Thursday, 21 June 2012
Friday, 4 May 2012
The princess that did not want to marry
Sunday, 1 April 2012
There is a lot of screaming in our house. The vicious cycle twists round and down, they scream, I scream back, they scream louder and then me too. I barely dare go outside, in the garden. What will the neighbours think? Is it good that they can’t understand my Dutch, and can’t hear how I bawl at every kid’s nagging? Or is it a shame they can’t hear how they moan my life into a living hell, and understand my wrath is well deserved. I know I am the eldest. I know I should be the wisest. I know they are four, two and one years old. But the mamamonster is not sensible. She knows patience nor common sense. She let’s herself be dragged into pools of hormonal fury. The mamamonster talks in low-pitched, separate, demanding words. Stop. Now. Or…. then a silence follows, in which she thinks of terrible things. Or I will hurt you, thinks the mamamonster. I will wring you out till there is no scream left in you, I will kick you flying over the hedge, I will box your ears till they pound more than mine. But she will reach into the depths of her soul and drag out the last ounce of self-control she can muster from the deepest of her monster belly and growls: Or… Go. To. Your. Room. Now! The last word is spoken with her deepest, darkest voice, and all the terrible things shine through her piercing eyes. The frightened children start crying, which works like oil on the monster’s fire and makes her grab arms and legs and she drags the screaming inside, into the study and closes the door.
Surrounded by silence the mamamonster retreats, and when the children reappear, with crocodile’s tears on their cheeks, her last remains are cuddled away, send back to her dark cave deep inside.
But the next time there is arguing, over the colour of the cereal bowl, over who gets the spotted spoon, over the food that is not their favourite, when there is fighting, pushing, hear-pulling, and screaming, the mamamonster will rear it’s ugly head again. At the next tooth that breaks and sets off days of crying. When they throw food, moan, whinge, yell and squeal. When they are bored, when they whine, three times, mama, mahma, mahama. When the shoes are still not on after I asked ten times. When they cry, cry, cry and cry. When they scream. When the sound exceeds by far the allowed maximum of decibels at any other workplace the mamamonster will soar and roar. The mamamonster is mean. Little children beware. She is on her way.
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
His rug sack is ready. The binoculars are in, the book of plants, some biscuits. From the handle bar of his scooter the tent dangles.
‘Come on,’ he calls, scooting on.
‘Where are we going?’ I ask.
‘Exploring,’ he answers. ‘To find the waterfall.’
Just before the bridge we turn left, into the wilderness, and the mud.
Tijm gets his binoculars. He peers over the water, then at me.
‘Mama, you are very small. You are very far away.’
‘You need to turn it around,’ I point out. ‘What is far will become big and close.’
‘No,’ he yells. ‘It is right like this. Look, everything looks far away now.’
What can I say? In Dutch we call binoculars “far-looker”. So I nod.
Satisfied, Tijm looks around him. He spots something, far away, next to his foot.
Little flowers, like stars. We look them up in his book of plants.
Linde laughs at the name, speenkruid.
‘For Jasmijn,’ she grins, as speen means dummy.
She has found something too. Little brown balls, in the muddy water.
‘Frogspawn,’ Tijm tells us. ‘We must to take some home. Then we can make frogs. Just like at school.’
‘Maybe on the way back,’ I answer. ‘We haven’t found the waterfall yet.’
‘O. Yes,’ says Tijm and pulls Linde’s hand. I follow, drudgingly, with the buggy through the mud. Tijm and Linde run over the narrow sluice. The buggy won’t fit.
‘Mama,’ Tijm points at a wobbly bridge. ‘That is for you.’
Step by step I stagger over the boards. We have to, as we must find the waterfall. Tijm and Linde found it already. The water swishes over the stones, foaming, and roaring softly. Tijm climbs down, onto the stepping-stones.
Linde reaches out, ‘Mama, help.’
I help her over and look back, to the heavy buggy, and suddenly I do not know how to do this. Yet I do it. I step back, get Jasmijn and park her, behind a fence, as far away from the water as I can.
‘Tijm,’ I order, ‘watch your sister. Make sure she does not get near the water.’
As fast as I can I hop back, from stone to stone, looking back over my shoulder, to fetch the empty buggy. On the way back I look at my feet for just a moment, and when I look back up Linde and Jasmijn are in a tree. Jasmijn is nowhere.
My heart stops and I jump on land.
‘Where is Jasmijn?’ I scream, ‘you were watching her!’
‘There,’ Tijm points, calmly.
