Polish cabbage soup – my way!

This is simply the best for cold, summer evenings, and so easy too! Looks like an awfully long list of ingredients, but they’re all store cupboard stuff.

Ingredients:

  1. 500g mince
  2. 1 medium cabbage
  3. 1 onion
  4. 1 carrot
  5. 1 large tomato, chopped
  6. 1 cup jasmine rice
  7. 6 cloves garlic cloves
  8. olive oil
  9. 5 cups beef stock
  10. 1 cup red wine
  11. 1 cup tomato juice
  12. 4 tbsp tomato paste
  13. 4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  14. 1 tbsp Tabasco sauce
  15. 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Spices:

  1. 2 bay leaves
  2. 1 bunch parsley
  3. 1 tbsp oregano
  4. Spring onions (optional)
  5. Salt and pepper
  • Brown the mince in olive oil. Add the other vegetables and stir for a couple of minutes over medium heat. Add everything else and cook for as long as possible over low heat, making sure that the consistency is soupy, because it tastes soooo good as soup.

Cornish pasties, best of British cuisine

A long time ago, my mum told me that the edges were crimped so miners could hold the pasties with their dirty hands to eat, and then the crusts would be thrown away. I love Cornish pasties, but the problem is, the mass-produced, cheap ones taste nothing like the real thing. I hated the plastic-tasting pastry and the bland, poor quality meat of the ones that you buy packaged in supermarkets.

Thus, I would always buy Genuine Cornish Pasty from the cart whenever I am in Waterloo station or arriving at Gatwick to fly off somewhere. Imagine my delight when I found the recipe online, from the Cornish Pasty Association!

As pastry is not my thing, I was slightly apprehensive. But the recipe was easy to follow and tada…..made my own! It was so delicious, the pastry was flavoursome and the filing (despite being just beef, swede, bit of carrots and onions) was so moist, juicy and tasty.

PS: Important thing is to really go over-the-top with (good quality) pepper, as it is the only seasoning, and so yummy when you take a bite and taste the beef and pepper.

Full recipe here:

http://www.cornishpastyassociation.co.uk/about-the-pasty/make-your-own-genuine-cornish-pasty/

Teaching children to love ferns and other unloved things

A few weeks ago, I was walking in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight with my youngest son when his large clumsy puppy trod on a tiny fern with her big feet.

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I brought the little plant home and nursed it. It is now thriving in a little recycled sauce jar at home, serving as a reminder for me of that beautiful day in September.

And here’s an interesting thing about ferns: this little plant’s ancestors dates back hundreds of million years, older than dinosaurs! They were alive on earth long before plants that need flowers and cones appeared – ferns spread their genetic materials by primitive spores.

And here’s another interesting thing about ferns: most of the fossil fuel we burn are ferns and fern-like plants laid down in the Carboniferous period (300-360 million years ago).

Ferns, though not as stunning as later plants, are wonderfully resilient and have been there since the earth was young. We should help our children to grow eyes to see them…..I read these beautiful words written by Nicolette Sowder:

May we raise children

who love the unloved

things – the dandelion, the

worms and spiderlings.

Children who sense

the rose needs the thorn

& run into windswept days

the same way they

turn towards the sun ….

And when they are grown and

someone has to speak for those

who have no voice

may they draw upon that

wilder bond, those days of

tending tender things

and be the ones.

The girl who wanted a remote control car

There was once a little girl who really, really wanted a remote control car.

Though her older brother allowed her to play with his car occasionally, she wanted one of her own. She wanted a red one with black stripes, and her name emblazoned on the driver’s door.

She was told that God answers prayers, and that God gives good little girls what they pray for. And so, she tried her best to be good and she prayed.

And then one day, a box arrived for her. She was so happy, convinced that it was her remote control car.

Imagine her disappointment when she tore open the wrapper and saw a box of Airfix car (though the box had mechanical parts and transistor batteries). It was a remote control car, but it had to be built. You might not be familiar, but Airfix was the common toy back in the seventies and eighties, where children have to assemble the planes, or tanks, or cars, from fiddly bits of plastic and glue.

The girl was disappointed. She was expecting a car that she could just take out of the box and flick the ‘on’ switch.

But the fact that her dream car came in humble pieces of plastic taught her a big lesson. That faith alone will not solve your problems, whatever the religion.

