Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ups And Downs

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re doing a good job as a parent. Given enough food, care and exercise kids grow as naturally as house plants I guess, but it’s hard to tell what’s going on in their little heads sometimes and whether what you’re doing is the right thing. How often have I wished our boys came with a manual! Even just the Top 100 Tips would be a bonus, and don’t think I haven’t tried reading all the parenting textbooks out there.
Still, sometimes we get glimmers of hope. Niels had a friend over to play this afternoon and I picked them up from school in the car on the way home from work. They were both quite excited and buzzing about getting home to play when I heard Niels say “I’ve got a cool Mum, huh?”
I could have reached back and planted a big kiss on his shiny little forehead, except that would have blown all of my street-cred right out the window.
I felt particularly relieved because last week we had a rather fraught day which culminated in me sending Niels up to his room, while I narrowly resisted the temptation to rip off his sarcastic little head and drop kick it into the garden. He stomped up the stairs before spinning around dramatically half-way up and snarling at me “And I thought I had a NICE Mummy!”

Monday, May 25, 2009

Potato & Tomato Bake; Super Yum 2!

Potato & Tomato Bake

750 g even-sized potatoes
750g tomatoes - go for yummy on-the-vine ones for best flavour
4-5 tbsp olive oil

1. Heat oven to 190C/ fan 170. Thinly slice potatoes. Put in a pan with water cover, bring to the boil, simmer 3 minutes then drain well. Slice the tomatoes.

2. Brush oil over the base and sides of a 1.5 litre ovenproof dish. Layer up half the potatoes, sezsoning well and drizzling with oil as you go, then cover with half the sliced tomatoes. Repeat, finishing with tomatoes.

3. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until top is lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature. You can easily cook this the day before.
Tip: For a vegetarian main course or a more substantial accompaniment, add 150g grated emmental or feta, crumbling half under each layer of tomatoes.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Vegetable & Goat's Cheese Terrine; Super Yum!

I know, I promised to upload some recipes ages ago but it's not my fault, laptop is about to die a horrible death and desperately needs to be re-formatted and frankly I can't face doing it at the moment. So I've already done this post, and lost it, and tried again...and this is my third and final attempt. Fingers crossed.

This is a seriously delicious, totally impressive and incredible EASY dish to serve guests. I served it as a side for a large dinner party; it could easily be the main dish for a vegetarian meal, especially paired with some crusty rolls and a chilled white wine. All credit goes to Chef Alex Mackay, and I got the recipe from the fabulous BBC Good Food magazine, date May 2003. Yes, 2003. Enjoy!

Provencal roasted vegetable and goat's cheese terrine
Takes 1.5 - 2 hours (plus pressing). Serves 8. Vegetarian and really healthy.

2 red peppers
2 yellow peppers
100 ml virgin olive oil
1 large head of garlic, in cloves, unpeeled
a few sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
1 really large or 2 medium aubergines
juice of 1 lemon
2 x 150 g soft goat's cheese (round logs are most convenient; ash coated varieties such as St Maure are recommended, not compulsory).
Sunblush or sundried tomatoes, to serve (ie optional).
100 ml virgin olive oil
1 small bunch of basil
zest of 1 orange (simply peel, this will be discarded later), and the juice
pinch of caster sugar.

1. Preheat oven to fan 170C / conventional 190C. Quarter peppers lengthways. Remove seeds and stems. Arrange pepper quarters skin side up on an oven tray and drizzle with a couple of tablespoonfuls of the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and throw in 3 garlic cloves, some of the thyme and a bay leaf. Cover the tray tightly with foil, then roast in the oven 45-55 minutes until the peppers soften and start to turn brown in patches.
2. Meanwhile, cut the end off each aubergine and cut a slice off lengthways so they sit flat, then cut into thin, neat slices. Arrange on lightly oiled baking trays, in a single layer so they cook evenly. Drizzle with the remaining oil, turn the slices in the oil, then squeeze lemon juice on top. Season well and add the remaining garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Roast uncovered with the peppers for 20-25 minutes until softened and lighty browned. Remove.
3. While everything is roasting, rub the inside of a 1.4 litre bowl with a little oil, then line it with two layers of cling film so it flops generously over the edge. Press the film against the inside of the bowl with a clean tea towel - this will give a neater finish.
4. Remove the roasted peppers from the oven but DON'T UNCOVER (this lifts the skins off). Leave for 10 minutes ( or more) to cool, then peel the skin off the peppers with a paring knife. Don't worry if you can't get all the skin off, it doesn't matter. Set peppers aside with the aubergines and roasted garlic.
5. Line the bowl with the long slices of roasted aubergine, placing them upright and overlapping each slice, leaving a little peeping over the top of the bowl.
6.Arrange a couple of pieces of red and yellow pepper in the bottom of the bowl and slightly up the sides. Press down with your fingers.
7. Slice one of the goat's cheeses and lay half the slices over the peppers in the bowl. Place half the remaining yellow peppers in a layer over the cheese, followed by half the remianing red peppers. Repeat with layers of the remaining cheese slices and peppers, so they are all used up.
8. Fold the ends of the aubergine slices over the red peppers to form a flat top. Use any broken bits to fill in gaps. Press and pack everything down with your fingers. Bring the excess cling film over and prick with a sharp knife so that any excess oil can escape. Cut out a circle of cardboard slightly smaller than the diameter of the bowl and wrap it in two layers of cling film. Put this on top of the aubergines and then add weights, eg cans. Leave to press in the fridge for at least 12 hours (I make it the day before).
9. To make the vinaigrette, gently heat the oil until just lukewarm. Roughly chop half the basil (reseve the rest for garnish), then peel and slice or halve 3 of the roasted garlic cloves. Add to the oil along with the orange zest and juice and castar sugar. Pour into a bowl and leave to mingle flavours (overnight if necessary). When ready to serve, strain and season with salt and pepper.
10. To serve, remove the weights and card, unfold the cling film and turn the terrine out by placing a plate over the bowl and inverting. Drain off any excess oil and peel off cling film. Slice with a sharp kife, supporting with your hand as you do so. Finish with a dribble vinaigrette.
You can garnish with the left over basil and the sundried tomatoes if you liked; I simply topped the terrine with the 'bits' I strained out of the vinaigrette for decoration before serving which looked fab.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Monkey Boy