A bit further down I see Jasmijn’s back disappear into the park. Safely at the field we put up the tent, eat biscuits and pick flowers for our tea. Jasmijn keeps running away and on the way home Tijm falls in the rivers while scooping up frogspawn.
With wet wellies he screams the whole way home.
‘Mama,’ he yells.
‘Stop it,’ I grumble, ‘are you a tough explorer?’
‘But mama, there is a frog in my wellie.’
We poor it out, not once, not twice, but three times, until we are home and ready for bath.
On my facebook page you can find pictures of our exciting trip!
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Monday, 5 March 2012
Zigzagging she sways through rooms, to where big sister catches her in widespread arms.
They leave the the hall door open, and before I can blink, she is up the stairs. From the top step she waves down, cooing triumphantly.
Tijm and Linde trek up as well, rug sacks on, to play in their room. Jasmijn follows, quick as a dart. Tijm clicks the stair gate, safely shut behind her.
I want to get her, take her down, secure under my watchful eyes.
‘No,’ Tijm shouts. ‘You can’t come up.’
Three a row, they grin at me from behind the gate.
‘I just want to get Jasmijn,’ I try.
‘No,’ says Tijm. ‘Jasmijn has to stay here. She is our friend.’
Linde nods. ‘Our fliend.’
I go back down, my heart in my mouth. Upstairs I hear clattering, laughing, bumping. Only a few screams. When I go up to check, around the edge of the door, six eyes eye me indignantly. Defeated I retreat.
I no longer have a toddler boy. With his tongue between his lips, in utmost concentration, he writes. Tijm, he writes. And 4. Linde, papa, mama and Jasmijn. Tom is easy, that is just like Tijm. In mass production he draws trains, trees, monsters giraffes and people with heads, bodies and feet.
Then, he rushes to the laptop, ‘type, mama, can I type?’
His fingers dance over the keys. Opa, oma. Opi. Omi. Omama, Roos, Bas and Maas. Others are more difficult and mama spells it out. An F, an R and an E. Slowly Frederiek appears on the screen. Then the A, for Anneke.
Later he nestles in the corner of the sofa with the Ipad, hidden under a plaid. He plays Sonic, Agry Birds, until I catch him on You Tube, staring at blazing guns and bombs, and I hide it on top of the fridge. Were we living back home, in the Netherlands, he’d have started school. He is so ready, my big boy.
And then there is Linde. The most incredible 2 year old ever. With bold, big eyes she defies me, staring over her plate.
‘Don’t want it,’ she pushes it away.
Where Tijm, who is so handy, refuses to put on his shoes, she needs to do everything herself. Everywhere dolls sleep, under blankets, tea towels and dishcloths. Everywhere Linde goes the dolls go too. On the Ipad she plays doctor, cooking and colouring. With felt tips she draws circles and curls, on paper, her head and her hands. She draws the L, for Linde, which she loves so much she uses it everywhere, in warking and rovely. Mole kisses, she demands, in bed, until she decides no, mama, enough, now she will teep.
Linde knows what she wants. And when she looks at me, from under her spotted hat, with those steel-blue eyes, I know one thing will never change. She will always stay my wilful child.
Friday, 24 February 2012
‘Inhale,’ says the teacher, ‘Exhale. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight…’
The breath of fifteen mothers rustles through the hall. Again. ‘One, two, three, four…’
The first grizzle starts. A soft cry. Slowly the mothers rise. It won’t be, please? Fourteen mothers settle back down, relieved. Not theirs. One mother pulls herself up. A baby is cuddled, cradled and put back down, on the floor. The teacher continues, imperturbable. ‘Pull your navel down, put your legs up into the air.’
More grizzling starts. A moan here. A cry there. The air fills with little sounds. Yet it stays quiet, peaceful in the hall. We do yoga. The peace is inside us.
Even inside me. I have been on edge all week, bursting at every moan and every scream of baby or toddler, but here I let go. The soft, soothing voice of the teacher, the smell of incense, as soon as I put one foot in the hall my stress disappears, like snow from the sun, in the serenity of the hall. Nothing can disturb my peace.
The babies give it their best shot. One by one they are cuddled, rocked, fed and put down again. I rock mine, my nose in her neck, where her sweet baby scent mixes with the incense, forming a tantalising perfume. Back on the ground, she lies between my legs. My bum sticks in the air, my legs point up, one by one. She looks at me. Was that a smile, a chortle, does she think, ‘Mum, what on earth are you doing?’
She snorts and utters a small groan. I rub her belly and yoga on.
