Grown-up Nursery Food: Spaghetti Pomodoro

I have quite a reputation amongst my friends for serving nursery food – they would show up at my house for dinner parties, and surprise surprise, the menu is exactly the same as what I feed my children.  This is because I do not believe in cooking separate meals for kids – a large part of helping a toddler to transition into becoming a child is teaching him how to integrate into our world.

Without much ado, here’s my recipe for an achingly glamorous spaghetti pomodoro.  The kick in this version is that it uses three different kinds of tomatoes:

  1.  Cherry tomatoes preserved in Cointreau – recipe is here
  2. Tomato pesto (see below)
  3. Tomatoes, garlic and chilli roasted in balsamic vinegar and olive oil (as illustrated in the photo below)

roasted tomatoes

To make the tomato pesto, blitz together two ripe red organic tomatoes (for extra taste, roast these), a bunch of basil, half a cup of pine nuts (I used macadamia because I ran out of pine nuts), half a head of garlic and enough olive oil to turn the mix into the desired consistency. Season to taste.

Boil pasta according to packet instructions and assemble.  Serve piping hot, garnish with fresh basil leaves and parmesan cheese if desired.

Making Banana Flour At Home

Why am I making banana flour?

I love baking. Probably because my mother loves baking. Last week, over a three day period, I baked three cakes. It was then I thought to myself, ooops, my family is eating too much flour. Even though the flour I used is unbleached and organic, I felt that they were eating far too much flour.

Some time back, my friend Vivienne Webb gave me a bag of banana flour. I have never used it before, and was pleasantly surprised that the apple turnover cake I baked with banana flour tasted every bit as good as it would normally. And yayy, banana flour is gluten-free, so I baked an extra one for my friend Richard Boyle.

Feeling pleased with myself, I posted my recipe on Facebook. Then someone commented, banana flour is expensive. Sitting in lush Phuket looking out at banana trees, I can’t figure – nay, can’t accept – why banana flour should be expensive. It is five times more expensive than regular flour.

I don’t like economics that don’t make sense, so I googled. And made my own.

The goodies

As I am doing my diploma in Naturopathy, I took special interest in the dietary benefits of banana flour, apart from being gluten-free:

  1. Green (unripe) bananas are more nutritious
  2. The goodness is in the skin
  3. Green bananas’ starch is resistant starch, which means that they act more like fibre than starch
  4. Because bananas are sweet, you need less sugar when you use them instead of regular flour in baking

How to

Wash the bananas thoroughly. Top and tail each banana.

flour 1

Cut them into wood chip size. Spread the chips out on a plastic tray. You could either dry them naturally in the sun (cover with muslin) or in a dehydrator.

flour 2

Grind the dried banana chips in a strong blender. As the blade of my blender was not that sharp, I sieved and reground the coarser grains. Store in an airtight container and use soon.

flour 4

Just a reminder, this cake was the one which started it all 🙂  Recipe here.  It tastes really delicious!

apple turnover cake

Food From My Childhood – Apple Turnover Cake

Cake, cake, cake. More blooming cakes. I should rename this blog Cake A Day blog. But hey, it’s all tied up with my childhood programming – my mum loves cakes.

So here’s another one.  But aha, this one is 100% gluten free. I used banana flour. And it tastes better than I expected (after several tries).


20g butter

6 large apples, peeled, cored and cut onto eighths

1 1/4 cup banana flour

2 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon or mixed spice

3/4 cups caster sugar

1 cup oil

1 cup full cream milk

2 large organic eggs

2 large egg yolks from organic eggs

zest from 1 orange

Preheat oven t0 180C. Grease the baking tin. Line the baking tin with the apple slices.

Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mixed the dry ingredients together – sieve into the butter-sugar mix. Slowly fold in the liquid ingredients.

Pour the mixture in.  Bake until it’s all nice and brown, and the fork comes out clean when poked into the cake.

We Travel To Come Home – An Indonesian Odyssey

My time in Asia is rapidly coming to a close. After almost a decade of being away, I am finally returning home to London with my partner. It is somewhat unusual that he, a German, and I, a Brit, met each other halfway across the world, only to come home to set up a family together. I think our time spent in the pressure cooker of another culture somehow forged a strong bond between us, because there we were, together in a strange land, trying to find a smidgeon of happiness, peace, ambition, laughter and love so far from home.

