The holidays

It’s almost become a tradition that I tell about our holidays here on the blog. But as the blog has developed away from the very personal it seems progressively awkward. Anyway, I promise to make it brief and with a digression or two…

We started in the UK where there was another Bar Mitzvah in the family, the fourth and so far last. Just like at the Bar Mitzvah two years ago, I took a picture of the rabbi’s legs. And no, it’s not the rabbi on the left. It’s her on the right.

 

We enjoyed a little time in London, I even found time to meet with some of my lovely Twitter-ladies, described elsewhere on this blog. We also fitted in a bit of shopping…

Off we flew to Switzerland to spend a few days in David’s flat. The weather was gorgeous, so we enjoyed a lot of time on the balcony and David and Dane also went swimming in the lake. Our first mission was to visit some friends who we met in the UK, but who have since moved to the south of France. They live in the most gorgeous house in Provence and we spent four lovely days with them.

As those of you who know me well will know, we, like so many other from the middle classes, have a penchant for Tuscany. We’ve been there 4-5 times before but still chose to go again. We’d rented a flat at an Agri Turismo place which was quite nice, but not fantastic. As we’ve seen most of the sights more than once before, we took it rather easy and spent most mornings leisurely at the pool. One of the highlights was a visit with my old friend Helle Tesio and her husband Alfredo. We go more than 30 years back. Helle took us to Fattoria del Colle in Trequanda where she teaches advanced Italian cooking to groups of agri-tourists. I so want to go on that course!

Unfortunately, towards the end of the holiday, Dane got ill (something that practically never happens), and he was really rather poorly. So it was a long journey home where it, to sort of further the misery, rained constantly between Genoa and Geneva. It turned out that what Dane had was the flu, which he generously passed on to David and me once we were back in Coppet. So a few days were torn out of the calendar.

At friends in Provence, France
Best ice cream in Tuscany
Lizard caught in a glass (released min's later)

Fattoria del Colle, Trequanda

Siena wedding. Rather romantic.

San Gigmignano in the sunset

Dane and I are back now in Denmark where it is gloomily wet and only warm when the sun is out and where our basement was flooded once more. I’ve had the wood burning stove lit already!

Today I was reminded of our trip to Australia in 2008. The reminder was a talk about cake. When we were there, we were rather surprised by their consistently excellent coffee *flat whites* and the ubiquitous banana bread which is served warm with butter. When we came back, Dane asked me to bake it and I baked a random banana cake. It wasn’t right. Baked my way through numerous banana cake/bread recipes before I found one that Dane could approve of. So I baked one today. Here’s the recipe:

Banana bread

* 265g (1 3/4 cups) self-raising flour

* 40g (1/4 cup) plain flour

* 1 tsp ground cinnamon

* 140g (2/3 cup, firmly packed) brown sugar

* 125ml (1/2 cup) skim milk

* 2 eggs, lightly whisked

* 50g butter, melted, cooled

* 2 overripe medium bananas, mashed

1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Brush an 11 x 21cm (base measurement) loaf pan with melted butter to lightly grease. Line the base and 2 opposite sides with non-stick baking paper, allowing it to overhang.

2. Sift the combined flours and cinnamon into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar and make a well in the centre. Place the milk, eggs, melted butter and banana in a medium bowl, and stir until well combined. Add the banana mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the surface.

3. Bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from oven and set aside in the pan for 5 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack to cool completely. Cut into slices to serve.

 

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#foodiot

Unfortunately, I can’t recall where I first came across the lovely term “foodiot” – I’m fairly sure it was a food writer, probably an American one who first coined the term. Tell me if you know.

Well, as you know or have guessed, I’m one of those. I LOVE food. I like to make it, to look at it but more than anything; to EAT it.
As a de facto single mother (my husband lives and works in Switzerland and is only home every other weekend and for holidays), I face the challenge of cooking for myself and a 10yo every day. This is not always something that I’m very successful at! Sometimes I’m tired, sometimes I’m grumpy, sometimes he is grumpy, sometimes I’ve been over-ambitious while shopping and then am not up to the task come dinner time.

I’m trying to work ways around this, one of them is a food box from Danish organic veg-delivery company Aarstiderne, three days every other week. You get the ingredients, organic and healthy, for three meals for two, easy to cook in less than 30 minutes. This is cool, but there’s always slightly more than we can eat, which is why I only have it every other week, to make sure we finish off all the extras and so that I don’t forget how to cook out-of-my-head entirely.

