Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A slice of Asia and back to basics weekend

Assuming you've already studied the photos above, I imagine you are wondering where this lucky family disappeared to at the weekend. To China? India? Some other exotic part of the world? Well the answer would be: the zoo, of course.

Since we are not going away this summer, we are trying to soak up some exotic experiences locally.  On Saturday this involved our usual anchor of the week, the zoo, and afterwards dinner at a Chinese restaurant. To start with the former: the more we frequent the zoo, the more we enjoy it. Visiting once in a while means running around like a headless chicken in order to see as much as possible in one day. Visiting every week means taking time out to enjoy one large corner at our leisure without feeling guilty over not having seen the rest. On Saturday we were in the mood for a bit of China -  don't ask me where that came from (I don't know) -  and so we spent the afternoon in the cool, shadowy Chinese garden at the zoo, enjoying the beautiful flowers, giant Koi Carps and a small but fine specimen of Chinese architecture. Funnily enough, it was quite idyllic. Highlight of the afternoon was of course seeing the elephants: a baby one with its big sister and mother. Daughter S wanted nothing more than to have Baby Elephant sitting on her lap. Or living in her bedroom. Anyhow. The two bottoms are the sisters, in case you are interested.

Needless to say, all that lounging about made us hungry, and so we took being in Asia to the next level by going to a Chinese restaurant in Rotterdam. I cannot tell you when we last went to a Chinese restaurant, but I suspect it's around eight years ago. The interior was just as I remembered a Chinese restaurant to be: clean, spacious and air-conditioned, with impeccably set tables. The same went for the hospitality: friendly, inviting and helpful. What M and I had both forgotten, however, was... portion size. I mean, my goodness - what is that all about? Mounds of food (we'd only ordered for two people!) was put in front of us in a row as long as the Chinese Wall; half of which, much to our embarrassment, remained uneaten. I humbly apologised to the waitress who smilingly said that never mind, this happens all the time, no one finishes their order, so don't worry, not even in the slightest, and when son S said "but won't the cook be angry?" she burst into fits of giggles. This still left me feeling slightly awkward, I mean: do they throw that food out or do they dish it all up again? I shudder to think. What I had also forgotten was the excessive amount of meat, and  the vegetables drenched in corn starch sauces - yikes, I've really outgrown that stuff. After paying ninety euros - yes, you read that right, and as you know, I have complained about money spent on eating out before - we left the restaurant feeling a little ashamed. Son S looked at me, squeezed my hand and said, "that was wonderful, wasn't it mama, are we going there again next week?"

Sunday was spent going back to basics by eating simple, wholesome food (after the previous evening's excessiveness, we were almost ready to become as frugal and austere as Spartans). For dinner we ate carrot soup (made the same way as broccoli soup except with carrots and some freshly grated ginger), followed by a simple salad with lightly battered fried fish. For dessert we had  homemade ice lollies. In case you are interested in making them yourself, here is the recipe.

Strawberry Ice Lollies
adapted from It's All Good by Gwyneth Paltrow

1 punnet of strawberries, rinsed and hulled
100ml double cream or coconut cream if you are lactose intolerant
2 tablespoons maple syrup
8 ice lolly moulds

  • Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor
  • pulse until completely smooth
  • pour into moulds and pop into the freezer

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Hiding the bad guys

My children will not eat spinach. Spinach however is a leafy green I happen to care very much about since it is low in calories and packed with vitamins and minerals. Despite my attachment to this vegetable, I am not bothered in the least by their refusal to eat it for two reasons. The first one is that there are many things I despised as a child and now love: apples, nuts, coconut, broccoli, pineapple, witlof and Brussel sprouts. Bar the Brussel sprouts, my children happily eat all of these, so no worries there. The second reason I am not worried about this incessant refusal to eat those luscious green leaves is because, without knowing it, (please excuse the evil grin that is starting to appear on my face).... they eat them already. Quite regularly in fact. And what's more... they love it.

