Saturday, 31 May 2014

Jam tart biscuits

Don't you just love those delightful images of children helping out in the kitchen - stirring batters, kneading balls of dough and chopping vegetables? Well so do I. I can stare at them for hours, for example in The River Cottage Family Cookbook.

The problem is that in reality, the idea of my children stirring, kneading and chopping anything makes me just plain nervous. In my mind's eye I can see blood spurting out of little fingers (and onto the dinner!) and great sticky messes being made in the kitchen and spread throughout the entire house. Guiding children in activities such as these also requires an angelic patience I don't always have.

Having said that, allowing my kids to help in the kitchen is something I'm working on. I started a while ago by getting them to help with biscuit baking. They are particularly fond of making (and eating) Jam Tart Biscuits and especially love dolloping the jam in the middle. You've seen these biscuits before on Notes from Delft and you'll surely see them again because they're a bit of a fixture in this house. I am certain there are different versions of this little classic out there, but I use the one from Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook Notes From My Kitchen Table because it doesn't contain refined sugar.

Here is the recipe, which she calls Lalo's Famous Cookies. I have adapted the quantity, since Gwyneth's recipe yields about 50 biscuits - far too many for this household, though M and the kids beg to differ.

Jam Tart Biscuits
adapted from Notes From My Kitchen Table by Gwyneth Paltrow 

225g barley flour (I sometimes use spelt flour instead)
225g almond meal
0,5 teaspoon fine salt
0,5 teaspoon ground cinnamon
125ml rapeseed oil (though I usually use hazelnut oil)
125ml pure maple syrup
your favourite (sugar free) jam
yields about 25 biscuits

  • preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius
  • combine all ingredients except the jam in a bowl
  • stir with a wooden spoon
  • make balls the size of walnuts - or bigger if you prefer
  • make an indent in each biscuit with your thumb
  • fill each indent with a dollop of jam
  • bake for 20 minutes or until evenly browned

Ready to go into the oven...

and waiting to be eaten (won't take long)

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Rotterdam Sunday

Some of you may be wondering when I'm going to show you Delft. Don't worry: it's coming. Soon. First though, let me show you a slice of Rotterdam, where we went last Sunday on the last sunny day before the dreary weather set in.

I used to dislike Rotterdam. I thought it was busy, noisy, agressive and not particularly attractive. But then I met M, who introduced me to a side of the city up to then unknown to me. Since then I have changed my mind about the place and now think it is dynamic, lively, upbeat and beautifully modern. 

My favourite part of town is the Witte de With Quarter. It's an arty farty part of town - I once heard someone say it reminded them of Greenwich Village NY, which put a smile on my face.  In the Witte de With Quarter you will find wonderful cafes, restaurants, art galleries and some lovely shops - in particular one that sells dancing shoes. I once bought Tango shoes there, but that's stuff for another post. 

The Witte de With Street is a stone's throw away from Museum Park, where the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum is located, as well as the Netherlands Architecture Institute and De Kunsthal (where all those wonderful paintings including some by Picasso and Monet were stolen in 2012 and later found to have been incinerated in Romania - I kid you not). But on Sunday we didn't go there to see some fabulous exhibition or other, we went there to eat cake. Cheesecake to be exact.

Who is that mysterious gentleman in the red trousers, I wonder.

NRC Cafe, where we ate a nice slice of cheescake. They have a woderful menu full of organic goodies.

Time for a slice of cheescake (or two)

Interior shot of NRC Cafe

Interior shot of NRC Cafe

Interior shot of NRC Cafe

Interior shot of NRC Cafe

Boijmans van Beuningen Museum

An interesting object outside the Netherlands Architecture institute. My daughter is convinced the Teletubbies live there. Ah, the wonders of childhood.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Milly Molly Mandy

You hear the term everywhere: simple living - but what is simple living? As with most things, I'm not sure there is a set definition or list of rules. Let me illustrate. I have neighbours who consider their allotment garden to be a big part of their approach to simple living. Yet a vegetable garden, with its constant need for TLC, would surely have me biting my fingers to the bone. No one's fooling me: I've read Nigel Slater's Tender, I know how much work goes into a fruit 'n veg patch. My point is that simple living means different things to different people.  It's quite a personal affair. So all I can do is try to explain what it means to me.