Today I had a recipe and some ingredients but knew that son would not eat it if I didn’t alter it. Inspired by a trick I’ve learned from our lovely Pakistani/Hazaran cook at the office, namely to grate tomatoes rather than chop them or using canned ones, I made a pasta sauce equally loved by son and myself. This is a relatively rare occurrence!

click picture for explanation of "grated tomatoes"

For two:

One chicken breast, cut in strips and marinated for 4-6 hours in

olive oil, apple cider vinegar (only a splash), salt, pepper, chopped oregano

5-6 tomatoes, grated (this way only the skin is left in your hand, incredibly smart!)

2 young lemon leaks or just common ones, finely chopped

some ramson (ramsløg) or a bit of garlic, chopped

Some quality ketchup

A splash of white wine

Fry the chicken strips in the marinating oil, add leaks and ramson/garlic, then the grated tomatoes including their juices. Cook for a bit, then add ketchup and at last, the wine.

Easy as pie, super tasty and Dane absolutely loved it and, upon hearing that I made it up on the spot, looked at me sternly and told me to write it down right away. Done!

 

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What's for tea?

my teapot
my teapot

The first many times I heard this, I quietly wondered to myself, What do they mean? Earl Grey or Darjeeling? Slowly it dawned on me that tea (look it up, it’s a hot drink FFS) in this country often (but not always!) means the evening meal. But no, no, not as in dinner. Dinner is something grown-ups have. No, tea is for children. Something they have in the late afternoon instead of dinner. And dad is not there and mum doesn’t eat tea, erh. (Apologies to the lovely househusbands I know, but you know you’re in the minority).

There, now it’s clear isn’t it? Tea is an afternoon meal for children. This is where some of the world’s least interesting and innovative cooking takes place, molding young peoples taste buds for the future. I cannot tell you how that upsets me! I’ve been in many British homes and seen tea being cooked. What I’ve seen is pasta, mash, peas, carrots (yes, boiled), sausages, fish fingers, chips, lasagne, beans on toast and eh, what else? Rice perhaps?

I’m not saying that my darling young son eats everything I set in front of him, far from it. And he’s had plain pasta with Parmesan and butter and some cucumber slices on the side more times than I care to remember. But, he sits with us at the table, he sees and smells what I cook and he’s made to taste everything we eat, if not every time then at least once in a while.

I realise that the evening meal causes problems for some families. Dad comes home late, children need to go to bed early. But this is not the case in all families and not in weekends? And in families with bigger children, surely they can have an afternoon snack, have homework done etc., so have evening meal when dad comes home? I fear that it’s not always the time that’s the issue, but parents who give in to tradition or give up the fight to make children eat a varied and interesting diet. I mean, nobody forces mums to put a packet of crisps in a child’s lunch pack, or what?

My oldest son was as picky as the next child when he was younger, but I pushed on and pressured him to try stuff and if he didn’t eat all the stuff I cooked, he certainly saw it and smelled it. Today I can only think of a handful of foodstuffs that he doesn’t eat and he eagerly tries new stuff all the time. I know a few young persons of his age (21) in this country. Suffice to say that they are not exactly courageous when it comes to trying out different food stuffs.

Also, how does this strange habit encourage “real” family life? When do these families sit down and talk about things? Obviously, most days it’s just the usual, “What did you do in school?” “Nothing much” conversation that goes on, but without dinner time I don’t know when the three of us could discuss important political issues and moral dilemmas? It’s fine that children talk with dad in the car on the way to football and with mum in the car to school, but it’s important for children to experience the dialogue between mum and dad. Also when it’s not rosy. This way they can also experience that one day there’s disagreement, but the next day mum and dad are in unison on something very important!

OK people, rant over. Voice your disagreement, but please argue your case. I’ll sit down with a cup of tea now, you know, the fluid hot stuff off of tea leaves?

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Good taste

I read about a website and a book called Stuff White People Like in the Sunday Times. It both fascinated and irritated me and I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I believe that I have a fairly good eye for things that’ll trend, except in the world of fashion. When looking through this weeks Style Magazine in Sunday Times, I just cannot believe that anyone likes that stuff. Anyway, what I have an eye for is probably more What White People Like, or, as I’m not overly fond of the term and find it too American for us Europeans, The Aspiring Classes.

