One of my loveliest memories from my youth is of my parents walking on the coast of our beloved Hampshire, picking samphires from the sea.

“Yukky,” I used to grimace.

“In the war, we used to eat this, and the seaweed called carrageen moss, for the minerals. It saved our health, during the food rationing years,” my mum would say again and again.

On impulse, I decided to forage for samphires but chanced upon lovely beds of glasswort instead, so emerald in the summer sun in Bosham, again, one of the favourite places of my childhood.

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Glassworts are also known as sea beans, and you could eat them raw. But the taste is more ‘acceptable’ to the palate not used to the strong taste.

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Cooking instructions:

First of all, make sure that there is no pollution in the area where the glasswort grows. Anti-foul from boats are poisonous!

Boil for 10 minutes in a large pan of water (this will remove some of the saltiness.

Blanch immediately in cold water to keep its crispness.

Toss in olive oil and toasted sesame oil.

Top with finely grated ginger and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with avocado to soften the taste.

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Note: what I love is the fact that this tastes like the seaweed dish I once fell in love with in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo….and to think, I can pick it in my backyard, literally!

6 Reasons why it’s important to teach children gardening

Naw, I’m not really keen on gardening. Last year, I almost poisoned my whole family by mistaking my mum’s prized alum bulbs for garlic. I chopped a few up and she looked faint, as these babies were heritage bulbs from Royal Horticultural Society. Eegads.

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Photo: the dreaded alums when they finished flowering.

But my mum is not letting me off that easily. She nabs me at opportune moments to do little gardening-related tasks for her that she hopes will awaken my belated love for gardening.

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Now I have three little boys – very boisterous – who would prefer larking around by the sea (it’s such a beautiful summer) than “boring” gardening at home. It’s almost like a punishment, so to engage their interest, I told them that my niece Katie used to dig up the earthworms and ate them with gusto.

“Why is she still alive?” they demanded in disbelief.

And therein lies the reason why children MUST garden:

#1: To get them not to be afraid of the dirt and creepy crawlies.

Jumping on cowpats in wellies is a fun thing to do, I told them. My brothers and I used to do that with such glee, encouraged by our mother.

“Won’t the germs kill you?” the boys asked with narrowed eyes.

On the contrary – it is the lack of germs that might kill you. Getting dirty (good clean dirt) is all about strengthening the immune system, and no where can you get that more than in the garden (nature’s antibiotics). So ditch the hand sanitisers!

#2: It’s all about understanding nature

Children these days have become so distant from the source of life that some think that burgers come from supermarket shelves (not cows are pigs) and potatoes grow on trees like apples. What a shame that we are losing our roots, which is the foundation of our strengths, and several pieces of research have shown that estrangement from our roots is the cause of many modern malaises.

#3 It’s healthy to be outdoors (unless you live in a heavily polluted area)

Children are like plants: they need water, sunshine and fresh air.

They need to be outdoors, moving around barefoot on the grass, instead of hemmed in indoors (house, tuition centre, shopping malls) like poodles. And it’s educational too. Check out this BBC clip – it WILL convince you.

#4 Less fussy eaters

People often exclaim with surprise and envy that my kids eat so much salads and are happy chugging down green smoothies. Well, two factors. Firstly, they know that green stuff is good for you. Secondly, I make it interesting for them by mixing greens (that they pick themselves) with their favourites.

And if your kids grow edible herbs and veggies, they will find what the grow so tasty! (Container gardening is good enough if you don’t have a garden).

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Photo: dandelion and buttercups from the backyard in the salad

#5 Respect time and nature

We have such poor relationship with time. We are either chasing it, trying to catch up, or we are dragging it behind us.  Only few walk to the beat of time. I knew someone who lived in a different time zone from the real world: “Just a minute” was his unconscious often repeated mantra, and he never had time for anything real.

These little boys of mine, they harvested some beans (which they saved from a parched field) and wanted to grow them NOW.

