The postnatal chef

Here’s an article I wrote for SBS Life about how I almost got scurvy.

The challenges of new motherhood are well documented, but Kelly Eng hadn’t counted on malnutrition being among them until her own bun was out of the oven.

I had my first baby seven months ago. Prior to the little poppet’s arrival, prophets on the other side issued warnings aplenty: of sleepless nights and consequent zombification and of irreversible damage to body parts; however, surprisingly little mention was made of the confronting transition that parenthood thrusts upon one’s food consumption.

I knew having a baby would involve some food-related adjustments, but I figured none would be too hard. Surely I could bung together a sandwich. Or a wrap with roast duck and hoi sin sauce. And I could make my own Peking duck pancakes while nursing, right? Easy!

Ish.

Then, one Friday afternoon, baby came strolling into the world and booted Maslow’s hierarchy of my needs right out of the birthing suite window. Who needed self-esteem, love and friendship?  Now it was all about survival, and that meant sleep and food (wiping my armpits with a Wet One was now an unattainable luxury); and when the need to eat won out, I discovered that feeding myself was more difficult than anticipated.

To explain: a baby’s sleep cycle can be as brief as 20 minutes. So once you lay the adorable muffin down, dash to the loo (three minutes) and mop baby vomit off the ceiling (four minutes), you have 13 minutes to conjure up something that contains complex carbohydrates, lean protein and at least two vegetables.

Time restrictions present but one of the challenges; noise reduction is another. Bitter experience has taught me that a 45-degree turn of a soy sauce lid or a coriander sprig falling on the floor can wake the poppet and whip her into a head-banging frenzy. And so I’ve attempted to hack into a whole pumpkin silently, flung myself at the microwave with two seconds to go before the ding and winced every time the fridge door opens with all the subtlety of the tomb of the terracotta warriors being prised open for the first time.

True enough, when baby refuses to sleep in her cot, I can sling her over my shoulder and cook one handed – have you ever tried to pleat a dumpling with one hand? – though I prefer to strap her to my front, allowing both hands free. However, reversing babykins into a 220-degree-celsius oven, human heatshield style, can feel slightly counter-mumtuitive, as can thrusting her toward the gas stove while oil and chilli paste spit hot lava our way.

Meticulous planning is required for the eventual dégustation of meals, and what a fleeting pleasure that has become. Meals are now bolted down in seconds (sans chewing) or sprayed everywhere as I belt out verses of ‘Ten in the bed’ and my husband hops about the room trying to catch the ejected gobbets between two slices of bread.

Spillage is another consideration. A serviette placed atop baby’s bouffant can help deflect a shower of rice grains, while a helmet is more appropriate in the event of a falling wonton. And don’t get me started on the perils of noodle soup. Let’s just say that it’s best to cut out the middle man completely and sip straight from the bowl.

Mostly, though, I’ve been too knackered to cook. Even scrolling through UberEats can seem too challenging. The cruellest irony is that breastfeeding gives you an insatiable appetite, and for me, a yearning for the food from my childhood. And while my Essex-born husband is a willing cook, his repertoire doesn’t quite extend to char hor fun rice noodles or chilli crab.

The postnatal chef

Thank goodness one of us is eating

But there is hope. I’ve found that prepping one’s evening toast at the crack of dawn helps. As does calling on the big guns: Mum and Dad. Casually mentioning to Mother that my iron stores were low seemed to kick-start an astonishing takeaway service. Tupperware containers stuffed full of braised tofu and pickled vegetable and Kung Pao chicken suddenly materialised, while one particularly fruitful day, Dad made it his business to bus, train and tram across the city to personally deliver roasted pork belly and handmade dim sims.

And when Mother decides that I look particularly anaemic, no cow is safe from her clutches: beef stewed in master stock is served with a side of beef rendang and topped with stir fried gai lan (with beef of course).

Babykins has also benefited from the family meals on wheels service. As soon as two tiny fangs appeared, Mother arrived with a container of chicken rice porridge. Unsurprisingly, baby lapped it up, rewarding Grandmother with the gummiest of smiles (plus two fangs).

