is all in the recognition of the accident's value. Creativity requires resources but we might miss great discoveries like this one if we insist on funding only the projects we think are the important ones. Great things can happen in unrelated areas: philosophers can help us understand autism; literature can uncover history; and navel gazing can lead to Nobel Prizes. A milkmaid helps find a vaccine for smallpox; a study of cathode rays uncovers the xray; Jesuit missionaries in Peru bring quinine and a malaria treatment to the world; a chance observation during a genetic study leads to the 'pap smear'; a spoiled flu experiment brings us penicillin. Velcro, Post-its, vulcanisation of rubber, cholera vaccination, microwave ovens, Viagra, insulin, chemotherapy, radioactivity, synthetic dyes, the field of biochemistry itself - all of them and more were the result of mistakes, missed opportunities, false hypotheses, ignorance, chance and, most importantly, the prepared mind that recognised the value of what emerged.

Rock on, science.

Also awesome in science: women. A whole bunch of them are wikibombing the internets to make sure women scientists are getting the recognition they deserve. Over 144 women around Australia, all worked together to update or start new wikipedia entries for women scientists. Given wikipedia is mostly created by men, there tends to be a distinct gender bias in its recognition of folks. This was a much more positive story than one I read quite a few months ago about a woman author's attempts to change wikipedia's tendency to categorise women separately from the general classification, e.g. American novelists (almost all men) and American women novelists.

Also awesome for women: one won the Fields Medal for the first time. Described as the Nobel Prize of mathematics, it had long been believed (amongst the smug bastards of the academy) that a woman would never win it. Now one has, and as Daubechies mentions in the article, one hopes it will be thoroughly un-extraordinary from now on.

Also awesome for the world: three different studies have shown kids who read Harry Potter have more positive attitudes towards refugees and LGBT people. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, books are awesome.

Kids are pretty awesome too. I've been catching up on the Life At... kids. If you've not seen the series before, go quick to ABC iView - they've been replying the older seasons now that they've just released Life At 9. I feel so terribly sentimental about them after watching them grow-up over the last decade. I feel so terribly fuzzy inside that someone watching the show got in contact and gave real help to one of the parents who was struggling in Life At 7.

Have you watched or read anything recently that's made you feel a little more wonder? Please share, I'd love to see it. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Toddler sleep {a Love To Dream review and giveaway}

It's been over a year since we started our last experiment with getting Dear Boy to sleep. We started saying goodnight and leaving the room. And it worked that first night. And the next night. And the nights after that. Until it stopped working.

At around 20 months old, Dear Boy again started taking longer and longer to fall asleep each night. But we kept leaving him to it, tucking him into his sleeping bag, pulling up his blanket, closing his bedroom door and getting on with our evening instead of lying with him. And he would chat and sing and sometimes cry all by himself for two to three hours. Eventually, he'd sleep. We transitioned him out of the cot and sleeping bags and into a big-boy bed just after his second birthday, figuring that we may as well deal with all the sleep issues in one go. We had about six weeks of him jumping straight out and banging on the door, before he realised it was warmer in his bed and clambered back in. But he'd stay awake, again for hours.

In June, when Lovely Husband flew off for two weeks and I did two weeks straight of putting-to-bed duties, I had enough. So I changed it up - shifting his bath before dinner, brushing his teeth and then going straight into his bedroom next door, letting him choose the number of books and songs and goodnight kisses, talking with him about all the things he'd like to dream about that night and then explaining exactly where I'd be when I left the room - giving him some autonomy, some reassurance and some inspiration. I don't know if it was one of these things or all of them, but it worked. He fell asleep within minutes and has only had one or two long, drawn-out evenings in the weeks since. It feels a little like a miracle after all of us struggling for so long.

Sleep has always been a little dramatic for us. Amidst the sleep-deprived haze of those first few months, everything felt like a much bigger drama than it probably was. As a baby, though, Dear Boy always slept better at night in his Love to Dream swaddles, which kept him snug-as-a-bug but let him hold his arms up in a position he preferred. For our little wriggly worm, who could unwrap himself from a traditional blanket swaddle in seconds flat and who shuffled around his cot while he slept, the Love to Dream range helped keep him warm and snug while he slept (wherever he ended up sleeping).

We started him in the Love To...Swaddle UP when he was just a few weeks old (look at those squishy cheeks up there!), even hunting down the Lite version when we knew it was going to stay above 30 degrees at night so we could get him to sleep. We had several in each size, transitioning into the 50/50 version with zip-off wings when he was ready to sleep with his arms out.

Having used this range when Dear Boy was little, it's exciting to be working with Love to Dream to review their latest products and offer you the chance to win your own Love To Dream goodies. 

Quite a few new products and designs have become available since Dear Boy outgrew his swaddles and sleeping bags (I am loving the limited edition stripes and zigzags). A lovely friend with a beautiful and brand new baby has been using the Love To... Layer ON, a sleeveless swaddle made of super soft and a toasty warm Merino wool to wear over the traditional Swaddle UP during those winter months. Cass says:
'The Layer On is actually my favourite part of our Love To Dream stash. Partly because it's new but mostly because it's made all our summer swaddles warm enough for winter while being soft and lightweight on a squishy little baby.'
I would have loved one of these for Dear Boy's first winter when our house felt like an icebox and I was constantly pulling up his blankets and worrying that he was cold. One thing was for sure, when he got cold, he didn't sleep well.