While I’m definitely not blind to the many foibles that mar us who belong to the Aspiring Classes, I’m also uncomfortable with Mr. Lander’s generalisations. For instance I don’t like his attitude towards charity – charity here means anything we do for other people in a charitable fashion. I think – and hope – that it’s not only the Aspiring Classes who feel inclined to be charitable. Actually, I find that it’s a thing that defines a, luckily large, subset of the Working Class, that they take time and money they don’t have out to help others. Just think of some of the incredible people we’ve seen on the TV-programme The Secret Millionaire. But he’s right when he says that some charities appeal a lot more to the Aspiring Classes than others. A few years ago, the ones that came with a plastic armband were top of the pops. I had one too…

The phenomenon of Good Taste is not exactly new. Neither is it new that it’s a term with special significance to the aspiring and upper classes. We’re brought up to believe that the Upper Classes (no no, not in money terms, obviously) are born with Good Taste, whereas the rest of us must strive to achieve it and some of us get it wrong. Big Time.

According to a lovely programme I heard on Radio 4, Taste, as in Good Taste, was an invention of the 18th Century, and, as it was so beautifully put in the programme, a marriage of wealth and virtue. Chew on that for a bit, will you? The reason why it’s a bit complicated and fraught with traps and pit-holes is that we’re protestants. So we can’t just lean back and enjoy all the opulence money can buy, we have to always justify the things we purchase – everything is tinged with guilt. “Residual anxiety about material things” as historian Amanda Vickery puts it.

I decided not to read through the full list of Things White People Like, because I thought It would disturb my own feeling of what the Aspiring Classes like. So I’ve wandered around my own home and taken random pictures of things that I believe belong in this category. It is very, very far from exhaustive – I’m hoping to make this into a series with pictures of my own stuff, pictures of other people’s stuff, stuff in shops and in the street and even lots of stuff that isn’t stuff at all, but more concepts and ideas. I’ll post them as I think of them. And I certainly hope you’ll find inspiration to post your own additions. I have a friend in Denmark who has a truly exceptional eye for this (you know who you are M-L!) and I really hope she’ll contribute.

We have a thermos cum cafetière. That is now old-school. The thing to have is a Nespresso machine. I try hard not to covet it. I have and love my Kitchen Aid mixer. It matches my other red kitchen thingies, but where I beg to differ from the description of Kitchen Aid owners in the Sunday Times, I actually use mine at least once a week. We use Maldon sea salt and whole spices where possible. Maybe we’re just posh, but we actually believe we can taste the difference – especially with spices like cardamom. We have two pepper mills, both with a Peugeot grinder. That should guarantee that it lasts for life. Electric pepper grinders are NOT good taste. Wasting a battery on a pepper mill?!?

We have a Philippe Starck dining table. That’s not quite good taste – it borders too much on show-off. Candles on the table however, is good taste. But one must be very careful not to go overboard and become shabby chic, which is sooo 90’s. Antique silver candlesticks with white candles on the other hand – that’s a classic :-) As are paintings, new and old, which are NOT purchased to match the curtains. The Aspiring Classes know that that’s not done. That’s something the nouveau riche do. The thought makes us shudder.

We own Apple stuff. Lots of it. Nuff said. There are quite a few magazines to read for the Aspiring, in fact Vanity Fair might be considered a tad too American and eh, aspiring. For an almost 50-year old woman, reading Wired is probably not quite the right thing either – something literary perhaps? Intelligent Life, which is not in the picture, fits the mould. And I read that too…

We believe in healthy good food and we want to cook it ourselves. Not always successful, we can always resort to M&S, where the food department caters almost exclusively to us. So nice with a shop that understands our needs!

Obviously, there are hundreds more items and it’s possible to go into nitty gritty detail. For instance, reading books is not enough. It must be the right books at the right time. And THOU MAY NOT LIKE DAN BROWN (but it’s OK to have read one, like yours truly).

I think I will come back to this…

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Being fat

picture from obesityfacts.co.uk
picture from obesityfacts.co.uk

India Knight’s column in today’s Sunday Times is about fat people. I commented positively on it on Twitter and got some response that amply shows how tender a spot overweight is.

India’s point is that overweight is something that can actually be reversed. She attacks the new “fat lobby” for wanting to completely disclaim any responsibility for their own situation. In California, a law prevents doctors from mentioning to their obese patients that losing weight could save their lives. These lobbyists want the same kind of law here. Furthermore, school teachers, nurses, dieticians etc., should not be allowed to mention it to the parents when their children are severely obese. They also lobby for the right not to be bullied or beaten up because they are fat. That’s obviously nonsense – bullying is everywhere and about everything and no law can prevent it. I can’t think of anybody who sanctions bullying – not India Knight either, although she writes that an extremely overweight person shouldn’t fall off his chair in wonderment when people stare at him. As to campaigning for the right not to be beaten – well, as far as I know, beating people up is illegal, no matter what the reason.