*

SBS Lifehttp://www.sbs.com.au/topics/life/culture/article/2017/04/11/postnatal-chef-how-maintain-necessary-practice-eating-new-mum

The execution of Moley Cyrus: what we know so far

In the aftermath of the execution of Moley Cyrus, here is what we know

-Moley Cyrus was executed at 3.15pm today. He received the last rites at 2pm

-For his last meal, he chose seared scallops with burnt butter and pancetta lardons, beef fillet on potato rosti with a red wine jus and a golden gaytime

-Witnesses say he was tranquil in his final moments and spoke lovingly of his moleymother. His final words were ‘I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul…oh bloody hell, did I leave the iron on?!’

-The execution proceeded without a hitch

-Moley is lying in state in a sterile jar on the dining table. If you wish to pay your respects, please email denniswongbert@gmail.com

-My partner is recovering slowly, but keeps thinking Moley is still attached, which is a common occurrence among recent amputees and Siamese twins

-Moley memorabilia (bookmarks, mugs and key rings) will be available in time for Mother’s Day

20170403_205812

Vale Moley

Moley d’Anger Cyrus
1964 – 2017

Dear family and friends,

I am writing to let you know that Paul, my partner and possible father of my child, will be undergoing major surgery tomorrow afternoon.

At 3.15pm, his lifelong companion and parasite, Moley, will be involuntarily euthanased.

This terrible circumstance has come to pass as Paul can no longer sit down, due to Moley’s location and bulbousness.

Let’s celebrate not a life cut short, but a life completed.

A nervous and sensitive man, Moley d’Anger Cyrus was an author, playwright and translator whose stoically restrained memoir of the Chinese Cultural Revolution remains one of the most revered works about that period. He established a charitable foundation to further his interests in music and visual arts.

He is survived by his loving partner Trevor.

No flowers please, just cash donations. A small memorial service will be held next week – please email denniswongbert@gmail.com if you wish to attend and any dietary requirements.

Please send your love and prayers to Paul for a speedy recovery.

Moley says goodbye Pat. You know who you are.

Fly Moley fly. Be with the angels.

 

20170402_143024.jpg

Moley loved to laugh.

 

Keep on trucking

Hi there,

Here’s an article I wrote for Gourmet Traveller about working on my friend’s food truck. It was kind of him to let me near his crusty buns.

Please note – I’m not a millennial. I was Gen Y in the original text, but the editors must have deemed me too old chook…

Enjoy. Bok bok!

Rolls don’t rock

Chicken or pork? Kelly Eng takes on a food-truck challenge but fails to cement her millennial credentials.
Gourmet Traveller (Australia) 1 Jan 2017

A friend asked if I wanted to help out on his banh mi food truck. Yes, I did! What a marvellous change of pace from my bland office job. I’d be leaping tongs-first into the food-culture zeitgeist and cementing my millennial credentials. Totes amazeballs, YOLO, #vietsub, #frenchcolonialism and all that.

And I had relevant experience – a decade ago

I’d worked in a fish and chip shop. Sure I’d cried when I had to crumb 30 fillets of fish and serve two people at the same time, but all great chefs are emotional.

So one morning I set off for my first shift.

It was a giant leap onto the truck. I had to lift my foot up extremely high to throw myself aboard. I hadn’t planned on exposing myself to my colleagues just yet, but they were oblivious, biceps-deep in vats of pickled carrot. There was no welcome beyond three muttered names, no induction, no training. But when you’re a bun-slinger for hire, you don’t need any. Anyway, the unavoidable clashing of backsides in that bijou workspace was an icebreaker of sorts.

Happily I had five whole minutes to memorise names, products and prices. I scribbled indecipherable notes: warm buns on grill, no cut bun through, mayo right to the edges, mayo lots, protein next, cut cucumber 30 centimetres, coriander lots, special sauce…

Suddenly a customer came. Then another. They kept coming. Like insatiable zombies they swarmed around the truck, lured by the scent of flame-licked lemongrass-marinated pork belly, black, sweet and gnarly from the grill. Luckily we had a rock-solid system: I barked out the orders and the guys barked them back. All that mattered was that you barked.

