Pumpkin, How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways. 2: Pasta with Salmon and Roasted Vegetables

Ah, more pumpkin. Time, then, for the next recipe, which turned out pretty well except that the salmon was not spicy like I had originally planned.

So, without further ado: here is the recipe for today’s pumpkin side dish, and the salmon main dish too, of course. This serves 4.

We’ll start with the roasted vegetables. You’ll need:

  • 450 gr pumpkin flesh, cubed
  • 3 small parsnips, thickly sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
  • olive oil to taste
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • leaves from 2 twigs of thyme
  • sea salt to taste

pumpkin veg

Preheat the oven to 190 C/ 375 F. Put the vegetables together in a large bowl, sprinkle them with olive oil and stir in the garlic, leaves of thyme and sea salt. When everything is properly mixed up, spread the vegetables out over an oven tray and roast them in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes at 190 C/ 375 F.

Next up, the salmon and pasta. You’ll need:

  • 300 gr of spaghetti
  • 1 can of sardines in oil (125 gr)
  • 2 tsp Thai fish sauce
  • 350 gr salmon, cubed

salmon

 

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. Meanwhile, heat up a skillet over a high flame. Empty out the entire content of the can – the sardines and the oil – into the skillet together with the fish sauce and fry the sardines until they’ve become soft and have fallen apart.

 

sardines

Now add the cubes of salmon and stir fry them until they are just done and not any longer, otherwise the salmon becomes too dry. After you’ve drained the pasta, immediately add it to the salmon and gently toss the pasta until the salmon has been thoroughly mixed through.

 

pasta with salmon

A serving tip: place the pasta and salmon in the centre of a flat dinner plate and place a circle of vegetables around the pasta. Enjoy!

pasta and veg

Pumpkin, How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways. 1: Pumpkin Lasagne

As some of you may know, I have recently come into possession of a fair amount of pumpkin flesh. Pumpkin is versatile, but how versatile am I going to be able to make it if we are going to be eating it every single day this week, save one…?

Time to find out.

Day 1: pumpkin lasagne.

The thing about lasagne is that it’s a wonderful dish for pretty much anything you want to throw in there. I mostly use it as a leftover dish, for any vegetables still unused by week’s end, supplemented with an emergency stash of frozen beef that I make sure I always have lying around. The thing that ties everything together is the tomato and cream sauce.  For seasoning, I like to use fresh herbs if I can.

Here’s what I used this time:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 600 gr ground beef
  • 450 gr pumpkin flesh in small cubes
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes (400 ml)
  • 200 ml soy cooking cream
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black and white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh basil
  • 8 lasagne leaves (the kind that cook in half an hour)
  • 200 gr mozzarella, finely cubed

Now, the process is pretty simple: preheat the oven to 200 C/390 F.

Combine the canned tomatoes, the soy cream and the fresh tomatoes in a bowl, and add the salt, pepper, sugar, cumin, thyme and basil, and stir well.

lasagne sauce

Next, in a deep pan fry the onion and garlic in oil on a medium flame for about 2 minutes, then add the beef and fry it until it’s done.

onions and garlic

Next, add the pumpkin and cook it along with the beef for another 3 minutes. Fresh pumpkin gets mushy pretty quickly, so you’ll want to make sure you stop just before the flesh gets too soft.

add the pumpkin

Then add the tomato and cream sauce, stir and bring it to a soft boil, and as soon as it gets there immediately turn off the flame.

vegetable sauce

Almost there: in an oven dish, pour a very thin layer of the sauce you just made, then lay a layer of lasagne leaves, another layer of sauce, another layer of lasagne leaves, and finally the rest of the sauce. Finish it off by sprinkling the mozzarella over the top.

mozzarella

Place the oven dish in the oven for 30 minutes.

pumpkin lasagne

And that’s it: pumpkin lasagne. Enjoy!