I’m not exactly a lightweight myself – a size 14 on a good day, 16 on a bad. I’ve been like this more or less since I stopped smoking 12 years ago. Before that I was thin as a reed. I have an end weight, not far from my present weight. I’m not ever going to weigh so much that I can’t buy my clothes in a “normal” clothes shop. And I don’t want to be so big that I become a burden to people around me and to society. Happily a new study has come out recently that claims that my kind of overweight is good. And I’m perfectly capable of curbing my eating for a period to shed a few pounds when I hit my weight ceiling. But it seems that I can’t be bothered to go the extra mile and lose the stone or two that would bring me down to a comfortable size 12. Point is, however, I know exactly what to do and don’t even need a book. For me it’s not about more veg, more fibre, less dangerous fats. It’s painfully simple. Eat less (& no wine). But unfortunately, it is just not that simple for the huge group of obese people who are a threat to themselves and to the health economy.

The number one problem with the whole discussion about obesity is namely, and India Knight fails to mention it, that obesity has become – like smoking – mainly a problem for the poor and uneducated. Whereas my overweight is the result of too great a love for cooking and good food (and I believe it’s the same for many roundish people of the upper- and aspiring classes) and therefore can be kept in check, their overweight is the result of a poor diet and total lack of understanding of the relationship between action and consequence in the food area. This kept well in check by the poor and uneducated’s preferred news sources and peddlers of confusion and fear, The Daily Mail, The Sun and Sky News.

Around me I see people with food/overweight-related health issues and I also see how they are usually in total denial about their own responsibility for their predicament. And furthermore, which is quite contrary to what the fat-lobby claims, mentioning that people could change their eating habits to get better is totally taboo.

What gets me more than anything is people who allow their little children to become severely obese and then won’t accept an offer of help. In my son’s old school (state primary) there was a girl in his class who was extremely fat. Her younger brother was the same – children of 8 and 6. The mother wasn’t particularly overweight and another mother told me that she had been on a diet, she’d previously been as fat as her children. How on earth can she put herself before her children like that? And my son informed me that they had some of the most unhealthy packed lunches in the whole school; and that’s saying something! Yes, the mother was working class and yes, their budget clearly limited. But bags of crisps, packets of cheese strings and packs of cookies are not cheap. And if she could put herself on a diet and lose 5-6 stone, what on earth prevented her from taking her children with her? Was she so dumb that she felt sorry for the children if they had to eat veg and no cookies like herself? I was told that there was nothing the school could do – not even preventing the mother from excusing the girl from PE!

Which is why I think that silence and “acceptance” in this area will not work. But I don’t believe in shaming either. I read somewhere that a school had decided to stop selling cakes at school events to curb obesity. That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve heard in a very long time. Obesity can only be fought by education and by taxing all prefab and semi prefab food with a sugar and/or fat content above x %. It is ridiculous that some of the very cheapest food items in the supermarket are also the most unhealthy! Jamie Oliver was right, right, right, when he tried to introduce proper food in schools and a love of cooking and ingredients. I have no doubt that for each person who learns to cook and to love and appreciate real food, there’ll be one person less to burden our health system with massive self-inflicted health problems. Have I told you about the boy from Dane’s old school who didn’t recognise a boiled egg?

The persons I mentioned above with food/overweight-related health issues all have one thing in common. They cannot cook and don’t have a clue about nutrition.

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Inspirational void

Not finding inspiration and time to write here is probably a downside of being on Twitter with incredibly talented writers, often able to express something profound in 140 characters. And also having Twitter as a daily outlet for speculations, wonder and anger over things that pass in the world. But I’ll try to up my presence here – not least because I want to get back into the good habit of writing something – almost anything – every day.

For an easy start I’ll publish the recipe for Danish meatballs, Frikadeller, as recklessly promised on Twitter a few days ago. It’s slightly adapted from my favourite Danish cookbook writer Camilla Plum’s version:

To feed four hungry people or six less hungry ones:

Frikadeller

Picture from Wikipedia
Picture from Wikipedia

500-700 gr minced pork. Ideally veal, but the British don’t really do veal much. Traditional Danish recipe calls for half’n’half.

1 tbsp of Maldon seasalt

2 slices of bread, crust removed (good quality sourdough bread gives extra flavour) soaked in

3 dl milk for 1/2 hour or so

1 big or 2 small onions, grated or whizzed in food processor (the smaller the children, the more whizzing needed)

1 large egg

A sprinkling of thyme or other dried Mediterranean herbs. Must NOT be overpowering.

Pepper

Put mince in mixer with salt and mix for at least 10 minutes. This is important, as it changes structure of mince and makes it easier to fry later. Same goes for beef patties btw. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix some more. Consistency must be so you can easily form “frikadeller” with a spoon, i.e. fairly moist. Add more milk if necessary.

