Cheap eats

My children’s father came from a family where cash was tight, yet all the children grew strong and healthy. My late mother-in-law (my God, how I miss her) was an expert in making a little money go a long way, and she was famed for her huge family parties which cost very little.

She would spread Sunday roast with stuffing, so that the little meat goes a longer way, fed more people. Till this day, I make stuffing in honour of her. Her sausage rolls too had always been supplemented with breadcrumbs, carrots and apples, all to make the little meat stretch that little more. So even though I am not constraint by finances, my sausage rolls always have lots of additional bits in them, not just meat.

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My mother-in-law never wasted anything. Even carrot shavings had their uses, either in sausage rolls or cakes. I urged her to write a thrift recipe book, because there is something beautiful about ‘free’ food. I hate wastage.

One of the things my mother-in-law used to do with meat carcasses was to boil them down into nutrient-packed broth. Sometimes, she would add pearl barley to make a meal out of it; at other times, she would just make her children drink it. And yes, her children did grow big and strong – my sister-in-law, a marathon runner, was one of the torch-bearers at the London Olympics.

So I continue her tradition. I boil down meat carcasses with vinegar, so that no part of an animal that give its life goes to waste. I normally throw whatever I have lying around into the pot.


Today, I made a clear broth. Feeling like trying something different, I added ginger, lemongrass stalks and coriander seeds to the pot, amongst my usual leftover fruits and veggie.

I ladled the fragrant broth over this and it was absolutely delicious Asian noodle soup, as well as being healthy and almost free.

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A rather delicious fish and reaction rates

I try to infuse what I teach my child with wonder, humour and relevance, though it must be said, much of the International Baccalaureate Diploma chemistry syllabus for chemistry is rather dry.

I am stuck with teaching her about catalysts: energy diagrams, industrial applications, features. It’s no fun, unlike thermodynamics where we could debate endlessly about the universe, the concept of free energy and chaos.

So here goes:

Perhaps the most incredible catalysts are the biological ones, namely enzymes. They are remarkably complex and specific, often made from many thousands of atoms and a few metal ions. Enzymes are folded in such a way that they can hold the reactant molecules in their “pockets” of their complex structures, using hydrogen bonds and electrostatic forces between groups of atoms with opposite charges, to facilitate a particular reaction happening. And because biochemical reactions often happen in a series of discrete steps rather than in a simple straightforward manner, the interactions between the catalyst and the reactant molecules change with each different stage, like some molecular ballet taking place within the living body, stabilising the intermediates birthed from each pirouette. It is these multiple interactions that make enzymes so specific in their participation, and what that makes the living body truly a miracle.

You want to do an amazing chemistry experiment on catalysts? This is what you need:

1 whole fish, cleaned
Juice of 1 lemon
1 bunch of parsley, chopped
1 inch ginger, peeled and grated
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Marinade the fish in lemon juice. Leave in the refrigerator overnight. Then place the fish in the middle of a large sheet of baking parchment. Season generously with salt and pepper, drizzle olive oil generously on the fish and scatter parsley and grated ginger over it. Bake in an oven heated to 375°F for 30-40 minutes, until the flesh flakes off.

The acid in the lemon juice catalyses the breakdown of peptide chains in the fish protein in a process called hydrolysis. The H+ ions of the lemon juice (citric acid) accelerates the reaction of the amide group (-CONH-) with water, bringing about the breakage of the peptide link (C-N bond).

In fact, you don’t even need to cook the fish – for example, the Peruvian dish Ceviche – but that’s another experiment altogether; the Kadazan-Dusun folks from Borneo has a dish called the Hinava, which is pretty similar to Ceviche, and I have had the good fortune to taste it on several occasions.


Photo from recipegreat.

When do we stop teaching our children?

We teach our children how to walk, to use a spoon, to cross roads. We teach them to lock doors, to know about money, to plan their future. For me, the teaching never stops, because it represents a transmission of family history and values from one generation to the next. Parenting is indeed a lifelong labour of love.

I feel extremely fortunate that I am able to devote myself fully into teaching my youngest child. I teach her the physical sciences, though her mathematical brain is superior to mine. Indeed, I wrote a book for her, a novella that builds the bridge between the world of theoretical physics and the one we live in.

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I also teach her ‘school’ subjects, but with heart and soul woven into the endeavour. After all, history has shown us that scientific theories come and go with new discoveries. What remains is the beautiful lesson embedded within them.

I put my teaching resources on The Times Education Supplement. Until Sunday 12th February, you can obtain £3 credit off my Physics Relativity Option for 16-18 year olds, which includes an e-version of the book mentioned above. To redeem, enter code SUNDAY3 at The link to the resource is:

You will find much here, lots of physics and love ❤

Photo: lesson plan for Chemistry that extends beyond the syllabus.


