Saturday, 30 August 2014

Getting your teeth into a salad

On Thursday M and I had one of those rare days together, just the two of us. S and N spent the day at their surrogate grandparents' house enjoying a day of undivided attention whilst we went to Rotterdam for a nice relaxed lunch together. And what a lunch it was: rustic bread with pesto and garlic butter; artichoke and Parma ham salad; and a frothy cappuccino to finish things off. 

But now I'm going too fast. Back to the salad.

M was tucking into his quite happily when suddenly we heard a loud crack, as if he had just bitten into a shell of sorts. We both stopped eating and stared at one another. M worked whatever it was to the front of his mouth, and, with forefinger and thumb, plucked the offending object off his tongue. We both bent forward a little, squinting. What M had put in the cup of his hand was... half a molar. We both stared at it, a little dumbfounded. M felt around his mouth with his tongue and sure enough, his tongue was met by the jagged edges of the other half of the molar. "Damn," he said, "that's another visit to the dentist." (I don't know what that is, but past a particular age - say forty - a person suddenly develops a more intimate relation with their dentist). "Well," I said attempting a joke, "thank goodness it's your molar - imagine finding someone else's molar in your salad!" M laughed half-heartedly (for Dutch readers: als een boer met kiespijn) whilst he got out his phone to call the dentist for an appointment the following week - yes, the first busy week of school when making appointments is extremely difficult (why oh why do things always have to come at once?).
On a different note, I have loved reading lots of posts on the ending of summer and the start of the new school year. Monday will be our first day. M and I start the school year with meetings; daughter N will experience her first day of school ever, and son S is dreading everything, particularly because he fears that school will interfere with play-and-toys time. I so enjoy the way he loses himself in play and the way he cherishes and appreciates his toys, although I must say there is a slightly worrying side to all this. Let me illustrate. He recently approached me with a concerned look. "Mama," he said, "where are all your toys?" I wasn't quite sure how to answer this question tactfully, so I asked, "Uhmm, what do you mean exactly?" to which he answered, "Well, where are all your Barbies and My Little Ponies and FurReal Friends?" When I answered that I didn't have them anymore, his eyes clouded over. "You mean....they're gone...?" he whispered. What ensued, of course, was a long talk about growing up and changing interests. I even told him there were grown-up men who collect (and play with) Lego and toy trains, which brightened up his face a little. He was not quite convinced, however. "Well," he concluded, "it seems to me grown-ups don't play enough, and that's strange because there's nothing more wonderful than getting out your toys and playing." What could I possibly add to that?

One of S's creations: "The more, the merrier"

There is a recipe I have been meaning to share. I don't know whether I have mentioned this before, but I absolutely love bananas. What I don't enjoy however, are banana cakes that are soggy or heavy in any way. This one is neither. It's actually surprisingly light, and moist without feeling greasy. I made it recently and we took wedges of it to the Efteling.

Banana and Coconut Cake
adapted extensively from Love, Bake, Nourish by Amber Rose

4 eggs
2 egg whites
4 tablespoons of coconut flour*
125g butter, melted and cooled
120ml maple syrup
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g dried, unsweetened desicated coconut
100g spelt flour
1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda

* Coconut flour is very healthy (and gluten-free) but also rather expensive. Use it if you happen to have it in your pantry; otherwise simply increase spelt flour with 4 tablespoons

  • preheat the oven 180 degrees Celsius 
  • grease a 20cm springform tin and line with baking paper
  • in a clean squeaky clean bowl, beat the egg whites to form stiff peaks; set aside (in de fridge if the weather is warm)
  • in another bowl, put everything except the flour, bicarb, and desicated coconut; mix well with an electric hand mixer
  • add flour, bicarb, and dessicated coconut; mix well until you have a smooth batter
  • carefully fold in the egg whites
  • pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 40 minutes, checking at 35 minutes by inserting a wooden skewer into the centre of the cake - if it comes out clean, the cake is done
  • let cool on  a wire rack and dust with icing sugar 

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Dutch macaroons

Now where are the Dutch macaroons (bitterkoekjes), I hear you wondering. They are below, on one of my lovely photos (by now Dutch and Belgian readers will be laughing). I know, I know: they are malformed. Let me explain. Rudolph, from 24 Kitchen's  Rudolph's Bakery makes it look so darn easy to use a pastry bag. Just stuff the mixture in with a spatula, give it a good twist, and then make lovely perfect dollops, the kind you find in your French Patisserie. Well now, I put the mixture in there, but forgot to instal the nozzle first. This is a bit of a problem. I tried stuffing it in there from the bottom up, but believe you me, that doesn't work (I am now wondering whether I could have simply put the nozzle on the outside of the bag). So I simply cut an opening in the pastry bag (Rudolph swears that works too) and worked without a nozzle, with bitterkoekjes that don't look like bitterkoekjes as the result. But that doesn't mean they don't taste good. When they had just cooled down, husband M said they looked like bleached dog doodies, ate one, and then another four (really). As I was hiding the rest, he sheepishly asked whether that was the only batch I had made. Yes, M: that is the only batch.

