Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Polpo con patate in umido (octopus and potato stew)

This is the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde... went a famous song in the early Eighties.
That is my story these days, the story of my blond-haired, blue-eyed baby who not-so-occasionally morphs into a little monster with tentacles, a spinning head and flying spittle.
I get that Terrible Twos sounds much more catching than Terrible Fours, but for me it has always been about the fours. And from what I hear and see around, it is not just me. So to hell with the Terrible Twos, let's get serious and discuss the Frightful Fours.

My daughter had a pretty bad case of them, much worse than my son's, but she had the partial excuse of a baby brother invading her territory at the time.

He, on the other hand, may be a little easier to handle (and I have a feeling this is partly because he is a boy, a more simple gender to deal with in general) but he has no such excuse.
Lately the constant "No"s and whining and defiant attitude have been eroding my soul like a slow yet steady trickle of water. I know this phase will pass, I know he is taking his first steps in becoming independent, I know deep, deep down inside he is still my sweet little boy. But let me tell you, he can be a real pain in the a** on the outside these days.

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do except breathe in and breathe out (after you have tried everything from ignoring to reasoning to time outs - because everything just makes it worse) until it passes.
So when it takes me 20 minutes to get his shoes on at pre-school because this involves ten minutes of cajoling on my part and crying and screaming on his just to get to him to his locker (the last time it was about me daring to kiss him on his ear when he ran into my arms minutes before), five minutes of him flinging said shoes off every time I get them on his kicking feet and another five of him opening and closing the velcro straps repeatedly because I did it wrong and I am mean... I breathe in and I breathe out.

When he constantly and very publicly refuses to sit near me anywhere, whether on a bus, a plane or in a restaurant, because he wants Daddy and only Daddy - even when it is logistically impossible... I breathe in and I breathe out.

When he calls his father repeatedly because he is thirsty (or needs to be wiped or wants help with a toy) and I drop whatever chore I am doing because Daddy is too busy watching the game/on the computer/resting to hear him (and because, you little sh**, I'm gonna show you who the most caring parent is. Why o why don't you love me anymore?) and he looks at me and says: I don't want your water, I want Daddy's!... I breathe in and I breathe out.
When I try to take his hand to cross the street and he starts screeching at the top of his lungs "stoooop!! Mommyyyyy, you are hurting me!!! Owwwww!!! Stoooop!" and makes jelly-legs so that every person around is pulling out their cell phone to call social services... I breathe in and I breathe out.

When I rush home from a bad day at work to pick up his bike and lug it to his school (why on earth are little bikes so heavy?) because he has been imploring me to for the past month and he walks out of school and starts crying because he wanted his scooter and not that stupid bicycle... I breathe in and I breathe out.

Or sometimes I don't. Sometimes I lose it and scream and shout and threaten and curse under my breath and my head starts spinning and the spittle flies... (uh, I see a pattern).

But all he has to do is sniffle and say "sorry Mommy" or "help me calm down Mommy" (he is not an incredibly articulate four-year old, he is simply parroting me during a tantrum when I tell him to "come to Mommy so she can hug you tight and help you calm down, because she knows it is hard to control such big feelings sometimes"), or lift his pudgy hand to grab mine for me to forget it all and start anew, for the third time that day.

Because, let's face it, Mommies (and Daddies) are like octopi: they have three hearts when it comes to their kids.
Talking about octopi, this is a more wintery way to serve your octopus, a savory and aromatic tomato-based seafood stew filled with tender nuggets of white meat and soft pillows of potato that have soaked up all those delicious flavors.

Octopus is not as intimidating to cook as many think (and not at all fishy). If you are worried about your octopus turning out rubbery or tough, head to the freezer section: did you know that the freezing process breaks down the fibers in the meat? I personally have never had problems with fresh octopus either, but see some tips here if you are nervous. Then, if you get the hooked and want another excuse you show off your new skill, you can head here.

Octopus is low in fat, high in protein and rich in iron, besides containing vitamin B-12 and selenium. As most seafood, however, remember it is high in cholesterol.

1 large octopus (about 1.5kg)
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bottle (750ml) tomato puree (you can use fresh cherry tomatoes if you prefer)
4 large potatoes (about 500gr), peeled and cubed
salt and pepper (or chili) to taste
olive oil
white wine, stock (optional)
fresh parsely, chopped

Clean the octopus (removing eyes, beak and innards). Place in a pot with chopped garlic, thinly sliced shallots, salt and pepper to taste and a drizzle of olive oil. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 40 minutes, or until the water it releases evaporates, leaving a richly flavored brownish sauce at the bottom of the pot. Add the potatoes, that you will have previously peeled and cut into bite size pieces. You can also add a dash of white wine or some stock (fish or vegetable) to deglaze the pot at this point, followed by the tomato puree (or fresh cherry tomatoes if using). Cover again and let cook for another hour or so on low heat, until the sauce is thick and aromatic and the octopus is tender. Stir every once in a while, making sure the octopus and potatoes do not stick to the bottom of the pot. You can always add water if you see the sauce is thickening too much. Take out the octopus and cut tentacles and sac into bite sized chunks and stir back into the stew, letting it cook a few more minutes. Serve with freshly chopped parsely as garnish.


  1. Oh dear, sounds like you're having a hard time of it! But hopefully eating this delicious dish has relaxed you - it looks soothing and soulful. I adore octopus and my Mum always cooked it with potatoes - the perfect match.

    1. It certainly is a form of comfort food and made everyone happy, 4-yr old included. I agree, potatoes and octopus are a match made in heaven, even in a more summery salad version.

  2. Kids can be exasperating but you gotta love 'em...

    As for the octopi, it's one of my favorite seafoods, even if (I am told) they are one of the most intelligent animals. No better marriage than with potatoes that soak up that wonderful (and not at all fishy) flavor.

  3. Yes, they are supposedly incredibly intelligent... I have discovered that recently too.

  4. Raising kids is challenging; but I loved it, despite the many obstacles I faced (divorce and custody battle one of them). Cooking is srelaxing in comparison.

    1. I absolutely agree: being a parent is wonderful and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Cooking, however, is usually more relaxing. Unless you work in a restaurant, hehe.

  5. Oh you poor thing, that must be so stressful and challenging! I loved how your segued into the recipe though. We were just watching a doco on octopi, apparently they are very intelligent creatures too! :D

    1. It sometimes is, not always. Since I hit the publish button, my son has been a real sweetie. Go figure!

  6. Oh, there is so much to look forward to :) Nb, stew looks superb.

    1. Oh yes, but like everything else (like the challenges of having a newborn) it goes in phases so when you think you are at a breaking point, it somehow passes. And all in all, it is a wonderful experience.

  7. I remember those days well. And they're not pleasant, they're very, very trying. And to add insult to injury, when they're much older and you tell them about how badly behaved they were they look at you incredulously because they don't remember one moment of it and think you're making things up. It's a long, hard road xx

    1. And according to your stories, it sounds like it just gets harder ;o)

  8. I am right with you with my own 4 year old (and my own inability to keep it together at times) I am also right there with you on my love for Octopus-- it is literally one of my favorite things. XO


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