“Best-est” pizza

We’d probably sit on the beach and eat a slice of cold pizza (washed down with some beer) for dinner. I can think of nothing better. I made this pizza 🙂

When my children were young and we lived in London, we would go for a treat to a restaurant called Made In Italy on the King’s Road for the “best-est pizza”. The pizza at this traditional, small restaurant wedged between two shophouses, was simply delicious – doughy base, oozing with olive oil and fresh flavours.

This is my pizza dough:

500g pizza flour (I used Farina brand)
One 7g sachet of yeast (I used Allinson’s)
10g salt
water

For topping I typically use: tomato passata or homemade pasta sauce, pesto sauce, ripe tomatoes, onions, lots of mozzarella and whatever cheese I have in the fridge, lots of fresh basil and occasionally some meat (bolognaise, salami, tuna).

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
The flour, salt and yeast have to be accurately measured, whilst we can be more flexible with the water.
Make a well with the flour.
Sprinkle salt round the crater.
Make a paste with the yeast.
Pour the paste into the crater.
Mix with water, adding water slowly, as required.
Knead for about 15 minutes. It feels ‘bouncy’ when it’s kneaded enough (if you press gently on the dough with a finger, it should spring back nicely).
Let it rise for 3 minutes: put the dough in a bowl and wrap the bowl with cling film.
Pour olive oil into a pizza tray and rub it all over. Roll the pizza dough into the tray. Add tomato paste and mozzarella cheese. For that pizza flavour, sprinkle dried oregano on top.

Garnish with the topping of your choice. Bake for 20-30 minutes, ensuring that the dough is cooked through. Serve topped with more fresh basil and olive oil.

Note: the secret is in the quality of the olive oil and the fresh ingredients.

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Magical childhood on a shoestring

When my children were small, it seemed as if their father invested all his spare resources into making their childhood magical. Never mind that we were broke and living in a rough council estate up north, amongst neighbours who were unemployed and stole our things, who got drunk and beat up their wives, or the police vans coming over regularly to take folks in the Barlow Hall Estate away for various drugs offences, petty thievery and other crimes. He built a magical home for our young family in the crime-ridden estate: our backyard was filled with adventures (and with rabbits with names such as Nitty-Fritti and Alvin Perry).

Our holidays were all about going home to their grandparents’ houses to be spoilt, because we couldn’t afford anything else. But grandparents’ houses are magical because grandparents are. Those long summers were the highlight of our annual calendar when the children were young – endless days of being on the beach with their cousins, eating nanny’s cakes, exciting uncles and endless cuddles.

But life was magical almost on a daily basis, not just the summers. When it snowed, he would take our kids up Headington Hill in Oxford to toboggan down the snowy slopes. He made those toboggans out of pieces of wood and they were the best.

Yes, my children’s father succeeded in giving them a magical childhood on a shoestring. He did not earn much in those days; I was on a student grant as an undergraduate at Manchester University, and later, a full academic scholarship at Oxford. Money was never abundant in our household, but never mind, we didn’t need much. Daddy wasn’t good at making money, but he was darn good at being a magical Daddy.

This Christmas advertisement from John Lewis reminded me of those days. He used to say to the kids, “Let’s go fox-hunting”. It’s a gentle jibe at me, for his version of ‘fox-hunting’ was arming the kids with torches and telling them, “We’re going for an adventure!” And they would walk the dark neighbourhood alleys at night, looking for urban foxes with their search lights. For small children, it was a very big adventure indeed.

My children are indeed blessed to have a father like theirs, and I am so very grateful for the privilege of being a part of this beautiful family life for 30 years. I see the magic of childhood in my children’s eyes and the love that their father had so tirelessly put into their hearts and souls over the years. They are the physical embodiment of his love and magic, of days like this:

Our Supermoon

Last night was supposed to be a special night. The moon was supposed to be the largest it has ever been for decades. Our friends had booked romantic dinners with their partners at various beachside locales, poised to be in the right place to get the best view of the Supermoon.