Fry in BUTTER and plenty of it. If you don’t want to use butter, don’t bother. Frikadeller fried in substitute or – even worse – oil are no good. Which is one of the reasons I only make them once a year or so.

Use a normal tablespoon to avoid the frikadeller becoming too big. Dip it in the melted butter before starting on the mixture, thus avoiding it sticking to the spoon.

Fry at medium heat till nice and brown on both sides. It takes a while. Don’t fill the frying pan up, there must be some space between the meatballs. When you add a little pressure to a meatball and it “feels like rubber”, it’s done. If it’s soft, needs more cooking.

Serving suggestion: Potatoes and parsnips, cubed and cooked in oven for 20-30 minutes and The Quickest & Nicest Way to Eat Cauliflower: Separate cauliflower florets and blanche quickly in boiling, salted water. Drain. Mix 3-4 tbsp tomato puree with 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp sesame seeds and 1 tsp cumin seeds and 1/2 salted lemon. If no salted lemons around, choose pickled or nothing. Add florets and mix well. Spread out on baking sheet and cook in oven with the potatoes for the last 15-20 minutes. This is also adapted from Ms. Plum’s recipe.

Only downside about this combo is the colouring – all sort of reddish brown. So maybe add some mange tout or a wee bit of salad on the side.

Wikipedia’s entry on Frikadeller is quite entertaining. I giggle over the way even the most profane things have their own entry.

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Not many clever thoughts flitter through my head these days

– so this is about food.

After having used more or less the same bread recipe for the last ten years, I’ve now reverted to the famous No-Knead-Bread, popularised by my favourite food writer Mark Bittman. He uses yeast – I prefer not to, or at least only a tiny little bit. To avoid using yeast you have to have a starter (sour) dough. Either you make it yourself – no difficult thing, google it, choose easiest option. In my experience there’s not a huge difference between a complicated and an easy starter dough. The good starter/sour dough is an “old” one – which of course means that it’s been re-used for years, not that it’s been hanging around the fridge for years…

If you’ve never worked with starter-doughs, here’s how it works: First time round you either make one or take out a dollop of dough when you bake a bread with yeast. Store it in airtight container in fridge. It will last up to 10-14 days. You can always refresh a tired sour dough by taking it out of the fridge, take the lid off, add a little natural yoghurt, stir, leave. When it starts bubbling, it’s ready again. Use the starter instead of yeast. Remember to always take a fresh starter from your new bread dough after you’ve raised it the first time.

The No-Knead-Bread is below in the Youtube version, here in a more conventional way.

And while you’re over at NYT, check out this super-easy recipe for homemade flavoured olive oils. I made one with lemon the other day. If you want to make a whole bottle, you’ll need 2-3 lemons. Peel carefully to avoid too much of the bitter white. Follow recipe.

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Something to be thankful for? (and Aristotle for kids)

After using new Netvibes tools to arrange all the blogs I follow into neat groups, easy to sort through, I’ve hardly looked at them. The reason is the same as for not writing anything here. So today I thought I should have a quick look through them and see if there’s anything worth recommending. And of course there is. Lots.

Blogging

My favourite economist Tyler Cowen meets another favourite of mine, Happiness-blogger Gretchen Rubin IRL. He teases us with their discussion subjects, but ends post with this, which I find very promising for when I’ll someday meet some of my blogger-favourites myself:

I have never once met a person whose blog I like and then been disappointed.  Never.

Children

Another economist (author of Parentonomics) obviously writes a lot about parenting. He recommends this post, which is one of the best I’ve ever read about children. It’s about how to teach them to argue well. And yes, we DO want to teach them that. If you have children, read it, read it, read it.

Happiness

A blogger who tethers between economy and politics is Chris Dillow. He has an interesting and intriguing post about happiness, one of my pet subjects.

Food

On the very, very important subject of food, I’ve just finished reading this absolutely mouthwatering post about Southern (We’re talking about the Southern US here) food prepared in a Northern kind of way. Oh me oh my; for a person who was in culinary heaven while travelling the US South and particularly in New Orleans, this post will inspire to quite a few meals around here. What do you say to Garlic Bread Pudding? I say YES.

Via one of my favourite food writers, Mark Bittman, is here a little treat to go with barbecued greens: Chili oil.