And if you are spiritual/agnostic/ not into religion, saying positive affirmations without the actual effort will not get you where you hope to arrive at or give you the good things you think you deserve. You only get what you want if you put in the elbow grease – prayers and positive affirmations do help, but only if you do the actual heavy lifting and sweat.

Photo: I saw this Airfix in an old-style toy shop in Sandown, Isle of Wight, last week.

For the love of fossils

I remember going fossil hunting with my parents. My father would carry a Stanley knife and a Tupperware in his rucksack, and we would sift through the stones on the beach or pick at the protruding face of the cliff. My mum, with a big smile on her face, would say, “You have to be on your knees for two hours before you find something.”

With the earnestness of youth, we would tread where my parents led, faithfully believing in the magic of our ‘finds’. My mum would say, “Imagine, Jack, you could be the first person to see this in hundred million years!”

On good days, we would find whole ammonites. They are creatures that were related to squids and octopuses you can see today, but they’re all extinct – they died out at the same time as dinosaurs. Trilobites were strange creatures, which were even older than ammonites (ammonites = 200 million years; trilobites = 400 million years). They are even more rare than ammonites. 

What we often found were the piece of rock containing a single shell of the bivalve Aviculopectin planoradiatus. Or belemnites, gastropods and fossilised plants.

I was perplexed that my friends scorned at my precious treasures. “They’re just bits of old shells!” My friends would scorn (but these are filled with old history).

Indeed. Pragmatically speaking, they are just little bits of something or other that no longer have relevance in today’s world. Yet my parents would invest hours each time teaching us to love these parts of a shell, a bone, a part of a forest when they world was still young. Would it not have been time better spent if these hundreds of hours were spent studying, learning a musical instrument, excelling in a sport? Instead, I learned the names of fossils and seaweeds, and committed them to my memory for life.

You would think so, but today, walking on the Jurassic Coast of my beloved southern England of my youth, I suddenly realised the true value of all those hours spent combing the beaches looking for insignificant pieces of antiquity. We looked at the exposed faces of the cliff and found so many treasures there – I was more excited than I would have been if I had been confronted with a shop full of designer gear.

I realised that my parents were teaching me how to fall in love with the world I live in, to celebrate meaningful little things rather than glorify flashy impermanent stuff, and most of all, to be in awe of mighty Mother Nature …. these fragments are the pieces that compile our heritage as human beings, custodians of the earth.  

PS. Look at this lump of rock below. My friend and I marvelled over it for ages. The evenly spaced grooves could be hewn out of the mechanical action of the sea over millions of years. Or it could be made by some prehistoric man’s tools.

Why we build forts

Fort-building is an important part of the Waldorf syllabus. Why, you might ask. We live in modern times and we live in modern houses, and we are so far removed from the lives of folks who need forts.

However, psychologists, along with educators in the field, have taken a keen interest in fort building, as this has a lot to do with creating safe spaces for children. New York’s City University’s environmental psychologist, Roger Hart, first noticed secret space building and its importance in the 1970s and specifically noted the psychological importance these places for children in terms of control and order.

I also think building forts grows that all-important sense of empowerment in a child – the adult world often appears beyond their control, and thus, to be able to build one’s own safe environment is empowering.

So I took my friend’s triplets fort-building in a medieval forest of Hampshire. 

We scouted the woods for the perfect location – we discussed the criteria. It has to be safe, it has to be accessible, it has to have enough space for cooking fire, etc. After wandering around the woods in ponderously amidst heated discussions, we chose a copse – because we liked the spot, but also because of the abundance of raw material from the coppicing. 

Now we have the raw materials. How do we stop a pile of wood from falling on each other?

Here, the ancient country ways came in useful. There is a particular methodology that is far more efficient than modern engineering – just look at the dry stone walls; Some dry stone wall constructions in north-west Europe have been dated back to the Neolithic Age. I used to watch these skilled artisans build dry stone walls in my relative’s estate and marvelled at the fact that these simplistic constructions will still be standing long after I am gone.

And so, we spent a magical day in the medieval forest building a den that looked like covens of long-ago witches. We sat inside our primitive den and felt its powerful vibes. But for me, the most important lesson for these three children is learning to use their hands to build the proverbial shelter. Because someday, they are going to be someone’s spouse, someone’s parent, and there is no higher expression of love than protecting and nurturing another being.