Dear Boy and I gave the INVENTA sleep bag a test drive, and were thoroughly impressed with the design and finish (Dear Boy's version of 'thoroughly impressed' was rolling around on the floor pretending to be a caterpillar). We used quite a few different sleeping bags when Dear Boy was still in his cot, across a big range of quality and price. None of those can match the features of this version. Our favourite features of the INVENTA include:
  • Better breathability and temperature control - the 'Genius Cooling System' zips on the front and back allow for extra air-flow when needed, without having to wake the baby. In our old house which is a furnace in summer and a fridge in winter, this would have come in very handy.
  • Opens flat - this makes it much easier to wash and dry, which is so important during the winter months. No more waiting for the damp corners to dry. 
  • Greater size range - a lot of the bags we used topped out at 18-24 months (size 1 or 2). The INVENTA bags go up to 36 months. The 'Longa Shorta' snaps also let you adjust the length of the sleeping bag so smaller kids don't disappear or get lost in the bag. 
  • More sensible snaps and covers - these zip covers have press-studs to keep them down. No more middle-of-the-night squalling when a zipper digs into soft neck or underarm skin. They're also great for keeping little fingers away from the zips (for a while anyway).
  • Double-ended zipper - not only does the extra-long zipper let you open the sleeping bag out flat, but you can zip from the top or bottom, giving hassle-free access for changing nappies and a much easier time getting kids in and out of them.
Love to Dream are offering Lilybett and Boy readers the chance to win a Love To...INVENTA (2.5tog) sleep bag (valued at $79.95) to help keep your little one toasty warm. For the chance to win one of these sleeping bags in the size and colour of your choice, tell us in the comments or via email (lilybett[at]gmail[dot]com): how do you or your kids like to sleep? Are you a blanket hog? Do they end up sleeping on top of the covers (if they sleep at all)?

*UPDATE* If you're having trouble using the comments function below, please send your entry via email to lilybett[at]gmail[dot]com (removing the very high-tech bot-proofing I just did there).


Entries close Wednesday, August 13 (midnight AEST), with the winner contacted by email and announced on the Lilybett and Boy page on facebook on Thursday, August 14. One entry per person (Australian residents only, sorry!). This is a game of skill, not chance - the winner will be judged by me to have given the best/most interesting response. Please read the full terms and conditions prior to entry.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Meatless Monday: Ugly but delicious dhal

Ugly but delicious dhal // via Lilybett and Boy

I have plenty of comfort foods - things I turn to when the weather's awful or I want to blub over a bowl of something. But Indian food is my comfort cooking, what I look for when there's a need to pound spices with a mortar and pestle, to idly stir, to stand in the kitchen next to the stove and fry pappadum after paddadum. It is the food of feasts and gatherings remembered, when the upstairs neighbours come down and the extra chairs are dragged in from the kitchen.

This dhal recipe began its life in a fairly 70s looking book in a kitchen far north of here, and was the one dish we always cooked from scratch rather than working from a store-bought paste, combining the headiness of onions and spice with the creamy blandness of lentils and coconut. I copied the recipe out years ago and have bastardised it so often I'm not too sure I remember how the original tasted.

Once again, my food photography astounds me with it's ugliness (and reminds me not to capture steaming pots ever again). Dhal tends towards the ugly side of delicious anyway, so my ego is a little mollified. If these photos could convey smell, though, these would be some of my favourites.

To make your own ugly pot of deliciousness:

  • Wash a cup of red or yellow lentils, then cover with water (a few centimetres above the lentils) and bring to the boil. Cook until very soft then drain but reserve the liquid.
  • Chop finely or whiz in a food processor two onions, two cloves of garlic and one green chilli (we always used the big, non-fiery banana chillis but I tend now to use red or green capsicum). I also add spinach or kale to the mix because the mother in me demands it. 
  • Dry fry one tbl of ground coriander, and one tsp each of tumeric and ground cumin (I actually prefer roughly ground coriander and cumin seeds here but it does leave the dhal a little rough around the edges) until they become aromatic. Add in the onion mixture and fry until onion smells cooked rather than raw.
  • Pour in the cooked lentils and mix until combined. Mash the lentil mixture if it's not completely smooth. 
  • Stir in 1/4 cup of coconut milk or coconut cream (the original version calls for regular cream but the coconut is way better). Dear Boy has decided the winter-solid coconut cream is his new treat and demands spoonfuls of it if he sees me open the tin.
  • The dhal should have the consistency of thick soup but if it's too thick you can thin it out with the reserved liquid. It's round about this point I threw in some peas to the mix.
  • To serve, I fry up some roughly ground coriander seeds, dig into my fried shallot/onion stash, or sprinkle with fresh coriander if it's handy. I also dollop on a fruit chutney because I'm a sucker for chutney but natural yoghurt is good too. Eat with as many pappadums as you possibly can. I am all about the extras with Indian food. 

Do you have any comfort cooking favourites?


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