Parmesan-crusted chicken cutlet and creamy potato gratin (and “free” lunch)

It’s a good time to go back to eating frugally these days, I think, and a fun challenge too. Because of the lockdown, we try to make do with what we have in the house, and this calls for ‘creative cooking’, namely making resources stretch and experimenting with substitution.

I am making parmesan and garlic chicken with lemon and butter sauce for dinner. And then it occurred to me that I could debone the chicken to make a wholesome soup out of chicken bones, to which I could add spinach leaves and pasta to make another meal out of.

Recipe for the chicken:

  1. Debone two chicken quarters.
  2. Mix 2 cloves of minced garlic in one lightly beaten egg. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Marinade the chicken in the mixture for a few hours, better overnight.
  4. Mix half a cupful of flour with quarter a cupful of grated parmesan cheese.
  5. Coat the chicken in the mix.
  6. Fry in hot oil until the surface is slightly browned.
  7. Bake in oven for 30 minutes to cook the meat, and until the skin is crunchy.
  8. To make the sauce: saute 3 cloves of garlic in 6 tablespoons of butter. Add some chicken stock (about ¼ a cupful). Simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce achieves the right consistency and smells fragrant. Season to taste.
  9. Pour sauce over the chicken. Serve piping hot.

Recipe for the potato gratin:

  1. Peel, rinse and pat-dry potatoes. Slice the potatoes thinly. (I used about 1 kg)
  2. In a large pan, place the sliced potatoes, 1 clove of garlic, 4 fl oz of milk, 4 floz of double cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a pan.
  3. Simmer gently until the cream has thickened.
  4. Remove from heat. Stir in about 100g of grated cheddar or gruyere until the cheese melts.
  5. Butter an oven-safe dish. Transfer the potato mixture into the dish. Top with more cheese if you like.
  6. Bake until the top is golden brown and the potatoes soft.

thumbnail_IMG_9255

Recipe for the soup:

  1. Boil chicken bones with ginger, spring onions, carrots and whatever vegetables you have.
  2. Add a tablespoon of vinegar to extract the marrow.
  3. Boil for about a couple of hours.
  4. Season with salt and pepper at the end of cooking time. Add spinach.
  5. Cook the pasta separately and add to the soup (this goes better with smaller pasta but I didn’t have any at home).

thumbnail_IMG_9178

So good that I made it again a couple of days later.

thumbnail_IMG_9309

 

Waldorf way for adults

Since the youngest of my children left home, I have not thought much about the Waldorf way of living, a philosophy that I felt was very important when it comes to raising and educating children.

Until Woy.

He showed me endlessly that we must not stop believing in magic or stop cultivating a magical space for ourselves – adults need magic, too, and a sense of wonder, a connection to our past, and a desire to live joyously wherever we find ourselves.

I used to grow children, now I am his co-grower of plants. He grows things – anything! – cultivates discarded plants, germinates seeds, hums whilst he nurtures the green beings.

“Why do you bother taking cuttings?” I asked him. “You can buy these tiny cacti for about £2, and they never work, anyway.”

He answered. “Every morning when I wake up, I am excited to see how these babies are doing. That’s hope.”

I too have begun looking forward to checking the progress of his ‘babies’ every morning. We now have all sorts of things growing in our tiny patio, from flowers (that I love) to herbs, lettuce, celery, chilli, spring onions, and potatoes.  And that daily hope in Nature brings me closer to the world I live in. It opens my eyes to the more sublime wonders of the universe too, not just the spectacular shooting stars but dewdrops trapped in cobwebs, the birth of new birds, the microscopic pattern of fern spores. The present and the future, if you like, in the fingerprints of everyday living that we often remain blind to. Yet hope and wonder elevate existence into joyous living – for what is the purpose of life, without these twin beacons to guide us to our best selves?

