Roasted root veggies -a quick, nutritious sides

My family’s staple is potatoes, and I sometimes get bored with roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, jacket potatoes and oven-fries. Here’s my variation:

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  1. Par boil root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beetroot, parsnips).
  2. Spread on a baking tray.
  3. Add chopped shallots, herbs (fresh and dried) and a sprinkling of salt.
  4. Drizzle generously with olive oil and bake in a preheated oven until cooked.

Because root vegetables grow underground, they absorb a great amount of nutrients from the soil. if you are bored with potatoes the classic ways or are grain-intolerant, try this.

A Little Sister For Christmas

There was a time when people thought it was not important to educate girls.

The story of Malala Yousafzai (born 12 July 1997), who fought hard for the education of girls in the Swat Valley in Northwest Pakistan under the Taliban rule brought world attention to the fact that though it is eschewed in the constitution of many countries, girls still have to fight for the right to be educated equally as boys. Rural girls in developing countries are still not getting the opportunities.


Last year, a man visited the British International School Phuket and brought a message of change and empowerment. The school, set amongst the hills of Phuket, is home to some 850 students, ranging in age from four to 18.


The visitor’s aim was to encourage privileged girls to help those who are less fortunate than them. Several girls visited an orphanage in India last April, and during their visit, they got to know one little girl who stood out amongst the rest. They wanted to give this little girl a chance to study at their school.

Together the girls took their idea to the Headmaster and to their great delight the management were willing to offer a scholarship place the school.  However, the school could not also support travel costs or the cost of laptop and uniform. This left the girls with a major challenge, but they refused to be put off.

And so, the project began with the International Women Association (IWA) Phuket and the school. Cosima Der Roche De La Baume, Emily Varley, Emiri Matsui and Sophie Duncan, all aged 15, threw themselves wholeheartedly into raising the necessary finances. Their target was to raise THB100,000 (approximately £2,255) by the New Year. So far, they have achieved 85% of their target via a series of well-planned fundraisers.

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Of course, there were the traditional bake sales. These were sold alongside tiny boxes of ‘love’, namely beautifully wrapped little keepsakes with a hear-warming message. A tennis tournament and a boot sale added to the girls’ coffers. The Christmas hamper raffle was a big contributor to the finances, as the hampers were filled with irresistible luxuries such as a Christmas cake, mincemeat and chocolates, to name but a few. An innovative project to make a quilt from donated secondhand uniforms is currently taking place, and the quilt will be auctioned off to help the girls meet their target.

All in all, it had been a really hardworking few months for Cosima, Emily, Emiri and Sophie as these hectic activities were happening in the midst of their IGCSEs.

“I think this experience has made us realise just how much time, effort and money has to go into changing the life of one individual. We all feel so proud to have been able to give a young girl the same opportunity that we take for granted. It has taken a long time to bring her to our school and it feels amazing to know we are making significant progress. We have gained much from this. This project has definitely developed our organisation and time management skills as well as educate us on the difficulty of changing the life of a young girl for the better.

“Our next steps are getting the girl settled into our school as well as provide her with everything she will need for her new life at BISP. This girl will then become our “adopted little sister” and the four of us will take on the role of making sure she settles into the school and her new life as quickly as possible. After that we will come up with a new project or find another girl or group of girls to help, although we have not thought this far ahead just yet.”

The gift of education, empowerment and lifelong friendships – what better gifts for Christmas than this modern trinity of incense, frankincense and myrrh.

Photo: The girls with their Christmas hamper winner.


Related article:


Pie n mash for my ‘arf Cockney child

I am a strong believer in teaching children about their heritage, and as I have half-Cockney children, they must eat pie n mash (though I draw a line at making jellied eels).

There are pie n mash shops all over South East London and the ‘house’ recipe, handed down from one generation to the next, is fiercely guarded. It is said that this recipe can make or break a pie n mash shop, so there is no chance for me to obtain one. Therefore, I did it in the simplest way possible.

The ingredients are of two parts: the meat and the pastry.

The meat:

500 grams of minced beef
1½ tablespoons of plain flour
250 ml of beef stock (I used Bisto)

(no, you can add anything else if you want authenticity – no onions)

Fry the meat, sprinkle on the flour and when browned, add the stock. Cook for a few minutes. There must be thick, slurry liquid in the pan. Cool.

The pastry:

350 grams of plain flour
200 grams of suet (I used Atora)
½ teaspoon of salt
Water (at least 400ml)

Method: Sieve the flour into a large bowl and carefully mix in the suet using a knife. Mix in the water. Knead until it feels like clay. Leave in the fridge for 30 mins. Then roll it out to about 2-3 mm thickness, line a pie dish with it. Spoon the meat into a pastry. Add a lid. Pierce some holes on the lid for steam to escape. Bake at 170 degrees until browned.

And there you ‘ave it, them bleedin’ good pies. Bees’ knees, they are.


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Teaching my daughter, the physicist’s way

I have little faith in any education system where fertile young brains are forced to drill, rote-learn and cram until they become bogged down, disenchanted and can’t see the trees for the woods. I could never fathom how this soul-destroying process could lead to independent thinking, analysing, introspecting, debating, challenging and ultimately, coming up with original new concepts. Yet schools talk glibly about creating ‘lifelong learners’.

