Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Venting


These days I'm replete of all mental energy after spending just shy of half a day hanging around alone with the placid, independent and easy-going baby of the first year who has now morphed into not only a tantrum-throwing whirlwind of dangerous activity but also a constant, clingy shadow. The rest of it is just her being her toddler self, asserting her place and presence in the family, and I know it's a phase but the clinginess. . the clinginess, people!

After 4 p.m. I'm checking the clock every five minutes, counting down ... dinner: 5:30 p.m.  ... kids in bed: 6:45 p.m ... 7:15 p.m., complete silence: the moment I was waiting for all day. When I can flop on the couch, unwind, have a peaceful dinner with the man when he gets home a half hour later and catch up our individual days. And then, most evenings, fall into dead slumber before 9 p.m.

To say the least, this is a frustrating phase. I dislike how anxiously I count down the hours between her two naps & bed time. And then what a tyrant I am with the older kids about sticking to the schedule each evening and how it's 'hurry, hurry, hurry - everyone eat and get into bed already!'. It seems really mean. Especially considering I have only 3 hours with the older two, between their getting home and going to bed. But I'm failing to get most productive things done and a sense of urgency is beginning to creep up as several deadlines approach. I feel completely inadequate and don't know how anyone with young kids at home finds their balance. For one, they must have really sedate children!

Because today is the first chilly day of the season, and because I can't do much more than fiddling my thumbs while the toddler sleeps, and because I have a dozen things-to-do carried over from yesterday: dinner today is Pea Soup and, hopefully, some kind of sandwiches. The recipe comes from Nigella Lawson. I saw it on one of the early episodes of her tv show on BBC Food very, very long ago and it popped into my mind today because I was trying to think of something I can make very quickly, without having to dice or finely chop anything. This fits the bill quite nicely since all it requires is frozen peas, a shallot and some vegetable stock. And the fact that it is called Slime Soup should hopefully appeal to my kids.

Oh, I so want to be Nigella Lawson when I grow up

Meanwhile we can pretend I look as rapturous and Domestic Goddess-like as Nigella when she is working in the kitchen, that I magically whip up delicious and impressive daily meals ... despite the toddler clinging to my leg, the kitchen counter brimming with every utensil, jarred spice and whatever else I am cooking with, the sink full of dishes, remnants of breakfast yet to be cleared from the dining table and the puddle of juice the toddler has managed to spill on the floor and is happily splashing with one hand, the other chubby hand firmly holding on to my leg . . .



Slime Soup
by Nigella Lawson (found here)
makes 1 litre

4 cups frozen peas (I used petit pois)
1 scallion
3 cups boiling water
vegetable broth concentrate or a stock cube (I used 3 oxo cubes of vegetable stock)
1 ball mozzarella

Cook the frozen peas and scallion in the boiling water with the stock concentrate/stock cube until soft and cooked through. Remove and discard the scallion.

Roughly chop the mozzarella and put it into a blender along with the soup. Blend, return it to the pan to make sure all the cheese has melted. Serve.



Friday, November 01, 2013

Of Friends and Granola



The two M's, an evening at my place, some time in September
It's been almost a week since 'M.' moved away but I still walk past her house anticipating the welcoming glow of lamp-light filtering through her dining room window and her cheery 'Come on in!' that always came moments before I reached her back porch or noticed her on the other side of the glass door. My visits to M.'s house were never as brief as their pretext and I was often there for hours before I reluctantly tore myself away and walked back home.

M is much older than me, a senior citizen if you will, thoughtful neighbour, an honorary grandmother of sorts to my kids, always smiling and exuding energy and positivity. For two years she was a huge encouraging force in my life: she cheered me on while I worked on my Dissertation last year and was the first person who brought me a carefully and affectionately-worded Congratulations card in her meticulous handwriting when I received my grade. Nobody was allowed to get broody with her around: if she got the faintest clue anyone in our circle of friends was feeling down she would go over and drag them out, forcing them to enjoy the outdoors or would tactfully engage them in activities that forced them to shed the blues. There was never a discussion about it, never a long-winded, obsessive hashing-out of whatever ailed any of us. Only an abrupt change in perspective, effective immediately.