At the beginning of 2011, I found myself in a constant web of stress. I had baby daughter N and three-year-old son S and had just started working again after a period of pregnancy leave. Although to the outside world I seemed to be functioning well, my inner world was one of chaos and turmoil. I felt the weight of responsibility pressing down on me at all hours of the day and night. People seemed to be tugging at me constantly, at home and at work; there was no getting away from it. In short: life was complicated.

Something I'd always loved doing was reading in bed before turning out the light. But with my mind so exhausted, I found myself unable to read novels. Then by some stroke of luck I picked up a book I hadn't laid eyes on since childhood: The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook. What ensued was some secret reading in the early hours of the evening. I felt that if I mentioned to anyone that I was engrossed in a children's book they would think I was losing my marbles, but the truth is I was simply drawn to it. A lot like magic. It was as if the book was urging me to read it so it could teach me something.

And teach me something it did - because believe me, if ever there was a children's book about simple living, Milly Molly Mandy**is it. First of all, it put me back in touch with feelings I had long forgotten. Feelings of nourishment. Of calm and safety. I was seeking shelter in M-M-M's world, where joy is found in the simple and ordinary. In baking, in visiting a friend or a great-aunt in another village, in sitting by the stove in your pyjamas eating a jacket potato, in helping thatch a roof (really), in making jam. I was reminded that life is not only something to be coped with, but something to be enjoyed and savoured. I knew I still had a long path to walk, but that this book was pointing me in the right direction.

So what then, is my definition of simple living? It is appreciating what is here already and not constantly desiring more. It is in seeking moderation in all areas - including work. It is in doing my best to be present in everything I do. It is keeping the craziness of our consumer-oriented society at bay. It is seeking contentment in small, daily things. In short: it is being in sync with who I am and what I do.

To be clear, I have by no means mastered the art of simple living. There are times when I make a jolly mess of things - usually when I do or want too much. But I'm working at it and enjoying the journey. Like everything else in life, it is a work in progress.

Enough said: let me turn off my pc, put on some sturdy shoes, go for a walk and do a bit of bird-watching.

**For those of you who are not familiar with the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories, Sue at The Quince Tree has a lovely post on the book(s) very much worth looking at.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Our boy's Good Things Today list

Our boy S understands simple living. Some evenings, before going off to sleep, he gives me his Good Things Today List. I should note them down more often. Here's a sample from last week Friday:

  • having my friend E over to play
  • playing with Lego
  • being home this afternoon, all four of us together
  • going to the playground
  • playing in the garden
  • eating dinner in the garden
  • eating a popsicle
  • making friends with a butterfly that sat on my head
  • having bubbly bath foam in the bath

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Quitting coffee

I adore coffee. Coffee has always been, and always will be, one of the great loves of my life.  But as is usually the case when a relationship becomes unhealthy - toxic even - it is wise to part ways. 

That parting of ways happened about six months ago. For some time previously, I had been suffering from bouts of extreme exhaustion, moods swings and blood sugar instability. It was the blood sugar problems I found most disturbing: in the afternoon I would be shaky, almost to the point of fainting. 

When I finally found my way to a naturopath, she told me I was having trouble with my adrenal glands. In case you are wondering what your adrenal glands are: they are the small glands postitioned on top of the kidneys and are responsible for releasing stress hormones (for example cortisol) into your system.  And in case you are also wondering what on earth coffee has to do with all of this, think about what coffee does to you... 

It gives you a kick. A kick in the pants. Or rather... a kick in the adrenals.