In times of stress, my ability to perform basic mathematics disintegrates, so I’d brought my calculator. Sure enough, as the clamour for pork belly increased, my mathematical abilities decreased. What was eight plus nine? As I jabbed at the unresponsive buttons, I noticed that a chilli seed had infiltrated the motherboard.

We still had the system. I barked the relentless orders to colleagues whose names now eluded me: “I say, you sir! Two pork no mayo, chicken no coriander, pork extra chilli, chicken no butter, pork!” But the system had a glitch.

“You said ‘pork chicken, chicken, pork, chicken!’” the head cook (who had worked on fancy yachts and in Parisian restaurants) shouted.

“No!” I asserted, “I said ‘pork chicken, chicken, pork chicken!’”

And so it went.

An hour in, I was tasked with informing the customers that we had run out of chicken. And pork belly. Buns, too. But, boy, were we good for coriander. When I dropped that bun-shell, 40 pairs of eyeballs rolled upwards before burning holes in my special sauce-smeared apron. I plunged my hands into a bucket of pork marinade and howled.

Five hours later, we’d managed to shoo the customers away with banh mis of varying consistency.

As I exhaled for the first time in 300 minutes, my eyes rested on a menu. Dear god: the $8 chickenlickin’ banh mi was actually $11. Too traumatised to calculate how much money I’d given away, I dipped into my handbag and stuffed $90 into the till. Never mind that it meant I was paying for the privilege of working on the truck.

Limp with exhaustion, I drove home and fell into bed, murmuring “pork, chicken, pork chicken…” But the smell I was giving off prohibited sleep – eau de swine had infiltrated my DNA.

It’s said that those who have glimpsed death develop a new appreciation for everyday things.

The same applies to those who have had a peek at hospitality. As I trotted into the office on Monday morning, the hum of the photocopier, the glug-glugglug of the water cooler and Aileen from HR’s nasal tones were like birdsong. Exhuming my ham sandwich from its Tupperware casket, I nibbled thoughtfully and shuddered.

 

banh-mi

How I gave birth (all too) naturally

You like blood? You like guts? You like nudity? Well here’s a birth story for you.

At 8.30pm on the 25th of August, my partner and I were organising a hard rubbish collection. As we dragged a couch, chunks of wood and a few broken chairs out to the curb, I felt a slight twang in my tum. “Ooh, that’s odd,” I thought. “Better waddle more carefully.”

Less than 24 hours later, the baby fell out.

Read how I delivered babykins drug-free as written for Essential Baby.

*

I was in biology class, circa 1995, and Mrs McLeod was valiantly trying to teach 30 adolescent students about reproduction.

One particular comment by Mrs McLeod stuck in my memory: “Girls, if you are pregnant, get an epidural during labour.” And as she uttered the word epidural, her face melted into ecstasy.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I was very pregnant. With just seven days to go, I’d got it all planned: master the art of hypnobirthing, prepare a month’s worth of nutritious meals, reunite odd socks with their significant other, and visit everyone I’d ever known in the furthest suburbs possible.

As I contemplated my to-do list, a few rogue abdominal twinges distracted me. My partner noticed me wince and said, “You’re going into labour”.

“Fiddlesticks,” I scoffed. It was surely the practise contractions they’d told us about in the antenatal classes – just Mother Nature’s dress rehearsal.

As the contractions inched closer together, I scuttled off to the kitchen to grimace in private. Could the baby really be coming, even though the spice rack wasn’t ordered alphabetically?

At that point, my brother’s wise words (a father of two, medical professional and all-round sensible guy) came to me: “The consistent thread is having support and resilience, and having trained physical and mental tools to deal with pain, stress and uncertainty …”

Dang. At this stage I was physically and mentally tool-less. The plan was to get tooled up in the next week. Not being a fan of pain, I was very open to all methods – chemical, psychological, new age crystals and prayer – to help avoid it. I certainly wasn’t shy about medication. In fact, my policy on this was, in the immortal words of Britney Spears, “Gimme gimme more”.

Googling ‘labour pain’, I tried to speed read the section on pain management techniques but the letters blurred before me. As my contractions increased in both frequency and ferocity, I had to concede that now was not the time to find a peer-reviewed paper on the merits of hynobirthing versus calmbirth. Now was the time to call an Uber.