For quite some time now, I have taken to hiding spinach in all sorts of dishes. It all started with a pleasing recipe for Greek spinach pies I came across on the internet. I tweaked it here and there, renamed the content (from 'spinach' to 'parsley') and they were an instant hit with the kids. In fact, now they even request them. But don't they notice the spinach?!? I can hear you thinking. Well, yes. Sometimes they are even downright suspicious. The suspicion and renaming started when my son was eyeing a strand of spinach hanging out of one of the pies. After eyeing the offending entity carefully he winced and said: "That looks an awful lot like spinach." For a moment I froze. "Well," I said, my mind racing in search of an answer, "...that may look like spinach, but in fact it's... parsley. S was quiet for a moment in contemplation and then said: "Oh, parsley. Well that's alright then, yum." I squeezed my eyes at him lovingly and a few moments later we all tucked in.

What have I learnt from all this? That sometimes you just need to reshape and rename something to remove the stigma attached to it ("a heap of spinach - yuk!"). So in this house, spinach is tucked into all sort of things and called parsley. Period. Visitors are informed of this blatant lie and kindly play along ("mmm, these... parsley pies are delicious, Isabelle") and I am all the more grateful for it. Do I mind lying to my children? Not really. Parenting is all about making choices. And fingers crossed they'll be able to see the funny side when they're older.

Here is the recipe for these magical spinach parsley pies. It is a cross between two Greek dishes, one called Tiropita (cheese pies really made with parsley!) and another called Spanakopita (my apologies to Greek readers if my accuracy is off mark).

Small Spinach Pies
adapted from Tessa Kiros

300-500g fresh spinach
200g soft goat cheese
6-8 squares of puff pastry
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste

  • preheat oven 220 degrees Celsius, or according to instructions on pastry packet
  • line an oven tray with baking paper
  • meanwhile, defrost the puff pastry
  • in a large non-stick pan, sauté spinach in the oil, on medium heat, folding over until it has shrunk; depending on the size of your pan you may need to do this in batches
  • when the spinach has shrunk, transfer to a colander to drain excess moisture
  • transfer spinach to a chopping board and chop finely
  • in a large bowl, combine spinach and goat cheese
  • add eggs, nutmeg, a pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of pepper - thoroughly combine
  • place a dollop of the mixture on a square of pastry; fold pastry into a triangle and press edges with a fork to seal - this is important, you don't want the mixture to spill out. 
  • repeat process; don't worry if things become a bit messy - everything will set in the oven and work out just fine
  • bake for 20 minutes until lovely and golden
  • serve with a simple salad or some tomatoes and cucumbers  - or anything else you have left over (I had some organic chicken that needed frying up)

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Strange days

Centre of Delft

Things are slowing down tremendously here. The holidays have started, the weather is warm and, as a result, my writing routine has slowed down somewhat. The little voice in my head - let's call her Little Miss Demanding - has been nagging me about it, but it is a voice I have learned to ignore. Mastering this art has taken me a long time; for many years I was dictated by Little Miss Demanding (LMD for short), telling me to do this, that and the other... or else. It is of course this or else that is interesting and when I delved into it, I discovered some odd, underlying assumptions: Or else people will think you're a slacker. Or else you won't measure up. Or else people won't like you.

Wow, what a voice to be tormented by.

The older I get (did I just write that?), the more I find myself shouting back at LMD - something along the lines of so what! (let's keep things decorous) - because really, at the end of the day, who's keeping tabs on what I do? Only me, surely. Having said that, there are of course quite a few things I want to achieve in my life, mainly creative projects, but they will be achieved not thanks to, but in spite of LMD. A negative, nagging voice serves no purpose, after all; it does not encourage and motivate - it only beats down and belittles.  And besides, I know that slow cycles and rest, as well as allowing emotions to flow and run their course, are a necessity for creativity. And emotions have certainly been flowing here. For these are strange days in the Netherlands.