It wasn’t always easy. My biggest challenge was the lack of nature and open spaces in Jakarta. Being a Portsmouth girl, my happiest memory had always been skiving school and going to the beach with my younger brother in the summer months or walking the South Downs with my parents. In Jakarta, it would take us nearly two hours driving time to get to the nearest strip of sand and sea. I just could not get into the shopping mall and cinema culture. Only last weekend, my partner and I hopefully searched the Internet for a reasonable film to while our Saturday, but ended up at home instead. Fortunately, we enjoy being in each other’s company very much or the whole thing between us would have fallen apart, given that there was no escape to ‘go tell it to the sea’.

I was terribly homesick in my last years, but in the words of philosopher Martin Buber (b 1878, d 1965), “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware”. For me, the secret destination that I was meant to be, but was unaware of, is in the heart of the Mediana family.

Dr. Achmad Mediana was a doctor practicing in Jakarta when I first met him. In those days, I was newly arrived, the Rule Britannia mentality virulent in me, and I was idealistic and arrogant. On my first day, I demanded to know what pain relief options were available to patients.

“My face,” Achmad said with a big, beaming smile. “When patients see my face, they are happy and they forget about pain.”

In the years that I worked closely with him, I began to open up and let go. I grew softer and more yielding. In the process, I learned amazing new things that are breathtaking in simplicity yet deeply meaningful.

One of Achmad’s favourite sayings (which became a private joke between us) is ‘God’s assets’. Achmad is remarkably generous with his material possessions, including his money, which he distributes easily to his various charitable projects and sometimes, to his patients. “It’s all God’s assets, Jacqueline,” he would say with that same big, beaming smile.

One day, during one of our many long journeys in the car battling the legendary Jakarta traffic jam, Achmad turned to me and said, “Eh, Jacqueline. When my mother died, I learned one last lesson from her. I learned that however rich you are, you can only take with you the white cloth that your corpse is wrapped in. Your grave is still the same size as everyone else’s. The rest is God’s assets.”

Today, Achmad co-owns a small private hospital. I told my partner about it. My partner laughed as we discussed Achmad’s unique take on the world, including when it comes to business. He has four full-time doctors, 32 medical staff and 11 patients, but he is a happy man.

“Eleven, Achmad?” I asked incredulously. “Only eleven?”

“Don’t be greedy, Jacqueline,” he said, totally unconcerned. “I am happy when my patients are happy.”

My dear Dr. Achmad Mediana, this is your legacy. You have shown these two foreigners how to look at values and valuation in a totally different light, and this is what I travelled halfway across the world to learn. Thank you for the years, with much love always.

My partner’s blog post on Dr. Achmad Mediana:

Got Alcohol? Got Tomatoes? Let’s Party!

OK, you are probably not expecting this on a parenting blog.  But these unusual fermented tomatoes are so wonderfully delicious (the alcohol content is actually low) and they make amazingly delicious spaghetti pomodoro.   I will make my version of unbelievably tasty spaghetti pomodoro tomorrow, after this batch of tomatoes ferments.

How to make fermented tomatoes:

Sterilise a mason jar or any glass jar with a seal.

Pour in equal amounts of extra virgin olive oil and alcohol (sherry is best, but I use Cointreau because I like the orangey taste). Add cloves of crushed garlic and basil leaves. Add the washed tomatoes. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Seal the jar and leave in the the refrigerator overnight. It can keep up to three days. The tomatoes should be slightly fizzy – shows that they are fermenting!

Stay tuned for my best-ever spaghetti pomodoro! Glamorous enough to be served at dinner parties 🙂

fermented tomatoes 2

Food From My Childhood: Lemon Drizzle Cake

I absolutely dislike cakes. I don’t eat cakes.

But I often find myself baking cakes.

All because I have a stay-at-home mum who baked cakes, bread, biscuits and pies in our sunny kitchen. I love the smell of baking, which is synonymous of a very happy time in my life. Childhood conditioning is indeed a strong force.

Here’s a slightly healthier version of the classic Lemon Drizzle Cake – I serve it with lemon yoghurt instead of the traditional drizzle made with icing sugar.

You will need:

175g unsalted butter

200g caster sugar

250g unbleached flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Pinch of sea salt

3 medium eggs at room temperature, beaten

100ml full cream milk, at room temperature

Grated zest of 2 unwaxed lemons

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease baking tin. Combine butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Sieve together the flour with the baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Add in the dry ingredients with the wet ones alternately. Mixed until smooth. Transfer to the greased baking tin and bake until firm in the middle and light gold all round.