I first experimented making these with palm sugar, and although they were delicious when eaten the same day, the next day they were too soggy. I assume this is because palm sugar has a caramel-like quality that is not suited to combining with egg whites. This means I can only make them with confectioner's sugar (Dutch poedersuiker) and have therefore not really changed the original recipe.

Dutch Macaroons
from Rudolph's Bakery by Rudolph van Veen, as seen on 24 Kitchen

2 egg whites, at room temperature
150g confectioner's sugar (poedersuiker)
150g almond meal
a few drops of almond extract

  • preheat the oven 190 degrees Celsius
  • line a baking tray with baking paper
  • put almond meal and sugar into a large bowl, combine, then add the egg whites and almond extract; mix thoroughly with an electric beater to create a smooth batter (it is not necessary to beat the egg whites first)
  • prepare the pastry bag by cutting a hole at the bottom and installing the nozzle (ahum)
  • now place the pastry bag in a measuring jug so that both hands are free to scrape the batter into the pastry bag
  • create little dollops the size of small biscuits onto the tray
  • bake 13-15 minutes until slightly coloured

I would like to end this post by thanking you warmly for all your kind comments on my last post. I appreciate them very, very much.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Ode to a friend

This week a dear friend of mine passed away. It wasn't unexpected - she had been ill for two years - but nonetheless it seemed sudden and came as a shock. We worked together for more than ten years at my previous school, and although she was considerably older than I am, we developed a firm friendship outside of school. Five years ago she retired; three years ago she became seriously ill with cancer. This struck me as odd: it seemed Hanna had never been ill a day in her life; she was a workhorse, with the energy of an army. 

She was also one of those fearless types who enjoyed life tremendously. Hanna was what many people would call eccentric: she lived with a cat in a rambling nineteenth century house in the centre of a historic town, loved going to Berlin, Paris, and Rome - as well as Antwerp most Saturdays. By train, of course: Hanna didn't own a driver's license due to an almost blind eye, something only close friends knew about. She didn't own a television either, joking that she had one once, back in 1972, but that when it broke down she never got round to buying a new one. The truth is that she loved reading - and that is how she spent her evenings, until 1a.m., after which she drank an espresso, went to bed, and slept solidly until 5.30 before getting up to commute an hour to school and enjoy a whole day of teaching. She worked hard and lived the good life.

One of the things she loved most was food. Hanna was always on the lookout for that special little restaurant, that interesting little shop selling rare delicacies (particularly chocolate ones), or that place where they serve a perfect espresso. She also delighted in anything home baked, and on more than one occasion I sent her home with a box of jam tart biscuits which she loved. The last time she was here - with short hair after another harrowing episode of chemo -  I made scones, which she said did her good. She wanted the recipe, and although I gave it to her, I believe she never got round to baking them herself.

The greater part of the last two years were dominated by pain and nausea. Despite this, she grabbed every opportunity at treatment that was offered to her, anything to savour life a little longer. When, this week, the doctor told her there was nothing more that could be done, she reluctantly accepted her fate and passed away within a matter of hours. Thankfully she was at home, with her sister and brother-in-law by her side.

Hanna was someone who understood the art of living. She was a dear friend and will be sorely missed.

Old-Fashioned Scones
adapted from the recipe I learned at school

250g spelt flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
50g butter, cubed
2 tablespoons raw cane sugar
75ml milk (buttermilk is even better)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten
yields 8-10 scones

  • preheat oven 225 degrees Celsius
  • sift flour, bicarb, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl
  • add sugar, stir; then add butter
  • add vanilla and milk to the lightly beaten egg, mix together, then pour into the flour mixture
  • with a light hand, bring together the mixture to form a ball of dough, making sure not to over-knead (you may need to flour your fingers as the dough will be sticky)
  • on a lightly floured worktop, roll out the dough - about 2 cm thick
  • using a round cutter of some sort (I use a small cup), cut out eight to ten rounds, making a clean cut rather that twisting the dough
  • place the rounds on a baking tray lined with baking paper
  • optional: brush the tops of the scones with a beaten egg
  • bake for 10 minutes, until golden
  • serve warm with butter and jam

