The Nine Circles of Stomach Bug: A Guide for Parents


Having children means you will spend much of your time vomiting. Not just while pregnant but throughout their childhoods. Indeed a canny dictator could use my second child as a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

In your life before children, you had the odd bug every two to four years (probably contracted from a selfish work colleague who had kids). So what did you do? You called in sick, got yourself a bucket and retired to your clean, king-sized bed. Maybe you wept softly. Watched telly. Read your book.

Well, along with every other personal and physical dignity you lose when you have kids, being sick alone is another one to add to the list. This is what will happen now, a dystopian nightmare unfolding:

Stage 1: Innocence              

There will be no warning. Your children are happily playing and the very next second they will be sick on you. You will inexplicably try to catch it in your hands and then run around with it in an attempt to save the sofa. This is futile, accept it.

Stage 2: Loneliness

You will beg other people to help you but they will shun you and daub paint on your front door. You are alone and trapped in your house, cast adrift on a sea of vomit. Your nearest and dearest have ditched you, as you would them in the same situation.

Stage 3: Fear

The fear is almost the worst part. They’ve got it, who is going down next? ‘Will it be me? I can’t cope if it’s me.’

Stage 4: Delusion and Realisation

Just when you think you are out of the woods (‘maybe I have had this one? I feel alright!’), your top lip will start to sweat; you realise you have been sitting in an uncomfortable position, an untouched glass of warm white wine in your limp hand, watching a documentary about sharks. You are going down my friend.

Stage 5: Action

At this crucial juncture you need to act fast, because the world you were holding onto with your fingertips will rapidly slip from your grasp.

You must command any other healthy adult who is responsible for your children to cancel their life. They will try to get out of it, mumbling feeble excuses about work. Firmly impress upon them just how bad you can make their existence when this is all over.

Stage 6: Brace

Get towels, comfortable clothing and ban any cooking of sausages. You only have six minutes at best to implement this.

Stage 7: Climax

You’ve got it, they’ve got it, everyone’s got it. Now, for the first time in your pampered life, you will be clearing up other people’s sick whilst being sick yourself.  You will be staring down the toilet while two fevered, puking goblins attempt to mount your back and claw at your eyes.

The last thing you ate before you descended into this abyss will reappear, first through your mouth then over and over in your mind’s eye until you make solemn, pleading vows never to eat food again. You will wish for a clean, swift death.

Stage 8: Acceptance

This is your life now. It will always be like this.

Stage 9: Re-entry

After two to five days you will emerge from this Orwellian hinterland, raise your withered eyebrows and think ‘ooo I’m a bit peckish’. But what do you eat? You have to be careful here. Any health-promoting food containing vegetables is out because the sliminess of cooked vegetables is unthinkable. What you need is salt, salt and more salt.

You have two options:

  1. Garage Bread toast and Marmite. Garage Bread is the cheapest white bread you can find in a petrol station shop.
  2. Chinese food. Either from a takeaway or this recipe for Chinese chicken. It’s nothing special but to you it will taste rapturous*

You can now pat yourself on the back, you got through it. Until the next time…

IMG_3914Serves 2    Prep: 10 mins    Cook: 10 mins

2 chicken breasts, chopped into thin strips

Bunch spring onions, sliced

1 garlic clove

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp mirin or dry sherry

1 tsp chilli sauce (I used sriracha)

Packet of microwave rice

In a wok, fry the spring onions and garlic in a slosh of oil. Add the chicken pieces and cook until nearly done. Mix the sauces together and add to the wok. Coat the chicken and heat through. Microwave the rice. Serve with extra chilli sauce, if you can stomach it.

*I realise that all my talk of being sick may have caused some unwelcome associations with this dinner.

A Drunk Vegetarian’s Kebab

IMG_4170 (2)Remember those days when you would pile out of an appalling nightclub and lurch down a pitta full of a dead man’s leg with chilli sauce and lettuce? Its rotating awfulness was mesmerising. Not wanting to miss out but certain of a 4am expulsion, I generally went for the gastro-intestinally safer ‘chip kebab’ instead, the memory of which makes me weak with longing.

I have sampled my fair share of Frankenfood (I recently discovered that hot dogs contain Mechanically Recovered Chicken. Google it, I dare you. Sorely regretting that foot-long now), but nowadays there are some food wastelands I refuse to traverse, drunk or not.

So this is my Drunk Vegetarian’s Kebab*, where I cleverly replace the floor meat with extra spicy falafels. If toting this vegetarian version of a pissed up ‘classic’ makes me a card-carrying soft Southern shite, so be it. You get to a certain age and you start thinking about chickpeas a lot, it’s as inevitable as being able to sling your tits over your shoulder and tuck them in your rucksack.