On being a woman, a mum, a person

Quite a while ago Tania Kindersley wrote the most beautiful and poetic post about what we do when a bad mood strikes. Except that I could never hope to write such adorable prose it echoes what I often think myself on these matters. How I wonder where the bad mood came from, what to do to expell it or even if I should (when not affecting others, of course). Tania has taken time off from her blog and Twitter and I must say, I truly miss her! Btw Tania, I was thinking we should also reflect on those days when we wake up in a great mood, equally inexplicably. That’s one of my favourite experiences of daily life -when you suddenly find that your spirits are high and the world looks like a friendly place. Where did it come from? We might never know. But I’m thankful.

The debate about working mums contra stay-at-home mums is still roaring. Here are three prominent voices: Sarah Vine in the Times. A fuming reply from “Potty Mummy”, a stay-at-home mum and a reply to this from Times editor Jennifer Howse on the Times Alpha Mummy blog. (Don’t bother with the comments, they are depressing, I just hate it when women are so poisonous against each other).

I am an in-betweener. I work, but I do it at home and often I don’t do much of it. But I would never choose to be a stay-at-home mum for the sole sake of my children. Although I love to cook and bake cupcakes, I’m just not the type. And I hate, HATE cleaning. I don’t entertain my children, I’m lousy at keeping up with their homework, I always try to wriggle out of playing board games etc. etc. And excursions never EVER go to kiddy entertainment places, but invariably to National Trust properties, Good Long Walks or museums etc. etc. I find it difficult to relate to many of the issues raised by the stay-at-home mums of my acquaintance, as I find them boring, quite simply. And I worry that they over-protect and overwhelm their children with their presence.

But I’m glad that I don’t have to go to work every day, because I do get to pick up son after school and chat with him, I do get to sit down with him and do something he wants, I do get to watch his TV favourites over his shoulder and I do get to make sure that he eats good and varied meals (almost) every day. And I don’t have to live in constant panic of him falling ill (which is probably why he never does).

But I can certainly relate to some of the points raised by Sarah Vine – the total lack of social status, the complete invisibility at social gatherings, the lack of a social life (besides Twitter…). I thoroughly miss the social status my job used to give me and it’s no use claiming that I don’t. But I don’t miss the stress of office life, the (sometimes) awful malice of other women, the struggle to live with a boss who’s just not that bright…

Bottom line I guess is same old, same old. You can’t have it all. So sit back and enjoy what you do have, while you still have it. Veeeery philosophical and not even very profound, I know. But that’s me.

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Silence is now officially broken

Am now back, don’t know yet if it’s with a vengeance, but it’s with something very innocent, namely a food recipe.

First I’ll just tell you briefly what’s been going on in the meantime:

I haven’t been well – will get back to that later, if I don’t end up deeming it too private/boring for the public eye.

I wrote my Bachelor dissertation with my friend Mikkel. Here’s a picture of it…

Name means: Why dont they just go and do it?
Titel means: Why don't they just go and do it?

We had a Bar Mitzvah in the family. Great big party for a lovely boy. Here’s a picture of the rabbi’s legs:

Cool shoes, dont you think?
Cool shoes, don't you think?

We also had a wedding in the family. The reception was at our house. The happy couple wants to keep the pictures private, so here’s a picture of me and young Dane on the day:

It was such a beautiful day!
It was such a beautiful day!

And my older son Emil has been visiting, so blogging was sort of bottom of the list, you see!

We went for a walk at Winkworth Arboretum
We went for a walk at Winkworth Arboretum

Oh yes, and it was young son’s 8th b’day. Here’s a picture of the cakes and the rolls, which we served on the day.

Traditional bday rolls as per family recipe
Avocado/Strawberry b'day layer cake
Traditional Danish bday rolls as per family recipe
Traditional Danish b'day rolls as per family recipe

And for the patient Twitterati is here finally the recipe for:

Avocado/strawberry layer cake – ideal for summer b’days

You’ll need a plain sponge cake, which you’ll then split in three for each cake. Either bake or order at baker’s.

Per cake you’ll need approximately:

2 avocados, must be ripe
2 pounds of strawberries
icing sugar
2 unwaxed lemons
1/2 l double cream
inside of 1/2 – 1 vanilla pod

This cake can be made the evening before if you 1) have room in your fridge 2) wait with decorating the top till just before serving. It gets better that way, the gooey strawberry mash soaks nicely into the sponge…

Have the sponges at the ready with bottom ones on cake platters.

Make avocado cream: Put avocado flesh, icing sugar (a little to begin with, add to taste), lemon juice & vanilla into blender and mix. When thoroughly mixed, add cream. Hold some back to make sure you get the right consistency. It must be like quite thick cream.

Now make strawberry mash. Use half the berries, mash them with icing sugar. Again, use sugar to taste.

Slice the rest of the strawberries in 3-4 lengthwise, keep some which you only halve for decorating the sides.

