Day 249

Level 2 Chi Kung.

The first day of half-term and Dash, Katie, Sherlock and I are all eager to get out and make the best of the relatively good weather. Unfortunately the new cleaner texted last night to ask if she could come at 11 to 11:30 instead of 10am, so we are stuck waiting in for her to arrive. 11:30 came and went and, when she still hadn’t arrived at noon, I texted to ask if she would prefer not to come today. No response. By 2pm we were losing the good weather and the kids and dog were desperate to get out of the house. I texted her: ‘It’s 2pm. We can’t wait in for you any longer. Kids and dog stir crazy.’ and off we went to the dog park. We had a good walk and Sherlock enjoyed being off the lead and playing in the mud with some new canine acquaintances. Once again I was very pleased with having chosen a dark brown dog as the mud doesn’t really show.

When we got home I decided that, if we were going to be out a lot during the week, it would be good to make something that generates lots of leftovers. I have been gradually amending Nigella’s rapid ragout to make it more healthy – easy once you no longer need it to be ‘rapid’. This was tonight’s version.

500g of lean mince (usually I use lamb but today we had beef mince in the fridge and it worked fine)
1/2 tsp of olive oil
6 onions
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
300g green lentils
200 mls of water
80 mls of Marsala
2 heads of garlic

Thinly slice the onions and fry slowly until soft and caramelised (if you have a good non-stick fry pan, you can do this with just 1/2 tsp of olive oil, if using a conventional fry pan, you might need a bit more)

While the onions are cooking, brown the mince in a large non-stick pot.

Core and halve enough ripe tomatoes to fill a large roasting dish (in a single layer). Tuck a couple of heads of garlic in amongst the tomatoes and roast at around 200 for 20 minutes or so until the tomatoes are squishy and slightly charred.

When the mince is browned, add the tin of tomatoes, the onions, the lentils, the water and the marsala. Bring to the boil and then simmer, stirring occasionally until the lentils are tender (this varies – mostly I would say 20 minutes but tonight it took 45 minutes, not sure why).

Once the roasted tomatoes and garlic are cool enough to handle, squish them into the mince and lentil mix, discarding the skins. If the lentils are already tender when you do this, simmer for a few more minutes just to mingle the flavours.

Without the pancetta, bought onion marmalade, and large quantities of olive oil, and with a much higher lentil to meat ratio, this is much healthier than the Nigella version, but I think it tastes just as good, and Nick agrees.

While I made the not-very-rapid ragout, I listened to part of a radio four item on social mobility. Experts were suggesting that, to achieve real social mobility in the UK, schools would have to stop giving kids homework as, otherwise, middle-class kids whose parents help them with their homework would have an advantage. Aside from the fact that I think they are missing the point a bit, it gave me some food for thought when, in the late afternoon, I finally got a response from the cleaner. Her text explained that she had had a bad day as, on her way to drop her kids off, she had left the car in 1st gear and it had rolled down the hill and hit a lamp post. Obviously I felt sorry for her but I couldn’t help pondering on the situation. Although she has only been working for us for a few weeks, she has been very clear that she values the job highly: we are close to where she lives, reducing travel overheads, we have a driveway so there are no parking hassles, we pay a bit more than her other clients, and we pay for plenty of time to get the job done properly. In a similar situation, three weeks into a job I valued, knowing my employer was waiting for me to arrive, for a day to be bad enough to stop me texting my employer to let them know what was going on, it would probably need to involve at least an intensive care unit, if not a persistent vegetative state! So I suspect that banning homework wouldn’t be enough – they would also have to find a way to stop parents saying to their kids: ‘if you say you are going to do something, then do it. If you can’t do it, at least have the courtesy to let the person know why you can’t do it.’.

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