Yesterday flags hung half-mast as the first forty of the two-hundred and ninety-eight victims were returned for identification. Daughter N and I were sitting on the sofa where I watched one coffin after the other being unloaded from the plane and into hearses at Eindhoven airport. I assumed she wasn't paying much attention, until she suddenly spilled her thoughts: Why is everyone so quiet? Are there people in those boxes, just like granddad? Will they be able to get out when they've had enough of being in there? Aren't they going to take walks or play ever,  ever again? They were difficult questions to answer and just as I was trying, a neighbourhood girl and her mother rang our doorbell to ask whether N would like to come and play. "Yippee!" N chortled. Her questions and need for answers had vanished into thin air, and off she went.


I would like to thank everyone for their wonderful, kind comments on my last post. Thank you.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Gratitude and remembrance weekend

I knew one of the passengers on the flight that ended in the Ukraine. I knew her as well as any teacher could know a pupil. She was lively and loud, curious and smart. She graduated in 2013, after which she went to the north of Holland to study medicine. She died together with her brother  - and when I learned that their parents were also on board, I could only think thank God. I realised later on what a strange thought that was - in no way would or could I ever wish such a tragic fate on anyone. But the underlying feeling, of course, was one of horror: what parent could bear losing both their children?

I have spent this weekend in gratitude and remembrance. In remembrance of two other pupils I knew well who died (one during the 2004 Tsunami) and in gratitude for my children, all the gifts in my life, and for life itself. I pottered around the house in appreciation of everything in it and went into town where I looked at its splendour as if with new eyes. 

When I went into town it seemed as if I was more acutely aware of my surroundings than usual. I cycled past a couple whom I saw studying a piece of paper with instructions of some kind, surrounded by luggage and looking hot and sweaty indeed. I decided to cycle back to see if I could help in any way. As it turns out, they were Americans from Illinois and very grateful for my assistance. It was their first time in Europe, and they were starting their tour in Delft because, as the man said, "We have nothing remotely like this in the States. These quaint little streets and lovely old facades: all this couldn't be more different to where we come from." We walked together through the streets of Delft in search of their hotel. When we reached our destination we said goodbye like old friends. "If ever you find yourself in Illinois..." they called out after me.

Tomorrow I will be attending a memorial service where I will dwell in remembrance some more, and in appreciation for all that was and is.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Simple warm weather salad and strawberry polenta cake

Sultry heat has Holland in its grip. We're hoping for torrential downpour tonight to freshen things up: things being our rapidly wilting garden as well as our cranky selves. Nights are spent under a single sheet, but somehow I find sleeping without my duvet unsatisfying. I'm hoping for some thunder and lightning tonight - if I'm going to lie awake I may as well have something exciting to listen to.

I have found it difficult to cook in this heat. Yesterday we went to the beach in the evening (beach visits during the day when it's sweltering hot are way too exhausting in my opinion)  and we took along a delicious and easy quiche, the recipe of which I will reveal in a later post. This evening I threw together the simplest of salads because that is what this weather  requires: simple, straightforward food with a minimum of fuss. The salad bowl was empty in no time and everyone felt instantly revived. I also used a punnet of strawberries to make a delicious summery cake.  Here are the recipes.

Simple Warm Weather Salad

(Thrown together with what I could find in my fridge and pantry - obviously a very versatile recipe, you could also add mozzarella or goat cheese)

5 tomatoes
1 bag of washed and chopped mixed lettuce
1 red onion
a few strips of bacon (organic)
140g pasta shells (we use spelt pasta)
2 tablespoons of pine nuts
black pepper

for the dressing:

2 tablespoons extra vierge olive oil
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of dried basil (fresh - chopped up - would be nice too)

  • cook the pasta in salted water, then leave in a colander to cool down completely
  • finely chop the onion
  • slice the bacon roughly and fry in olive oil; set aside to cool down
  • roast the pine nuts in a heavy-based non-stick frying pan (watch they don't burn!); set aside to cool down
  • chop tomatoes into quarters
  • now toss everything together in a salad bowl; add a few generous grinds of black pepper
  • for the dressing: whisk all ingredients together, then taste whether you need a bit more of one or the other
  • put dressing on salad and toss: done!