I am a lifelong learner, but then, I wasn’t schooled in the conventional way. I did badly in exams, but I love learning. I am always excited – still, at 49 – whenever I find relationships connecting two seemingly discrete spheres, because after all, isn’t that what the holy grail of mathematics and physical sciences is, to find that one, grand, magical but elusive theory that explains EVERYTHING?

For relationships and connections – and hence, thinking – to happen, we have to build the discrete spheres up first. Thus, I am a strong proponent of good, solid, foundational knowledge in all subjects. There are no shortcuts, though arguably, Einstein took one of sorts.

The physicist Richard Feynmann, my hero, was a great believer in really, really knowing your subject rather than the superficial knowledge that might sound impressive or get good marks in exams.

And this is how I teach my children to think:

Always the human factor

I get annoyed when parents expect teachers to do everything. Typically, your child would have no more than 5 hours of his or her teacher’s time for a subject in school, whereas you have journeys in the car, at the dining table, at the supermarket checkout queue, etc, which add up to quite a lot of hours, to help your child formulate and solidify new concepts.

It gets more complicated (and fun, too) as your child grows older. Yesterday, on the car journey to church, we discussed how the Spanish Civil War influenced Hemingway’s writing. Yes, I am a great believer that learning should be an enjoyable, family pastime. It’s fun!


Explain complicated things simply

I wrote two books on theoretical physics. “Tell it to me simply, Mum!” Georgina said in exasperation each time I resorted to the comforting world of jargons. She forced me to explain these complicated concepts to her clearly, so that we both understood them, in plain and simple English.

Now, I am confident that I can explain Einstein’s Relativity – minus the equations, of course – to six-year-olds.

I wrote a suggestion for teaching Einstein’s Relativity to seventeen and eighteen-year-olds for the Times Education Supplement (link at the foot of this article).


Fill in the gaps

As you take a concept from A to Z, you will find that there are pieces missing in your knowledge. Find those missing pieces, so that you are able to take a concept from start to finish, with no shortcuts or gaps in the middle. Learning becomes exciting when you know the whole story.

Write/tell your own story

Encourage your child or students to teach the concept back to you, be it by giving you a mini-lecture or writing it in his or her own words. When you own the knowledge, it becomes part of you. It stops becoming a stranger, an insurmountable mountain or an ogre. We never stop talking.

That’s when learning takes off and becomes a lifelong pleasure.


The article on teaching physics can be found at the Times Education Supplement:

Jacqueline Koay’s book for Young Adults, is An Evening In Wonderland – A Brief Story of Maths, Physics & The Universe


Quick mini mince pies

For us, mince pies are the taste of Christmas. I don’t even like them, if truth is to be told, but they are so evocative of Christmas that I couldn’t resist making my cheat’s version (as I am unable to buy mince or suet where I am).


1 portion shortcrust or puff pastry

4oz raisins

4 oz sultanas

4 oz currants

4 oz brown sugar

Grated rind of 1/2 an orange and 1/2 a lemon

2 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

3 tbsp brandy

Apricot jam (for the pastry)

How to:

Mix the ingredients and allow to soak overnight. Roll the pastry and cut into tiny cups. Brush with warmed and sieved apricot jam. Spoon the soaked mince meat into the cups. You may decorate the cups with left0ver pastry. Brush with milk and sprinkle with brown sugar.

Bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees) until browned.

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Children get their intelligence from their mums – NO.

It is headline-grabbing but rather thin on the science. If I had published that as a research article, my supervisors would have slain me. Well, serious peer-reviewed journals wouldn’t have published it anyway. And who are the authors and affiliated institutions?


There is an article that is making its round on the social media circuit, namely that a new “study” shows that children get their intelligence from their mothers. Intelligence, apparently, is carried in the X-chromosomes, of which women have two (men have XY). This study was published in a psychology blog and the article is not peer-reviewed.

Even with my limited biology knowledge, I find this claim dubious. A person gets half their chromosomes from mum, and half from dad. Thus, one half of mum’s intelligence-dwelling X chromosomes came from HER DAD anyway! So this headline-grabbing article falls on the first logic test. And hey, even men do have an X-chromosomes, though admittedly, they do not pass this to their offspring.

Moreover, the DNA unravels and combines in the most magical way that we don’t yet know about – the way they splice, cut, repair, meld, sew up. And it is not the whole X-chromosome that is about intelligence, maybe just a variant within the gene. And I don’t think geneticists know which particular variant is responsible for ‘intelligence’.

We are also just beginning to know that the same DNA sequence can be read differently, depending on the chemical markers.

And what is intelligence? It is the complex relationships between neurons and synapses that allow for recollections, memory, analysis, logic. The ‘best’ grade neurons and synapses, if not trained to fire effectively, are as useless as electrical circuits without a power supply.

Sure, it is headline-grabbing. And as mentioned, I have limited but strong foundational knowledge in biology, but even to a layperson like me, it doesn’t sit right.

But what I know for a fact is that my children get their emotional intelligence from their father. “Intelligence” needs other factors to make it work, like providing the right environment for developing brains, teaching young children how to think, creating safety in the brain so that the right triggers are fired.

My children’s father has this intuitive way of making little people feel special. It’s as if he is a gardener, only that he grows his little children instead of flowers. And his garden blooms very well, because it is his life’s work. So maybe there is the intelligence there, to focus on the task (whatever it may be), be grounded in faith and following our inner wisdom instead of fad. To learn to be kind always, to laugh a lot, to take a balanced view on achievements and most importantly, to nurture others.

Perhaps this is a better definition of intelligence.