Dairy-free, gluten-free breakfast

I was writing and photographing on the topic of healthy breakfasts to tempt small children for my new book Facebook page, and I thought this would make such a lovely dairy-free breakfast.

I love milk and dairy products, and know that perhaps I should just cut down a little.  This base of mango and banana puree is a wonderful alternative to milk for cereals.

I served this with homemade granola, made from organic oats. According to many website sources (google gluten free oats), non-contaminated, pure oats are gluten-free. They are safe for most people with gluten-intolerance. The main problem with oats in gluten-free eating is contamination. Most commercial oats are processed in facilities that also process wheat, barley, and rye (this is from kitchn.com).

You can make all these the night before for a lovely, colourful breakfast.

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What to do when bombs fall and senseless killings happen

I am a stay-at-home mother. I have no political might to change the world. I don’t know how to change the world (if we are honest, there is no straightforward, easy answer). All I know is that we can evolve the world into a kinder place, one family at a time.

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We live in a deeply polarised world. The bombs dropped in the Middle East. The senseless killings hit the streets of Jakarta, Manchester, London, so many places. Which side of the divide are you on?

The Irish statesman and writer Edmund Burke is credited for writing these words: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

The streets of my home country is under terror attack again. We are no strangers to it, in all honesty. Going back years ago, we lived in fear of the IRA. The streets of London were full or armed police and barricades. Now, the threat comes from another cause. I could get very angry about it. I could engage in long debates about the wrongs of taking innocent lives. I could debate UK foreign policies. What will I achieve? I will preach to the converted (namely those who are already sympathetic to my views) and by the same token, I will create more haters amongst the cadre of those whose beliefs conflict with mine. I will deepen the rift in our already split world. By putting angry words out there, or even words of reason, I will not get the peaceful resolution and healing I seek. I will only raise the anger quota in an already angry world.

What I chose to do today, on the day after the night London came under another terrorist attack, is to feed these al-Rahman children who live in a refugee camp, young victims of the conflict. I have been sending them food parcels every few weeks. This is a photograph of them receiving my last consignment: since I blog so much about green smoothies, I think it is only right that I send them fresh fruits and vegetables (and eggs, too).

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You might think that my little gift, given with love, is only a drop in the ocean, insignificant in the face of the huge ugly war raging in our world today. But imagine this: if every person who feels angry about world events just send a little love instead of putting more hatred out there in the world (in terms of thoughts and words), just think how great the effect will be. I always have tears in my eyes when I read their little messages, translated by volunteers at Humanwire. They are always short and sweet, “Love you too! Thank you.” Five words, and we are one, rather than British and Syrians.

A few weeks ago, I started an appeal on Humanwire (similar to the fruits I sent Aya, Iman and Adbel) for a Syrian young lady named Ayda. Ayda and her brothers were normal, hard-working university students whose lives had been torn apart by the similar conflict that tears our world apart today. My belief is that if we reach out to this family, we sow the seeds of love for the future.

Please join me and reach out to Ayda. Yes, you can Skype her, get to know her and together, we can build a better future even if bombs fall and senseless killings are going on today. With love, we can.

Click here to connect with Ayda. Every little click helps, even if it is just to share this message of love ❤

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Georgina’s Gnocchi with sage and garlic butter

Gnocchi is so expensive in Asia, though it is made of nothing more than flour and potatoes. My daughter made this, and it was absolutely delicious. That’s with some modification to the traditional recipe (we added some pumpkin because we didn’t have enough potatoes).

INGREDIENTS:

Two cups of diced potato and pumpkin (she used 3/4 potato to 1/4 pumpkin)
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 egg
Salt and pepper

For the butter:

1/2 a cup of butter
5/6 cloves garlic
A sprinkling of dried sage (or chopped fresh ones)

Boil the diced potato and pumpkin until tender (but still firm). This would take about 15-20 minutes. Mash them up and all the other ingredients. Roll the dough out into tubes and cut the tubes into bite-size portions.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Drop in gnocchi and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until gnocchi have risen to the top; drain and serve.

In the meantime, melt the butter in a small pan. Saute the garlic until soft but not browned. Add the sage. Pour over the gnocchi.

True soul food ❤

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Why we should make a fuss over the birthday child

Ideally, we should make a fuss about our children everyday, but reality is that in the busy-ness of modern life, these tiny but very important people often get lost somewhere in between a rushed breakfast, sitting in a classroom, tired parents and every minute that is dedicated elsewhere just to keep the day afloat.

I have five children, and for a time, both their father and I had full-time jobs out of necessity. This was what we did to ensure that our children didn’t feel like they are not special:

SIX WAYS OF MAKING A CHILD FEEL SPECIAL

  1. Bedtime stories EVERY NIGHT with a parent (sometimes both parents). I swear by them. Having that time to lie down with them every night is something that is so special and precious;
  2. Make an effort to spend a day (or at least an afternoon) with a child. Arrange childcare for the others;
  3. Choose godparents who will make them feel special.
  4. Get to know each child.
  5. Do meaningful things.
  6. Take the opportunity to transform simple things into a memorable event – like picnic indoors (we recently did it though our youngest child is 17 and we live close to the beach).

BIRTHDAYS!!!

A Birthdays is that one day that a person (whatever the age) is supposed to be king or queen for the day. It’s not about the presents or the lavishness. Far from it. These are some snaps from my daughter’s birthday party ten years ago. It took place in our garden and the chief organisers were my older daughter and her boyfriend. As it was in our house rather than some fancy venue, we invited every child in the class. They played simple traditional games – no paid entertainer apart from the two teenagers who worked very hard to organise the special day.

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Here’s a simple party game: the children have to get on this day bed all together and burst the balloons by squashing them.