Serve with thick set yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon juice mixed into the yoghurt.

Mango lassi – a sugarless treat

The classical lassi, the traditional drink of India, is actually very simple to make.  It is yoghurt based, and may be sweet or salty. A plain one doesn’t even require fruit, just the yoghurt and salt.

Feeling bored, I decided to make a jazzed up version.  It tastes heavenly!

Here’s the recipe:

One very ripe mango

60ml buttermilk

60ml cold milk

3 tablespoons yoghurt (I ran out of yoghurt, hence the weird buttermilk combo)

Squeeze of lime juice

Ice cubes.

Blitz all together in a blender. I topped mine with flax, bee pollen and acai. Cheers!

Real-world stuff for teenagers with an inquiring mind

It takes a whole village to raise a child……I never doubted that after raising five children. My children’s father and I are fortunate in that we seem to have an endless stream of engaging, inspired adults who are willing to contribute to our children’s development from so many angles. For me, it is all about taking textbook learning into the context of the real world, so that my children are excited about learning which happens when they begin to see for themselves how the world actually works. The ultimate for me when it comes to educating children is to encourage them to think and connect the dots for themselves, rather than passing exams.The possibilities are endless, exciting.

Whilst searching for a parking spot along Bondi Beach last Christmas, Georgina had a brilliant idea for an apps to solve a real-world problem. But how to take a brilliant idea off the drawing board into the real world? I have no idea. Fortunately, her stepfather has plenty of experience (as it is his work).

And the news for G is, it takes more than a brilliant idea to make something work business-wise. You need luck, commitment, some capital investment (she knows that), some legal stuff, some financial stuff and the know-how. Quite a lot for a 15 year old with so many interest to take onboard, but the conversation opened her eyes to the world of work. It also opened a lot of interesting discussions.

“She should go to Silicon Valley, get an internship with some innovative company like Google. Because developing an apps is not just about finding programmers. And she needs to have good relationship with the local council, who will be her partner for this venture.” All very sound advice for a teenager to think about – because it would probably costs only U$50k to develop this apps in Asia, but perhaps the U$50k would be better spent on airfare to San Francisco?

That’s his blog: light enough for a teenager with an inquiring mind to read 🙂

Food From My Childhood: Victorian Sandwich

OK, here’s a not so healthy recipe for once, the classic Victorian sandwich, that my mum would make almost on a weekly basis. It is also known as the pound cake (because traditionally, the main ingredients are all a pound in weight each).  I love it with lots of homemade strawberry jam and fresh cream.  Here’s the Victorian sandwich I baked for my friend – we had a slice of England in exotic Phuket.


4 free-range eggs
6oz caster sugar (I reduced this by 25%)
8oz self-raising flour (I use 50% rye and 50% self raising, though warning, it doesn’t taste that light anymore)
2 tsp baking powder
8oz soft butter at room temperature, plus a little extra to grease the tins

To serve
good-quality strawberry or raspberry jam
whipped double cream

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease and line a sandwich tin.  Combine butter and sugar, and beat as vigorously as possible until light and fluffy. Then add in the rest of the ingredients until all are properly combined.  Pour into the greased sandwich tin and place the tin on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Don’t be tempted to open the door while they’re cooking, but after 20 minutes do look through the door to check them.  Poke with a fork, and your cake is ready when the fork comes out clean.


Starting the day right

Eat like a king in the morning, a prince at noon, and a peasant at dinner

Maybe it is because I am a ‘professional’ mother that I put great store in getting my family to eat right, especially the first meal of the day (I accept that they will lapse during the day, be it at the canteen, tuck shop or restaurant at lunchtime).

A good breakfast regulates the blood sugar and energy levels. It also stops children feeling hungry before lunch, which can be quite distracting.

The British Dietetic Association said the findings added to the growing body of evidence in support of eating breakfast every morning.

“There is a lot of scientific evidence behind this,” spokeswoman Catherine Collins told BBC News Online.

“Obviously the traditional fry-up is too fat and calorie rich to aid weight control, but cereals and toast are of benefit.

“Breakfast can be a very good source of vitamins. Many processed cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals which people can find it difficult to get elsewhere if they are just having two meals a day.”

The study was presented at the American Heart Association’s annual conference in Miami.

Here’s what we had this morning: poached egg on a bed of wilted spinach and tomatoes. It is quick, easy and nutritious.

Note: please do read up on Egg Safety first before serving soft eggs:

A g