Half an hour later the babies get their turn. We are in a circle, fifteen naked babies, fifteen mothers that pour oil on their hands. We massage the babies, until they slither over the mats and their greasy fat legs slip from our hands. We roll every miniscule toe between our fingers. We rub oil in every crease, every dimple in their thighs. Over their bellies, their backs. My baby gets tired. She does not want to go on. Elsewhere babies get louder too. The naked babies get dressed. Slowly I feed her and cuddle her to sleep. Tea appears, biscuits, the mothers and babies enjoy their snacks. The silence disappears quickly, with fifteen tea drinking and biscuit eating mothers. Chatter fills the hall. Words, sentences, and laughter float around, bounce off the walls.
With mind and body cleared, I step outside, into the sunshine. I look around. Did I forget something, leave something behind? I have my baby, my bag, my buggy. That’s all I need, what I shed in the hall I do not need back.
Cheerfully I leave, to pick up my toddler girl and her big brother. Later that day, they cry, moan, flip and scream, but I don’t scream back. Angry and surprised they look at me. They grunt, frown, and then turn quiet. I smile. I am relaxed.
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
‘This one’s too heavy, mummy,’ Tijm puffs, lopsided.
I take the sixteen pints of milk off him and pick up three bags of satsuma’s.
‘I wanted those!’ he screams, and snatches them back.
Cheerfully they run, back and forth, until the kitchen is lined with shiny orange bags.
When I want to take the carton of eggs the man pulls back his hand.
He observes the box. ‘One is broken,’ he concludes.
He puts it back in it’s crate.
I stick out my hand. My eggs?
‘One has broke. I’ll get you a refund.’
He scribbles on a piece of paper.
I don’t want a refund. I want my eggs.
‘There are still eleven left,’ I point out. ‘And I need them.’
He grins his crooked teeth. ‘I am supposed to send them back. But here, take them. For free. They’ll only bin them. You’ll need your eggs today.’
‘What’s special today?’ I ask.
How can he know what’s on the menu?
‘Well, off course. It’s pancake day!’
How could I forget. I blogged about it last year, on my dutch website, how this lovely English tradition of finishing all your eggs, milk and sugar before Lent starts was so sweet. How the shelves full of lemon, flour, and big banners made sure everyone knew. But not me, this year, me, who can’t face dragging three kids to the supermarket and orders everything online. I had planned something else. Also cakes. Also from a pan.
There are many little cakes and fritters that you can fry up. Children and adults alike will love them. They are an excellent weaning food for little ones, as well as a good way of getting vegetables into picky toddlers.
Latke, Jewish potato pancakes, are simple and tasty. You can eat them on their own, as a starter or side dish. With sour cream or apple sauce.
Pepper, salt, oil
Peel and grate the potato.
Now comes the most important part, you have to squeeze out excess water. This can be done in a muslin cloth (the baby ones are perfect) by wringing out as much as you can. If you do not do this your latke will go soggy and fall apart. Then add the egg, roughly one per half a kilo of potato. Season to taste. If you like you can add a little (potato)flour, to make them easier to bake, but you don’t need to. Fry the latke by dropping a heaped spoonful in hot oil and squashing in place with the back of your spoon. Fry until crispy on both sides and serve hot.
You can vary by adding other vegetables, for instance carrot, onion or parsley.
Anything fried and frittered is very popular in our household, and I make many different versions. For my children the following recipe, which is a combination between a latke and a pancake using various vegetables, is a favourite. The recipe below uses courgette, but you can basically use any type of grated, chopped or pureed vegetable. For instance carrot, spinach, sweet potato, squash or whatever takes your fancy. To make them a full meal add some cheese or tinned mackerel and serve with sour cream or cream cheese. As in our families we cope with different food intolerances we make them with glutenfree buckwheat flour and soy milk. But any type of flour and milk will work.
small cup of milk
around a cup of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
green herbs to taste (parsley, thyme, coriander, …)
Mix the milk, flour and sugar into a think batter, add more milk or flour if necessary.
Grate the courgette and mix it in. The exact ratio does not matter, you can make them more pancake, or more fritter . Season with pepper, salt and whatever herbs and spices you like. Scoop spoons into hot oil to form little pancakes and fry them golden in a few minutes.
Monday, 20 February 2012
Tijm stirs his sauce. ‘Curry,’ he says. ‘Jummy.’
‘Go on,’ I encourage him. ‘Not just the rice.’
He spoons a big spoonful into his mouth. For a while he chews happily, then his mouth turns into a skewed grimace. He spits out the curry.
‘Don’t spit it out!’ I say, annoyed. ‘Swallow it.’
He shakes his head. ‘But mama, it hurts my mouth.’
