Kitchen Staple: Garlic

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Because we cook almost daily in our household and because any visitor can smell this once they step through our front door, I would like to draw attention to the faithful garlic. It is our kitchen staple and we rarely allow ourselves to run out of it.

Some may look at the garlic with a little disgust because it tends to have a pungent smell and may find it too strong an element to add to a dish but the wonderful thing about the garlic is that you can control its pungence and taste depending on how you prepare or cook it. The longer it is cooked, the milder it gets. If you love garlic, use it fresh: smash and mince it with a knife and use it in a salad dressing or mix it with butter and use it as a bread spread. For a smoky and less pungent variant, roast a garlic whole before mincing it. If you want just a tiny smack of the taste of garlic, you can pickle it in vinegar or preserve it in oil.

In Southeast Asia, the garlic is very often used in many condiments. One of the more popular condiments is that of the garlic-chilli paste. It is, to me, a quintessential taste of home. I make it myself and have it stocked in my fridge so that I can use it as a dip for seafood and fish or mix a little of it into my fried rice whenever I want a taste of “home”. It is my quick fix. You see, I very often have terrible cravings for the spicy foods of Southeast Asia that I unfortunately can’t get much of over here. My version of the garlic-chilli paste is more or less a blend of chilli padi (bird’s eye chilli), garlic, shallot and ginger with some salt and sugar topped with some oil. A squeeze of lime to the red, hot paste just before serving brings it to another level of deliciouness.

I love how the garlic also presents itself in so many dishes across cultures. We cook both Asian-and Italian-inspired (aka pasta) dishes and both cuisines seem to welcome the garlic very often into their already interesting repertoire of spice, herb and fresh produce. The garlic is truly a cross-cultural produce! A quick glance at its wikipedia entry shows its culinary uses across several cultures – from East and Southeast Asia to Northern Africa and Southern Europe, the garlic is cooked and eaten in so many different ways.

When I make simple meat and seafood marinates with garlic in them for friends who don’t eat much garlic, they would almost always say that the food tastes great and ask what I had put in there. Depending on how you prepare the dish, the taste of garlic does not always need to come across so strongly or be instantly recognisible to the taste bud for it to elevate the flavour of the dish.

Oh, the faithful garlic. You are the silent ingredient that renders an otherwise plain dish spectacular! We almost never run out of garlic in our hosusehold. It is one of our kitchen staples. What about you? Do you use garlic or the other parts of the bulbous plant (e.g. its flower, leaves or stalk) in your cooking? How is garlic used in your culture?

 

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How to be a Child (Again)

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Having children, I’ve realised, requires plenty of learning. That is probably an understatement. As a parent, I find myself constantly having to develop renewed understanding not only of my children and my husband, but also of myself. I find myself having to acquire new skills to navigate my relationship with my children. One of these skills that I have had to learn is how to be a child again.

 

Experience it like it is for the first time

The most beautiful thing about being a child is how they get to experience so many firsts: the first outing to the beach, the first time on a carousel, the first time riding a bicycle, the first time building a sandcastle, or the first touch of snow. Whilst I’ve done most of these things before, I find these experiences amazing once I can imagine it through the eyes of my children.

I am reminded in this instant of a pretty effectual Emirates Airlines advertising slogan from a while ago: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” With toddlers and young children, parents can probably say, “Well, just last week!” This is one of my many loves of having my daughters. Having them encourages me to get out of that adult-parenting head and into allowing myself to feel and participate in the joys of doing something for the first time.

Experiencing moments and events as if they were to be my firsts, reminds me of the tiny rush one gets just before embarking on something new. The little unknown slightly repels you with apprehension but draws you back more than enough for you to leap off that diving board into the deep pool.

I try to see my time with my daughters this way: Reliving something together with them is very different from experiencing it alone. What my daughters experience as a first, will always be a first that I experience with them. I find this way of perceiving parenthood helpful in breaking the sometimes unavoidable monotony of family life.

 

Move like no one is watching and learn to speak gibberish

It’s a relief that being a parent does not always mean having to be a prim and proper adult. In fact, the best thing about being a parent to toddlers and young children is having the excuse to act in a silly manner (and of course having access to playgrounds and buying toys denied to us as children).

A while ago, Tilly and Frida spontaneously broke out in silly walks as if they had learnt a lesson or two from Monty Python. I laughed so much along with them and thought why grownups don’t do that enough. I’ve tried a few times to dance myself silly along with them (with drawn curtains of course; there’s a learning curve to being silly) and am surprised at how free and fun it made me feel. My daughters don’t even care about awkward moves. The sillier the better! Tongues out, eyes crossed, do the monkey. To them, all of this is normal fun and just ways of physically expressing what they feel in that instance. And they love it when I join in.

Another way I join in the silliness is to follow my daughters’ lead in making up bogus and nonsensical words. Sometimes Tilly makes up imaginary names and words for the abstract structures she builds with her lego bricks. I would ask,

“What have you built there?”

“A blargbloobloogarb”, she would answer with a cheeky grin, aware that it was a word she made up.

I ask her what it means but she would just shrug and say, “I don’t know”.