In an environment where many fail to find meaningful activities, M didn't have enough hours in the day to do the many things she enjoyed - from Mahjongg to Bridge, teaching knitting to Book Club, Food, Fitness and Travel. M is an amazing cook - she introduced me to my very first Thanksgiving meal (not a tradition where I come from) and we frequently exchanged cooking techniques back and forth. I borrowed ideas on how to make our meals more nutritious and flavourful and in return I taught her how to make Masala Chai, Haleem and baked Biryani.

She's been gone all of four days but I miss her. And I'll miss making things for her. . . A jar of my experimental Chipotle-Raisin Chutney had a permanent place in her refrigerator & repertoire because she and her husband loved how the flavours came together. They were always huge fans of whatever I baked up and brought over which gave me excuses and opportunity to bake even when there wasn't any occasion to.

The saddest part of expatriate life is that every couple of months you say goodbye to someone - because they have either moved on elsewhere or moved back to their native country. It's the unkindest cut.

With time one begins to take it all in one's stride. After living an expatriate existence for a little over a decade these transitions are something I have come to expect almost unflinchingly. There is a little sadness but also the comfort in knowing that social media now makes it so much easier to maintain connections, especially when those on the other side are so good at keeping up at their end. And in this case I'm not at all sad, I miss her for now but I know that I will see M again. We won't be neighbours any more but will be a four-drive away from each other in just a few months. The prospect of having even one good friend in almost close proximity when I move halfway across the world and start a new life, is heartening.

One of my experiments that ended up in a tin on M's kitchen counter is this Granola. I painstakingly made it on a cold, January morning. I say painstakingly only because I couldn't find unsalted, shelled sunflower seeds at the grocery store and  had to shell a whole lot of sunflower seeds to get a measly 1/4 cup . . I just wasn't patient enough to get the whole 3/4 cup the recipe asked for. . and I decided to dry dates in the oven, prior to adding them to the granola, which took me at least one whole day.

To others I seem like a mad woman when I turn seemingly simple tasks into all-day Daring Baker-like challenges. But I find comfort in laborious tasks. I think I get my fastidiousness from my paternal Grandmother. She most likely does not know what Granola is, never baked a Pie from scratch or even considered alternate uses for the oven other than storing frying pans. But when she works in the kitchen she is like me, or I'm like her: fussing over food preparation, mindful of flavours, doing things slowly and thoroughly, losing myself in the process.

The fruits of all this labour were delicious and greatly appreciated by M & P who, like me, had the Granola for breakfast with yogurt and a drizzle of Maple Syrup. I'll be thinking of them when I make a new batch this week. 

The recipe comes from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery by Rose Carrarini, a charming, eye-catchingly bright green cookbook I picked up on a whim during one of my travels and has since then become a favourite. 

Right off the bat Rose confesses that she is a pastry chef who is not overly-fond of sugar or sweet things and prefers naturally, intensely flavored food instead. This mindful approach is reflected in her recipes which are simple, un-fussy and focus on wholesome flavours rather than complex technique or saccharine sweetness (in the case of her desserts). I've made several things from this endearing book and hope to feature some in future blog posts. 

For now, here's the recipe for Rose Carrarini's Sugar-Free Granola. Please keep reading after the recipe, I'm not quite done with this post. 

Sugar-Free Granola
from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery by Rose Carrarini, page 48
(Serves 6)

300g (4 cups) rolled oats
100g (1 cup) whole almonds
120g (3/4 cup) sunflower seeds
120g (1 cup) pumpkin seeds
40g sesame seeds
1 tablespoon wheatgerm
125 ml (1/2 cup) apple juice
4 tbsp sunflower oil
A handful of dried or fresh fruits such as blueberries, strawberries or sultanas (I used dates and added them later)
natural (plain) yogurt, to serve

Preheat oven to 160C/325F.
Mix all ingredients (except dried fruit) together in a bowl, then spread out evenly in a baking tray.
Bake, turning often, for between 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove and let cool.
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I want to say a big Thank You to all the readers who commented on my previous post or left me email messages asking how I am/leaving words of encouragement. 

The sporadic blogger that I am, I don't actually imagine many read or regularly follow my periodic posts. It has been elevating and heart-warming to read all your messages. I have had a few difficult months and all of that is not over yet so I am still not doing much writing, or blog-following. To be honest, I don't much talk to anyone these days either and am nicely, safely wrapped up in my cocoon of silence. But I miss this space and it feels good to be back. Baby steps . . 

Thank you again, for your encouragement! 









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