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But I told them they have to wait until May 2019, because it’s too late now to grow beans.

“Why?” They moaned collectively.

Because life beats to its own rhythm, and we best learn how to dance to it.

#6 Better relationship with your child

Gardening build closer bonds: shared afternoons together in the sun, without the distraction of iPads and smartphones, is a wonderful way to spend time together.

You can have a lot of deep conversation with your child when you are side-by-side digging or pulling out weeds. Because here’s the thing: there is no such thing as quality time as we cannot schedule for meaningful moments to happen. You get a lot out of your kids when you spend time together, just BE-ing.

OK, here are the efforts: potato patch (badly planted), mint (from the supermarket vegetable section) and scraggly lavender. Good start anyway, thumbs up x

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“The best classroom in the world”

It is true, the best classroom in the world is the world.  Though books are great for growing young minds, I strongly believe that children (and adults) need to go out there to the world they live in to feel the lessons.

The best teacher is often the parent. What my parents taught me all those decades ago still reverberated strongly in me. And indeed, my biology teacher, Mrs Jenny Woods who took the class out on field trips to Harting and Stoughton.

And so I am back here again, walking in my beloved Hampshire, far from the madding crowd.

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Amongst the golden ripeness, we came across a field where its entire crop of broad beans were devastated by the hot summer we are having.

“Oh no,” I said, with feeling. I remember what my father told me about his childhood: he had grown up in a farm, and one summer, a whole field of crop was ruined, with just one blade standing. A lone tear rolled down my father’s cheek, all those decades later.

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“What happened, Jacqueline?” Little Berti asked. He slipped his tiny hand in mine. The youngest of the triplets, he was particularly in tune with my emotions.

“The sun, it destroyed this whole field. There was no rain, so the plants burned.”

“Why didn’t the farmer water his plants?” Christian asked.

“Because the cost of watering this large field, so far from a water source, would cost more than his crop.”

“Let’s pick the alive ones to eat,” Alex said.

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And with the wisdom of an old soul, Berti (named after Umberto Ecco) said firmly, “We will take the seeds home to plant them, so that they may grow again next year.”

My heart soared at those words for this is the most precious lesson of all, that life is kindness and cruelty, good times and bad times, but we must have hope always ❤

Drying the seeds in the sun for next season, may God bless us:

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Eat like a King, cheaply, seasonally

Inspired by Tom Hunt’s article, How to eat like a chef for less than £20 a week, I ventured out to the lively North End Road market to see what bargains I can find:

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Despite my son getting his motorbike stolen by yobs in the market (London is becoming increasingly lawless), I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole array for fruits and vegetables on offer, even exotic ones. This place is such a cultural melting pot – it feels as if the world had arrived at the outer fringes of Fulham:

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I bought:

  • Rhubarb £1.50 for 1 kg
  • Strawberries £2 for a large punnet
  • Raspberries £1 for a small punnet
  • Blackcurrants £1 for a small punnet
  • Red peppers £1 for 4
  • Large Aubergines £1 for 3
  • Button mushrooms £1 per bag
  • Red onions £1 per large bag
  • Avocados £1 for 4
  • Rocket leaves £2 for a very large bag
  • Spinach £2 for a very large bag
  • Garlic £1 for a bag

I popped into the supermarket:

  • to buy Brie (on offer) for £1
  • a loaf of seeded loaf 65p
  • one tin of chopped tomatoes 50p
  • Beetroot 60p

Total cost of shopping: £17.25.

Challenge:  to feed four adults with big appetites who are spoilt when it comes to food (i.e. steak and truffle mash are common fare).

This is what I rustled up:

Breakfast:

Oat porridge with berries (and some stewed rhubarb for that extra kick)

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Lunch:

Brie and rocket sandwich with a large salad bowl

Dinner:

Aubergine and pepper stuffed with garlic mushrooms, onions and aubergine on a bed of creamed spinach.

Dessert:

Stewed rhubarb with leftover strawberries.

