2016, What Will You Do Next?

It has been a long time since I published a blog post. Life has been busy and I’ve found over the past several months that it is all too easy – though not necessarily always a great idea – to sideline my own activities in favour of facilitating other people’s; this is true not only of me, but equally of my husband.

Not that that hasn’t also brought very satisfying results – our son is walking, even running, and beginning to talk; my daughter is finding her feet at her new school and has had some real successes – but it’s time to pick up some things again just for me.

Which is why I’m now writing this brief blog post, which will be followed shortly by a longer, more serious one.

But first, I would just like to ask one simple question: 2016, what the f***??!

This year has been marked by one unexpected celebrity death after another, multiple violent attacks, one personal loss, and one very far-reaching decision with potentially devastating consequences. And we’re barely even halfway! There’s 6 more months to go…

Brexit will ensure that those 6 months will not pass calmly and pleasantly, even if no other unexpected tragedies occur. Whoever wished upon us that we may live in interesting times is clearly getting their money’s worth.

 

 

Baby Boom: Can We Have It All?

I just finished watching Baby Boom for what is probably the twentieth time. The first time I saw it, I was watching it on the recommendation of a dear family friend and I loved it. I still do, especially now that I’m smack dab in the middle of motherhood, and having seen up close what the things that are standard practice in business can do to working professionals and by extension to their families.
Out of curiosity, I went online to read some reviews of the movie as it came out at the time. The LA Times was unabashedly enthusiastic about it, Roger Ebert thought it was a charming fairy tale (actually, he called it “(…) a fantasy about mothers and babies and sweetness and love (…)”). I think it’s more than that. I think that underneath all the comedy and polish, the filmmakers were trying to express a sincere hope that things would be changing for the better in corporate environments, and that it was about time too. I think that they were expressing the belief that the realization of potential and the achievement of success don’t have to be binary as they had been up until then: you can either have it all or you can dip your foot in the pool at best.
A lot of reviews were firmly in the Ebert camp: having a family and a successful career? Cute idea, but a fantasy, of course. I suppose their reviews were written from the perspective of the status quo at the time. It does beg the question: were they worried that change would be detrimental for the economy or, more cynically, just uncomfortable for the established order? Or were they simply convinced that business would always stay the same and there would never be room for a more holistic approach in corporate America, or indeed anywhere in the world?
Perhaps on that, they were right. Even though great strides have been made in recent years, the commercial environment – more than being woman-unfriendly – is decidedly family-unfriendly. And before all the hard-working, self-sacrificing childless (or childfree, as they may prefer to call themselves) earners begin pre-emptively declaring that they will be the ones doing all the work for their slacking, uninspired, uncommitted, parenting co-workers: nobody is suggesting that companies simply put people with families on the payroll and then allow them to only work whenever they feel like it. Of course a responsible job should be taken seriously, and there will be times when more is required from work than will be comfortable to combine with family life. But especially today, in this constantly hailed 24-hour economy and with technology opening up hitherto unimagined possibilities for telecommuting, we should really already have developed more realistic views on work requirements and results, as well as what is and should be humanly possible and reasonably required. Just try this change on for size: efficient performance trumps hours worked. That would be an interesting experiment, no?
Tired people don’t work efficiently. Worried parents tend to shift focus on occasion. Does this means that parents who choose to be involved in their children’s lives should be cut from the workforce altogether? Or is it perhaps time for a new type of economy, one in which all aspects of a person’s life are granted equal value on balance? I think it is.
Baby Boom expresses the hope, even the optimism that this future does exist, per J. C. Wyatt’s speech upon rejecting The Food Chain’s offer. I like to hope it’s right, because by now progress should slowly be steering us toward a reality in which having a full life is truly possible.

Pumpkin, How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways. 3: Chicken with Garlic & Pumpkin-Potato Purée

Pumpkin! It’s coming out of our ears! But, I think I’ve managed to make four sufficiently different dishes with my stash of pumpkin flesh so as not to bore the family with each serving. Last night’s dinner marked the last in our series of pumpkin-infused evening meals, and so this is the last of my pumpkin recipes (for now).

We closed off our pumpkin theme with a lovely plate of chicken sprinkled with dried Italian herbs on a bed of garlic and pumpkin-potato purée, and here is how I made it.

This will feed 3-4 people.

For the purée you’ll need:

  • 6 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 400 gr of pumpkin flesh, cubed
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 2 tsp maple syrup

potatoes and pumpkin

First, boil the potatoes in water with some salt for 10 minutes, then add the pumpkin and boil it along with the potatoes for another 7 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small frying pan heat  the butter and add the garlic, sautéing it until it turns golden. After draining the potatoes and pumpkin (and turning off the flame), put them back in the pot and mash them. Next, pour the garlic butter in, and add the salt and maple syrup. Stir thoroughly and cover the pot with the lid; this will keep the purée warm until you need it.

garlic butter

For the chicken, you’ll need:

  • 600 gr chicken breast, thickly sliced along the length
  • dried Italian herbs (I used a blend of dried oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary)
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp water

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium flame. On a plate or board, season the chicken slices with the Italian herbs on one side and sprinkle salt on the other side of the chicken slices. Then, fry the chicken in the pan for 3 minutes on one side and 3 minutes on the other side. Always check to ensure that the chicken has been properly cooked (slice open the thickest bit of chicken to check that it has not been undercooked). Take the chicken out of the pan and place it on a separate plate, covering it with aluminium foil to keep it warm.

chicken

Next, pour the water in the frying pan, using a spatula to softly loosen the brown residue from the bottom of the pan. This is tasty stuff, and because the chicken was cooked gently, there should only be golden and brown bits, but no black. Mixed in with the water this makes for a mild and tasty sauce.

 

To serve, first place 2 heaped tablespoons of purée in the middle of the plate, then drag a trail through the middle of the heap with the spoon. This is the pocket in which you can place the chicken. Pour just a little sauce over the top and you’re done.

dinner

Enjoy!

 

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.