Now you’re ready to make the cake:

With a spatula, spread a layer of strawberry mash onto bottom layer. A layer of avocado cream goes on top. Then a layer of sliced strawberries in a nice pattern. Repeat with second layer. If you’re making the cake a day ahead, finish with top bit of sponge, film and stick in fridge. Avocado cream must be in airtight container in fridge.

Next day just before serving, you decorate your cake with more avocado cream and more strawberries. Depending on occasion, you can now decorate with candles etc. or for a more grown-up feel with strawberries or redcurrants on the stalks, dipped in egg white and then dusted with icing sugar. Very pretty. These need to rest on kitchen towels for a few hours before they are ready.

Thanks to Danish chef, food writer, organics pioneer & chief feminist Camilla Plum for this lovely and original recipe!

On Twitter I promised @titianred a recipe for Italian style potato pizza. It’s here (you’ll have to read all of it to get to the potato part).

This one is with artichoke hearts
This one is with artichoke hearts
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Religious zeal – or what's worse

Politics:

An interview with Hanif Kureishi about what has happened to the world since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. It’s very interesting and deserves to be read by anyone who takes an interest in these matters. Here’s a quote:

The Rushdie affair, Kureishi believes, transformed not just his own work, but also “the very notion of writing.” The fatwa “created a climate of terror and fear. Writers had to think about what they were writing in a way they never had to before. Free speech became an issue as it had not been before. Liberals had to take a stand, to defend an ideology they had not really had to think about before.” How have they borne up to the task? “The attacks on Rushdie showed that words can be dangerous. They also showed why critical thought is more important than ever, why blasphemy and immorality and insult need protection. But most people, most writers, want to keep their heads down, live a quiet life. They don’t want a bomb in the letterbox. They have succumbed to the fear.”

They also touch on the Danish cartoon controversy. I thought then and I still think that it was perfectly all right to publish those drawings, if they had been in some sort of context. The most controversial one, the one with the mullah with the bomb in the turban would probably had gone by quite unnoticed had it accompanied an article about one of those insane Islamic fanatics who we always see on videos thundering about the imminent demise of the Western World. But the context of the drawings, if anyone should have forgotten, was a purposeful attempt to insult Muslims. Plain and simple. Nothing else. And I find that despicable.

I’ve read several of Kureishi’s books and of course also seen the lovely My Beautiful Launderette, but bow my head and admit that I’ve never gotten around to read the Satanic Verses or any of Rushdie’s other books. I don’t like Rushdie much and, although I’m always preaching to others about not letting the artist overshadow the work, I guess that’s what’s influenced me so I haven’t read any of his books. I even have one or two on the shelf… It was the clever twitterer @howardsends who alerted me to the interview.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Here’s a video from a congressional hearing on climate change. You will have to see it to believe that so much nonsense can come out of the mouth of a grown up and totally sane looking suit-clad congressman. (notice how the girl behind him tries not to smile). Pointer (again) from Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic.

Here’s a good, reflective piece from Time Magazine about the Earth Hour.

IQ:

Thorough and well written review of important book about IQ as being hereditary or environmental. As with almost everything else, it’s not either or, it’s AND. Of course intelligence can be cultivated. And of course black people don’t have lower IQs than whites because of their race. And of course women don’t have lower IQs than men. As with any other gift you inherit from your ancestors you can either do something with it or not!

Tech:

If the management on NYT and International Herald Tribune are this dumb, there’s very little hope for the world!

Food:

How to use chopsticks. Instructional video. 90 secs. It works. Found on this interesting looking blog via Sheamus who never fails to twitter about interesting stuff.

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Hunger on April Food Day

Writing about hunger today on April Food Day, inspired by Ari Herzog. His main concern is this charity, Feeding America. Although I have seen with my own eyes that also America has its share of extreme poverty, malnutrition seems to be a much bigger problem than hunger and with equally devastating short- and long term consequences. If you enter their homepage and click on the real-life stories, the pictures illustrate my point. A good deal of these people, apparently suffering from hunger, are obese. So, they are not hungry, but malnourished. I find that, from checking on their homepage, they don’t focus enough on nutrition and have no statistics to tell us whether it’s possible to buy enough healthy food for the family with the same amount of money that these families clearly spend on food with no nutritional value.

Honestly, I don’t have anything to say on the subject of hunger that others haven’t already expressed much better than I ever could. So below I’m linking to a few filmed speeches (from TED) and posts/websites, which touch on this subject in original and intelligent ways. Enjoy!

The first is Eleni Gabre-Madhin, who works for the International Food Policy Research Institute.