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Verdict:  “Yummy, but not everyday please, Mum!!!!”

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So we are back to this (great book, by the way, my all-time favourite, it beats Delia and Nigella hands-down)… but it’s expensive to cook from this book of family favourites.

Conclusion:

I’m still a long way off from being as accomplished as Tom Hunt when it comes to budget cooking 🙂  So here’s my challenge to you: what is the minimum you can spend for a day of healthy and yummy menu for ravenous, growing folks?

 

The best schooling for your child

This is the Oratory School, London.  It was reputed to be the best.

It rejected my son Kit.

Kit was 10 when we applied for him to attend this school in 2000.  We had lived in nearby South Kensington and all my children attended the Oratory’s feeder school, Our Lady of Victories RC Primary school. We attend the Our Lady of Victories Church regularly – three of my children were baptised at the church – and still attend this church.

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Additionally, Kit’s father was also the head of faculty at St Thomas Aquinas in Birmingham, an Oratory school.

On the day of the interview, Kit cycled to the London Oratory School on his own. He was a confident, sporty sort of chap and though not terribly academic, he was not that bad in his studies.

But The Oratory School rejected him after the interview.  We were flabbergasted, as we were not allowed to apply to the other Catholic school in the area, Cardinal Vaughn. The choice was either or: you couldn’t apply to both.

As Catholic education was very important to us, we decided – with heavy hearts – to send him to school near his grandparents: to St Simon Stock all the way in Kent. He had to take two trains to get to school each day and once, he was picked on very severely by bullies on his journey to school. And my boy had not even turned 12 then.

But with his indomitable spirit, he won medals and trophies in karate and go-carting.

After that, we moved abroad and Kit had three years at an international school. He got his International Awards, did passably well in his studies, collected great experiences as he embraced everything in his robust, enthusiastic and boisterous way.

At 18, he decided to join the Royal Navy. Much to our surprise, he passed the Admiralty Interview Board with flying colours! We knew he would pass the Fitness Selection Test easily, but AIB???? He was up against other 18-year-olds who went to Welbeck College and /or came from distinguished naval families.

And so, Kit began his degree in Mechanical Engineering at Southampton University, fully funded by the Royal Navy. Whilst there, he added on to his arsenal of medals: in boxing and fencing.  After his first degree, the Royal Navy paid for him to do a Masters, and then he went on for officer training at Dartmouth Royal Naval College in the UK and Annapolis Naval Academy in the US. He went on foreign tours of duty (including six months in the Middle East) before being awarded the prestigious job as the Deputy Weapons Engineer on the Queen Elizabeth, a post he held for two years during the building of the aircraft carrier. The biggest accolade for him, however, was when he was picked to be the Day Officer when the crew of 600+ came onboard. When his 2-year posting ended, he was invited to do a second Masters, this time in Guided Missiles Technology, which he is completing now, before his next posting, working towards his next promotion to Lieutenant Commander. He is often on TV and newspapers (the photo on the right was from Daily Mail and the one below is a screenshot from BBC’s recent programme, Britain’s Biggest Warship):

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His whole life is his job. He is ambitious and embraces all the experiences the Royal Navy gives him. He took up every opportunity that was offered to him and did well.

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So this is the boy that the Oratory School deemed to be “not good enough” or “not right” for its hallowed halls. I’m glad it didn’t affect him. It wasn’t the “best” school anyway, but one of the many. And Kit certainly has not lost out by not going to this school.

Ironically, my grown-up children now live within 100 metres from the school, next to Brompton Park, and as I walked past the schoolboys heading for the school today, I want to get this message out to all parents:

The concept of “best” school does not exist. The best is already in your child. Nurture it in the home. School is just part of the story.

 

 

 

 

Sourdough ciabatta

There is nothing quite as satisfying as baking bread by hand (fortunately, my family loves bread, in particular, my focaccia). You can find my recipe for a very simple focaccia here.