I go along with it because I love the way she invents words and tests out sounds. It not only fills the gaps in her language development but also encourages creativity.Ā  She might be the next Roald Dahl for all I know and have her own version of gobblefunk. So I play along and try to think of made up words although I have a little difficulty doing that with my hinged mind. Most of the time, I attempt to repeat what she has said and it pleases her to see that her invented words have been accepted.

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I have realised that learning to be a child again and seeing things through my daughters’ eyes draws on and renews so many qualities that I would have kept dustied in the backroom of my personality trait. Being a three-year-old child seems to be about being brave and wide-eyed about experiencing the unknown. It seems to be about being unrestrained and unabashed about self-expression. And it also seems to be about having fun with imagination.

This, of course, isn’t an exhaustive list on how to be a child again. It is my version at this moment in time and will most probably change as my family and I grow and change together. What is your version? Would this experience of child-likeness end when my daughters outgrow these traits that I find so precious?

 

 

Climbing trees and picking blueberries

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Apologies for the short hiatus. It’s the summer holidays and the girls have been busy spending time with us and what not šŸ˜‰ Apart from a lot of time spent on the playground, a few trips to the library and swimming pool, they have also discovered the joys of tree-climbing and continued with their summer berry harvest with blueberries this time round!

There is a giant tree with massive low trunks that stares right back at us as we enter the park close to our home. I asked Tilly and Frida if they wanted to give it a go at climbing it and they almost quite immediately scrambled up the tree and had a tough time leaving it when it was time to go.

 

 

The blueberry season had begun about a month ago and we’ve since been blueberry-picking twice. Aren’t blueberries just scrumptious? After picking some blueberries and having their stomachs filled with even more, the girls had great fun running around the fields playing hide-and-seek amongst the bushes!

 

 

 

 

Strawberry Fields Forever

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Strawberry season has begun! Last weekend, we found a strawberry farm in the country 30 minutes away that was open to the public. It was not only a first for the girls but for me as well. (I grew up in the tropics and in a huge city where seasonal produce is mostly imported.) The strawberry fields looked more nondescript than I’d imagined. I’d imagined a glorious field of reds but all that strawberry goodness was actually hidden under the low bushes just above the ground.

 

Off to the strawberry fields!

 

Tilly and Frida had been looking forward to the strawberries for two weeks now and they were pretty much estatic to see the little rubies in the field. After telling them to pick only the red ones, Frida went ahead and filled her little bucket like an expert strawberry picker. Tilly, on the other hand, spent most of her time eating one strawberry after another. Most of her harvest ended up in her belly rather than her bucket!

 

Little strawberry farmers

 

We’d managed to pick about 4.5 kg of strawberries altogether. After putting half of it aside in the freezer, we ate some of the rest fresh but there’re still so many strawberries in our refridgerator. I might make some of it into marmalade and allow myself to be inspired by this spaghetti with strawberry-tomato sauce recipe with the rest of our harvest. I prefer fresh strawberries but with such an abundance, I might have to get creative with the ways we consume them. How do you like your strawberries? Fresh, preserved or cooked? Do you have any great strawberry recipes to share?

 

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Henne Strand, Denmark

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Our short excursion to the Danish coast to celebrate a friend’s birthday three days ago allowed the girls to enjoy the beach. They’ve been to the North Sea before but were much too young to remember that. This time they were so amused and happy to be exploring the dunes and cycling and running along the very long beach in Henne. We saw many jelleyfish beached and quite a few pebbles and stones. The weather wasn’t optimal but we took the opportunity in between storms and rain to let the girls be on the beach and they loved it!

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Quick & Easy Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

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This is my go-to-dish when I am alone and craving something savoury for lunch. This quick variant of the classic Spaghetti Aglio e Olio is perfect for exhausted parents who want to giveĀ themselves a tiny treat when the children are napping or not around. It’s quite idiot-proof and if you love garlic (like I do), then don’t give it a miss šŸ™‚

INGREDIENTS

  • Garlic (two medium-sized cloves),
  • fresh parsley (a handful),
  • dried bird’s eye chilli (three to four),
  • olive oil, and
  • spaghetti

METHOD

  1. Put a pot of water to boil and cook the spaghetti as per instructions on the package.
  2. Peel and finely chop garlic.
  3. Roughly chopĀ chilliesĀ and parsley.
  4. Heat some olive oil in a saucepan at medium heat. I’ve used the olive oil from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes for more flavour.
  5. Add the chopped garlic and chilli into the oil. Take care not to let the garlic burn. Take the saucepan immediately off the heat if it gets too hot.
  6. Lower the heat and add the spaghetti. Quickly toss the contents of the saucepan. Make sure the spaghetti is mixed and coated with all that garlic-y, olive oily goodness.
  7. Take saucepan off the heat and add the chopped parsley. Toss the pasta again to mix in parsley.
  8. Add more olive oil again to your liking.
  9. Serve and enjoy.

 

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NOTE

You can leave out the chillies entirely if you’re not a chilli fan.

Here Comes the Sun

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Off with the shoes and bring on the sun hats! The weather has become so warm the past two weeks that the girls have been dreading putting on shoes. They love going barefoot. They even went the whole way at my husband’s birthday garden party last weekend by going about without clothes playing with water and sand. I love how they are so free, unrestrained and happy when the weather permits them to do that!