My wife and I finally managed to resolve one of the hardest puzzles we’d ever encountered about four years ago. For some time it had been apparent that something was making our son vomit, on an increasingly regular basis; being first-time parents, we were aware that we were paranoid about illness, but it got to the point where we couldn’t go out anywhere for fear that he would give us an instant rebate on his lunch. Despite my wife’s insistence, we eventually ruled out my driving as the root cause, and started looking at allergies.
I was loathe to pin his sickness to an allergy; it’s become something of a cliché, and like other labels it has become too easy for lazy parents to wield as some sort of evidence of the world’s persecution of them. I remember vividly the horror I felt when going to my one and only car boot sale as a vendor some three years ago, trying to declutter the house and find new homes for some of my eldest’s baby clothes. That horror was not just at finding myself in a car boot sale, although that was bad enough. A lady in her early thirties approached our annoyingly-still-pretty-full trestle table with a young teenage girl and looked at a couple of items while engaging us in conversation. She was cooing moderately over the little bodysuits and related to us her own experiences of being a mum of young children, something we’d grown used to during the morning. She’d said a couple of slightly contentious things already when she uttered the phrase that would have made me fall off my chair, had I in fact been seated: with a nod towards her adolescent companion, she stated loudly and clearly that “this is the one we have problems with”, and proceeded to regale us with the problems they’d had with her daughter which had led to a diagnosis of ADHD. The poor girl was stood right next to her, quiet as a lamb, hiding slightly behind her lengthy fringe in the way only teenagers can, looking squarely at the trestle table and avoiding looking at anyone.
Now I have been guilty in the past of concern that my eldest is hyperactive when in truth he is just being a little boy, so I can to some extent appreciate what appeared to us a blatant misdiagnosis. But I was utterly scandalised at the reckless brutality shown by this thoughtless woman in front of complete strangers, and in retrospect I am still cross with myself for not having the balls to challenge her brazen indirect verbal assault on her daughter.
Label or not though, after months of keeping a diet diary, we finally spotted the fact that my boy was displaying a reaction to two different foods, but an inconsistent one. It started to become clear that fish regularly preceded a vomiting episode, but removal of fish from his diet did not, to our disappointment, put an end to the nausea. So we looked for a further pattern, and after some consideration we realised that the accomplice to the crime was, of all things, the humble chicken.
You could be forgiven for asking, who on earth is allergic to chicken? Well, it seems that something in the region of 5% of all meat allergies are chicken, which at first suggests it’s more common than I and many others might have thought; considering though that the category of meat allergies doesn’t include fish or seafood, I would struggle to name anyone who is allergic to pork, beef, lamb, rabbit, goat or duck. Chicken is one of life’s most innocuous ingredients: its place in the culinary pantheon is merited mostly for texture and the ability to carry other flavours rather than having any particular flavour of its own. Other ingredients with a similar lack of flavour are said to taste like chicken, when in fact what they taste of is pretty much nothing. But avoidance of chicken ended the symptoms, so it was clear that we had found the answer, however unlikely.
It seems, from accidental recent exposure, that the fish allergy remains to this day, so despite our doctor’s apparent confusion (“so are you really just going to not let him have chicken again?” Well, yes, that’s kind of the idea; I believe deliberately making one’s child puke counts as child abuse) we have excluded all poultry from his diet. We’ve taken the same measure with my younger son although his general robustness leads us to suspect this is overkill, and the occasional theft of a fishfinger at kid’s parties while the owner wasn’t looking tends to support this. But we’re not sure really where the boundaries of this condition lie: what about game? Duck, goose, pheasant, pigeon even? Is it the presence of wings that causes the reaction – maybe he has an aversion to flying? We’re not keen on the idea of experimenting for obvious reasons, so we’ve simply avoided those meats, rendering both my children as part-time vegetarian as I am.
At this time of year of course, this throws up another very important question: what to have for Christmas dinner. Despite my assertions that it just isn’t right to just have the 17 vegetables, my wife has insisted that I not go to the lengths of making something specifically for her. Turkey is far too close to chicken for comfort and I’m not a fan anyway; in years gone by we’ve tended towards things like guinea fowl, partridge, and over-priced goose, but since we started staying home for Christmas there’s no point as I would be the only one eating it. It doesn’t feel quite right having lamb, pork or beef – we don’t have a lot of roasts so it wouldn’t exactly be same old same old, but it still wouldn’t feel like Christmas.
So this year I’ve bought in haunches of boar and venison. We had boar last year and enjoyed it very much, as much for the delicious curries I made out of it afterwards. Here is my unsophisticated but tasty recipe.
Wild boar rogan, makes 3-4 good portions
- Some leftover roasted wild boar
- An onion, diced
- A tin of chopped tomatoes
- 1-2 tsp chilli powder, to taste
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground ginger or a 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tsp of English mustard
- 1 green chilli, seeded and chopped
- A pinch of salt
- 200ml water
Fry onions in a little oil until golden round the edges. Add ground spices and stir through until you have a paste round the onions (add a little more oil if needed). Stir in the chopped chilli, and once that’s softened add all the other ingredients except the fresh coriander. Cover and leave on the hob on a low heat for between 45 and 90 minutes – the longer the better to tenderise the meat. Stir the fresh coriander through a couple of minutes before cooking is finished and if the curry is loo liquid take the lid off to boil off some of the excess.
Serve on a bed of boiled rice or in a bowl with some naan.