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But today I am going to give you my recipe of sourdough ciabatta.  It’s rather different in taste and also in methodology. I prefer the ciabatta, actually, because it’s chewy with that sourdough taste which I love.  It’s just sooooo good!

But warning, don’t attempt this if you get freaked out by sticky dough….it difficult to wash off!

First, you have to make the biga, the starter.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 teaspoon, dry yeast, but make sure that it is still alive, which means it should get frothy after standing in warm water;
  • 1/4 cup warm water;
  • 3/4 cup water at room temperature;
  • 350g unbleached all-purpose flour.

DIRECTIONS for the biga

Mix the yeast in the warm water and let it stand for about 10-15 minutes. It should get frothy and creamy.

Stir in the flour and the remaining water into the yeast mixture. Use a wooden spoon and stir for about 5 minutes until a sticky dough forms.

Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 24 hours (and more!).

Ingredients

  • 500g biga (what you made above yields that);
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast;
  • 5 tablespoons warm milk;
  • 1 cup water at room temperature;
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 500g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt

 

DIRECTIONS for the ciabatta

Mix the yeast and milk together, and let the mixture stand for about 10-15 minutes.

When it is frothy and creamy, mix it with the biga, oil and water.

Add the flour and the salt.  Knead in the mixing bowl. Note: the dough will be sticky, but DO NOT add more flour. Then knead in a floured surface for a few minutes.

Put in an oiled bowl, cover with a warm towel and let it rise for 1 hour 30 minutes or thereabouts.

Then knead again until the dough is elastic (it’s OK if it is still a bit sticky).

Divide into four, knead again and let it rise for another 1 hour 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350degrees.

Pull dough into rectangular shapes (shown below).

 

Bake in a heavy baking try lined with parchment paper.

Bake for about 30 minutes, opening the door after 10 minutes to spray the oven with cold water. Do this a couple of times.

You may wish to add chopped olives, sun-dried tomatoes and/or pesto to make a really delicious Italian bread.

Quinoa and dates energy balls

Quinoa is one of those amazing food that is gluten-free, high in protein and is also one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. I normally cook a pot and use it as salad base.

Photo: quinoa with sugarsnap peas and garlic roasted courgettes in a light balsamic dressing.

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But last week, I decided to make energy balls with my red quinoa.

Ingredients:

1 cup cooked quinoa (cook according to packet instructions)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds and 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
5 teaspoons honey
10 pitted dates
¼ cup almond butter
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon sea salt
A handful of raisins
1 tablespoon chia seeds

Method:

Heat the oven to 350°. Mix together the quinoa, oats and sunflower seeds with the honey, coating them evenly. Pour into a baking tray lined with parchment paper and bake until brown and crunchy (around 20 minutes), stirring once or twice so that they brown all over.  Cool.

Toast the almonds.

Combine the dates, almond butter, coconut oil, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Add the almonds, chia seeds, and toasted quinoa and oats. Mix well with your hands and shape into balls (this recipe makes about 24).

Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

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Note: they are also tasty as granola.

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Environmentally friendly educational toys

When my children were tiny, I caused some bad feelings amongst family members because I banned plastic toys: I politely refused to accept those noisy, battery-operated, garish plastic monstrosity, especially those with flashing lights!

My parents-in-law used to make toys for my children: almost 30 years later, we still have some of those precious toys (Photo: Harry Helium, made by my mother-in-law based on a story I wrote).

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My parents, who weren’t so good with the sewing machine or saw, entertained the children with nature (Photo: drawing from 30 years ago!)

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No, they did not suffer not owning any plastic toys. They made their own with discarded packaging and stuff they find around the house (Photo: the two sisters making something).

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When my got older, I softened my stance a bit and allowed Legos into the house. But by then, they had gotten over the idea that toys are fun. They much preferred pets, and at one stage, we had two dogs, two cats and eleven rabbits. That rather large menagerie did not leave them much time for gadgets either!