Fry these falafel burgers in lots of oil until they are hot and crispy, stuff into a pitta or wrap with plenty of hot sauce, garlic mayonnaise or yoghurt and lettuce. Feel past it but smug.


Serves 4 (I made a few more for lunch)  prep: 20 mins   cooking time: 10 mins


2 tins of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small red onion
2 garlic cloves
1 fresh red chilli
1 tsp of cumin
1 tsp of ground coriander
1 tbsp of harissa paste
2 tbsp of plain flour
Handful of fresh coriander or parsley (if you have it)
Salt and pepper
Oil for cooking
To serve: pittas/wraps, lettuce, tomatoes, hot sauce (I used Frank’s Original), mayonnaise or yoghurt.


1. Roughly chop the onion. Put everything into a food processor. Whizz into a chunky paste, adding a splash of water.
2. Tip the mixture onto a board. Divide into 8-10 small patties. Chill for 20 minutes.
3. Heat a large slosh of oil (any will do) into a frying pan and fry the falafels for around four minutes on each side until they are crispy and heated through. Heat the pittas in the toaster.
4. Stuff into the pitta with the salad, mayo and hot sauce.

*You don’t have to be pissed to eat this.

Hot Sauce: A Love Story


In the days when I was young and free, hair flying, skin taut, I went to America on a ‘road trip’ with the person I presently live and procreate with. We were there for three months and we put on a stone each. We would pick up colossal pizzas and a side order of cheese-filled breadsticks with marinara sauce to eat as a ‘starter’ in the car on the way back to the hotel. If you had looked in through that steamed up car window you would have seen two fat bastards smeared in marinara sauce, engaged in a grotesque orgy of pleasure.

We also developed an unreasonable addiction to Taco Bell. Mass produced tacos and burritos smothered in cheese and soured cream. The only question that needs asking about this is: why haven’t we got it here? We eat all the bin food the Americans care to throw at us yet not this, it’s a tragedy.

Anyway, in Taco Bell they had these little sachets of hot sauce that you could sprinkle onto your rubbery burrito. And so began a love story for me. I like hot sauces. Sometimes I stare at the bottles and feel a tearful gratitude towards the companies that make them. I am a hot sauce marketing manager’s wet dream. Here are some of my favourites…


From left to right:

Sriracha Hot Chilli Sauce: Named after the coastal city of Si Racha in Thailand, it’s an amazingly versatile sauce because it is spicy, salty and sweet. I don’t know how I managed to live my life before I discovered it, I was just blundering around in the darkness. Fantastic with Thai food obviously, but great squeezed over any Chinese dishes, it really makes a stir fry. I sometimes just fry up a sachet of ready-cooked rice with soy sauce and squeeze Sriracha over it. It’s a beautiful Thai-style ketchup.

Linghams Chilli Sauce: A sweet sauce nice in stir fries and as a dip. Kids like this one.

Nando’s Peri Peri Hot: Obviously goes well with chicken. Griddle chicken, shove in a pitta or bun and cover in this. Save yourself the 350 quid they charge for one piece of chicken at a Nandos restaurant. Also lush swirled in mayonnaise as a dip and in a prawn sandwich.

Cholula Original: The nearest to my original Taco Bell inspiration. Goes well with tacos, burritos, fajitas, enchiladas, chilli. Or have it as a chaser with your cornflakes.

Encona Jamaican Hot Pepper Sauce: I stumbled across this last week. Just looking at the slim, tiny bottle made me feel weak at the knees. I have so far used it mixed with mayonnaise on top of a cheesy jacket potato.

Franks Red Hot Original and Wings (Buffalo): My current favourite, I have it on everything within reason. Great on burgers, chicken, falafels. Or soak a piece of bread in Franks then eat; the perfect hors d’oeuvre.

Tabasco Habanero: More of a mouth-searing devil syrup than a hot sauce. It could melt plastic. Great in chilli, with sausages and steak. The person I live with likes it in Bolognese, which is wrong in my opinion.

You can buy all of the above from the table sauces aisle in the bigger supermarkets. So if you are not running out the door with a tenner flapping in your hand right now, I can’t help you.

I know there are other hot sauces out there. I am on a quest to find and taste them all so any suggestions welcome. Please feed my addiction.

Baked smoked haddock, prawn and spinach risotto


My experience of cooking risotto has not been good. The problem is that I have the attention span of a child and, regardless of how Nigella says she finds it soothing to stand stirring for 25 minutes, I get bored and wander off. And it hurts my back, and knees and neck, because even though I am barely middle-aged, I have the body of a ninety-year-old woman.

Yet, I love risotto, so it’s a monstrous, life-altering situation. Then I came across a recipe (BBC Food) that broke all the rules and allowed you to bake the risotto in the oven for 20 minutes, after a bit of initial stirring.