Linde licks her spoon. ‘Ouch. It bites my tongue.’
Tijm agrees, it bites.
Eve Jasmijn, who eats anything, looks flustered and shakes her head.
I taste some myself. I enjoy the fruit, the sweet, creamy coconut. Then it hits me, viciously the curry stings my tongue. Delicious. For me. I fell for it again, the jar of cayenne pepper. Just the tiniest whiff spices any food flaming hot. I make a mental note to push the jar to the back of the spice cabinet. Never, ever to use again for the kids. I rush to the kitchen to save the dish. From the fridge I get yoghurt and sweet mango chutney. I stir it in, generously. With small, sparing bites they try again. And eat piles of white rice.
But still, also for kids who don’t like it hot you can cook spicy food. Most will love aromatic spices like ginger, coriander, cumin and cinnamon, especially when made extra sweet with fruit. Just be careful with the chilli!
Easy & mild apricot chicken curry
1 clove garlic
1 large teaspoon each of dried coriander, ginger, cardamom, turmeric and cumin
3 cm of fresh grated ginger
300 g chicken, of quorn chicken pieces
1 lime, juice and zest
handful of green beans
1 tin of tomatoes
200 ml coconut milk
1 tin apricots in juice
Chop and fry the onion and garlic and add the spices. Add the chicken and fry for a few more minutes. Add the carrot and beans, both in smallish pieces, and fry some more. Then add the tomatoes, coconut milk and lime zest. Let cook until the vegetables are cooked, around 15 minutes. Add some water when it gets too dry. Chop the aubergine in pieces of just over a cm an roast them in a dry frying pan. Add the juice of half a lemon and season well. Finally add the aubergine to the curry together with the apricot pieces. Add some apricot juice and lime juice to balance the sweetness and season to taste.
You can vary this recipe easily. For instance by using mango instead of apricot, or by using other vegetables, like squash or courgette. If you do like it hot, add a red chilli.
Serve with rice and a raita of cucumber, yoghurt fresh mint and coriander.
Monday, 13 February 2012
We cross a bridge, onto a pier. We board a boat. Through the window we look at the giant wheel we pass. The Big Ben, the London Bridge and the Tower. The museum in the electricity plant. The shard and the gherkin. The highest building with the triangle on top. We eat our peanut butter sandwiches and drink hot tea with milk. We disembark, but we aren’t there yet. It is far to the other side of the world.
We walk, scoot and ride on. We puff and toil up the hill, until we reach our destination. There, across that line, the other side of the world starts. The line, the meridian that separates east from west, is the middle of the world. We dodge the Japanese queuing for a picture on the line and, a little bit further on, we stand, with one foot in the east and one in the west. We rest a bit. We see the museum. We peel a clementine. Then we start our journey home.
We race, rush and zoom down the hill. We walk past the pubs to the station and climb the docklands train. One station on, we alight, under construction, closed. We roll up, on escalators, and in a lift, up to the bus. We stuff in the bus, us, and many more, till it is more than full. Between piercing elbows we shake asleep, on laps and in buggies, until the flow takes us out, into a new, underground, train. Sleeping, dreaming, and staring at the dark we let the train take us north. We get off but we aren’t there yet. Home is far away.
A new train takes us to our car, and then, finally we are home and in our beds. It was a long journey to the other side of the world, and back. It was a beautiful day.
Life’s a journey, not a destination. You'd better enjoy the trip!
Monday, 6 February 2012
Wednesday, 1 February 2012
The spoken lingo is, if possible, even more incomprehensible. Fancy a cuppa, anyone? A strong brew, white or black? Tea is a meal here. Not a high tea, but afternoon or cream. As a foreigner, even if you think your English is fluent, there are plenty of pitfalls. Kids don’t eat cookies but bickies. A muffin is not a cake but a cross between a pancake and a Dutch beschuit. Even the pronunciation is treacherous. A scone is not a ‘scown’ but a ‘scohn’. It’s not ‘paysty’, but ‘pahsty’. A mistake is easily made.
Luckily there is enough cheap plonk to drown all misunderstandings. The Brits are friendly, and generous. With food, that is. When it comes to alcohol it is everyone on his own. Bags of crisps, bought in the pub, need to be ripped open lengthwise, to be shared by all. Is it all getting a bit much? Keep calm and drink gin! Family size, off course, a full pint. Double, no, make it triple. With a dash of tonic.