Friday, 22 August 2014

PINK! part two

Earlier this week, The Big Day arrived. I recently revealed that we were renovating, amongst other things, daughter N's room, and I am happy to say the job is done. Wow, what a relief. I believe I also mentioned that previous months had been spent listening to her complaining about sleeping in a room that wasn't pink - well, on the The Big Day she sighed that it was a good thing the job was done because she had "simply never been able to sleep in a room that isn't pink," and with that she really meant EVER. I was about to point out the fact that she had slept quite well in a room that wasn't pink for the greater part of her life thus far, but thought better of it. Instead I said: "Well now, mama is looking forward to lovely quiet nights whilst you are away in pink dreamland," to which she nodded in happy agreement. After her first night she informed me she had slept exceptionally well, dreaming of a baby elephant that had set up home in her new pink abode. "Elephants love pink rooms too," I was informed with a solemn nod.

Now on to the Big Reveal. You may remember my description of the original state: orange and purple walls, a yellow ceiling with purple stars glued on, and, something I forgot to mention (but which was a lot of work sanding off): purple window frames with a green sill.

Okay, now on to what it has become.

Crazy pink walls with sticker applications

Corner in which to sleep and dream of elephants

New lamp shade in matching colours and pristine white ceiling

Chest of drawers with oxygenating plant...

next to which her beloved bookcase has been placed

A peek into her room from the door

Do you find all that pink dizzying? Well I do, but believe me, in 'real life' it certainly has its charm and is somewhat lighter than represented on my ridiculously mediocre photos. (I imagine that, if all you folks were to come by, you would cry with relief: "Oooh, this looks much better in real life than on those ghastly photos!"). But all jokes aside: N loves her new room and that's the most important thing.


Of course finishing N's room and all our other DIY - or most of it (photos coming at a later point) - is worthy of celebration. And what better way to celebrate than with a batch of brownies. Seeing the recipe in Delancey reminded me of Nigella's words in How to be a Domestic Goddess: "I don't understand why people don't make brownies all the time - they're easy and so wonderful." (p.193) Well, Nigella, as much as I love you, I'm sorry to say this is a strange thing not to understand; especially when someone is likely to put on ten kilos just by looking at your recipe: 375g of butter? 375 g of chocolate? 500g of caster sugar?!! Wow. The beauty of the modest recipe that follows is that it is, well, modest in both portion size and ingredients. And the taste... oh boy. Pure heaven.

Orange Brownies
Adapted extensively from Delancey, by Molly Wizenberg 

115g butter
55g pure chocolate (at least 70%)
150g palm sugar
3 eggs
2 heaped tablespoons spelt flour
0,5 teaspoon vanilla extract
grated rind of 1 organic orange
pinch of fine (sea) salt
brownie pan, approx. 20cm by 18cm
yields about 16 modest squares

  • preheat the oven 160 degrees Celsius
  • line brownie pan with baking paper using oil to make it stick
  • in a saucepan, melt butter and chocolate slowly on low heat; stir occasionally and when completely melted, remove from heat
  • stir sugar into the melted butter and chocolate to make a gritty batter
  • add vanilla, orange rind, and eggs - incorporate well
  • stir in the flour and salt to make a nice, smooth batter
  • pour into the baking pan, gently tipping the pan to make sure the batter is evenly divided
  • bang the pan down on the countertop a couple of times to bring to the surface and release air bubbles (this is  golden tip from Molly)
  •  bake for 35 minutes, but check at 30 minutes by inserting a thin skewer of some kind; if it comes out clean, take out of the oven
  • leave to cool completely on a rack before cutting into squares
  • warning: these will not last long in any household!

I cannot round off this post without a message from son S: his front tooth has fallen out, and he's all the happier for it. He just wants you all to know that. And on that note: have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Almond Madeleines and coffee ones too