Hope and wonder are good things to cultivate in human beings, but we also need a connection to our past, to keep us grounded, as per the old adage: wings and roots. You can’t get either through academic or career achievements – these are the temporary highs, because when you take your last breath, it is just you and the world, making your peace with the life you have led. As you bring yourself into the present and the future, as embodied by blooming flowers and growing seeds, you seek too for your past to complete the trinity, to keep the triangle of life poised in beautiful balance. Understanding where you come from forms the foundation of the Waldorf calendar – I remember teaching my children about festivals and celebrations, from pagan times to giving thanks daily for where we are today.

But where to find that? Do we have to buy books, enrol in courses, invest in learning?

“All we ever need, we were born with,” Woy often says.

Because we don’t share a common love of literature, he picked up the Bible one evening, totally out of the blue, and read a passage out loud. “I didn’t think you’re that religious,” I said in surprise.

“Well, it’s our history, isn’t it?” He said. “Story of humanity.” He often tells the story of his childhood in communist Poland, the story of his parents and grandparents, with all its attendant hardships and celebrations.

And so, as we confine ourselves in splendid isolation in our little nest, I begin to write the story of my mother’s people, the Celts. I find, to my surprise, that there are many commonalities between our parents’ and grandparents’ stories, despite the different countries and different languages.

“What did I tell you?” He laughs. “It’s the story of humanity, Jacq! It’s agnostic to borders and it speaks in a unified tongue. Dig deep and it’s there.”

And with that, he steps out into our small garden, to breathe in the fresh air and to admire the clear skies above him, leaving me to marvel at his words and write them down.

thumbnail_IMG_9082

thumbnail_IMG_9118

thumbnail_IMG_9097

Polish Sauerkraut Soup

He is off travelling for business on Monday.

“I will cook you posniacki, so that you will think of home and me when you are in the US,” I told him as we ate breakfast on this beautiful Saturday morning in January.

“Posniacki?” He looked alarmed. “Are you sure?”

“Of course!”

“Bosnian people? You will cook Bosnian people?” He stared at me incredulously.

“No, silly, sauerkraut soup!”

“Oh, KAPUŚNIAK!” He exclaimed. “Honestly, you’re the limit!”

Anyway, here’s the Polish sauerkraut soup. One problem is we cannot get Polish sauerkraut in central London, only German ones, as most Polish stores are in the suburbs. Still, it didn’t taste too bad as I used homemade beef stock. Here’s my version:

INGREDIENTS:

  1. ½ rack of pork ribs
  2. 6 slices of thick smoked bacon, roughly chopped
  3. Pork meatballs
  4. 1 jar sauerkraut
  5. 1 large onion, chopped
  6. 2 potatoes, cubed
  7. 2 carrots, sliced
  8. 2 pints good quality beef stock (if you can’t be bothered to make this, but it fresh from Waitrose or local butcher’s)
  9. Butter
  10. ½ tsp majoram
  11. ½ tsp caraway seeds
  12. 4 bay leaves
  13. 1 tsp all-spice
  14. Pinch of sugar
  15. Salt and pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Cut ribs into single bones and season with salt and pepper. Fry in butter to seal the taste but not burnt.
  2. Add stock and the spices and simmer until tender (approx. 90 minutes).
  3. Whilst this is simmering, saute the bacon and onion in butter.
  4. Pour the bacon and onion (including the fat) into the pot with ribs.
  5. Add the sauerkraut.
  6. 20 minutes before serving, add the potatoes and carrots and simmer on low heat.
  7. Serve piping hot.

(Note: I also added some wild mushrooms in).

Whilst it’s simmering away, have some vodka (chilled in the freezer) to get into the mood.

Note on sauerkraut: Polish ones are different. I will make some soon. Must speak to mama first. But today, I used German ones which are more vinegary – so rinse first if you like a milder taste.

Photo on 04-01-2020 at 16.21 #4

My friendly concierge, who gave me her honest verdict before I served it.

IMG_7363.jpg

Chicken Soup (for the soul)

The best dish in the world is chicken soup made by someone you love especially for you. I had quite forgotten the magic of this simple soup that nourishes the soul until someone who loves me made it for me a week ago. He said, with a wry smile, there are seven jewels of Asia in it.