My sixteen-year-old daughter G wasn’t particularly fussed about the Supermoon. She was more concerned about the piles of homework yet to be done for the next day. But her father insisted that she walked up a little hill with us to look at the Supermoon. She protested whilst he insisted. “Homework is just homework, whereas you will remember this moment forever,” he had told her. “Something that you can tell my grandchildren about, you seeing the Supermoon with your parents on Andaman Hill in Phuket when you were sixteen.”

After some screeching on her part, she reluctantly came outdoors with us. The moon was tiny! And it was clouded over! I waited for her to jeer at her father, but instead, she said kindly, “I bet it was larger earlier on, Daaad. Remember the huge one we saw in Devon last summer whilst we were camping? Do you remember? We have seen some amazing ones, haven’t we, Daaad?”

At that moment, I thought she was the most magical child, the way she could transform herself instantaneously from a grumpy teen to a human being wise beyond her years, who has the capability of creating enchantment for her father with her words. For her words had taken him someplace special, to a place where the moon was huge and luminous and studded with love.

And so, we stood there on this magical night, just three of us, chatting about basketball, school, the weekend, standing in the glow of a very small, weak moon. But for us, it was magic all the same, if not more. Magic and Supermoon exist every night, if you have the eyes to see them. It is indeed a postulate of physics that things come into being only when we are here to witness their existence.

As for the three of us, we will certainly remember this November night in the year G was sixteen, standing on Andaman Hill, watching our Supermoon. The moon was shining magnificently in us that night ❤

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When life and love came into being

When I was at university, I hated Biochemistry. I hated Organic Chemistry. I hated those incomprehensible, complex shapes with significant alphabets attached to them, whose significance I never quite figured out.

I would rush through those sections, praying that none would come up in the exams. Now, thirty years later, I am back again between these pages, amongst these unlikeable shapes. Now, I am doing this for the love of my youngest child, G. I remembered how much I hated studying these, so I want to make the learning experience as joyful as possible for G. I didn’t want her to grow old dreading big molecules.

So here I am, sitting at the kitchen table, rewriting her textbooks. I am adamant that she will not rote-learn the sequences as I did, so I took the story right back to the beginning, beyond the scope of the syllabus and exams, to come up with a system of learning that lights the fire in her.

Where did life begin?

We come from stardust, inorganic material from a cosmic explosion 13.8 billion years ago. But how did those cold, lifeless atoms become life?

She knew that first lifeforms were generally accepted to be cyanobacteria, but how did these ancient ancestors of ours come into being? How was life created from a soup of inorganic broth in the violent, young world?

As I began to retrace the paths of my long-ago days, I was, unexpectedly, suffused with happiness. For hours I sat at the dining table, halfway across the world from my childhood home, but remembering those wonderful days that my brother and I sat at the kitchen table in my mother’s sunny house in a little town in southern England whilst our mother bustled around helping us, making Welsh cakes. She had loved us so such, gave so selflessly, and in giving selflessly to my daughter, I felt the same happiness rising gloriously in me.

I never thought I would be doing this. I grew up believing that I am destined for great things, but I am becoming to realise at the end of my 48th year that the greatest thing one could do is to raise a family with love, rather than with resentment at the sacrifice. It is in this spirit that G’s father spends a large chunk of his week driving her around, from football practice to friends’ houses to parties.

I hope that in years to come, G will discover this surprise gift when she does the same for her child. I hope I have taught her to give selflessly, as my mother before me had given so selflessly. That is her legacy, transcribed in our maternal mitochondrial DNA.

It is indeed true that if one were never taught to give, one would not know how to do so. Perhaps it can be learned consciously, and it is a lesson well-worth learning because of the riches it brings.

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So what is life?

If we look at the basic building blocks of life, then it is something that has the innate ability to store, replicate and transmit information. At the heart of these processes is the ability to read and write the language of chemistry; all life processes are inherently chemical in nature. It gives us resilience and inheritance.

The simplest row of atoms strung together into a chain known as RNA (ribonucleic acid) possesses this innate ability for living, namely resilience and inheritance; life would be damned before it began without resilience and inheritance. The simplest RNA chains in which these qualities are supported were nucleotides made of a sugar with a base and a phosphate attached. Life began in earnest then.