This post on A Little Bit Country made me laugh. Why? Because that is exactly what happened to me last Thursday. I had gone into town to hunt down some clothes bargains for the new school year, only to be lured into a shop selling kitchenware. Well now, sending me into one of those shops is like sending a child into a sweet shop: I not only want to look, but also to touch, buy, and taste. No-one was actually there to send me into the shop - or harness me, for that matter - and so I wandered in of my own accord, only to come out an hour or so later with a bag full of things I was never intending to buy. And that bag full didn't come cheap, either. No, this kitchenware shop is full of all your coveted designer stuff; way too expensive, but oh so irresistible. Forget new clothes, I thought: I've got a wonderful new super-duper, baby-blue spatula; a turbo 24cm baking tin; a mini whisk; a variety of pure extracts (coffee! almond!); a slab of organic pure baking chocolate (which I'd better use fast or I'll eat it straight up); and, the icing on the cake (so to speak).... a floppy, silicone madeleine mould thing. Yes! Just what I've always wanted. No, actually, what I really wanted was the real hard tin madeleine mould, but at thirty euros that really was taking things too far. Hence the silicone one, which, I was told, is very versatile. For one thing, it's, well, floppy (why that is an advantage, I'm not sure - the lady also sold me a tray on which to balance it for stability), it's small, it doesn't need to be greased (not true I've discovered), and you can put it in the dishwasher and freezer. Okay, that's all very nice, but if the truth be told, I only bought it because it was a damn sight cheaper than the real tin thing.

As soon as I was home and had sheepishly explained away my purchases, I of course wanted to get stuck into baking madeleines. I first made a batch using the almond extract, then one with the coffee extract, and I honestly don't know which I like best. M and son S love both equally; daughter N prefers the coffee ones, but perhaps she has a genetic predisposition to caffeine addiction. Anyway: madeleines are nicest eaten as soon as they've cooled down, so if you've got folks coming over for tea or coffee, this little French classic is just the thing. 

Coffee or Almond Madeleines
adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

50g butter
2 eggs
40g sucanat or other raw cane sugar
50g spelt flour
0,5 teaspoon baking powder
0,5 teaspoon of good quality coffee or almond extract
pinch of fine (sea) salt
use melted butter for greasing (not oil)
icing sugar for dusting
yields 16 madeleines

  • melt butter over low heat, then leave to cool completely
  • using an electric hand mixer, beat the eggs, sucanat, and salt in a bowl until thick and creamy (about 5 minutes)
  • sieve and fold in the flour
  • pour in the melted butter along with the extract; mix carefully, but well
  • leave the mixture to rest in the fridge for an hour
  • then take and leave to rest at room temperature for another half hour
  • preheat oven 220 degrees Celsius
  • grease the madeleine mould with melted butter
  • pour about a teaspoon of the mixture into the moulds - no need to fill them to the brim, as the mixture will spread in the oven
  • bake for 10 minutes and leave to cool on a rack
  • dust with icing sugar

Saturday, 16 August 2014


I recently read A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, writer of the food blog Orangette. It is a book I enjoyed very much; one of those lovely, dreamy summer reads all about food and life, which takes you from America to Paris and back. Much to my pleasure her second book, Delancey (2014), landed on my doormat a good week ago. The book is about the trials and tribulations of opening a (pizza) restaurant; the pressure it puts on a marriage, the single-mindedness and dedication it requires, as well as giving insight into how incredibly hard restaurant folk work. I finished the book in just a couple of nights. And what a couple of nights they were (I had such trouble putting the book down that I might just have to sue Molly for loss of sleep).  I even suspect I may have enjoyed this book more than the first one, despite having to plough through lengthy descriptions of how to get pizza dough just right. But even in that ploughing I learnt something, namely, what an incredibly laborious task the perfecting of pizza dough is! In fact, I ate at an Italian restaurant just last night, where I bit into a crispy pizza with deeply renewed appreciation.

Molly Wizenberg is an engaging writer, and one of the things I enjoy most about her is her insightfulness.  She's not afraid to show us how her striving for perfection - her habit of putting constant pressure on herself to be the best at everything - comes back, in a big way, to bite her in the proverbial arse:

"Being excellent was important to me. (...) Maybe that was why I'd been such a failure of a pantry cook: because I had wanted so much to excel, to please our customers and to succeed, that it had paralyzed me. I couldn't put my head down and just do my job." (p.217)

In the course of working in the kitchen at Delancey, Molly spirals into crisis which culminates on an evening when she cannot stop crying whilst making the starters. In the end she is forced to admit that, though an avid home cook, she is not suited to restaurant cooking - it is far too hectic and exhausting. She simply cannot continue to force herself into a mold that doesn't fit. Besides which, working in the kitchen restaurant takes her away from her greatest passions: writing, and, ironically, home cooking. The restaurant dream is her husband's, not hers - and although this realisation is a bitter pill to swallow, she comes to the conclusion that in the end, that is just fine.  Husbands and wives don't need to share the same dream - as long as they support one another's.


Although summer seems to be slowly drawing to a close, we still find the weather is gentle enough to eat outside in the evenings. We are also still in a let's-eat-salad state of mind. This past week I have made two quick, easy, colourful, and incredibly tasty pasta salads, both combined with a vinaigrette from Delancey. Please note that this vinaigrette is best made in advance, not last minute.

