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Miriam González Durántez: Spanish food, beating overwhelm and inspiring girls to fly high

August 17th 2016 / Victoria Woodhall

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©KrisKirkham

How do you stay sane when you're an international lawyer, your husband is Deputy Prime Minister and you have three young sons? For Miriam, it was going back to her roots with traditional Spanish cooking. Here she shares her work/life insights and her delicious recipes

When Miriam González Durántez began a food blog mumandsons.com in 2012 incognito, the aim was to get her three boys Antonio 14, Alberto 12 and Miguel, seven, cooking - in the same way that she had learned traditional family recipes from her mother and grandmother growing up in the central Spanish town of Olmedo. A highly-respected international lawyer, Miriam used cooking to decompress in the stressful coalition years (her husband is former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg). Then as now, she insisted on sharing all domestic duties equally, which led to snide comments about cabinet meetings being scheduled around Nick’s school run.

Having gone public with the blog in 2015, she has now published many of the recipes in a book Made In Spain, which is part cookbook, part fascinating memoir. She may be a mother of boys but she’s also a passionate supporter of women and girls. The book will raise funds for her new initiative Inspiring Girls International launching in autumn 2016 (watch this space for news). It will work to raise aspirations for young women, build their self-confidence and eradicate gender stereotypes. Miriam has long been a supporter of the successful Inspiring Women campaign, which facilitates working women to volunteer as speakers in secondary schools, to help broaden the career horizons of girls.

Here, she tells us about the food that keeps her energised, the only diet that works and how she deals with overwhelm. Plus, she lets us in on three delicious recipes from her new book and the stories behind them.

GTG: Describe your workday morning.

MGD: "I get up at 6.45am and have breakfast - a soft-boiled egg, natural yogurt and coffee - until 7ish. Then it’s the kids’ breakfast, panic over uniforms, school books… the usual. By 7.40am my two eldest sons leave. Then I answer a few emails, get my youngest ready and dress myself. I walk with my youngest to school (unless I have an early meeting, in which case normally Nick takes him) and then walk to the train station and start my commute from Putney to central London."

GTG: What's your most important meal of the day?

MGD: "Breakfast (see above) and lunch - normally a salad eaten far too often at the computer. It’s a bad habit really, but I try to work through lunch so that I’m able to be home earlier with the kids.

GTG: With such a demanding job and busy home life how do you manage your energy levels?

MGD: "I drink lots of water. Latterly, I have cut down massively on coffee and diet coke - I was close to becoming an addict! I run a few times a week. I'm generally an energetic person, probably because I sleep like a mammoth no matter what."

GTG: What tech tools make your life easier?

MGD: "I cannot live without my Apple MacBook Air. It goes with me everywhere. My team jokes that my whole life is in it."

GTG: How to you relax and decompress?

MGD: "I love reading on the commute back from the office; I am on my third Elena Ferrante book, which is superb. Otherwise I relax cooking and with running."

it is physiologically impossible to cry and whistle at the same time – a really useful tip when things get too much!

GTG: What's your morning beauty routine?

MGD: "I use these products pretty much every day - they are all really easy so it does not take me more than three minutes to get my makeup done.
- Touche Eclat YSL £21.37 for dark circles
- A brown shadow from Max Factor Smokey Drama - they have stopped selling the one I like but I got a whole box on Ebay some months ago, it’s the best eye makeup ever – they really should market this again!
- A brown kohl pencil.
- Mascara either Benefit They’re Real £19.50 or Sisley £39.
"Mediterranean hair, however, is the mother of all pains. Only way to handle it is with a good pair of hair irons."

GTG: Your book is full of family recipes. Are there beauty and wellbeing tips that your mother and grandmother have also passed down?

MGD: "My grandmother came from rural Spain. She had a pretty tough life, with little time for beauty. My mother didn’t use any face cream until she was 60. But she eats really healthily and walks 10 km every day. She is one of the healthiest 76-year-olds I know."

GTG: Have you ever been close to overwhelm? What do you do when things get too much?

MGD: "Endless times. I can go through dark holes, but I am now old enough to know how to get myself out of them in little time. The best way to deal with overwhelm is exercise and being with your loved ones. Recently the wonderful and utterly gorgeous (in every sense) Nicola Mendelsohn from Facebook [Vice President for Europe, the Middle East and Africa] told me that it is physiologically impossible to cry and whistle at the same time – a really useful tip when things get too much!"

GTG: Confidence and gravitas are often things that women struggle with - but that don't seem to affect the men in the same way. How have you navigated this in your own work life and what advice do you have for other women?