 

Your Versatile Muffin Tray (Spinach and Tomato Mini Frittata)

In my previous post, I mentioned that from now on, I will be writing on a small number of topics that I feel strongly about. While I am certainly passionate about the healthier lifestyle I am pursuing, don’t worry: there will be no browbeating you with health warnings or why you MUST cook these mini frittatas RIGHT THIS MINUTE. This post is just a simple recipe post, and if you do decide to make this dish, I hope you enjoy it.

First, a small introduction. At the moment I am trying to tailor a lot of my cooking to suit the tastes of a person with no teeth, a.k.a. my little boy. At 9 months old, he is eagerly awaiting his first tooth as he very much likes all this tasty stuff we eat every day and he can’t wait to dig into some actual food.

When we were on holiday earlier this summer, he would reach for foods like bread, knödel, pasta (with tomato sauce), even thinly sliced meats. We obliged him by slicing the food into small bits that he would have no trouble swallowing when he was done mashing them between his gums. Not only does our son have quite the appetite, he has quite the palate!

Keeping in mind that he is going to want to eat some “real” food every day, in addition to his mashed fruits and his bottles, I am trying to cook things he will be able to eat right along with us.

Enter today’s spinach and tomato mini frittata.

frittata in tray

This recipe makes 9 mini frittatas.

You’ll need:

  • a muffin tray
  • 6 medium sized eggs
  • 4 small tomatoes, chopped
  • 9 mini cubes of frozen spinach
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp of herb salt (optional)
  • vegetable or olive oil to grease the cups of the muffin tray

ingredients frittata

The process is really simple:

Preheat the oven to 190 C (375 F).

Beat the eggs until they are good and frothy, then add the tomatoes and stir them in gently. If you are using salt, add it in together with the tomatoes.

eggs mixture

Using a small ladle, fill the greased cups of the muffin tray with the mixture until they are about 2/3 full (you should be able to fill 9 cups, depending on the depth of the cups). Now place a cube of frozen spinach in the centre of each cup; the spinach will melt in the process of baking the frittatas, rendering it perfectly soft but not overcooked.

insert spinach

Place the muffin tray in the centre of the oven and bake at 190 C (375 F) for 11 minutes.

I just ate two of these for lunch, and I imagine that my little guy will eat at least the better part of one later this afternoon.

So there, an easy recipe for your versatile muffin tray. Enjoy!

frittata on plate

Healthy Challenges (or: Energy Dipping, cont’d)

Finally, a new blog post. This one is going to meander a little bit, but bear with me.

A couple of months ago I set myself a challenge here on this blog: to write a post every day, no matter how short, about anything that came to mind. My daily blogs were supposed to get me into a daily writing habit, but rather than that happening, it only served to rub my nose in my own failure when I fell short.

Clearly, I had not met my own challenge and that was pretty discouraging, especially since I love writing. In retrospect, it was also not surprising, and it has taught me a few things in the process. Such as – and this is an important one: setting unrealistic goals is pointless and oftentimes even counterproductive.

The rather disappointing outcome of my endeavour moved me to find out whether the idea behind my own challenge was actually a good one, and I have to admit that it wasn’t for two reasons.

While a daily writing routine is very useful, it also has to be feasible. Now, I know that there are bloggers and authors out there with 12 kids and endless social and professional commitments who can still manage to meet their daily writing goals, but I have to admit to be an inferior specimen in that regard, because with only two children – one of whom a now 9-month old baby – I simply can’t manage to find the time, or more importantly, the energy to block an hour or even half an hour to write every day. Certain things have taken priority over the past months, and when the necessary daily chores and unexpected interruptions had been dealt with and I could have theoretically sat down to write, I found that I had expended every last drop of energy I had.
Interestingly, I found myself talking to a friend the other day about energy and how I wish I had more of it, and she told me she had been wiped out by day’s end for years now and that she could only dream of still being bubbly and active when the daily routine had been dispensed with. (She’s a mother of three.) I have to admit, I was surprised. My friend is one of those people who appears to have endless stamina, and whose demeanour certainly doesn’t betray even the merest hint of fatigue, but it’s there. And this is not to be mean but: I am not alone – hurrah!