Shallot Vinaigrette
adapted from Delancey by Molly Wizenberg

2 small or 1 medium shallot, minced
1 medium clove garlic, minced
5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
100ml extra vierge olive oil
2 tablespoons of runny honey
a pinch of fine (sea) salt
4-5 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

  • in a small bowl, stir together shallot, garlic and vinegar
  • leave for at least an hour so the flavours melt together
  • whisk in oil, honey, and salt; add basil and let sit for another 30 minutes before drizzling over the salad

Pasta Salad with Smoked Trout

125g smoked trout
100g spiral (whole-wheat spelt) pasta*
1 courgette, sliced into half-moons
3 bell peppers (yellow, red, and green), cut into small cubes
1 small red jalapeno, thinly sliced
50g pine nuts, lightly roasted
sea salt

  • cook pasta in salted water according to instructions on packet; set aside to cool completely
  • in the meantime, slice and cube all that needs to be sliced and cubes
  • cook courgette, peppers, and jalapeno on medium heat until soft - about 10-12 minutes; set aside to cool completely
  • roasting pine nuts: put the nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat and, shaking the pan gently,  jostle the nuts for about three minutes; watch they don't burn!
  • assemble the salad by combining all ingredients thoroughly (pasta, peppers, courgette, pine nuts, trout) and drizzling the shallot vinaigrette over the top

Pasta Salad with Tuna

2 tins of tuna: one in brine, one in oil
100g spiral (whole-wheat spelt) pasta*
1 courgette, sliced in half-moons
1 punnet of chestnut mushrooms, sliced
sea salt and black pepper

  • cook pasta in salted water according to instructions on packet; set aside to cool completely
  • in the meantime, slice whatever needs to be sliced
  • open the tins of tuna; save a little of the oil for cooking in, then discard the rest along with the brine; set the tuna aside for the moment
  • in the saved tuna oil, cook courgette and mushrooms in a large skillet on medium heat until soft - about 10-12 minutes - and season with salt and black pepper to taste; when finished, set aside to cool
  • assemble the salad by combining all ingredients thoroughly (pasta, courgette, mushrooms, tuna) and drizzling the shallot vinaigrette over the top
* you may want to use more pasta - we use whole-wheat spelt pasta which is quite filling, and therefore don't need more than 100g for two adults and two children
 And.... don't forget to check out what everyone else is reading over at The Year in Books...


Thursday, 14 August 2014


About five weeks ago, in the week approaching the school holidays, I was awakened one fine morning to find both my children standing next to my bed. "How many nights do we have to sleep before we get six weeks off?" son S asked. I lay there blinking, surprised by the ambush, and before I had the chance to answer he continued, "Because I'm really looking forward to going to the beach and doing other fun stuff." By now I was awake enough to share the joyful anticipation of the holidays, but then daughter N cut in. "No-ho, silly - mama's not going to the beach this summer, she's painting my room pink!"  

This rude awakening reminded me of the Big Promise I had made a while back: to redecorate N's room during the summer holidays, a promise I had made after listening to her shout "I'm tired of sleeping in a room that isn't PINK!" on more than one occasion. And heck, M and I reckoned, there was so much other DIY on the agenda, adding one more room to the mix wouldn't matter.

All I can say at the moment is: thank goodness the ground floor of this house is DIY-free. In fact, if you walked in the front (or back) door, you would never suspect the mayhem upstairs. N's bed is in S's room, along with her wardrobe and all her other 'important' stuff: dolls, stuffed toys, as well as a load of other paraphernalia, whilst all her other furnishings are upstairs stuffed into the spare room. Speaking of which.... the spare room has been painted green, but isn't finished by a long shot: the windowsill needs another coat of paint, and the floor won't be delivered until the 2nd of September (yes - in the very busy week we start school). To give you an impression of the work we've had to do, I should perhaps first tell you something about the history of this house.

The owners before the previous owners were two doctors who worked at the local hospital. One, I believe, was an oncologist. In their limited free time they kept pretty much to themselves, devoting it to one another and their two young children, happily forsaking the rest of the world. They particularly enjoyed being at home. And because they worked in a hospital, they refused to be confronted by the colour white in that home. Perhaps by now you can sense what is coming.  As you know I love a colourful house, but our two doctors took making a house colourful to the next level. They not only painted every single wall and every single radiator a blinding purple, they even painted the ceilings. Yes, the ceilings. All of them. A very bright yellow. Some with purple stars glued on for good measure.

Let me give you a moment to digest.