Strawberry Polenta Cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater and Nigella Lawson

(this cake will keep until the next day but should then be eaten)

A punnet of strawberries
150g coconut palm sugar
125g coarse polenta
200g spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
150g butter
2 eggs
2 tablespoons of milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • oil or butter a 20cm loose-bottomed springform cake tin. I prefer to line the tin with oiled parchment paper (see picture below)
  • preheat the oven 180 degrees Celsius
  • combine polenta, flour, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl; add butter and rub in with your fingertips until you have something that resembles breadcrumbs
  • break the eggs into a bowl, add milk and vanilla essence; whisk together; add to the crumble mix
  • blend everything together using your hands and/or a wooden spoon; you can do this using a food processor, but I enjoy doing things by hand
  • you should now have a soft and sticky dough
  • press two thirds into the tin, pushing it up the sides slightly and making sure there are no holes or cracks
  • place the washed, drained, hulled and sliced berries on top and throw blobs of the remaining mixture onto the berries
  • bake for forty-five minutes

The result first

Lined tin

Just out of the oven

Onto a plate and into my mouth: delicious

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

One of the novels I've been reading this month is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (1917-1967), and not only the title of this novel is a gem. In fact, every aspect of the book is beautifully executed - its story, its setting (a small town in Georgia USA) and, in particular, its characters. The main character is the deaf-mute John Singer, a mysterious figure who is befriended by the other characters in the book, all of whom could not be more different: an all-night cafe owner Buff Brannon, a violent alcoholic and drifter Jake Blount, a black doctor Benedict Copeland and a thirteen-year-old girl named Mick Kelly (loosely based on McCullers), whose family runs the boarding-house where John Singer lives.  

The book is intensely evocative. In the course of the story I felt the melancholy, pain and frustration of the characters as if I were one of them. Loneliness, whether we like it or not, is a part of the human condition - it excludes no-one, is what the book seems to be telling us. Language is part of the problem because it is not adequate enough to express what we really mean or feel. In fact, the more we talk, the more entangled and isolated we become. How often have you found yourself trying to explain exactly how you feel but not quite getting there, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart? Or trying to explain something with that sinking feeling inside because you know your attempts are essentially futile? This experience is at the heart of McCullers' characters. To ease their pain, they visit Singer to 'discuss' their troubles, and because he cannot talk back, he seems to be the only one who understands (the irony being that this is not the case - he is just a human like everyone else!). Without his encouragement, the characters begin to idealise him. For young Mick, he is the first thing she thinks about in the morning:

" there was this secret feeling between them. She talked to him more than she had ever talked to a person before. And if he could have talked he would have told her many things. It was like he was some kind of great teacher, only because he was a mute he did not teach. In bed at night she planned about how she was an orphan and lived with Mister Singer - just the two of them in a foreign house where in winter it would snow. " (p.243)

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a deeply wise and compassionate book full of knowledge of what it means to be human. It really struck a chord (or two) with me. And to think McCullers was only twenty-three when she wrote it. 

Don't forget to check out what everyone else is reading over at the The Year in Books...

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Bed making

What on earth is this, I can hear you thinking. Let me explain. Like a good, dutiful mama I always make the beds, but recently son S has begun wanting to make his own. He thinks the way I do it is... well, boring. Not cosy enough. I, of course, like to call my bed making skills simple and sensible, but that's beside the point. Anyhow. Whatever the reason, I encourage every move to independence and that includes making one's own bed. When the time came for him to proudly show me the result, he explained that he wanted to be with all his friends at night, not just some. No one should be excluded, he said, because that would be cruel and very, very sad.

When I laid eyes on this jolly gathering two things came to mind. First of all, a quote from the film The Grand Budapest Hotel, in which Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) declares: "I sleep with all my friends." And secondly: How on earth will the boy fit in?! The next morning S declared he had slept very well, thank you, and had spent the whole night happily away in dreamland having a ball with all his special friends.

All friends are welcome, S said. Even demanding ones (Piggy)...

... crazy ones (Animal)...