I paid if forward today and made it for someone I love deeply. I can’t quite figure out all the seven jewels of Asia, but here’s my version:

  1. 1 organic chicken quarter (I used chicken breast)
  2. 10 red Chinese dates
  3. A quarter cupful of goji berries
  4. A fee shitake mushrooms
  5. 3 cloves garlic, roughly smashed
  6. 3/4 inch ginger
  7. 1 chilli (or less)
  8. Szechuan peppercorns
  9. Bok choi
  10. For garnish: fresh flat leaf parsley
  11. For garnish: spring onions
  12. Salt and pepper

Boil everything except the boy choitogether (I boiled mine for 2 hours, with a dash of cider vinegar). In the last 2 minutes before serving, add the book choi. Season and garnish. Serve with love ❤

(I love the delicate flavour of this version, as opposed to my usual more hearty one)

Healthy sweets – natural energy balls

Screenshot 2019-08-30 at 19.04.46

I almost bought this, but in the same shop a few feet away, there were bags of nuts and dried fruits for sale at a remarkable price: buy one and get the second bag for 1p.

So instead of paying £1.99 for ONE energy ball, I bought a few ingredients and made twelve. Here are the ingredients of my version:

  • 2 cups medjool dates, pitted
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut (save some for rolling the energy balls in)
  • 1/4 cup carob powder
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure Madagascar vanilla essence

Blend everything on the list until smooth.

Mix with a handful of pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Roll in 1/2 cup of desiccated coconut. Shape into balls and store in a airtight container. If you keep in the fridge, they will be a little hard but still yummy. They don’t last that long in my house 🙂

Screenshot 2019-08-30 at 19.00.18.png

Removing shoes (and fear)

Living without fear

I wrote Barefoot In The City – Raising Happy, Strong Kids whilst living in the middle of a busy city, where the skyline had been replaced by skyscrapers and trees cut down to make way for developments – schools, shopping malls, towering condominium blocks. People who knew this place before ‘progress’ came often talked about the monkeys swinging on the trees and butterflies dancing in the still afternoon air. On weekends when we drove out of the city into the receding rainforest, we used to see families of monkeys migrating, sometimes walking single-file along the sides of the motorway, in search of a new home. Once, we witnessed something rather distressing – a baby monkey had been run over by the savage traffic and its mother was howling in despair whilst trying to retrieve her child’s corpse as juggernauts and cars thundered uncaringly by.

My children’s father stopped the car and risked his life to help the monkey.  Many years on, I still berate him for dicing with death in front of his children.

“It’s precisely because my children were watching that I did what I did,” he said with his usual confidence.

He wanted to show them another way of being, namely one where we are all part of the same existence and are somehow connected to everyone and everything. And crucially, we cannot afford to lose that connection, because it is, quite simply, fundamental to life. Children know this wisdom instinctively – this is why they are fearless until we teach them fear from a misguided and skewed perspective. Behind our concrete walls, metallic cages and certificates of achievements, we live fearful of nature and fearful of our true nature, becoming more and more estranged each year.

Being connected again

When we moved to the city from a sleepy seaside town in southern England, my youngest daughter refused to wear shoes for months. She would insist on going barefooted everywhere (hence the title of my parenting book), to the chagrin of most people. Her father just laughed and rejoiced in his daughter’s fight to walk barefoot in a world peopled by folks wearing shoes. We couldn’t figure this out for the longest time, until a wise person told us that 4-year-old Georgina was struggling to stay connected to nature. He complimented us for not forcing her to go against her inner knowing, because after all, dirty feet can easily be washed clean.