(This is fodder for another, imminent blog post on the detrimental effects of constant competition in a meritocracy that is becoming increasingly damaging to the human spirit. But I digress.)

This brings me to the second reason: those priorities I mentioned earlier. One of them is me. After the birth of my baby last year, I realized that I should probably begin making some healthy choices in my life: I had to start taking care of myself a little bit. Not as an afterthought, or with some occasional maintenance as I had been doing up until then, but as a real pillar of my existence. So – and this is completely out of character for me – for the past few months I have been looking after myself better than usual: I have committed to an exercise routine, I have enlisted my love of cooking and baking to establish a healthy diet for the whole family, and I have invested in several online courses to engage my mind in the areas that I am interested in.
While all this might sound rather mundane and uneventful, for me – as I suspect is the case for a few more people (perhaps more than a few) – it’s huge! And while it has given me a lot of positive energy, it has also physically exhausted me as I have been working hard to establish and maintain this new routine.

So there they are: some of the lessons I’ve learned since picking up my blog again (before this post, that is.) We learn through failure, right?

As for a post every day on whatever topic, I think I will instead focus on a few things that I feel strongly about, topics on which I feel I really have something to say. So keep an eye out: perhaps some if it will interest you.

And thank you for sticking with me.

Competitive Parenting

My daughter is 7 years old. She goes to school and is learning to spell, read, do math. And of course she does this in a classroom filled with a lot of other children.

The school she goes to is very focused on cognitive abilities, which is fine with me. There isn’t a lot of focus on creative expression as far as I can see, but we more than compensate for that at home with story telling, drawing, singing, dancing and movie watching and making.

I firmly believe that having a set of basic skills offers a valuable set of tools to accomplish the things you want to accomplish in later life, but I’ve noticed of late that there seems to be a great deal of competition among these children when it comes to scholastic achievement, even as young as at age 7. But even more so, there seems to be an even greater amount of competition among parents.

Perhaps I’ve only started noticing recently, but there is a lot of comparing going on. Wherever I go, I hear conversations between parents who trumpet their children’s test scores, ability in math or reading, and overall brilliance. I’m sure all those children are performing extremely well in school, and naturally a parent would be very proud of that, but I’m not sure at what point discussing these things began crossing over from talking about our children into out-shining one another as to whose child is at least as brilliant as, but preferably more brilliant than the other parents’ child(ren).

Some of this is most certainly perceived on my part, by which I mean that my daughter is a smart child, but I have no test scores to flaunt (nor would I want to if I did) or extraordinary achievement awards to present on her behalf. The things she is good at will not show up on an academic record because school is not interested in her particular skill set – which lies much more in the creative field. Perhaps for those reasons I feel like these conversations going on around me are an exercise in performance boasting.

Still, all this talk of above-average achievement does lead me to wonder: at what point do we cross over from helping our children achieve their full potential into pushing our children to compete incessantly, causing them to constantly compare themselves to, and compete with, everyone else? The latter seems unhealthy to me, because it instills a false sense of superiority in children based on performance, and a damaging sense of inferiority in children who don’t perform as well. I would imagine that society as a whole is much better served by children learning that there is value in each individual person’s own unique skill set. I’m pretty sure we can manage that while still teaching our children to be the best they can be.

The same is true for parents, incidentally. What a relief it should be not to feel like you constantly have to point out your child’s academic and other achievements as soon as you start talking about your children. Instead, we could say lovely things like: “My daughter was all smiles today. I love seeing her enjoying herself so much at school,” or “My son said he really enjoyed working together with your son on the class project today. It’s great to see them find out what you can accomplish together.”