The folks who were brave enough to buy the house from the doctors did their best to paint some of the ceilings a respectable white, but somewhere along the way they must have collapsed from DIY exhaustion because some rooms were left untouched. Two of those rooms - you guessed it - were N's bedroom and the spare room. On top of dealing with purple walls, yellow ceilings, and correcting extremely poor finishings, we have had to remove a slapdash kitchen of sorts from the spare room (don't ask me why it was there - I wouldn't have a clue), as well as hideous orange wallpaper, well, all over the place.

I must say, though.... I am very pleased with the result that is beginning to unfold, gradually but surely. It's a bit like slowly unwrapping a present. Walls have been stripped and coloured. Ceilings and window frames have been sanded down and painted a pristine white. Lots of necessary repairs have been done. We still have work to do, but in order for it not to overwhelm me, I think of the meditation Buddhists use when carrying out necessary tasks: chop wood, carry water - do what needs to be done without letting thoughts take you over. Or I think of the bigger picture, the vision M and I have for our house. And when even that is difficult I can at least revel in the fact that N, when she saw me open The Glorious Pot of Pink, did a happy little dance, threw her arms around my neck and squealed in pure delight.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Red fruit crumble cake

The other day M brought home some blackberries and raspberries, and although he and I liked them, the children thought they were a bit tart. And so I did the only wise thing I know to do and turned the berries into a cake -  a delicious red fruit crumble cake, to be precise. I won't be making it too often otherwise I will turn into a cake myself, as I can barely seem to stop cutting slices from it and sliding them into my mouth. Very small slices, yes, but if you do so ten times within, say, a span of twelve hours, it amounts to about half a cake in one day. And although this cake is relatively low in fat, it would still be ridiculous to eat half a cake IN ONE DAY.

Instead of scoffing everything myself, I would really like to offer a square to all you readers out there, as well as folks who not only read, but have also started following Notes from Delft. And, of course, to everyone who has, up to now, left a trail of inspiring comments. Thank you so much - your attention, kindness and readership mean the world to me.

I could write an ode on the result of the crumble cake (its melt-in-the-mouth soft and dewy crumb, its subtle and delicate sweetness, the tart freshness of the fruit), but will give you the recipe instead. 

Red Fruit Crumble Cake
adapted from Smitten Kitchen, where it was adapted from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts, by Maida Heatter

for the cake:
240g spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
0,5 teaspoon fine sea salt
55g butter, softened
150g coconut palm sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
350g of blackberries and raspberries, clean and dry
100ml milk
brownie tin (approx. 30cm by 21cm )

for the crumble topping:
5 tablespoons spelt flour
80g raw cane sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
55g butter, cubed
pinch of fine sea salt

for the cake:
  • preheat the oven 190 degrees Celsius
  • in a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt
  • put butter and sugar into a large bowl, then, using a hand mixer, beat until light and fluffy
  • add eggs and vanilla, and beat some more
  • beat in about a third of the dry ingredients, followed by half of the milk
  •  repeat the process until the dry ingredients and milk have all been used
  • carefully fold in the berries
  • scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, and gently flatten 
for the crumble topping:
  • throw all the ingredients into a bowl
  • rub butter into the dry ingredients until you are left with something that resembles coarse bread crumbs
  • crumble the mixture on top of the cake mixture in the tin
  • bake 35-40 minutes (mine was perfect in 35mins) 
  • dust with icing sugar, if desired
  • yields 12 generous squares 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A world of wonders

Where on earth have I landed this time? I hear you think.  If this were a million euro question, the Netherlands and Belgium would be primarily populated by millionaires. It's the Efteling, of course - a ginormous theme park located near Tilburg. Now I'm not really one for theme parks, but this one is in a category of its own. In fact, the term 'theme park' doesn't really do it justice.  The Efteling is a phenomenon of sorts, a part of every Dutch (and Belgian) person's childhood; in fact, I would go as far as to say it is part of Dutch cultural heritage. Its fairy tale forest (Sprookjesbos) was originally designed in 1952 by famous Dutch artist Anton Pieck and since then architects and artists from far and wide have lined up to leave their mark on the place.

Last week we decided to take a break from DIY to take the children to the Efteling for the day. It's a good hour's drive from Delft and the kids were terribly wound up all the way - actually, if the truth be told, I was terribly wound up all the way - and by the time we arrived they/we were bursting with the excitement of it all. We first went on the Pirana, a river rafting ride, which was not the best thing to start with, perhaps, since S and I got soaking wet. Thankfully the weather was warm, so we dried up fairly quickly as we headed out to the fairy tale forest. 