Thankfully two people – not three – arrived at the hospital, and we were shown to our quarters. This was the room where I’d play my carefully curated playlist while splashing around the hot tub. Maybe a Scrabble match and a light luncheon would also be on the cards. Then I’d light the lavender-scented candles, sit in the half lotus position, get all drugged up and sail through labour with a numb lower half and an opiated smile.

As I writhed around on the bed, my obstetrician, Pip, came in and popped a well-qualified hand up my lady part, looked a trifle surprised and announced that I was 8cm dilated. Perhaps Scrabble would have to wait.

Her prognosis explained why, in the last few minutes, my gentle bovine lowing that accompanied each contraction had become a blood-curdling howl. Pregnant ladies in neighbouring wards, couples on the hospital tour, and everyone else in the southern hemisphere heard my unearthly cries and instinctively clenched their pelvic floor muscles.

Pip then decided that the energy I was expending on my Mongolian throat yodelling could be better channelled: it was time to push this behemoth out. As everyone gathered round my front bottom, I rued the fact I hadn’t made time for a vajazzle, or at least rearranged my haemorrhoids in a more fashion-forward way.

Whilst adopting a series of gravity-friendly birthing positions (each more indecent than the last), I thought it was time to pull out the big guns and enquire about the pain relief – simply breathing through the pain didn’t seem to be cutting it.

This, I felt sure, was the moment I would understand Mrs McLeod’s epidural ecstasy.

I assumed there’d be some kind of pain steward on hand who would present me with a menu and talk me through the daily specials. Turned out there was no such person. And the nurse said the only thing available to someone as dilated as me was the gas and air, though that, she continued, can make you feel a bit woozy. I declined the gas and air, thinking, ‘Who would want to feel dizzy when you could feel like you’re laying a dinosaur egg?’

So this birth was going to be one without pain relief.  What an insult to the pharmaceutical industry. On I pushed, assisted by a Panadol taken six months back and the simple truth that – with the baby’s mohawk now bobbing in and out – it was probably too late to turn back.

After four hours of perforating eardrums and the odd sensation that I’d birthed a squid, Holly Hines skidded onto planet earth. Following close on her coat-tails was the placenta, Hank, and I was thrilled he was all curves and no fingernails.

And that is how I gave birth (far too) naturally. They say you forget the pain of labour as soon as you are handed your baby. No siree: I have a very good memory. Though little did I know that more was to come from massacred nipples, dealing with Centrelink and the agony of recalling what three hours’ continuous sleep felt like.

As I lay cradling my baby, I wondered if it was too late to claim my epidural. After all, everyone knows that the first post-birth BA (hospital speak for bowel action) can be as harrowing an experience as giving birth itself.

http://www.essentialbaby.com.au/birth/birth-stories/how-i-gave-birth-far-too-drugfree-for-my-own-liking-20161201-gt1lq0

 

Photo by the lovely Kristina Kingston www.kristinakingstonphotography.com.au

 

No Moore Kelly Eng

*Warning: some nudity involved.

Kristina, of Kristina Kingston Photography, was looking for a pregnant woman to photograph.

I must have been the only pregnant woman available within a 400,000 kilometre radius of her studio and by default, became the chosen one.

Kristina wanted to channel that iconic photograph of Demi Moore from the front cover of Vanity Fair and I didn’t want to let her down (too badly).

Thank god for Kristina’s skills and for Photoshop.

Here’s something I wrote for Essential Baby about my time on the photo shoot.

*

A friend of a friend was looking to do a pregnancy photo shoot, and my growing gut and I were asked if we’d be happy to oblige. Of course we would! Who wouldn’t want to be immortalised at a time when you have all the sprightliness of a morbidly obese mammoth suffering from haemorrhoids?

The lovely and talented photographer, Kristina, determined that we would channel the iconic Annie Leibovitz/Demi Moore collaboration for Vanity Fair. Her task was to marshal her talent to capture my enigmatic earth mother fecundity; mine was to turn up clean and hairless in all the right places.