As far as my daughter’s achievements go, I am happy when she enjoys herself at the things she does, whether she excels at them or not. If she’s having fun, I know she’s applying herself to the fullest, and that is all I would ask of her regardless of measurable results. She is who she is, and at that she’s the best, as is everyone’s child.

Me, I would just really like to get away from the competitive parenting game. My child is my child. She excels at some things, is not particularly great at others. It doesn’t make her smarter, dumber, better, or worse than anyone else. I don’t want to extol her achievements or virtues all the time, or feel the need to defend her when her skills at certain subjects are not yet at the level of someone else’s and what’s more: I don’t want to feel like I have to.

Energy Dipping

It's been more than a week since I wrote my last post here. So much for one post a day.

My goal has been subverted by my low energy levels and the amount of time-consuming activities that have somehow cropped up over the past few weeks.

When I began my ambitious endeavor, I would somehow find time to write in the middle of the day or else I would make time in the evening. But there are times when a lot of things happen all at once: home improvement, celebrations and ceremonies, upkeep, and – how else with a baby – supefrequent loads of laundry, which in turn mean constant ironing, folding and putting away.

Some would say that if I was truly dedicated I would still make the time to write everyday and maybe that's true, but lately during the day I haven't found (made?) time, and in the evenings I'm done for the minute I sit down. Must be getting old.

Of course there's this to consider: that a little over four months ago I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy. In contrast to the months after my lovely daughter was born (the aftermath of the delivery was shockingly difficult), in the first month and a half after my son was born I experienced a surge of energy. I could just keep going, 16 hours a day and a few hours more if necessary. I worked hard, found or made time to have fun, and slept very well indeed. After those first six weeks, though, my energy levels have steadily been dropping back to where they would logically be for full-time a mom of two.

What I need is energy management.

I've been taking steps to take my energy reserves and expenditures back into my own hands because surely there has to be a way for me to be smarter about this, to apply some healthy energy management and to find ways to create space and time for the things that are important to me, such as writing.

My first step in the right direction might sound counterproductive but it will actually help me regain some control over my constitution as well as clear my mind a bit, which is at least as important to fitness as the physical element is: I've started going to yoga/Pilates classes again (though I could still be more disciplined about attendance), and I've recently been given the chance and opportunity to teach my own yoga class – an exhilarating and extremely satisfying experience for which I can never thank my teacher or my students enough. It's a wonderfully empowering and energizing feeling to be able to share the benefits of a good yoga routine with an enthusiastic and appreciative group of people.

I know that initially I will be more tired because the regular fitness and exercise routines are shifting me into a different gear, but the positive effects will make themselves felt very soon.

Until then, I'll just pick up with my resolution to write a post every day. We begin, stumble, get up and start again. That's life.

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women's Day. There is still so much to do in terms of equality, respect, appreciation. But there's also so much that has already been achieved.

It wasn't very long ago that women were not allowed to own land, to vote, to earn a degree, to work. Today, it seems ridiculous that it was ever different, and that's a good thing. But there's also still a lot to do. Equal pay is apparently hard, which seems odd to me: same job, same reward, right? Then there's the issue of raising a family. It is apparently difficult for the market to allow for true equality there too. Another strange thing, since most of the fathers I know are eager to play as significant a role in their children's lives as the mothers. Why not allow for that, and adapt business opportunities to these evolving attitudes and demands?

History has seen some very impressive women. Women who have broken barriers, women who have fought for rights we now take for granted in most western nations, women who stepped up and did what needed doing, women who have shown extraordinary intelligence, integrity and courage.

One day, hopefully, we'll finally be in a society that sees people, not gender. It would be great if people were seen, period, but that's another issue altogether.

For now, I would like to leave you with this intelligent and impressive speech by Emma Watson on what gender inequality means for both genders, and how it's high time we rose above these differences to truly make society better for everyone.