Carl is definitely the monkey in the family and is very proud of it. He chatters constantly, his favouite toy is a monkey, and as he proudly tells anyone who will listen, he was born in the Chinese Zodiac year of the monkey too. No surprise then that his favourite pair of pyjamas are covered in capering monkeys, bought from the incomparable Shophouse Fair in Singapore.
They've been packed away since we left in December and he was overjoyed when I unpacked his summer clothes in the weekend and there they were. He immediatley stripped off and pulled them on, looked in the mirror and yelled "Ahhhhhh! Someones cut bits off my pyjamas!!!!"
We never realised how much he has grown in the past five months!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Happy 8th Birthday Niels

Actually he's 8 until May 16, but as hubby is heading back to sea on Friday we held the 'grown ups' party a week early. Luckily the weather was beuatifully spring-like and we were able to sit outside for the duration. It was a chance for us all to catch up with our good friends Maria and Sandrino whom we hadn't seen since before moving to Singapore, as well as their cute little daughter Laura, who is about six months younger than Carl. He was fascinated by the thought of a little girl coming to play who was not only the same age as him, but also bi-lingual as well. Imagine! Another kids just like him! Amazing!
Just before she arrived I heard him brushing off his dusty Mandarin phrases in a non-too-subtle attempt to sweep her off her feet as a fellow linguist who could shakily lay claim to three languges. What a flirt. Fortuantely they both speak Dutch, not that it matters much with Carl because he will do all of the talking, anyway. Within half an hour she had recovered from her shyness at being surrounded by strange people and her and Carl were inseparable for the rest of the afternoon.

In the Netherlands it's traditional to fly the flag when your kid has a birthday, so in true patriotic style you can see both the Dutch and New Zealand flags flying, which Niels in particular thought was cool. The neighbours probably just wondered why we were flying a British flag. Or perhaps it's Australian...?

Niels was of course the hero of the hour and was only too keen to hold court witha captive audience, slipping into the role of Master of Ceremonies as naturally as if he'd been rehearsing all week. He seriously announced when the food was ready, when the cake was coming, and when we should all sing. Talking of cakes, I had spent a good portion of the morning preparing his Spitfire cake - yes it had to be a Spitfire in the end - which was challenging to say the least. It was during the most stressful moment when the licorice propellor blades kept falling out of the damned chocolate egg propellor hub that I glanced up and spotted an old guy walking his dog past the house. I say walking but actually I know him and his wife well - they delight in stopping on the footpath where they think they are concealed behind the playhouse and allowing their mutt to roam up our driveway to the gate where it goes crazy trying to get at our rabbits, which of course run loose on our lawn. I've tried politley asking the wife not to do it because it freaks out the bunnies, is extremely mean and just plain antisocial - the dog is wandering on OUR property afterall - and yet they do it every bloody day, every time they walk their dog. Well he had seriously picked the wrong moment to stop. With camoflage green icing still dripping from my fingers I marched out and gave him a BLAST in my best polite-but-oh-so-vicious Dutch, accusing him of being the antisocial butthead that he obviously is. He strode off, yanking the mutt behind him and I returned in feeling vindicated and righteous until I saw hubby cracking up inside the house. Well, at least I felt better and the adrenline rush propelled me through the rest of the day.