I always thought I was 'stimulating' my body positively with coffee in order to feel and perform better. Usually in order to wake up. To stimulate my brain. As it turns out, what I was doing had more in common with flogging a dead horse: the dead horse being me. My adrenals were already exhausted from too much stress (work, family, general busyness) and with every cup of coffee I drank I was beating them down even more instead of giving them much-needed recuperation time.

After reading Adrenal Fatigue, The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by James. L. Wilson (Dutch readers can find the book here) I was ready to let my beloved cup of battery acid go. And so I did, replacing it with herb and green tea, plus the occasional caffeine-free cappucino as a treat for old time's sake when I'm out.

Mentally I found quitting a piece of cake - and that surprised me enormously. Coffee had always been a great source of solace for me. Whatever was happening in my life, cappuccinos and lattes were there to comfort me.  But physically... now that was another matter. For days I felt as though I'd come down with the flu. I had headaches. Sore muscles. Abdominal cramps. But the worst thing was... insomnia. I was wide awake with my brain buzzing all night for four nights straight. After the fourth night things started to improve, albeit slowly. My mood swings began to improve. And as I became calmer and better rested, my blood sugar problems began to dissipate.

Now here comes the really interesting bit... I have lost that jittery feeling in my body I always thought was normal, simply a part of who I was.  And as a result I have become more relaxed. More go with the flow. My buttons aren't pushed as easily.

M still brings me a cuppa in bed in the morning. Only this time it's green tea instead of coffee. And I love it.

Tea, anyone?

Thursday, 22 May 2014


We love eating out. We don't do it often, but when we do we want it to be special. Even inspiring. A "wow, I've never eaten this before" or "I've never eaten this this way before" or a "let's try this at home" experience. We want food that is tasty, healthy and preferably organic. Food made with love.

Why have we become so critical? A while ago we ate at a family restaurant and when we laid eyes on the bill (€85!) we honestly felt like screaming. All that money for poor quality dishes lacking in anything remotely to do with passion, flare or nutritional value.  Needless to say we paid the bill with a polite smile and walked away scolding ourselves: how could we have been so stupid, what a frivolous waste of money! And, more importantly, we came away ashamed. Ashamed because our children had eaten something we would never have given them at home: a 'pizza' with a big, white, doughy base and a topping that consisted of nothing more than a smear of tomato paste and a sprinkle of cheese. A whole heap of starch and not one piece of vegetable in sight. Not one! That evening, M and I vowed never to waste our hard-earned money on substandard eating out again.

Last Sunday, on our way home after a long walk in the woods, we passed an all too familiar pancake house.  Unpleasant memories came flooding back of greasy, undercooked pancakes that morph into clumps of cement in the stomach. The kids begged us to go in  - kids love pancake restaurants after all! - but  we stuck to our guns: no more wasting money on bad food. Instead, we went home and, much to S & N's delight, baked our own pancakes. It was a real treat. Especially because we made them ourselves, with our own good ingredients. And because we didn't feel guilty (or bloated) afterwards.

You can find the recipe below.

This is my - I like to believe - healthier take on those lovely thick little pancakes we all know and love.

Little Fat Pancakes
adapted from Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book by Mary Berry 

175g spelt flour
2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
30g raw cane sugar or coconut sugar
1 extra large egg or 2 regular eggs
200ml buttermilk
1 vanilla pod
yields about 20 pancakes

  • prepare a griddle or heavy-based frying pan by greasing it with olive or coconut oil
  • combine dry ingredients in a bowl (flour, baking powder, sugar)
  • in a seperate bowl, beat the egg(s), add half the milk and the vanilla seeds you've scraped from the pod
  • add the wet ingredients to the dry and hand beat with a whisk
  • add the rest of the milk to make a batter with the consistency of thick cream
  • drop 3 or 4 spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan (medium heat)
  • when the bubbles begin to show, turn the pancakes over with a palette knife and cook the other side for about 1 minute
  • cover pancakes with a clean towel to keep them warm and soft
Serve with anything you like - I would recommend maple syrup, butter & (sugar-free) jam or some lovely fresh fruit.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Arty farty

