After work family eating

Chicken home grown

I was talking with a couple of my work colleagues this week about family eating. Putting aside that a number of us do research on food related topics, even those who do not do this kind of work are pretty food aware. There is a member of staff who works on ice fields, but also raises sheep for wool and food (see the post about his lamb here), another member of staff is involved in bee keeping with his local church (he also sells the honey in the department), many of us have small vegetable plots.  I have raised chickens.  An even larger number cook. This provides great opportunities for recipe sharing.

While academics do tend to have more flexible work schedules than many other occupations, this does not mean that on the whole we work any fewer hours or that the flexibility is endless.  Indeed, recent staff time audits indicate that academic staff work about 55 hours a week, with about 33% of that time spent on administrative duties and the remainder divided between teaching and research (see this 2009 article from the Times Higher).  Because the proportion of time spent doing administrative work has increased over the years, this has meant that the more flexible time spent on research has shrunk, and as a result more time spent in the office each week is required.  Coincident with this decrease in flexibility is an increase in women in academic roles and a shift in domestic divisions of labour such that men are increasingly participating in tasks that were once considered women’s work.  Indeed, my recipe sharing conversation was with with a senior male colleague in my department who was considering what he would be cooking for the family diner that night.

Our conversation centred on his desire to make a chili, which was spicy, but which he knew his family might not be so enthusiastic about because he liked food that was spicier than they preferred.  I suggested that he enable them to tone down the spice by serving the chili as part of a taco salad.  Spicy chili served on top of cool lettuce, topped with plain greek yogurt and chopped tomato and avocado and a side of tortilla chips enables eaters to reduce or enhance the impact of the peppers in the chili.  Job done.

In the interest of sharing, I told him I would be making a dish we started making in Hong Kong–A fish curry.  I am not usually a fan of fish curries, for some reason curry sauce and fish do not go together in my mind, but this one is really wonderful and has its roots in Malaysian cuisine.  It works with any firm fish, and as a result can be made in a way that is more or less expensive–I use frozen fish from the Co-op, which costs $2 for a package of about 8 fillets and which I know is sustainably sourced (see the Co-op’s policy here).  I find that the while the fish doesn’t need to be expensive for this dish, it is a good idea to buy the best possible tomatoes as their flavour really does make a difference.  The other advantage is that it does not take long to make. Here is the recipe:

Fish Curry


  • 2 cups of coconut milk (You can buy it ready made or make your own)
  • 1/2 cup ground coriander seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon each ground cumin and minced fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1-2 chili peppers, seeds removed and finely diced
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup light oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/4 cup chopped shallots (onion also works)
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 3-4 lbs of fish as fillets or steaks
  • 2 large tomatoes cut in wedges or enough smaller tomatoes to go around the circumference of your serving dish.
  • Fresh coriander (cilantro) for garnish

You will also need one large shallow-ish pan to cook this in. I use a pan that is about 2 inches deep and has a diameter of about 14 inches.

  1. In a small bowl combined the ground coriander seed, cumin, ginger, turmeric, and chilli and stir in the 1/4 c water to make a paste. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in your pan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add mustard seeds to the hot oil and stir until seeds pop.
  4. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring until soft.
  5. Add the coriander mixture (from step 1) and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes.
  6. Stir int he coconut milk.
  7. Carefully lay in the fish (they need not be completely covered by the liquid).
  8. Place the tomatoes, skin side up, around the edge of the pan.
  9. Heat until the liquid begins to quiver, and then turn dow –you don’t want the dish to boil.
  10. Cook for about 30 minutes until the fish is cooked and begins to flake.  While the fish is cooking periodically spoon the sauce over the fish to baste any exposed fish.
  11. This can be served on rice, noodles, or as I have done in the photo over julienned zucchini (courgettes) that are briefly steamed (can be done in the microwave).


I have written an academic paper on family eating time.  It appears as a book chapter in the edited book by Peter Jackson titled Changing Families/ Changing Food. The chapter considers the way that time constraints inform family strategies for eating together.

This post is also part of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. The theme this week is family.  You can find the challenge and links to other work press user’s contributions here.

8 thoughts on “After work family eating

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