In the light of this understanding, we set out to make our city home as close to nature as we possibly could, and it was the best thing we could do for Georgina. She grew strong and fearless, with compassion and a surprising soft spot for animals and vulnerable beings. Though she claims she can’t swim, she was happy enough as a child to swim for miles out in the Javanese sea without any buoyancy aid and she understood sea life as taught by the visionary Roderick des Tombes, the first of her many life teachers. We realised that indeed, she couldn’t swim in the school swimming pool, but she was fine in the open ocean. I think she has the ocean and the earth and the stars within her, even though she now lives in grey and concrete south London.

Screenshot 2019-08-20 at 20.20.28

Last Sunday, at a convention held at the University of Greenwich, London, I listened to a Cree woman from Canada speak about her people. “My people are very sick,” were the words she began her lecture with. She talked about the sickness of her people that came from losing their connection to the land as they became a marginalised population, pushed out by ‘civilisation’. Jazmin Pirozek is an ethnobotanist and had studied phytochemistry, amongst her many deeply spiritual, mystical learnings. She travelled far, to the depths of South America, to find a cure for her people. There, she met her teacher, Juan Flores Salazaar, who taught her many things about healing.

This is Jazmin’s story:

The Legend of Miskwedo

Once upon a time, there were two brothers. Their parents were killed during the Great Migration and they only had each other. One day, because they were hungry, the younger brother ran with abandon into a field of amanita that people were fearful of. To the older brother’s horror, the younger brother began changing form – he was slowly changing into an amanita.

Screenshot 2019-08-20 at 20.27.01

The older brother sought help from the villagers, who told him that to change his younger brother back into a boy again, he (the older brother) had to gather some special sand and put it in a deerskin pouch. And then he had to get three eagle feathers from the largest eagle (known as thunderbird, because it was so huge and fearsome). The thunderbird’s nest was perched on the branches of the highest tree, and the base of the tree was a minefield of vicious stinging nettles. But for the love of his younger brother, the older brother completed his herculean tasks and restored his younger brother back into his boy form.

One night, in the middle of the night, the older brother woke up and discovered that his younger brother was not in the wigwam. In panic, he rushed out and looked for his younger brother. He finally found his younger brother in the middle of a field covered with amanita. His younger brother had one hand on the amanita and slowly changing form again. And as he was changing form, he was speaking to a large gathering of people.

“I am happy,” he said.

(Note: this is a brief retelling of Jazmin’s magical tale. You can get the full version here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02791072.1979.10472089?needAccess=true&journalCode=ujpd19).

The field of amanita

In The Legend of Miskwedo, the field of amanita was described so beautifully, “handsome wajashkwedeg they were – turning and revolving, buzzing and murmuring, singing a strange song of happiness under the brilliantly sunny sky”.

We dream of finding such a field as we carry on with our daily lives. “It does not exist,” we tell ourselves, not daring to believe in the improbable.

But let me share a secret with you – pieces of this field do exist in yourworld. You only have to open your eyes and rid the fear in your heart to see it, the true nature of the universe in every grain of sand.

68678744_705919786521696_8839972108910985216_n

Photo: The beauty of small things, Singapore 2016

68754112_705917453188596_8249523249419911168_n

Photo: Teaching the next generation about the world we live in – edible plants, London 2017

About Jazmin: https://www.breakingconvention.co.uk/speaker-JazminPirozek.html

Photo of amanita mascara: public domain image Albin Schmalfuß Führer für Pilzfreunde : die am häufigsten vorkommenden essbaren, verdächtigen und giftigen Pilze / von Edmund Michael ; mit 68 Pilzgruppen, nach der Natur von A. Schmalfuss [1] https://dx.doi.org/10.5962/bhl.title.3898

Main photo: author’s copyright Phuket 2018

Adobo – a much-loved Filipino dish

My youngest child’s godmother is Filipino, and when she and her daughter came to stay with me in London for a few days, I decided to make her national dish. It does take a lot of work but it is well worth it – what a heart-warming comfort food! It was actually a joint effort – I started it off and she finished the cooking process. This is our version (she added Worcestershire sauce and fried onions and fried garlic as garnishing).