I don't know how it happens - it's a bit like magic, I suppose - but whenever I step through the gates of the fairy tale forest, I am transported back to my pre-New Zealand childhood days. Days of family outings to the Efteling with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, enjoying the wonder of it all. The enchanting thing is, the fairy tale characters actually seem to be alive. Snow White actually lies in her glass coffin, well, breathing. Little mice run around playing. The wolf really is at the door, menacingly close to the little goats playing games at the kitchen table whilst their mother is cooking dinner. Children stand outside the glass windows peering in, shouting warnings at them, hoping to keep the wolf at the door. Stuff really goes on in fairy tale forest; it draws you in, invites you to play along. There are dragons defending chests of gold. Hansel is locked up in the dungeon of the sugar-and-spice house whilst his sister Gretel tries to free him. Little Red Riding Hood is at the door of her grandmother's cottage as the wolf lies in her grandmother's bed... breathing. And let's not forget Long-neck, who is able to oversee the whole forest by the stretch of his neck. And, of course, there's the fairy tale tree, who tells the children stories, all the while moving his face as well as any human can.

S and N announced they would be quite happy living in fairy tale forest and seemed to settle quite quickly into a huge mushroom house, whilst the lady next door was doing the laundry. May I invite you to click on the photos for a closer look?

Is there a special place that holds fond childhood memories for you? I would love to know.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Endings and beginnings

My girl has reached another milestone. A rather large one, in fact. Last week she celebrated her last day at daycare, where she has spent an important part of the first three-and-a-half years of her life while M and I were at work. In September she turns four and will be moving on to primary school. This is a happy fact: N is more than ready to delve deeper into the world of letters and numbers; school has been all she's talked about for months. 

The day of goodbye started out fine. N is a matter-of-fact, no nonsense type of child who tends to take things in her stride. According to plan I arrived at three o'clock to see her sitting at the head of the circle with her beautifully decorated party hat firmly in place. What followed was a procession of songs, friendly words, hugs & kisses, treats I had baked, and present giving. The preschool teachers - to whom I am forever grateful for their loving care - gave her a kaleidoscope as a keepsake, as well as a giant ring binder full of all her artwork (more artwork!) as well as sweet little notes wishing her well and photos taken over the years. Although N's face showed signs of mixed emotions, she chatted away excitedly about being big now, big enough to start school where they teach you reading, counting and all that big kind of stuff.

During the ride home she was unusually quiet. She sat on the backseat with her party hat still firmly in place, the kaleidoscope around her neck, hugging her binder full of memories. "Are you okay?" I asked her, glancing in the rear-view mirror. "I don't know," she answered after a quiet minute (which I thought was a rather wise answer).  At home we settled down on the sofa to look through her artwork together. At her request I read the goodbye letter the teachers had written, in which they said how much they would miss her and how much they'd enjoyed having her around all those years. They also reminisced about her favourite games (doctors and nurses, mothers and fathers) and her lovely artwork. As I read to her, big tears streamed down her face, followed by heartbreaking sobs as she covered her face with her hands. "I don't want to be big anymore," she wailed, "I just want to go back to all my friends and teachers - the ones I love so much, the ones who love me!" In the most comprehendible way possible, I told her life was about letting go and moving on. About endings and beginnings. And of course I told her that we could drop by and visit any time we felt like it. When her brother came home he comforted her as only a big brother can and told her that growing older is a difficult business, that it's much nicer to stay small, what with all those lovely people to look after you - not to mention all those wonderful toys to be had and all that important playing to be done. Funnily enough his talk made her feel better in no time.

In the morning I had made little spiced fairy cakes for the festivities. A fitting choice, I think,  since my daughter is one spicy little girl. I did worry whether the other kids would like them - children can be fussy after all - but as it turns out only one out of the nine there had her reservations because of the raisins (she thought they were bugs). The teachers, however, loved them unanimously.

Little Spiced Fairy Cakes
adapted from Love, Bake, Nourish by Amber Rose

125g spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon mixed spice (Dutch: koek/speculaaskruiden)
125g butter, softened
2 large eggs
100g raw cane sugar
30g raisins, roughly chopped
2-3 tablespoons of milk 
half tub of Philadelphia or another cream cheese
2 tablespoons icing sugar
decorations (optional)
yields 22 fairy cakes or 12 normal sized muffins