 

Baby Food

How time flies! It seems like only yesterday that our baby boy was born. Soon he’ll be four months old already. He’s sitting up, talking baby talk, smiling, giggling and slowly beginning to get sick of the same old bottles of milk. I can’t blame him. I’d get pretty sick of drinking the same thing every day too. It’s the ultimate in “familiarity breeds contempt”, but it means that he is now ready for different drinks and foods, tastes and textures.

In the interests of both health and frugality I favour home made baby food: I like knowing exactly what goes into what my son eats, and how it’s made. What better way to ensure that I know both than by making it myself? The added advantage: it’s a lot cheaper than buying the bottled or packaged stuff from the supermarket.

Home cooking also allows me to guide the development of my little boy’s palate. I can subtly lead him towards more varied an increasingly complex tastes, which will make it easier for him to adapt to the many different types of cuisine he’ll likely be exposed to over the course of his life. Not only eating these home cooked foods, but also seeing them be prepared has another benefit: there’s a good chance it will create an active enjoyment of so many fabulous flavours as well as generate an active interest in food preparation. This, in turn, may make it more likely that he’ll be leading a healthy lifestyle at least where it comes to food intake. And a healthy mentality towards food intake tends to result in a healthy approach to life in general, but that’s for another time.

My son’s first foray into actual food will be carrot-pumpkin mash. Carrots are relatively easily palatable where taste is concerned, and the pumpkin lends a subtle and slight sweetness to this mash. Add to this the fact that both vegetables lend themselves perfectly to pureeing once well cooked and we have the perfect introduction to “real food”.

You’ve probably guessed it: the rest of this post will be a how-to.

I cooked 500 grams of raw carrots and 400 grams of cubed raw pumpkin flesh until soft – the carrots need to cook slightly longer than the pumpkin, so I started cooking the carrots first, then after about 3 minutes I added the pumpkin.

pumpkin carrots cooked

After approximately 18 minutes they will be cooked well enough that pureeing becomes a piece of (carrot?) cake. Simply drain the vegetables and begin pureeing in small portions. (I have a very small hand blender, but if you have a big one just dump as much vegetable in there as your blender can handle.)

pumpkin carrot mash in tray

Of course, if you cook in these quantities, you’ll have a lot of carrot-pumpkin mash. And here is the great part: this stuff is perfect for freezing in small portions. I transferred my mash into a silicone tray which, coincidentally, makes little pumpkin shapes and then placed the whole tray in the freezer. (A normal ice cube tray will do just as well, or a mini-muffin tray.)

After a few hours you have ideal baby-sized portions of healthy, home made frozen mash ready to defrost for eating or drinking. For the moment we are still make this stuff for use in a bottle, which is actually a pretty speedy process: simply add freshly boiled water to defrost and water down each cube.

frozen cubes carrots pumpkin mash

I’ll be mashing a lot more over the next few months, but whatever gets mashed and/or pureed it’s all pretty much the same process, just different ingredients – and little to no boiling required for fruit mashes.

Honestly, I had forgotten how much fun it can be to make mini dishes. Yay, I get to play kitchens again!

World Book Day UK

Today, the UK celebrates World Book Day. This is a bit odd, considering that it’s World Book Day and the rest of the world celebrates on 23 April… It should really be UK Book Day then, but I’m not going to let that little detail bother me. Any excuse to celebrate books, I say!

modern fiction 2 As I mentioned a few posts ago: we really, really like books in our house, and we, umm, well, we have one or two lying around. Okay, fine, we have tons and tons of them. They’re everywhere. There’s literally only one room in the house that has no books, and that’s the shower.

