Friday 24 February 2012

Stay calm and...

It is quiet in the yoga hall.
‘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

Cakes in a pan

One by one I take the orange bags from the man in purple. Tijm and Linde grab them, and drag them to the kitchen. Bags full, of milk, yogurt, flour, eggs, fruit and cheese. And much more.
‘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.

Potato latke

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.

Courgette fritters

1 courgette
small cup of milk
around a cup of flour
2 eggs
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

Food that bites

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 onion
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 aubergine
1 lime, juice and zest
handful of green beans
2 carrots
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

To the other side of the world

We are going on a journey, to the other side of the world. It is far to the other side of the world. We load the car with: nappies, scooters, a buggy, a pink blanket, peanut butter sandwiches, baby food, wipes, rice crackers, nappy bags, clementines, a camera, clean pants, hats, scarves, mittens, crayons, colouring books, a dummy, another dummy and a final spare dummy. We stuff it all in rucksacks. It is far to the other side of the world. We park the car at the station. In the train we jump on benches, stare out the window at cranes, and passing trains. We wobble through the rattling and rumbling train, further and further south. We get off, but we aren’t there yet. It is far to the other side of the world. We get in a different train, an underground one. We tear through dark tunnels, our noses flat against the window so we can see the black. We get out, but we aren’t there yet. It is far to the other side of the world.
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

Keeping cool

The happy Kamel family in the snow:

The next day the kids had a meltdown and mummy fell apart...

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Those funny Brits

Pub grub is great, and there is usually something on the menu to laugh at. A plate of spotted dick anyone? Toad in the hole? Maybe bangers, mash and mushy peas. Or do you rather fancy faggots, black pudding, cullen skink? No? Bubble and squeak, then? A spot of haggis? The poor creature, two legs longer than the other, doomed to circle the Scottish highlands eternally, until it is tricked, caught, to end up on your plate, wrapped in a sheep’s stomach. You could also choose the nation’s favourite, chicken tikka masala, for a truly authentic experience. If you’d rather eat a ‘lite’ lunch, choose a bacon butty or a sarnie, but don’t forget the side of chips. O no, I mean crisps, off course. Chips are the thick, floppy, greasy ones. Nor the pudding that does not have to be a pudding.

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

Mashed potato
Vegetables: For instance cabbage, greens, kale, or sprouts
Some flour
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.