  • preheat the oven 180 degrees Celsius
  • combine the dry ingredients except the sugar together in a large bowl
  • in another large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and add a tablespoon of the flour mix, whisking to incorporate
  • add the eggs one at a time, whisking well to incorporate in between; if it looks as though the mixture is curdling, add another tablespoon of the flour mixture and continue whisking
  • add the rest of the dry ingredients and the raisins; gently fold everything together until thoroughly combined, adding the milk towards the end to give a creamy batter consistency
  • spoon the mixture into the cases; bake fairy cakes 12-15 minutes and muffins 20-25; if you're not sure whether they are cooked, stick a thin skewer into one of the cakes - if it comes out clean, the cakes are ready
  • for the icing: whisk together the cream cheese and icing sugar, checking to see whether you think it's sweet enough
  • be sure to do the decorating when the cakes have completely cooled down


Sunday, 3 August 2014

A Homemade Life

Some time ago I discovered Orangette, a blog full of the stuff I love: stories about food and life. To my delight it turned out that the writer, Molly Wizenberg, had also written a book with a title that makes me want to grab a cuppa, curl up on the sofa and read, read, read until the cows come home - in the evening of course; unfortunately I never have time for such decadence during the day. 

A Homemade Life is both a cookbook and a memoir, and to my mind that is the perfect combination. At the beginning of the book Molly** tells us:

"That's why this book is called A Homemade Life. Because, in a sense, that's what we're building - you, me, all of us who like to stir and whisk - in the kitchen and at the table. In the simple acts of cooking and eating, we are creating and continuing the stories that are our lives." (p.6)

Molly is a candid writer, not afraid to bear all. We read about her heartbreaks, her future husband (whom she met through her blog!) and the life and death of her beloved father, to whom the book is dedicated. All of life's highs and lows are of course soothed through cooking and eating - food made from scratch to nourish both stomach and soul. But please don't get the idea that this book is sentimental in any way; Molly's wit and self-deprecating humour keep A Homemade Life from ever becoming sappy or too soppy.

I particularly like Molly's outspokenness. Take her opinion of 'secret recipes,' for example. She feels the whole idea of it is quite ridiculous. All recipes, after all, are derived from other recipes; they never just appear fully and perfectly formed by themselves - besides which, recipes are made to be shared and altered, and are hence dynamic by nature. And that's just the way it should be. Amen to that.

Needless to say, I have ordered her second book Delancey: a man, a woman, a restaurant, a marriage and can't wait for it to arrive.
**Convention tells us to use a writer's last name, but in this case I feel that would sound unnaturally formal


In celebration of A Homemade Life I wanted to cook something from it. Normally I would choose to bake something (if there are indeed cooks and bakers, I am definitely a baker by nature) but since I had a lot of veg lying around waiting to be used, I thought I would choose to cook. What better way to use all that veg, I thought, than to make Ratatouille. As you may know by now, I always adapt recipes to suit my own taste or, in this case, the contents of my  store cupboard. I made it last night and although my children initially eyed the mound of veg with suspicion, they agreed in the end that it was, well, quite nice. Thankfully I can live with quite nice. Especially since M and I thought it was delish. Please forgive me for not taking any photos of the result. To be honest, I was so hungry I just couldn't bring myself to run upstairs to find my camera, which I now regret.

What follows is a combination of two recipes: Molly's and mine. As ratatouille is quite a bit of work - what with all the cutting, chopping, slicing, dicing and seeding - I like to make a big batch so we can eat some the next day too, when the flavours have had time to melt together and the whole thing is tastier than ever.  Like Molly, I prefer to roast the aubergine in the oven first as I fear that just cooking them would leave them too rubbery.

adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
2 aubergines/eggplants, sliced into rounds
2 courgettes/zucchinis, sliced into half-moons
2 bunches of scallions, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 tins of whole peeled tomatoes, drained in a colander
1 teaspoon salt
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
olive oil

  • preheat the oven 200 degrees Celsius
  • first, get all the cutting, chopping, slicing, dicing and seeding done
  • line two oven trays with baking paper; place aubergine slices on both trays and, with a pastry brush, coat each slice on both sides with a little oil
  • place trays in the oven; bake each side for 10-15 minutes then set aside
  • while the aubergine is in the oven, take a deep skillet, add two tablespoons of olive oil and cook the courgette for about 10 minutes until soft; remove from pan and set aside
  • add more oil to the pan if necessary, cook the spring onion for about 3 minutes, then add the bell peppers and garlic and cook until the bell peppers are soft
  • add tomatoes, salt, thyme and bay leaves and stir thoroughly to combine; then add the aubergines and courgettes, stirring well to combine; 
  • check seasoning
  • finally, let the whole thing simmer for 20 minutes on low heat
  • serve with a chunk of bread, potatoes or on its own
  • yields about 6 servings

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