Step 1:

Pork belly, preferably with a thick layer of fat

¼ cup salt

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp ground black pepper

1 star anise

3 bay leaves

3 cloves garlic chopped

1/3 cup soy sauce

2 tbsp cider vinegar

1 cup water

Cut the pork into thick long strips, about 1 inch wide.

Mix all other ingredients thoroughly and pour over the pork. Marinade the pork in this overnight (I do this in a casserole dish that I just put into the oven the next day).

The next day, roast the pork in its marinade, after wrapping it on top with parchment paper and wrapping the top of the casserole dish with tin foil.

Bake in an oven (235F/160C) for approximately 3 hours.

Put on a wire rack to cool and then refrigerate overnight.

Step 2:

Deep fry the pork in hot oil until the skin is crispy. Slice the thick pork strips up.

Step 3 (making the gravy)

1 cup water

1 cup soy sauce

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp sunflower oil

3 bay leaves

2 tbsp black pepper

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/3 cup cider vinegar

2/3 cup coconut milk (this is optional, Rona said her daughter prefers it without).

Bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes until rich and thick.

Step 4:

Heat up the pork and put in the gravy.

Fry sliced onions and garlic in sunflower oil to garnish.

Slice spring onions to garnish.

Serve with boiled rice and poached eggs. This is our simple Filipino dinner.

Screenshot 2019-07-22 at 08.45.24.png

PS: It tastes even better as leftover. Woy took it to work in a Tupperware – rice at the bottom, meat ladled on top and sauteed vegetables on the side. he said it’s almost as good as his bigos, the Polish national dish – recipe coming up next!

67185364_685483861898622_4199779894323838976_n

 

Teaching resonance

I am teaching Woy about flowers, and by extension, about me. I am not a ‘flowery’ sort of person, I would say, but nonetheless, living blooms (never plastic ones) are very much a part of me. This is because I grew up surrounded by my mother’s flowers – I see my mother’s warmth and ever-present smile in the petals and stamens and green leaves that she filled my childhood home up with. Now, decades later, there would still be flowers in my old bedroom whenever I go home.

Once, I went home to my parents’ house when they were abroad, and I was bereft when I walked into the drawing room and my bedroom. They were devoid of my mother’s blooms. It was like the whole place was lifeless and dead.

In the beginning, Woy would bring me big bunches of yellow chrysanthemums, still in the polythene wrapper. They sit awkwardly in my flat, amongst the things of my life – a watercolour painting of Yorkshire from my much-loved aunt, a crystal decanter from my dad, old Welsh placemats from my parents’ house,  a silver Victorian candlestick holder.

“Well, I can’t really bring you roses, can I?” He mused. “Do you like lilies, orchids? What do you like?”

“You’ll find out.”

One day, when we were in Waitrose, I picked up a bunch of Sweet Williams and held it up triumphantly to Woy.

“They look like weeds,” he said. “But for some reason, I know these are the type of flowers you love.”

He asked, “What are they called?”

Sweet Williams.

He googled them. “Hmmm, no particular history or anything. But they’re like you, aren’t they? Child of the many countries, hardy and tough. But they still look like weeds.” He shoved them into vases and jars as I put the shopping away.

61602034_653380038442338_624222244628856832_n

“Woy,” I said to him. “Learn to see their beauty.”

“What do you mean?”

They’re not just weeds.

There’s a permanence in their impermanence, a stoicism in their delicacy, and I love their lack of pretence, their defiance, their ordinariness. Sweet Williams last a long time. A £5 bunch would last almost two weeks if you look after them (chop off the ends every 4-5 days, feed them with lemonade).

A couple of weeks ago, I had an accident on my bicycle. Woy filled my home with Sweet Williams, but this time, he arranged them with much thought behind his actions. I was completely blown away by the sweetness of his flower arrangements. They resonate with our home, our life, our way of living.

“I listened,” he said simply.

file-100

file2-6

file3-3

And yes, they are still well after 2 weeks, in my drawing room, my bathroom and my bedroom. I shall have to call rename them Sweet Woys.