A very rich and moist chocolate (and Guinness) cake

I don’t like cakes and I don’t like sweets. But I love dark chocolate. And it’s hard to find chocolate cakes that are moist (instead of dry and crumbly) with that heavy, chocolatey taste. After some experimenting, here’s my recipe.

Note (important):

  1. DO NOT substitute Guinness for anything else (it’s OK for kids – cooking evaporates off the alcoholic content and Guinness is full of goodness anyway);
  2. DO NOT use cheap cocoa, which will give you an insipid, synthetic taste. This is what I used. I think it’s only £3 anyway:

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  • 130g unsalted butter
  • 110ml Guinness
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 200g light brown sugar
  • 100ml whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 175g plain flour
  • ¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • tiny pinch of salt

Sieve the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda together. Melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the Guinness and cocoa powder. When the mixture cools slightly, so as not to cook the eggs, stir in the other ingredients.

Mix throughly. Poured into a greased cake pan and bake in a preheated oven at 160-180 degrees, or until the fork comes out clean when poked into the cake.

You can see the texture….so good!

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Breakfast in bed – instructions for non-cooks

Breakfast in bed – cooked breakfast in bed – is such a treat.But what happens if you are the cook in your household, and no one else you live with can cook even the basics?

Here’s my tip: even children can manage to make this (under supervision of an adult, of course, who doesn’t have to know how to cook).

  1. Save an old milk carton. Wash and dry it properly.
  2. Put all the dry ingredients for the pancake batter into the milk carton the night before.
  3. All your non-cook then has to do the next morning is add in a cup of milk and an egg and half a tablespoon of butter, shake hard, and cook. There are surprisingly little lumps in the pancake.

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DRY INGREDIENTS FOR THE PANCAKE BATTER (enough for four fluffy pancakes):

  1. 120g flour
  2. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  3. 1 tablespoon sugar
  4. 1 pinch salt.

The next morning, add:

  1. 1 egg
  2. 1 cup milk (240ml)
  3. 2 tablespoon melted butter (or oil)

Screw the lid on the milk carton and shake HARD and vigorously to ensure that there are no lumps. Cook with a little butter in a pancake pan or ordinary pan over the stove (note: we bought a cheap pancake pan from Lakelands and it has been a good investment).

I was very impressed when my non-cook brought me this in bed this morning x

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Bouillabaisse

This recipe is from my friend Nico’s French cook, Madame LeFavre. Quite painstaking, I would say, but et voila, you get this achingly sophisticated and authentic French soup.

Step 1:

Boil together salmon bones or prawn skins (the more the better) in a pot of water, together with the peel of one large orange, peppercorns and a bay leaf.

In addition, I added 1 carrot and half an onion (for sweetness and heartiness), though Madame sniffed haughtily when I told her what I did.

Boil for a few hours, until you have a rich broth. Aim to end up with about 10 cupfuls of broth.

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Step 2:

To make the base, sweat 1 finely chopped onion, one leek and 1 fennel bulb in olive oil. Add 8 cloves of garlic. Cook until softened, then add 6 chopped tomatoes.

The herbs Madame uses are fresh thyme, fresh marjoram and saffron. I added some basil leaves.  Add a large pinch of cayenne pepper. Season generously with freshly ground pepper and coarse salt.  Add 1/2tsp brown sugar.

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When everything is mushy, add 2 generous glasses of full-bodied white wine. This is important, because it is the wine that gives the base its flavour. Don’t worry about the alcoholic content (which gets burned off) – French kids eat wine in food and they seem to do fine.

Simmer on very low heat for about 1-2 hours.

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Step 3:

Strain both the salmon broth and the base into a saucepan (combine both). You should have a thickish soup (as per main photo). If you like a thicker soup, add some of the mushy veggies that you used to make the base.

Into that soup, add mussels, clams, fish, anything you wish. Boil the seafood until cooked. Season to taste.

(I added deep fried salmon bits because I like crunchy fried salmon).

Serve piping hot with French baguette (of course). It may sound like a lot of hassle compared to my Englishwoman’s version, but I promise you, it’s worth it.

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I had the leftovers the following day, and it tasted even better.

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The store cupboard/freezer version:

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I made this during the COVID-19 lockdown, and I didn’t have white fish, prawns or clams: I just had frozen salmon in the freezer. I didn’t even have fresh tomatoes and used canned tomatoes. I added some frozen peas (!!!) and spring onions.  But it still tasted good, with a poached egg on top for variation!

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.

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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).

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

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