At times I find myself dissatisfied with life as it is. With the drudgery of daily activities, demands and obligations. In such moods I fantasise about leaving it all behind, together with hubby M and kids S & N, and starting somewhere new. I imagine us living a life in which every second is crammed with wonderful experiences. Usually in an urban setting, the opposite to where I live. I imagine us living in an enormous loft, tastefully furnished with an array of antiques and all sorts of other interesting objects collected on our worldly travels. This loft would of course be situated in a hip-and-happening part of a foreign city with cafes on the corner selling the best cappuccinos, and delightful little antique shops just down the road. Greenwich Village NY would do very well, thank you.

I don't like myself when I'm in this mood. This particular mood has nothing to do with lapsing into sumptuous daydreams, an activity I regularly indulge in, sometimes even together with M (in which the exciting question "What would we do if we won the lottery?" usually arises). No, this unbearable visitor is called Miss Dissatisfied. And I don't like Miss Dissatisfied. I find her ungrateful and, frankly, she makes me unhappy. 

Just the other day Miss Dissatisfied paid me one of her visits. I had just spent some time looking at sites selling properties abroad (why, I don't know - it's not like we're going to be moving anywhere anytime soon) when I felt those all too familiar jitters in my chest. Call it an agitated restlessness. Next thing I knew my mind started churning out the usual rubbish along the lines of: What a boring place we live in, how uninspiring, surely there must be more to life than this, surely we deserve more?

Funnily enough I was able to send Miss Dissatisfied packing quite quickly. How? By simply observing my thoughts instead of engaging with them. By realising that dissatisfaction is nothing to do with the situation I'm in, but rather with the mood I'm in. By realising that a mood is just a mood, and thoughts are just thoughts, both brought on by spending too much time looking at stuff I don't have. I don't really want to live in New York (though I'd love to visit!) - I'm not even suited to city living, which is far too stressful and noisy for my liking.

I reminded myself that there is nothing wrong with wanting things to be different now and then and taking positive actions to achieve what I want - as long as I remember to see what I already have. And that, in my case, is A LOT.

On that note, I went for a walk in the meadows behind our house....

...where I connected with nature and came back invigorated.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

James Salter

A while ago I had the pleasure of reading James Salter's Light Years. It is the story of Nedra and Viri, a couple whose life is centered around raising their  two daughters, entertaining friends, and holidays to Amagansett (yes, that nice place in New York reserved for the rich). In that sense it is very much a book centered on domesticity and family life.

There is, however,  a lot that can be said about the (sometimes irritating) over-privilege of these two people and that seems to have been the focus of criticism when the book first appeared in 1975. Viri and Nedra have a slight obsession with fame, money and recognition; and whatever they achieve – it is never enough. But what makes this book so compelling is its sensuality. I have never read a book that appeals so deeply to the senses. The warmth of the sun, the smell of the salty sea air, the flavours of a meal, the elegance of tasteful clothes - Salter allows his readers to not just read, but to experience. After I had finished the novel, I experienced the sensual world around me (the rustling of leaves on the trees, the smell of a roast in the oven, the touch of certain materials) quite differently -  more consciously, with renewed appreciation.  A pretty clever achievement for an author, I think.

Another of Salter’s books – albeit a totally different one – is a book about food called Life is Meals. The title, incidentally, is a quote taken from Light Years. It’s a lovely book to hold:  heavy, with thick paper and a sturdy, carton-like cover.  The book is organised like a diary with entries for each day of the year, all to do with food & drink and entertaining. A must-have for foodies, with tidbits about everything from salt to coffee. Clearly written with love.

Love the thick, sturdy cover and the stripes, which are also on the inside flap...

...and the beautiful illustrations with a Parisian feel