Even though, as they say, eating is cheating, here’s a recipe for you. Bubble and squeak contains no mouse’s whiskers or tails, and is actually quite nice. It is made of leftovers. The dish has many different versions, but is always based on mashed potato. No, not potahto. In the mash leftover veg is mixed, cabbage, or sprouts for instance, whatever you find in your fridge. The mixture is fried, loosely, in a large pancake, or rolled into hamburger shaped disks. They can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. With a fried egg or chipolata’s. Whatever, however. The name of the dish comes from the sound it makes when it is frying in the pan. And, for Dutch readers: Yes, it is remarkably like a traditional stamppot fried up the next day! Boerenkoolburger anyone?
Bubble and squeak
Vegetables: For instance cabbage, greens, kale, or sprouts
A handful of bacon or cheese if you wish
The best is to use leftover mash for this dish as it will have dried out nicely. If you make it fresh, pour off all water of the potatoes, let them steam dry and do not add any moisture like milk or cream. It does not really mater which vegetables you use, but strong flavoured ones are the nicest. The vegetables need to be cooked or stir-fried, and all water drained or squeezed out. Mix the mash and vegetable roughly one on one, volume based, or how you like it. If you wish you can add some fried bacon or grated cheese (I know, a sneaky Dutch addition). Season well and roll into round, flat shapes. Roll them briefly in some flour and fry them in oil or butter. Serve with a fried egg or sausages.
For small children you can make funny mini bubble and squeaks, by rolling small rounds the size of marbles and frying them extra crispy.
Wednesday, 25 January 2012
On the way home I keep smiling. Why do mothers lose their brains in the chaos of every day? Pregnancy brain, we like to call it, but it does not leave your body when the baby does. I turn all my own incidents over in my brain. The car I brushed by at the petrol station, already late for school. The side mirror I hit on a car by the side of the road, distracted by a screaming back seat. To which I returned, blushing with shame, an hour later with a windscreen note. A birthday party for Tijm’s friend that I simply forgot. My mobile phone, of which I now have two, identical, ones, after I lost it not once, twice or even trice last year. And found again. The times I drove happily to little gym, until Tijm asked whether we should not pick up Linde from the child-minder first. And so it goes on, and on, and on. I am surprised I have not yet lost a child.
When a mother hears a child, in the supermarket, screaming, wailing and kicking, she only thinks one thought. Thankfully. It is not mine. That is exactly how I felt when Mary bumped my bumper today. Thankful. It wasn’t me. At least. Not today.
Monday, 23 January 2012
It is cold and damp, the wind whistles around the house and beats the trees. Drops hang from red noses and coughing sounds everywhere. Appetites are minimal, just now when we need our vitamins most. A good thing that mama knows a trick to get vitamins, minerals and healthy fats into toddlers and pre-schoolers. We are going to hide vegetables and fish in crispy little balls. Tijm comes running as I put the ingredients down on the worktop. ‘Mama, can I help?’
Off course he can. Food made with your own hands tastes the best.
Suspiciously Tijm eyes the ingredients. What are we making?
Cheerful and precise Tijm throws fish in the blender. He likes fish. But when I put my knife in the carrot and the courgette he shouts: ‘No mama! Not green. I don’t like green.’
‘Carrot is not green,’ I comment.
‘It is,’ says Tijm and that says it all.
When I put the balls on the table he screams. ‘I do not like fishballs!’
‘Taste one,’ I insist. He refuses, I persist, and after some, or rather a lot of debate he tries, reluctantly.
‘And, do you like it?’ I ask.
‘No,’ he nods, positively. ‘I do not like them.’
He pricks another one on his fork, chews, swallows, and shakes his head.
Then, he polishes off the plate.
Fishballs with carrot and courgette
300 g mixed fish (any will do, salmon, cod, mackerel, haddock, whiting)
1 small courgette
4 spoons of (glutenfree) oat flakes
handful of finely chopped herbs (parsley, dill or thyme)
breadcrumbs or polenta for coating
Chop the fish very fine or smooth it briefly in a blender. Grate the carrot and courgette and mix them through the fish, together with the egg, oatmeal and herbs. Make sure the mixture is neither too thin nor too thick, it needs to be nice and firm so you can shape it into little balls. If it is too wet add some more oat flakes. Let the mixture cool and stiffen in the fridge, preferably for about an hour. This will make it easier to shape. Roll little balls of around 3 cm and flatten them slightly. You can also make slightly larger disk shaped fish burgers than can be served in a bun. Roll the balls through the breadcrumbs or polenta to coat and shallow fry in some hot oil for a few minutes on each side. Ready rolled balls can be frozen so one portion will make several meals. Serve with tomato sauce and fried potatoes.