...or goofy ones (Dog)...

...and even angry ones (Cartman)

On a different note, there is a recipe I would like to share with you because it would simply be a crime not to. I was inspired to bake it after spending a wonderful hour reading Nigel Slater's Tender (part two, the one on fruit), a cookbook worthy of being called literature in my opinion. The crumb of the pastry is feathery light and the fruit mixture a burst of flavour. A magical combination.

Here is the recipe (adapted to suit my taste and food philosophy, as always):

Little Blueberry Pies 
Adapted from Tender by Nigel Slater

140g butter
230g spelt flour
50g coconut palm sugar
2 egg yolks
tub of blueberries (250-300g)
3 tablespoons sugar free strawberry jam (for Dutch/Belgian readers: Zonnatura is great)
60g ground almonds
4 ramekins

  • rub butter and flour together to form something that resembles fine, light breadcrumbs
  • stir in the sugar and egg yolks
  • then bring together mixture to form a dough making sure not to over-knead
  • roll dough into a short, fat log and refrigerate for a half hour
  • preheat oven 180 degrees Celsius
  • rinse fruit, toss in a bowl, add jam, ground almonds and stir together
  • cut the pastry into four pieces; line 4 ramekins with the pastry
  • pile filling into ramekins, fold pastry over the top of the filling as far as possible
  • bake for twenty-five minutes
  • leave to cool for a bit - the ramekins are hot!
  • dust with icing sugar

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Timeless Simplicity

You may have been attracted to this post by the lovely looking Greek honey cheesecake pictured above, but before I say anything about that let me first broach the subject of laundry. I don't know about you, but I am sometimes outraged (yes, outraged) by the amount of laundry that piles up quicker than I can say "Holland should have won the World Cup." One minute I think I've cleared the hampers, next thing I know they're stuffed so full they're spilling knickers and socks onto the floor. Since that was the case again this weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to spend some time at home 'catching up on some laundry' instead of spending whole days out.

Whenever I go upstairs to see hampers full of dirty laundry (in dark moods just to torture myself), my heart sinks. Sometimes it even makes me say unladylike words out loud. 'Doing' the laundry - that is to say hanging it up and folding it away, just isn't my favourite chore. Sometimes I even need a book called Timeless Simplicity to motivate myself.  In it John Lane - who never fails to give me a happy feeling inside - tells us that when we recognise the larger scheme of things, household chores can give way to feelings of deep satisfaction. He tells us to remember that every pair of socks we fold is an important part of making a house a home. How we feel about doing laundry, "cleaning lavatory pans" (direct quote - really) and the like is all a matter of the attitude we have chosen to adopt: "if we regard it as a form of service, an aspect of home-creation, an opportunity to practice every sort of ingenuity and frugality, it can become an expression of love." I kept these words in mind as I folded away a  mountain of washing and paired together socks (grrr) and I must say, once I was done, I felt very pleased with myself indeed. So bless John Lane. One chore he will never be able to  make me do however, is the ironing. I simply do not iron. Ever. Just wanted to mention that.

This unwillingness to iron leads me to a funny/embarrassing thing that happened to me recently. One afternoon, S's teacher approached me with a suspicious smile on her face. "...You don't iron, do you?" she said, trying to suppress a giggle. "Ehh, uhh, well... no..." I stammered as I was flooded by feelings of guilt over my poor son being caught wearing wrinkled clothes to school.  She of course went on to reveal how she knew I didn't iron. "Well," she said, "today I used an iron in class to press some materials together, and a totally fascinated S asked 'What is that thing?!' -  "and I could tell," she said, "that he had truly never seen one before in his entire life." This last part of course can't be true - I have an iron lying about upstairs and have the photo to prove it, but instead of correcting her I just laughed along politely and made some self-deprecating jokes instead.