The lead-up to the shoot saw minimal preparation from me. With 20 minutes to go, I examined my collection of Bonds and Woolworth’s undies, wondering which ones looked the most photogenic (least moth-eaten). Fifteen minutes later, my checklist – fix eyebrows, wax legs, paint nails, purchase nice underwear that fits, look less ugly – was whittled down to: get in car now.

Accompanied by my partner as chaperone and muse, I arrived at the cavernous studio with its polished timber floorboards, white curvy backdrop and big satellite-dish lights. The wraparound windows revealed a city skyline twinkling prettily in the distance. This was the business! Ushered to the change room, I beheld a rack of satiny/lacy/gossamer-like materials. This was no change room: this was a chrysalis from whence the resentful office drone with mild scoliosis would emerge as shimmering Greek (well, North Melburnian) goddess.

Kristina set about patiently helping me to prepare. She asked if I wouldn’t mind putting some makeup on (I thought I’d already applied a full face of slap), then asked if I had an eyebrow pencil. No, I replied, wondering if she had a spare biro or white board marker. She encouraged me to comb my hair; I asked if she had a fork. Then I realised I’d forgotten the crucial prop – my nude g-string, the flesh-coloured fig-leaf behind which I would hide my lady garden (though in truth it was more impenetrable Amazonian rainforest than English garden).

Ho hum. An excellent start.

My next task was to shoehorn my way into a long satin dress. I popped it over my head, but then couldn’t make it past my not-particularly-generous chest area and it ruched up. I was trapped. My head and neck were modestly covered, while my chest, bulging womb and rainforest were on full display. I tottered around the dressing room, blind, arms outstretched in search of help.

Thankfully I was guided to a more forgiving stretch material dress and we headed out to the studio. Beneath the bright lights, I did my best to follow Kristina’s clear and sensible instructions – chin up, head down, leg up – with all the spatial awareness of a dyslexic bull in an antiques shop. It was at this point that I remembered incontinence could be an issue for pregnant ladies, and I prayed it wouldn’t be an issue now. Not while I was representing motherhood in Kristina’s dress.

Then we progressed to the underwear shoot. This was the shot. Never mind that my underwear would have been tight on someone three sizes smaller and the underwire was escaping and jabbing dangerously into my spleen; one must suffer for one’s art. Bending one knee, I grabbed my gut and heeded my mum’s best advice for photographs: keep your eyes open.

The final shot involved me cavorting about topless with a gauzy sheet of shimmering gold fabric. As it was all about movement, a wind machine and music from Black Swan was employed to inspire me.

As Kristina encouraged me to “Move with the chiffon”, and shouted out encouraging lies such as “Gorgeous! Beautiful!”, I suddenly felt like I was at the Year 9 disco. Holding the fabric stiffly in front of me, I tried to think of some appropriate moves … any moves really, though it’s hard to twirl when your elbows and knees have mysteriously locked. Tetanus? Please god, not now.

As Black Swan music swelled around me, I swayed from side to side like a reed. I thought about clapping, though decided against it. Then I thought pointing my toes might look a bit sophisticated, so I did that. Not quite emulating the vulnerable grace of Natalie Portman, I did evoke the elegance of a well-meaning side-stepping yeti.

By the end of shoot I was spent and this Earth Mother nourished herself and her unborn child with fistfuls of nature’s finest sour cream and chive chips.

Thank goodness I remembered to shave my armpits. And that Kristina – a true alchemist – could mask knotted hair and pitiful dance moves with her exceptional photographic skills … and just a little bit of Photoshopping.

 

Kristina Kingston Photography
http://www.thewhitespace.com.au / 0407 720 072

 

 

Had a baby and stuff

Friday was a busy day. Opened my birthday presents in the morning and had a baby in the afternoon.

Father is resting peacefully and deriving comfort from icepacks and hydrogel breast discs on his grazed nipples.

Obstetrician and ward staff are seeking compensation for perforated eardrums.

Baby – Holly Nina Hines – is of middling height and weight. May she be kind and cheerful and achieve a PhD in happiness.

Rest of the weekend was uneventful, though I did see a pancake that (in the dark) looked like a slice of ham.

Holly Hines