For variation you can add other vegetables (just make sure they are not too wet) and spices. Why not some curry powder and fresh coriander for an Indian version, and serve with mango chutney and yoghurt.
Tuesday, 17 January 2012
What I did yesterday is fuzzy and grey and what I’ll do tomorrow I do not know. Of the future I can only dream. My mind is in Malaysia, thirty years ago, in my new book. Last year exists in snapshots. A broadly smiling baby on the beach. A little girl, blonde pigtails, and a mouth purple with blackberry juice. A boy, stirring a bowl of pancake batter. Roel and me on a rock, the kids on our laps, smiling at the camera. Click. The photograph caught our happiness.
It’s is delightful when you don’t dream but just are. Are here and now. Here and now a princess and a king are playing in a tent. The princess, in a glimmering pink dress, lines up her ladies in waiting. Poppa, Pop, Nelly and Upsiedaisy. The tent is their castle. She pulls my sleeve. Hungry. She wants a sandwich with chocolate sprinkles. In an hour, I point at the clock. The king runs to the back door, wanting to see whether the beans he planted yesterday have come up yet. When spring comes, I say. Tomorrow we will see. But here and now knows no tomorrow.
Along the sofa a little creature walks, grinning. It is a year ago that she was born. The year is gone but we did not lose it. It was a rough year full of beautiful things. I put it away, in a drawer. The difficulties first, in the bottom, the better things on top to cover. The best memories I put on the wall, in a frame. There is so much to cherish and keep. Mouths dirty with apple syrup. A broad grin with only two teeth. A pondering look with which a checkers piece is moved. Two arms sticking out of a duvet demanding a nuddle. Late night, the two of us on the sofa. A skipping boy with his rug sack, on his way to nursery. A duck, clenched in little fists. Never-ending games we played. All biscuits we baked. Eggs for breakfast in the weekend. Running in the garden, around the slide and back. Filling lavender bags. Breastfeeding, on a cliff near the sea. Tijm’s garden, with it’s ice-lolly sticks. A flannel pyjama with pink roses. The fastest crawler. Muddy boots. Finding acorns in the wood. The climbing tree. Blackberries. A little body wriggling out of nappy changing.
The wall is full, overflowing. I turn my back to it and crawl into the tent to find here and now. There is cake to eat.
Wednesday, 11 January 2012
No party without cake so we debate what to make.
‘Dada,’ Jasmijn babbles.
Tijm has a think, and asks, ‘Jasmijn can’t have any milk, can she, mummy?’
I admit, he’s right. ‘And mummy can have no gluten,’ I add. Baking is no simple affair in our house.
‘Chocolate!’ Linde yells.
‘No,’ says Tijm, ‘Jasmijn can’t have chocolate either.’
‘Yes, she can,’ I respond. ‘She can have dark chocolate, without milk.’
Tijm shakes his head. ‘She wants apple pie.’
I look at the fruit bowl. ‘No, we only have two apples. Not enough.’
Tijm runs over to the kitchen and returns with a bunch of bananas. ‘Banana cake,’ he shouts. And then, before Linde objects, ‘No, I know. Banana-chocolate cake!’
And so it was decided. We made a gluten and cow’s milk free cake, with bananas and chocolate. I used my favourite brownie recipe. A very simple recipe, easily whipped together. I had never yet made it gluten free, but it was time to try. The only thing we had to do was substitute the butter with a dairy free alternative. Since there was no margarine in the house I used a mixture of cocoa butter, coconut fat and sunflower oil (50 g each). The coconut fat gave a sweet coconutty flavour to the brownies, and the mashed banana made them scrumptiously moist. Honestly, our free from version tasted better than the original!
You can easily play around with this recipe. You can make the original, by leaving out the banana and use wheat flour and butter. Alternatively, depending on what you want to leave out, substitute one or more of the ingredients. Or, even better, get creative and come up with your own version!
160 g butter, margarine or alternative
160 g dark chocolate
300 g sugar
170 g flour (I use Dove’s farm gluten free)
1 dash of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 mashed bananas
handful of chopped nuts (optional)
Melt the butter or substitute with the chocolate in a large saucepan. Turn off the heat. Then, one by one, add the sugar, the flour, eggs, and other ingredients in the above sequence. Stir well after each addition. Finally add the mashed banana, nut or other inclusions, and stir well. Pour the mixture into a greased baking tray and bake for around 30 minutes at 180 degrees.
Friday, 6 January 2012
I nod, the jumper is just like the uniform of the primary school we visited yesterday. Tijm is ready.