Don't be fooled by the presence of the iron in the right-hand corner: I never use it and have of course left it lying around so my children will know what one looks like

By the end of the afternoon a heavily reduced pile of children's clothes in need of ironing folding

Basket filled to the brim with single socks looking for a mate

Now onto a domestic chore which to me isn't a chore: baking. My beloved John Lane of course applauds baking, calling it one of "the sacred arts of life." Since Notes from Delft is not going away to the Mediterranean this summer, the Mediterranean will have to come to Notes from Delft. So yesterday I plucked Food From Many Greek Kitchens (Tessa Kiros) from my baking shelf and made this Melopita, which I call Greek honey cheesecake. It is delicious. Especially cold from the fridge the next day.

As always I have adapted the recipe to suit my own taste and/or food philosophy, so this recipe is not exactly the same as in the book. Here it is:

Greek Honey Cheesecake
adapted from Food From Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros

2 eggs
40g coconut palm sugar
2 tablespoons spelt flour
100g honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon coffee liqueur (the recipe says brandy but I didn't have any)
500g ricotta cheese
25cm ovenproof round ceramic dish

  • preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius
  • butter and flour dish
  • beat eggs and sugar with electric beater until thick and creamy
  • add honey, lemon juice, coffee liqueur and ricotta
  • whisk well until thick, creamy and ribbony (love this word!)
  • scrape into dish and distribute evenly
  • bake for 30 minutes
  • sieve some cinnamon over the top
  • serve at room temperature or cold from the fridge (which we prefer)

May I point out, dear readers, that I have changed my weekly "Sunday" post to "Weekend" post (since so many things happen on Saturdays too) and that I have added a widget called "join this site." So should you feel that the next best step in your life is to "join this site," please feel very welcome to.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Reloading my battery

When I'm in a bad mood I sometimes complain about my house. The list of complaints is impressive, so hang onto your hats:
  • The living room is too small. 
  • The entrance hall is a broom closet. 
  • The ceilings are too low. 
  • There are no distinctive features to speak of.  
  • It's a boring, run-of-the-mill late 1980's square box in the suburbs and on top of that it needs a lot of DIY.

Now for the interesting bit.

In my better, more normal mood that same house is something entirely different. The list of accolades is equally impressive, so please hang onto your hats once more:
  • The living room is light and comfortable. 
  • With its five large bedrooms the house is spacious. 
  • Who cares about the small entrance hall and the low ceilings.
  • I love the kitchen with its beautiful worktops 
  • and the side window in the living room. 
  • It's a sturdy, modern end-of-terrace, Shaker-style house in a  peaceful, green suburb and when I glance out of the window I can see cows lazily wandering by (and what could be better than that?). 

Phew. So is this a post about my house or my moods? A little bit of both, I guess.

In the past few years, I have learned not to take my bad moods too seriously. I have learned that my moods - and not my life - are always changing; my life (house!) isn't good one minute, and rubbish the next. In learning to deal with my own moods gracefully, I think I am doing my children a tremendous favour: a bad mood, I tell them, is nothing more than a passing dark cloud in a usually peaceful sky.  Once the mood and the often accompanying fatigue have passed, a healthy, more realistic perspective on things will return, allowing you to choose the thoughts you want to believe (I prefer the positive ones). Once you realise this, no mood could possibly have a hold on you, and as a consequence you are free to deal with life's issues in a healthier and more peaceful way. Learning this takes practice, but the rewards are amazing.


I realise you may need to put on sunglasses to cope with the colour on the walls ('sunny' is what we like to call it) but I hope you'll enjoy a peek into our space. It is where we live, love, fight, argue and be happy; it is where we rest and reload our batteries. It is where we've got a good thing going on.