On our shelves (and our windowsills, and in little nooks here and there) we have all sorts: mythology, fairy tales, children’s books, young adult fiction, history, biographies, autobiographies, philosophy, fantasy, science-fiction, literary classics, modern fiction, essays … you name it.

fairytales and mythology

Besides the “classic” format, we also own a bunch of audiobooks (I’m a fan of the Dresden Files, read by James Marsters), and I have a Kindle loaded with titles – mostly modern (romantic) fiction.

modern fiction

The kids’ rooms are also packed with books – some they can read or from which they can be read now, some our daughter has read or has had read to her and can’t bear to part with, and some for them to read later when they’re ready for them.

books YMA books LMS

To me books are magic. Between their covers they contain worlds and galaxies, perspectives, ideas, philosophies, life lessons, the chance to be someone, anyone anywhere, just for a few hours. Books are like time travel, teleportation and transformation all rolled into one.

I’m grateful for the various digital formats because we’re running out or wall and shelf space and going digital means I can keep collecting books since all these titles only take up the space of my e-reader, but if I ever make enough money I’m buying or building a house with a library for “real” books: one of those high-ceilinged ones where you can’t see the walls for the floor-to-ceiling shelves. And of course one of those ladders-on-wheels to get to the high-up volumes, and reading tables with reading lights, and high-backed cushy seats that you can crawl into and lounge in for hours.

One day…

For now I’m very happy with our bookcases – they hold a lot of books – and with our new couch arriving any day now, I foresee many happy hours of reading.

Happy (belated) birthday, Dr Seuss

Yesterday was Dr Seuss‘s birthday, as my sister reminded me today. It got snowed under, I’m ashamed to say, by chores and deadlines and planning for events. When it comes to significant days, March is actually pretty full of them: Thursday the 5th is World Book Day, Sunday the 8th is International Women’s Day, and Saturday the 14th is Albert Einstein‘s birthday (1879).

But let me get back to Dr Seuss. I grew up in the Netherlands and never went to an international school. I never lived anywhere other than Holland. While Dr Seuss is an intrinsic part of growing up in the US, and I imagine the UK as well though I can’t be sure (see previous), in the Netherlands his work is not nearly as well known. And that’s how I lived to the ripe old age of 25 before ever reading a Dr Seuss book.

My first one was Green Eggs and Ham, and it was my husband who introduced me to it. After he had finally recovered from the shock of realizing that I had no idea who Dr Seuss was nor why his stories are so amazing, he promptly handed me the book and I was immediately hooked.

After reading Green Eggs and Ham, I felt like I had some catching up to do so I read one book after another. Suddenly I became aware of a whole world of missed references. For instance: in Patriot Games, when Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is reading to his daughter Sally (Thora Birch) in the hospital he is reading from The Cat in the Hat. Duh! And I suddenly truly understood what it meant when I heard someone called a Grinch.

Dr Seuss was very creative and innovative with the language, but his books are more than just tongue-twisting fun: they are wise and compassionate and optimistic. Having read quite a few of them by now, my daughter and I have one particular favourite: The Sneetches & Other Stories. Every time we read the tale of the Sneetches, she bristles with indignance on behalf of the plain-belly Sneetches at the beginning, then dissolves into uncontrollable giggles when Sylvester McMonkey McBean introduces himself and sends all the Sneetches running through his clever machine. The names Mrs McCave would have given her sons in retrospect in Too Many Daves crack her up, and the pale green pants get all her sympathy at the end of What Was I Scared Of. And those Zax, well, clearly they’re missing more than just the point. They’re missing everything!

But it’s Dr Seuss’s compassionate wisdom and energetic optimism that really get me every time, even as he simultaneously manages to appeal to my somewhat misanthropic side. And in addition to the delightful mischievous nature of his stories, often his observations have a remarkably bolstering effect. Take this one, for instance:

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you!” What a wonderful way to be reminded that just being yourself is already a pretty good thing to be. No need to worry about constantly competing.

And of course: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” I can’t help it: whenever I see this quote I just become happily motivated and, at least for a moment, I feel that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

Nothing I say about Dr Seuss could do justice to his wit and wisdom, so I’ll leave you with some of the best advice I’ve ever read; by the man himself, of course:

“Life’s too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right, forgive the ones who don’t and believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it’d be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.”