Now we have make a choice, the incomprehensible English school system is slowly starting to unravel. Not that there is much choice. Well, there are public schools, off course. That is, if your four year old passes the entrance exam and you manage to get together over eleven thousand pounds, per child, per year. Not a choice everyone can make. Still, there are plenty, that forego holidays, get a smaller house, just to improve their child’s chance on a good university and therefore job. Even in the twenty-first century. But still. A friend, after a tour of our local public school, highly impressed, sighed, how all reception children sat, in utter silence, working at their desks. Learning to read and write at four years old. My stunned ‘No way,’ was misunderstood. ‘Yes, isn’t it great!’ was my reply. Academically these schools are more than excellent. Yet their rigid, girl-less, environment does not seem right for my lively boy.
State schools vary from outstanding, good and satisfactory to inadequate. Even though here, as well, learning starts at four, a frightening percentage leaves school without knowing how to write. Deep fried food is served. Admission is based on distance, in meters, to the school. Which means you decide when you sign the lease for your house. Something we, as foreigners, obviously did not realise. Luckily our well-off commuters town is known for it’s excellent schools. But, due to a recent babyboom, the schools are bursting at their seams. The mothers are stressed. Who lives a meter outside the catchment area is banned to an unpopular school on the outskirts of town.
The choice of school is a Very Important Matter. The mothers talk of little else. All schools are visited, reports studied, chances weighed. Good strategy is required. Which school will be number one on your list? Which second and third?
I observe, but don’t get it. Do these mothers like their illusion of choice? Do they want to make sure they show themselves to have tried everything? I have long resigned myself to the fact that I will be allocated my neighbourhood school, regardless what I put on my list. A school that has had a bad reputation, but with a new head managed to score a ‘good’. Country wise a good score, but in our town of snobs somewhat shabby, next to the other school’s ‘outstanding.’ Though not nearly as bad as the ‘satisfactory’ of that one school, the mothers nightmare.
No, our school is fine. But it is still an English school, where four year olds need to sit still and learn, as academic achievement is what the government that gives out the ranking wants. The school is at walking distance, next to the nursery school, and has a nice atmosphere. And, Tijm can go with his friend down the road, even though his mum put another school first. We are not unhappy.
Then, all of a sudden, there is a choice. A new school. A free school. Montessori. No British sternness, standing in lines, yes sir. We visit the information meetings and are impressed by the inspiring founders. And now we have to choose. But how do you judge something that does not exist? On practical grounds? We cannot walk to this school, not even cycle over our hills without cycle lanes. It is not next to the nursery school. It does not even have a building and might start in a temporary shed. Only the first three years will start. But against that there is the Montessori philosophy, which appeals to me, especially compared to the static, old-fashioned English education system.
The choice is so little tangible. ‘Which school, then?’ asks Tijm, when I say he might not go to the school with the green uniforms. I can not explain to him. I can not feel the school, smell it’s food, hear it’s sounds. I can not see it’s children, which will hopefully run noisily through reception or, even better, it’s luscious garden.
Now I finally have a choice, I can not choose.
Tuesday, 3 January 2012
Once upon a time there was a little girl. Hours she sat, flicking through pages of the toy shop catalogue. Time and time again she glanced back at that one page that glimmered and shone. There was nothing else we could have put under the Christmas tree for her. When she opened the parcel she uttered a long and resonant Ahhh. Linde’s pincess dress. Finally, a real one, pink and pearly. And a golden crown. The dress went on and never came off again. Our daughter is no longer an ordinary blonde. Linde is a princess.
With the matching attitude. Regular food, the princess does not like. Yes, peanut butter sandwiches. Warm aniseed milk. Chocolate and gingerbread. Pancakes with salmon. But baked potatoes? She shakes her pedantic little nose. Pasta bolognaise? Well, one bite, high handed, from the tip of her fork. So mama has no choice. She cooks Princess-pasta. Pink pasta, garnished with pink fish and a dash of cream. And now we hope it will gain her highness's approval.
Princess-pasta, with beetroot and salmon
4 cooked beetroot
juice of one lemon
125 ml sour cream
200 g soft goats cheese
1 teaspoon corn flour
hand of (fresh) dill
pepper and salt
Cook you favourite pasta. Heat the beetroot and puree them. Stir the corn flour into the sour cream and add this mixture to the beetroot puree. Add lemon juice, pepper, and salt to your taste. The sauce should be nice and thick, so it will stick to the pasta. Stir everything together, with some finely chopped dill, hen crumble the cheese over the dish. Finish with a dash of sour cream and some dill.