I am aware that there is a lot of haddock-snobbery out there, we should all be buying undyed and from a fishmongers. I buy the fake orangey smoked haddock from Lidl, it tastes the same to me but then I am probably quite a low rent sort of person.

Serves 4 (good for lunch/leftovers the next day)    Prep: 20 mins   Cooking time: 20-25 mins       


1 large leek, sliced

1 tbsp of butter

300g of Arborio rice

375g of smoked haddock, skinned and chopped into large chunks.

100g of raw or cooked prawns, defrosted. I used Tesco Finest Jumbo King Prawns.

600ml of stock (I used chicken)

250ml of milk

2 tbsp of crème fraiche

A couple of handfuls of spinach, washed

Parmesan (or other hard cheese) and black pepper to serve.


  1. Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. In an ovenproof pan, fry the leeks in the butter until soft. Do not brown.
  2. Add the rice and stir until translucent.
  3. Add the milk and the stock and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
  4. Place the chunks of smoked haddock on the top, stir lightly, and cover with a lid (you could use foil if you don’t have a lid).
  5. Oven bake for 15 minutes until the rice and fish are cooked.
  6. Remove from the oven and fold in the prawns, then return to the oven for five more minutes.
  7. Make sure the prawns are cooked through (they should be completely pink if you used raw) and fold in the spinach leaves and crème fraiche.
  8. Return to the oven for a few more minutes until the spinach has wilted. Serve with Parmesan and black pepper.

Cod, chorizo and butter bean stew, crusty bread


I had an exciting light bulb moment last night. What would cod and chorizo taste like together? I marvelled at my own ingenuity and had a fleeting image of my new avant-garde cookery show. Then I googled it and realised that there are no original thoughts or deeds left in the world, including mine. There were 482,000 results for cod and chorizo. The internet clearly exists for the sole purpose of rubbing your face in your own mediocrity.

Once I had returned to my natural bovine state, I cooked this lovely stew based on a recipe from BBC Good Food. I find BBC Food sometimes wear a hair shirt when it comes to spices so I have beefed it up a bit.

Serves 2       Prep: 15 mins    Cooking time: 20 mins


Half a red onion (or white if you don’t have red), finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed.
50g of chorizo, chopped. I used Dulano chorizo ring from Lidl.
2 chunky, skinless cod fillets
1 tsp of paprika
1 tsp dried or fresh rosemary.
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
Pinch of salt and pepper.
1 tin of butter beans, drained and rinsed. If you don’t have butter beans any will do. Cannellini or kidney beans would be a good substitute.
1 carton of passata. Aldi do nice-sized cartons for a meal for two.
Oil for cooking
Squeeze of lemon
Bread, to serve.


1. In a frying pan with a lid, fry the onion and garlic in a slosh of oil until done (but not crisp). Remove to a plate.
2. Add the chorizo to the pan and fry until crispy. Return the onions and garlic back to the pan and add the rosemary, paprika and chilli flakes. Stir for a minute.
3. Add the passata and beans and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Place the cod fillets on top of the sauce and cover with a lid, if you have one big enough.
5. Simmer for 6-8 minutes until the fish is cooked through.
6. Once the cod is done add a squeeze of lemon then remove the fillets to a plate. Ladle the stew into two bowls and place the cod on top. Serve with bread to mop up.

Griddled harissa chicken, roasted veg and feta


I sometimes eat summery dinners in winter, I’m the Wild Child of Food. The monochromatic landscape of Britain in winter makes you forget the existence of other colours. We may as well live underground. In these circumstances, a red pepper can be cheering to your blinking, moley eyes.

This is a simple dinner, the chicken is from the Hairy Bikers (Hairy Dieters, first book). I roasted butternut squash, red peppers and red onion but you could use any vegetables.

You will need a griddle pan.

Serves 2    Prep: 15 mins      Cooking time: 40 mins


2 Chicken breasts.

4 tsps of harissa paste (I used Tesco Ingredients range).

Half a butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and sliced.

2 peppers, sliced. I used the long pointed ones but any will do.

1 large red onion, sliced into wedges.

Olive Oil.

Feta cheese, or any cheese, to serve.

1. Heat the oven to 190C Fan/Gas 5. Put the squash in a roasting tin with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and some salt. Roast for 20 minutes.

2. Place the chicken breasts under a sheet of cling film and bash with a rolling pin until thin. You can imagine it’s a person you hate, if you want.

3. After 20 minutes, add the pepper and onions to the squash. Roast for another 20 minutes.

4. In the meantime, oil the griddle pan and then heat until very hot. Sear the chicken on both sides. When the chicken is almost done smear 2 tsps of harissa on one side then turn it over to the heat. When nicely charred, smear 2 tsps on the other side and turn over again. Sizzle for a few minutes more until cooked through.

5. Serve with the vegetables, some feta or other cheese.