The Wind Catcher

I grew up in a time and a culture that valued men who were “real” men and boys who were “bruisers”. Indeed my own household, despite my fighting back, was largely testosterone-driven. My children’s father had brought that insidious way of being into our lives –in his twenties, he was powerfully built and traditionally male. Our children idolised him; he was a huge presence in our lives. He was our anchor.

“My Daddy is the strongest man in the world,” our children would announce proudly to their classmates. Never mind that other people’s daddies were professional footballers or PE teachers.

I was secretly delighted when my youngest son Jack turned out to be different. It took us a very long time to figure out what ‘different’ was. For the longest time, everybody in the family thought Jack was a mummy’s boy, because I spoilt him.

How that hurt me.

I cossetted him because he was different, not the other way round, because there was a certain fragility and a vulnerability in him that I saw but nobody else did. “Nonsense,” my mother-in-law used to say impatiently to me. “There is nothing wrong with him at all!”

Just because he was a handsome boy, it did not mean that he belonged to the group where bruisers belonged. He did not even belong to the sub-group of quieter boys, the ones who are labeled ‘wimps’. He was just different.

“You’re my Apple Head Jock,” I used to say to him, because in a strange twist of genetics, Jack has been blessed with the most beautiful Celtic colouring of his forefathers: creamy white skin and jet-black hair of the Celts. And no, he did not have to toughen up. He is beautiful just as he is. He is special.

A man who understands this is Toni De Coninck. Like me, Toni has a very special son. For Alex is a Highly Sensitive Personality (HSP), a little known condition that makes him ‘different’. And like me, too, Toni has fought countless battles, simply because things are not what they seem.

How could ‘sensitivity’ ever be described as a symptom, even a disease?

HSP has the inability to cope with new situations, whether pleasant or unpleasant. It leads to meltdowns and awful situations that the public simply does not understand. In our world of unexpected changes and fluxes, it presents a huge, if not impossible, challenge to maintain constancy and predictability at every instance. A handful of sand – normality in the childhoods of others’ children – caused a huge upheaval in Toni’s life whilst on a holiday.

“Dad, there are other people,” Alex had said to his father poignantly.

The main challenge for Toni and parents like myself is trying to get our special children to talk about their emotions, and trying to keep these emotions from overheating. And for us to know that it is OK, have faith, and love will guide the way.

Toni has written a deeply touching book about his relationship with Alex. It is called De Windvanger (The Wind Catcher). My only regret that the book is written in Dutch, but it has given me comfort to know that I was never alone in my difficult journey.


To order:


“Mum, where are you?”

My youngest child is almost 17. She is a big and strong girl, larger in stature and more powerful than I. Yet she is extremely attached to her father and I.

“Where’s my Daaad?” She would ask and huff whenever her father is out of sight.

“Mum, are you there?” She’d stick her head into my room to ‘check’, her big, bug-like eyes missing nothing.

 In a year’s time or so, she would be flying the nest to go to university. The world is her oyster, but I think she will settle for Imperial, because it is in London and thus close to home.

“You should teach her to be more independent,” a few people have commented disapprovingly.

And recently, there was an article making its rounds, “I am raising my kids to leave me.”

No, we are not raising Georgina to leave us. We are raising her to have choices.

 Indeed, this supremely capable youngest child of ours has all the right tools to live independently, but the choice to be independent is entirely hers.  Practicality might dictate that she leaves her supremely happy and safe childhood home, but there is no must.

I once knew a lady who could not wait for her children to leave home so that her life could begin. She defended that aim ruthlessly and would not allow her adult children to come home even in times of need. This stance of hers has caused her living children grave emotional trauma, ranging from addiction to chasing for love in the wrong places and being unable to accept love when it happened. Always running away, because a safe place called home never existed for them.

Beautiful perfect house, nice-looking photographs on the mantelpiece but wounded souls carrying unhealed childhood trauma still, right through their forties.  

 Is it worth it, this independence thing?

To have a secure base is a gift and a blessing.  I am a strong believer in the evolutionary theory of attachment, namely human beings are born with the biological tendency to form attachments for the aim of survival. We need to be safe, to have a secure base, and then only we can achieve our best well and truly.

Two of my children who are in their twenties choose to live together, less than one mile from their childhood home. In fact, they recreated their childhood home that they loved so much. Close our eyes, and we seamlessly rolled back the years back to when we were young and the children were little. So easy. But perhaps it is because they never left. They slept in our bed for the longest time. And thus my thesis: attachment is the price we pay for that warmth and closeness with one another, and the joy and happiness that comes with that attachment.

This video by Omeleto about The Thank You Project says it so beautifully. As a medic, it struck a chord deeply in me.  Please click this link to view:

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Photograph: Omeletto

 “None of us make it into life or through life on our own.”



Sun Yoga




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Photograph: Georgina with her father.

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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