Bells ring, lights twinkle and carols swirl gently through the room. Christmas time has arrived. Hail and wind pound the house from the outside, but as school is closed we have nowhere to go. We stay in, where it’s warm and smells of pine needles and spicy cake. The Christmas holidays last long but have a lot of things to do. Things that taste good. We will bake a gingerbread house.
Only what kind? Glutenfree, for me? Dairy free for Jasmijn? Cooking in our house is no longer easy. Can I make a solid, easy recipe for glutenfree gingerbread from which I can build a house that won’t fall apart? I like a challenge. .
250 g cold butter, chopped *
600 g flour (wheat flour or glutenfree **)
200 g fine brown sugar
7 table spoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon dark treacle (optional)
1 egg (only when baking glutenfree)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon xanthan gum (only when baking glutenfree)
1 table spoon psyllium husk (only when baking glutenfree)
We have a lot to do so I put the kids to work. First we knead the dough. In a large bowl we mix the ingredients.Together we knead all the ingredients into supple dough. If it is too wet add some extra flour, it should not be sticky. Then we let it stiffen up in the fridge for about half an hour. When it is ready we pre-heat the oven at 200 degrees.
When the house is assembled it is time for the best part: decorate! You can use everything you like. Biscuits, candy, marshmallows, chocolate, candy canes, coloured sprinkles. With the same icing mixture we glue all the decorations onto the house. When you work with small children, try to put your perfectionism aside. Let them mess around, it is their house, and if you wanted a perfect one you should have done it alone. Watch out for prying fingers though, especially when you use glutenfree gingerbread
It can be a good idea to let small children not decorate the house directly. From leftover dough bake some small gingerbread man, Christmas trees, stars or even simple circles. Let the children decorate those and stick them to the house later.
Does your house still look a bit worse for wear? A good snow shower of icing sugar covers up a lot. Alternatively spoon some runny icing over the roof and let it drop down.
600 g rye flour
350 g sugar
80 g honey
1 table spoon baking powder
3 to 4 tea spoons spices (ginger or speculaas)
Knead the ingredients together. Let the dough rest at room temperature for a few hours or overnight. Process as described above, but bake at 165 degrees for around 20 minutes.
And so everyone can enjoy one’s house. With or without gluten, dairy, egg or wheat. We hope you will too! Merry Christmas.
I put down a large, green bag. And a pot.
‘Beans,’ growls Tijm. He looks angry. He does not like green beans.
‘No, peas,’ I correct him.
Tijm shakes his head. Peas are green, but little and round. Not long and thin.
He does like peas.
I show Tijm, I crack the pod and it’s treasure rolls out.
‘Peas!’ Tijm cheers.
Linde comes running as well and soon all three of us are hard at work. Four toddler hands break open the beans and peas are rolling everywhere.
‘They are supposed to go in the pot,’ I point out.
Most of them do. The pods go in the strainer.
Baby Jasmijn comes crawling. The strainer intrigues her. She pulls, shakes it, and boom, it tumbles over. Jasmijn gets covered in a wave of pods. Surprised her blue eyes look at me from under the green. She shakes her head, shakes off the pods and grabs one from her hair. Curious she eyes it and sticks it in her mouth. She nibbles and chews the pod.
‘No,’ Tijm shouts, ‘silly Jasmijn. You can’t eat the pod. Eat the pea!’
‘Et pea,’ Linde nods.
She fiddles a pea between her fingertips and puts it in Jasmijn’s mouth.
‘No,’ Tijm shouts again, ‘we need to cook them first.’
Linde agrees and gets her little pan, she fills the saucepan and Tijm rushes to get his own, a frying pan. They cook and stir and fry, all the lovely peas, while I keep podding until the bag is empty and all the pots full. Now we are really going to cook!
We make risi e bisi, a venetian recipe. It is a mild, creamy risotto, and very easy as it does not have to be continuously stirred since that would break up the peas.
Risi e bisi
1 small onion
150 g pancetta, cubed
250 g podded peas
250 g risotto rice
about a litre of stock (vegetable or chicken)
a handful of grated parmesan cheese
Cut the onion in little pieces and fry it in a bit of oil. When it get’s transparent add the pancetta and fry a few minutes more. Add the rice and fry this as well, stirring thoroughly to coat every grain in some oil. This will protect the grains from leaking too much starch when we add the broth. Then add the peas and ladle by ladle the hot stock. Stir after every ladle. You should add some stock and stir every few minutes, until the rice is cooked. That should last about twenty minutes. The risotto can stay fairly fluid, but should not become a soup. Creamy and runny it is at it’s best. When the risi e bisi is ready add a good handful of parmesan cheese and pepper and salt to taste.