MGD: "I am so worried about the lack of self-confidence in women and girls that I could write a whole thesis about it. Girls lack self-confidence because we have allowed sexism to become a normal part of our lives – and what’s worse is that we, women, do not even speak up against it any more. In the campaign that I run, Inspiring Girls, we have seen how children start looking at ‘female’ and ‘male’ jobs from the age of six. If, from that age, girls are brought up thinking that deep down they are not as good as boys, it is only natural that they struggle with self-confidence. There are still many people who think that there are certain jobs that are not for us (including being a soldier, mechanic or surgeon), who do not measure our achievements because they are busy measuring our thighs, who think that any achievements that we make are the result of who we marry or sleep with… we are kidding ourselves when we think that all that drip-drip sexism does not have any effect on the self-confidence of girls. Self-confidence is the product of your experience; the more you try something and work towards it the more self-confident you become. It’s simple as that."

GTG: Women often battle with food issues. Has this ever been the case for you? What are the key lessons that women need to learn about food so we can quit worrying and use all that brain power to make a difference instead?

MGD: "In Spain they say that the body of the Mediterranean woman is like a guitar – though they could have said it is rather like a cello. As somebody who has tried most diets, I can guarantee that the only diet that works is eating less and exercising more.

GTG: What kind of boss are you?

MGD: "I trust my team, but I am intolerant of mistakes. If somebody lets me down I stop delegating to them until they prove themselves again. I do not care about time spent in the office but about results. I can deal with lack of skills, but find it really difficult to deal with apathy. And loyalty is tremendously important to me."

GTG: Your last meal on earth?

MGD: "Pana negra ham and Ribera del Duero wine."

Made In Spain: recipes and stories from my country and beyond by Miriam González Durántez is published by Hodder and Stoughton £20

Chard with ham

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"Chard is a very underrated vegetable. My uncle produces tonnes of it during the summer and, because he knows I like it, he keeps bringing kilos to us when we are on holiday in Spain. This is one of the recipes you can make with it. Don’t use too much salt, as chard is a naturally salty vegetable."

Serves 4 as a side dish

1kg chard (it reduces a lot in volume when it cooks)

2 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

50–75g Serrano or Parma ham, finely chopped, to taste

sea salt

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

Method

Cut the chard stalks and leaves into slices. Steam the stalks for five minutes.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes until it turns golden. Then add the ham, cook for another minute and finally add the steamed chard stalks and the chard leaves.

Add the salt and sprinkle with the vinegar. Let it simmer for five minutes, turning to wilt the leaves, and it is done.

Iberian scrambled eggs

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"I spent five years [during the UK coalition government] saying ‘I can only speak about what we do,’ every time I was asked whether I thought it was OK that politicians used their children in pictures. But the real answer is a common sense: ‘Of course not!’ One just has to look around to realise that, helpful as it may be for the politician at any given time, it is just too big a risk for the kids, both from a security and a mental sanity point of view. If you only knew how much choreography goes on behind any of the political pictures that are presented as ‘natural’, you would conclude in no time at all how very wrong it is to get your children in those pictures.

During the last general election [2015] I was watching the news with one of my sons, when I saw a film of one of the [party] leaders making scrambled eggs while his children were approaching the camera and playing with it. I exclaimed, ‘Oh my God, look at those children!’ just as my son exclaimed, ‘Oh my God, look at those scrambled eggs!’ My son definitely has the upper hand when it comes to the priorities in life…

The key to any really good scrambled eggs (whether in this recipe, or the plain and unembellished version) is to do the ‘stir, lift and fold’ movement which is the key to avoiding miserable-looking scrambled eggs. This is how you make a happy-looking pan of scrambled eggs.

Serves 1

3 canned piquillo peppers, cut into strips, plus 1 tbsp of the can juice

1 tsp olive oil

2 slices of Serrano or Parma ham (the ham will be slightly fried, so no need to get an expensive one)

1 tsp chopped parsley leaves

2 eggs

pinch of sea salt (not too much as the ham is salty anyway)

Method

Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the piquillo peppers with the 1 tbsp of their liquid. When the liquid has evaporated (one or two minutes), remove them from the pan.

Heat the olive oil in the pan, tear the ham slices into strips and add them to the pan with half the parsley. Wait for one minute, then return the peppers to the pan.

Lightly beat the eggs, add the salt and pour them into the pan. Stir with a wooden spoon, using a ‘stir, lift and fold’ movement.

After a couple of minutes they are done. Just sprinkle the rest of the parsley on top and eat immediately.

Pineapple and mint salad

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"This is a super-simple dessert that I often serve at dinner parties. It never ever fails to please. The secret ingredient is the vodka. It always keeps the conversation going…"

Serves 6

1 pineapple, peeled and cored

handful of mint leaves

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 (or 2… or 3!) tbsp vodka, really depending on your mood, and whether or not you are bored with the conversation

Method

Cut the pineapple into small chunks.

Just before you are going to serve it, put the mint leaves and sugar into a mortar and bash them with the pestle (do this at the last minute as otherwise the mint will turn brown).

Stir in the vodka. Mix the contents of the mortar with the pineapple and serve.

Find more of Miriam's recipes in Made in Spain

Pictures by ©KrisKirkham

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