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Georgina recently turned 17 and she requested a quiet day (perhaps she has had too much birthday party fun all her life!). So she spent a quiet day which began with church the night before, the whole day with her boyfriend revising for their exams and a small family dinner in the evening in an Italian restaurant. As it was a Sunday night, she refused a glass of wine!!!!
But I wasn’t going to let her off so lightly. The following day, she was surprised in class with this ‘chemistry cake’ – BIG SMILE. Let’s make birthdays special, folks! ❤

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Send Love and create Ayda’s future

I know about life in refugee camps, having volunteered at the Burj al Barajneh and Rafah camps during the intifada. I know how difficult (if not impossible) to find nutritious food – somehow, the UN rations were not making the people grow strong and healthy, as they needed to, living in such dire conditions.

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I have just sent them some fruits, vegetables and eggs via Humanwire, and a small sum to go towards the delivery cost. If you click on this link, you will see that it costs so little to feed these children and many like them. It cost less than a bottle of wine that I had last night, that I could easily have done without. But these children need fruits, vegetables and eggs, just at the most basic level.

There is another girl who needs your help, and I have initiated a campaign through Humanwire. More than anything, I would love for you to join me in helping Ayda.

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Ayda could easily have been your sister, your daughter. She was just a normal girl studying biology at university when her home was destroyed by bombs. Ayda’s family did not take the easy way out in the first instance. They fled to another town, trying to build their lives. They really did try, for a year, until Ayda’s father was arrested and sent to prison. They then fled the country. Ayda is in Lebanon now, waiting. Her two brothers, formerly high flying students of dentistry and computing science, are now working as mechanic and blacksmith to keep the family afloat. They are genuine people in need, victims of world events.

Please help Ayda. $15 makes a difference. Yes, your donation will make a world of difference to Ayda and her family. Humanwire ensures that 100% of your money goes straight to Ayda. You can even Skype her. And visit her! Get to know her story. Be part of something positive.

Please click here to be part of Ayda’s future. Every penny counts, and it goes straight to her.

How to raise empowered children

This is my older daughter, Kat. She has a lovely, gentle temperament and is not in the least feisty, unlike her fiery younger sister.

But when Kat was around 9 or 10 years old, something that the American government did annoyed her a great deal (I can’t quite remember what). It was pre-Facebook days, so she couldn’t do what people these days do, namely spend hours venting on Facebook.

Anyhow, I suggested to Kat that she sits down and write to the President of the United States about her grievances. Take the complaint direct to the cause, rather than be angry, impotent and spread it round fruitlessly, which serves no purpose whatsoever other than raise the toxicity of the world with more angry, frustrated words.

Kat did write to POTUS in her meticulous hand and trotted off to the post office to post the letter.

To our surprise, she received a letter from The White House a few weeks later, signed by Bill Clinton himself. We still have that letter somewhere at home. So though Kat had not changed US policy one bit, she had learned a very important life’s lesson.

And here’s the thing: anyone can write to the POTUS or the UK Prime Minister, and this is often far more fruitful than bashing away impotently on social media, spreading negativity, heaping on more vicious junk on the Internet junk yard. You probably have more chance here of someone taking up your case.

A few years ago, I was so so so incensed by Lloyds Bank and HSBC in the UK. I had requested an electronic transfer from my savings account held at HSBC to my current account held at Lloyds Bank for £5,000.

But the money never arrived at Lloyds. I marched into HSBC and demanded to see the manager, bearing all the necessary paperwork to show that my account had had £5,000 removed from it but my account at Lloyds had not received the £5,000.

The manager shrugged his shoulders and said, “Your money has left HSBC but we don’t know where it went.”

Surely there is an electronic trail?

HSBC would not budge and did not want to help me further. Lloyds Bank said there was nothing it could do. It seemed that the £5,000 had gone missing during its transfer between these two shitty banks. The physical distance between the two banks on High Street Kensington was less than 50 yards, yet they were not able to pick the phone and speak directly to one another because of “Data Protection”. I was so frustrated.

I could have posted a lot of incensed posts on social media about my rage, but instead, I wrote one letter to my Member of Parliament, Sir Jeffrey Archer, whose office sent one letter to both banks, and the matter was instantly resolved, with HSBC changing its tune completely. It went all the way up to the HSBC Head Office.

Two years ago, I had enormous problems with Vodafone UK, which a lawyer’s letter could not resolve. Vodafone continued charging me for a phone line that I tried cancelling NINE times, by letter, by phone and by personal visits to the Vodafone outlet. I cancelled the direct debit as a last resort, and Vodafone sent a debt collection agency to deal with my “debts”.

I wrote to every single Board member of Vodafone and London Stock Exchange’s Disciplinary Committee (Vodafone is a public listed company) outlining Vodafone’s shoddy back office system and disgusting behaviour towards its customers. Within a very short time frame, a pleasant member of staff phoned me with a groveling apology from Vodafone in the form of free line rental for six months for my current line for my “trouble”.

When my younger daughter disagreed with something the textbooks say, I told her to write to either Professor Stephen Hawking or Professor Carlo Rovelli, the world’s leading authority on relativity, space and reality who had written several best-selling books. The result? Professor Rovelli read through the manuscript of my book, An Evening In Wonderland.

Children learn from their parents. Monkeys see, monkeys do. Show them that we can get answers, if we direct our issues appropriately, rather than venting on social media. Set the example. Empower your children to be stakeholders of their world rather than impotent bit players.

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.

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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.

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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 tes.com/redeem. The link to the resource is:

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/ib-physics-option-a-relativity-powerpoint-lesson-prompts-handouts-and-reading-material-11411922

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

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

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