My favourite corner, especially in winter; it is opposite the side window which I love

Aforementioned side window

Close-up of beloved side window

As pretentious as it may sound, M and I love books and art

Place to sit when reading or watching TV. The flag is there in support of our football team who were unfortunately beaten by Argentina two nights ago (time to take it down then)

Children's bench with toys in it. Don't know why I added this photo; I guess I just like it

Two beautiful children and a cat called Enter enjoying the living room (Enter is unfortunately no longer with us)

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Why I write blog hop

I am responding to Sue at The Quince Tree's call for bloggers who would like to join the 'Why I Write' blog hop. A great opportunity, I think,  to connect with other writers and make a contribution to a series of other 'Why I Write' posts I've been enjoying lately. Without further ado, let me answer the set questions (I say this with an authoritative voice - I'm in my role as teacher here):

What am I working on? 
I am always writing, whether it be writing tests or worksheets for school, poems, in my journal, random notes that make sense to no-one but me, or on my blog which is just under two months old. Writing is a staple in my life, a necessity; I would be miserable without it.

I am also working on a novel which I hope to finish in 2015. I've had two editors read what I've written so far and they were very enthusiastic so I'm hopeful of bringing it to a good end. After that I'm going to work on a second book, which is already forming in my mind.

For those who are interested: I am bilingual and write in both English and Dutch.

How does my writing differ from others in my genre?
Let me stick to my blog here. I'm not sure my blog belongs to a certain category - when asked here or there to choose one I tend to fill in 'lifestyle' though I find that highly dissatisfying. A lifestyle blog often attempts to dictate what we should be eating, wearing, reading, doing and wanting and I wouldn't dream of telling anyone how to live or what to do. I also find lifestyle blogs often show only the fun side of life, making others feel their lives are dull and inadequate.  I certainly don't want to present my life as a party of sorts - it is, like everything else, a work in progress with triumphs and tragedies (and lots of funny bits in between).

Why do I write what I do?
I write about everything that interests me. Whether it be the process of waiting along the roadside for the Automobile Association bloke to come help me out, or about a nice fruit crumble I made, or about a book I am reading. I write about the things that enthuse, move and intrigue me. Why? In the hope of enthusing, moving or intruiging someone else. And in the hope of simply making someone else laugh.

What I have also loved so far - more than I had anticipated - is 'meeting' new people, checking out other blogs and 'dropping in for a chat' so to speak. It is quite enriching and an example of a positive force on the internet. There's a feeling of community there which is a wonderful thing.

How does my writing process work?
Again, let me stick to my blog. I'm always making notes, jotting down ideas and setting up frameworks for new posts. It's an ongoing process of things that pop into my mind at the strangest moments throughout the day (or night!). From when I was a child I have moulded life's events and processes into stories. To me a topic is like a hump of clay that I have to mould into a shape of some kind - I have to give it life, so to speak. To that end I have a lovely notebook in which I jot down ideas and make draft posts. Then, whenever I have a spare moment, I sit down at the computer and write up the good version - deleting, adjusting, shifting, rewriting, moulding as I go along. When I feel it's as good as it's going to get,  there's always that deep feeling of satisfaction when I hit the 'publish' button. The job is done, I've sent my post out into the world, now onto something new.


There's someone quite special I would like to pass the baton on to. I 'met' her a short while ago after she left a comment on my blog. Her name is Sophia, she is 12 years old and her blog is called Plaid is My Favourite Colour. The other blogger I would like to invite is Jennifer over at Thistlebear. Last but certainly not least, I would like to nominate Tess over at Driftwood.

Good luck, ladies - looking forward to reading your posts.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Zoo, soup and grilled cheese sandwich Sunday

You may wonder how we can bear going to the zoo so often. To be honest, if you had told me eight years ago that I would be going to the zoo on a weekly basis, I would have thought you were as nutty as a fruit cake. But just yesterday we realised how important our weekly visit to the zoo is for the children. On our way over there we were caught in an incredible downpour which brought on tears of disappointment on the back seat. In the past the rain would have made us change route and drive back home, but these days we tend to take things as they come and believe we'll enjoy ourselves come rain or shine. And lo and behold: by the time we reached the zoo the downpour was over as if it had never happened.

Yesterday M and I also found ourselves surprised at how much we enjoy this outing virtually every Sunday. How it has become an anchor in the week, a bit like going to church. Now before you think I'm being irreverent, let me tell you this: I cannot imagine anyone coming nose to trunk with an elephant and not being awestruck by the beauty of creation. Yesterday we saw a wallaby (not a kangaroo, people) with a tiny baby in its pouch - that experience alone was worth the visit. It quietened the mind, stirred up that fuzzy warm feeling inside and got us commenting on the wonders of nature.