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Recently, I visited my children’s father’s classroom (he teaches Design & Technology) and saw these Chinese puzzles that his Year 8 students made. It took them only 2 lessons and provided lots of educational fun:

This can be made environmentally friendly by suing softwood. The design is from MYP Design & Technology textbook published by IBID Press.

Here is something you can make simply at home with your children, using paper or even flour tortilla! A hexaflaxagon that my daughter made:

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Here are the instructions. Have fun!!!

 

Here’s an innovative company repurposing plastic toys:

Adaptogens: for your body’s maintenance

I turned 50 last year and people often ask me what I do and eat to keep my youthfulness. Actually, I am quite a naughty girl: I am partial to dairy (milk and cheese!) and to the odd bottle of wine. And though I live an active and healthy lifestyle, my body does need additional nutritional support (especially in the last two months, where I have been stressed out – and in the next few months, when I go back to work!).  Here’s what I take:

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Our body needs so many things, especially if you live a busy, stressful lifestyle in a polluted city.  You’ve heard of co-enzymes, but what about adaptogens? These herbs and mushrooms have been used for centuries in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine.

Though it is not “hard science” yet, there is increasing evidence that these group of nutrients have the effect of normalising the body’s imbalances (adverse effect of stress, pollution and poor nutrition)  and slowing down ageing effects.

Personally, I incorporate adaptogens into my diet to balance out inflammation caused by dairy, alcohol, sugar and stress. I also use very little products on my skin, choosing instead to nourish it from the inside.

The most well-known adaptogen is of course, ginseng.

For women, these are particularly good:

  • Ashwagandha: Soothing.
  • Rhodiola: Calming.
  • Holy Basil: For vitality.
  • Shatavari: The Hormonal Harmoniser, Queen of Women’s Adaptogens.
  • Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng): For brain alertness and stamina.
  • Reishi Mushroom and astragalus: For the immune system.

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Photo: astragalus, licorice root, ginseng and holy basil stems.

I just throw the roots and barks (of what I need) into a slow cooker and boil overnight with some organic chicken carcass and vegetables. Seen here: fresh stalks from the holy basil.

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Living in Asia at the moment, I can get hold of these roots and barks very easily from traditional herbal shops.

Whilst home in the UK, I use the powder form.

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But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. For example, holy basil, which I put in my green smoothies and raw on my spaghetti, is a powerful adaptogen. Turmeric is another powerful one, which functions as an anti-inflammatory.

If you are not feeling 100% but can’t quite put your finger on why, then perhaps adaptogens might be what you need to bring your body back into balance. That’s what people in the olden days do to maintain wellness, instead of pill-popping. So do your research, speak with a few specialists and maybe try this.

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Almond cake with sunflower seed pralines

Wheat forms such a large part of our lives. Once, I had to care for someone who has IBS/coeliac disease and it literally took me a whole day to plan, research and cook the meals.  I didn’t mind actually, as I love spending time with food. Here’s my forays into making something nice for my friend who is trying to adhere to a keto diet:

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My friend Rona likes her sweet treats and she is supposed to be on a keto diet. As my daughter had been staying at her place for the past few days, I feel obliged to try my hand at keto baking (note: I am not an expert baker).

The first few efforts bite the dust. They taste like something from the bottom of a bird cage. Anyway, this one sort of works (thank you, sour cream) and not too bad. Sorry, there is sugar in it, though reduced….. the coffee, nutty bits make it more-ish. But still a long way to go, very amateurish but with lots of heart!

To make a coffee pralines:

  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon coffee granules (NOT instant coffee, or they would dissolve)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Mix all together and put aside.

For the cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups ground almond
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached cake flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla essence.

Sieve together the almond meal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Slowly add the powder mix into the butter-and-sugar mix, alternating with eggs and sour cream.

In a grease-proof baking tray, alternate 1/3 of the cake mix with the pralines.

Bake in a preheated oven (around 350F) for an hour or until firm.

Delicious with coffee 🙂

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