 

 

 

Strength from within

Note: This is a religious post.

******

I am sad that this little bookshop, in the shadows of Westminster Cathedral, is closing.  The lease is up for renewal, and this small humble business could no longer afford to keep going. It had been an important part of my children’s life – the shop sold lovely picture books and cute stationery that my children used to spend their money on after church.

I am a strong believer in religious education (which is part of religious life) for children. In our Catholic faith, children attend Sunday school, which gives them another perspective of the material, immediate-gratification world that they live in. And it is always good for children to have another perspective, especially one where the theme is do good, be kind, forgive.

It teaches a child that you are loved, even if you are naughty. You always have a friend in God.  OK, you might say that God does not exist (who could tell?) but even if He does not, the belief that you are loved and not alone in your vulnerable times makes a world of difference. I think it makes you strong on the inside.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 9.21.39Photo: My youngest daughter in the sweet little church we go to in Phuket – far from home, we found belonging here.

More than anything, religion teaches young people to believe in something else greater than the self and now. There is always a better tomorrow, and that there is life beyond this one. We are here for a reason, so what you are going through is just part of the journey called life. I think that’s a very powerful tool in helping children, especially teenagers, to get over the tough times, to take them out of the me, me, me mode which could be overwhelming.

Social groups in church gives children an escape from school life, which is not always rosy. I think it is important that children and teenagers learn how to integrate with society, and I love the fact that my children hang out with a different group than their usual social set via the church. For example, as expat kids, my children lived a privileged life of international schools, but on Sundays, they went for their Catechism in a local school where there was no air-conditioning, no carpets on the floor and where they had to share rickety wooden desks. They had a new set of friends which taught them as much as the Catechism – adaptability, humility, accepting differences, gratitude, love.

The good thing is you can leave the church anytime (after you are 18, as I told my children), but it will never leave you. It will always be there like a patient teacher. Recently, my mother told me to look for inner beauty – she sensed I needed it. But where do I find inner beauty in the hustle bustle of my current life?

I kind of forgot what my mother asked of me until Sunday, when I walked into Westminster Cathedral, a couple of minutes late, and Gloria was being sung.  The beautiful voices of the choir rose high up and filled the whole cathedral. I thought to myself, I have learned to find meaning here, in God’s refuge, and whatever troubling thoughts I had that week settled in the face of inner beauty. Yes, my religion gives me strength and I hope it does for my children too in today’s challenging world.

Here’s Gloria, by the Westminster Cathedral Choir.

How dishonest are you?

49709888_581084515671891_2553867728356114432_n

This is my son Jack when he was a little boy (he is 25 now). When he was around 8 or so, we were on the plane and he started feeling sick. We gave him the sick bag provided by the airline, the generic one that you can find in front of every seat on the plane.

In any event, Jack did not throw up, but was still looking rather green on the gills when we landed. We told him to take the bag with him, just in case.

He looked very concerned and asked us, “Am I allowed to remove this from the plane?”

Of course, we laughed. It’s just a cheap – almost worthless – paper bag, right?

Read on….

******

We have been duped many times in our lives. We just don’t know it. I am no exception. A few years ago, I was badly duped. Not only did it cost me money but also two years of my life which is a whole lot more precious than money.

When I confronted the person who so callously strung me along, I was met with a barrage of very earnest denial. That person denied that was what happened, despite the overwhelming evidence and facts. He genuinely believed that he acted in good faith. For a while, I doubted him. Now, incredibly, I do believe him. Who knows, I may be guilty of doing the same too, in my everyday life, to several people, unwittingly.

Thanks to my psychologist friend (we continue to talk about this), who sent me this illuminating book:

51wgwm1asrl._sx330_bo1,204,203,200_

Here’s the video (well worth watching):

 

No, it is not to moralise, but to think about our rationale. So perhaps my little Jack was behaving correctly all along, when he wanted to ask permission to remove a worthless paper bag from the plane….because it is so easy to slip from stealing something infinitely more valuable. Mea culpa.