And there are always new adventures and experiences to be had. During our visit yesterday N slipped and fell waist deep into one of the ponds.  It was quite a shock to all of us - that is to say except M, who always remains somewhat stoical in the face of an emergency. After we had fished her out of the water and listened to her shout "You should have looked after me better", there was the issue of dry clothing. Of course we didn't have any. Or, actually, we did. Creative thinking is often at its best in emergency situations; necessity it the mother of invention after all. Thankfully I had taken along a cardigan for both S and N (M thought it was ridiculous considering the temperatures, but hey, mother knows best) and hence I put together an outfit in no time.

N modelling lovely pink top and sarong-like skirt - unwittingly she may be setting a trend

N loved her new look, almost refusing to take it off when we got home

Clothes hanging out to dry whilst we enjoyed a cuppa

That evening we celebrated our new sandwich grill by eating grilled cheese & tomato sandwiches along with a delicious and very healthy broccoli soup. To my delight, the kids loved both - especially the soup would you believe.  This incredibly easy recipe is adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow's It's All Good (I really am a fan of her recipes!) and the funny thing is that this soup is creamy without having to add any cream. It's a very versatile recipe, so you could use any kind of vegetable you like. Here it is:

Broccoli Soup
adapted from It's All Good by Gwyneth Paltrow

2 heads of broccoli
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 litre vegetable stock
olive oil
(sea) salt
yields 4-6 bowls, depending on portion size

  • cut the heads of broccoli into small florets
  • in a heavy-base pan, sauté the onions and garlic in the oil
  • add broccoli - stir for a minute or two, until the broccoli is bright green
  • add the vegetable stock
  • add salt and a few good twists of black pepper
  • boil for 8-10 minutes, until the broccoli is tender
  • turn off the heat and using a hand blender or food processor, puree the mixture (careful, it's hot!)
  • add bit more salt and pepper if desired
  • serve with some toast and garlic butter or, as we did, with some grilled cheese sandwiches 
Please, sir, can we have some more...?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Dreaming of Mallorca...

... is all we'll be doing this year where Mallorca is concerned.  For the past five years we have gone to Mallorca for a week or two during summer. A real luxury, I know.  But this year M and I have decided to stay home in Delft. Part of our house is in desperate need of some TLC and DIY so we'll be busy redecorating. Besides that we'll be spending some days on nice outings in the Netherlands where there is plenty to see and do. We live a twenty minute drive from the beach, same distance from Rotterdam and The Hague, and a forty-five minute drive from Amsterdam. We can also go to the centre of Delft or play tennis. No need to get bored then. After last year's holiday we really had to rethink the whole business of going away, which, after all, costs quite a lot of money. 

For me personally going on holiday is not all fun. I don't like to admit it (in my dreams I am a fearless globetrotter), but I suffer from homesickness,  always feeling a bit on edge and uprooted when I'm away from home. At the same time I love the new smells and sounds of a place - particularly when I'm lying awake at night or when I awaken early in the morning. 

There are more contradictions. I love the heat, but I think it's too hot. I love not having to do anything, but it also makes me sluggish and restless. After spending too much time by the poolside even making a cup of tea seems a giant chore, which is quite ridiculous. I enjoy seeing new people, but don't like seeing - for lack of a better word - sluggish tourists burnt to a crisp, eating junk food and being waited on by the locals. I also miss my kitchen and my own food. I miss being able to bake. I miss being active. Hence, for the time being, no more poolside holidays. 

That is not to say that Mallorca isn't a beautiful island, which it most certainly is. Funnily enough, I often enjoy the memory of a place more than actually being there (go figure). Here are some photos taken two years ago; for some lazy reason we didn't take any last year which I now of course regret.

Do you suffer from holiday stress or homesickness? Do you secretly prefer to stay at home at times? I would love to know.