The rest of the day went without a hitch, and it was a chance to try out loads of new dishes which were a big success. On request I'm going to post some of the recipies here in the comin days, so get ready to skip those if you're not interested.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

OMG It's Another Birthday

We are in the throes of planning another birthday party - Niels is turning 8 shortly and we want to have both the 'grown ups' and the 'kids' parties before hubby returns to sea next week. Hopefully the incredibly crap weather will brighten up so we can celebrate it outdoors, something we've been able to do since the year he was born. While sorting out the party streamers, paper napkins, cups and whistles decorated with Play Mobil pirates which I brought back from Singapore (how I miss the party shop in Great World City!) it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't posted about Carls 5th birthday way back in February.
Before you all nod sagely and say that this only confirms you're suspicions that the only reason I had kids was so I could poke fun at them mercilessly on my blog, I must point out that I was in New Zealand at the time, and Carl was in Sweden. He celebrated the day in fine style with TWO birthday cakes which, oddly enough, were eaten for breakfast. They were seasoned with piles of sweets and washed down with sweet drinks, and I can only say that I was pleased not to be there to try and contain Carl and his brother once all that sugar hit their system 30 minutes later.
Fortunately they were surrounded by metres of snow, and few things burn off a kids energy quite so efficiently as running around in ten layers of clothing trying not to slip over on the ice or trip up in the powder.
My sister in law kindly provided a cake, which hubby decorated with Bob The Builder toys he'd secretly smuggled up there from home. This is Carl's third Bob The Builder birthday cake in his life, and I can't guarantee he won't request another for his next birthday.
At least it was easier to assemble than the daunting task which faces me this weekend: Niels wants his cake to be either a Spitfire or a Hawker Hurricane. Lucky me.

Friday, May 01, 2009

A Koninginnendag Like No Other

Yesterday was the Dutch Queen's birthday celebration, a national day of fun and street parties - not to mention a public holiday - that sees hundreds of thousands of people pour into streets decorated with a sea of flags. It's always a fun day in every town, with about 600,000 people travelling to Amsterdam alone to join in the street parties and traditional markets. It's also a fun family day, with lots of games and events being organsed for kids. Another highlight is the 'vrij markt', the opportunity for kids up to 12 years old to sell toys or anything else they want in the town centres.
We were particularly looking forward to the day for several reasons. The kids are old enough to undersand what's going on, the location had been moved from the centre of town (which is being completely remodelled at the moment) to the huge grass field just around the corner from us, and because the kids had agreed to sell all their old toys. An ideal chance for them to generate some cash to buy new toys, and for us to empty the house of loads of stuff they no longer play with.

The day dawned with a clear blue sky and friendly sunshine, perfect spring weather. By 9:45 the kids were at school with Dad, collecting balloons to which they tied a special name and address tag. These would be released later on and the idea is that someone in Germany, Belgium, or even further afield will post the card back to you and you win a prize. They had a ball playing as many of the almost 30 organised games on the grass field as they could, before stuffing themselves with bright orange 'tompuss' cream cakes in preparation for the market. Bang on 1:45 we rolled up with a cart loaded with toys and two picnic blankets, and found a spot amongst the dozens of others peddling their wares. Niels was in a 'playback show' which was organised amongst the local primary schools, a kind of kids kareoke show which kept him busy most of the afternoon (that's him in the black t-shirt on the right, playing electric guitar).
Despite my trepidation Carl didn't mind parting with his old toys as the money rolled in, nor did he try to wrestle to the ground any kid who walked off with 'his' gear. Admittendly at ten cents per car and the most expensive item costing 2.50 they weren't going to get rich, but by the end of the day he and Niels had 30 euros to share between them. It would have been a perfect day...
...if only a lunatic in the town of Apeldoorn, where the Queen and the royal family were visiting this year to celebrate among the people, hadn't decided to drive his car at high speed into the crowd in attempt to crash into the royal bus. We saw it on the news that afternoon, a surreal moment captured by tv cameras from every angle showing men, women and children being struck so hard their bodies flew through the air to come crashing down in a shower of clothing, lost shoes, and blood. By the time the car stopped - smashing into a momument just metres from the royal bus - 17 people had been mowed down on what had been a beautiful spring day full of fun.
Cheering and laughter turned to screams and horror as people rushed to help. Ambulances and police were on the scene in seconds yet the damage was done. By today the death toll has risen to 7, with 10 more people still critically injured in hospital. As we watched the sickening event unfold we felt that those victoms could be ourselves, we were also out celebrating this day amongst the crowds, any of our friends or loved ones could have decided to go to Apeldoorn to catch a glimpse of the royal family.
It seems unbelievable that this could happen on this most relaxed and fun day of the year - in the past the queen has been kissed by a passer-by, her husband has given a bicycle ride to a pretty girl, and all of the royal family take part in good nautred fun and games without having overt security spoiling the atmosphere.
Now all that has changed with the action of one cruel and selfish person, who having died of his injuries will never be able to offer any explanation (if there could ever be one) for why he did this.
It was a Koninginenndag like no other, and we can only hope that it stays that way in the years to come.