This one is two years old and doesn’t specifically address hunger. But if you take the time (just under 20 min.) you’ll be rewarded with some of the most amazing statistics you’ve ever seen AND with data about the developing world, which is actually uplifting. The Swedish statistics genius Hans Rosling:

On a much less optimistic note is an article from NYT about hunger in India – a much overlooked problem, because other parts of India are developing fast and it’s a democratic country.

Hunger as weapon. Andrew Sullivan in the Daily Dish blog on the Atlantic. Really, really horrible!

In the American Foreign Affairs magazine (often much more interesting than the title suggests) there’s an article by an Oxford economist, with whom I do not agree at all. He promotes large scale farming to solve the hunger problem, mainly in Africa. To offset his claims read the reply from employees of the World Bank.

Finally some links to organisations that focus on hunger. Action Against Hunger focuses on sustainable solutions to the world’s hunger crises. The One organisation is the one founded by Bono. I know you’re supposed to think that he’s a selfrighteous prick, but I actually think that he’s chosen to do something worthwhile with his fame and his money. So there…

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There's nothing a brain scan won't reveal

Science:

Activity in Caudate Nucleus (a part of our brain) predicts our choices. That’s another part of our brain that seems to be moored in the hunter/gather era of humanity, because the study shows that the brain pushes our choice towards the one with the largest perceived reward.

This is funny! Apparently, there’s very little you can’t see on brain scans. For instance, you can predict blunders! Seems like life would be different (easier?) if we could walk around with brain scanners on our heads all the time…

When romantically inclined, we don’t want to follow the crowd. It’s the other way ‘round when we’re scared.

IQ:

A brain scan can show IQ?

Children:

When discussing how we bring up our children and feminism issues with friends and family I’m always arguing that 1) We must answer questions about sex when put to us by our children, in an honest and close-to-the-truth way, according to their age. If we don’t they’ll know how to get the information from other sources, which might not be as credible. They WILL get the information! And 2) that men and women will never be equal as long as the porn industry is as skewed as it is. When boys and girls see the average porn flick or magazine, they get a sadly stereotypical impression of sexuality. Finally a programme on Channel 4 (and not just yet another study by a feminist psychologist) shows how youngsters get their “knowledge” about sex: Porn. Think about that, parents, before you snub another sex-related question from your children out of misplaced modesty.

Told you so… Extra-curricular activities and good social skills in high school will benefit you later in life.

This story was all over Twitter yesterday. When your toddler doesn’t respond to your REPEATED instructions, it’s not because they’re not listening. They’re just storing it for later. What I don’t understand then, is what happens with bigger children? Maybe they are just storing the instructions for MUCH later?

Health:

Education slows down the spreading of HIV in Sub-Saharan countries. Read the interesting description of how, in the beginning of the epidemic, the disease spread fastest among educated males, because they had more leisure time and money to provide them greater access to commercial sex workers. Notice this new euphemism for prostitutes… Where did that come from?

A cure for Herpes. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Politics:

Why is it that politicians from all over the Western world aren’t queueing to scold Putin and his puppets for these killings? Russia actually claims to be a democratic country and wants a place among the world’s leading nations!

For a nation that embraces countries like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan etc. it’s about time they loosen up towards Cuba.

Food:

Recipes on Twitter… I’ve just added a host of twittering chefs to my stream. Inspiration is everything when you’re the one left to do the everyday cooking!

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To eat meat or not, is that really the question?

Tech:

This is an absolutely brilliant post by a young PR wizard about technophobia. Particularly addressing privacy issues, something I often find myself discussing with people. This young man addresses it very well. It was Jesse Newhart who twittered about him.

Google seems to be headed towards semantic search. Well explained on Mashable.

Another PR guy who knows what he’s talking about is Brian Solis. Check out his blog. He’s come up with this model of how online conversation is taking place – if you look at the prism directly on Flickr you can see Solis’ notes by moving the cursor. Quite brilliantly done. Thanks  to Gabs for pointer.

Model from Brian Solis Flickr page.
Model from Brian Solis' Flickr page.

Politics:

I like watching 24 on the telly, it’s highly addictive. But I often think to myself that the show in almost every episode indicates that torture gives results, although all research shows that it doesn’t. People will say just about anything to be freed of the pain. This guy clearly hasn’t revealed anything of any interest to anyone, but that didn’t keep the US back from holding him imprisoned in Guantanamo for almost five years… it’s so embarrassing for the free world that we’re complicit in this!

Quite a few Twitterers have pointed to Newswipe, a new programme on the BBC, and – having just finished watching it on the Iplayer – I must say it’s just fantastic! The middle part about the power of the PR agencies over the oh-so-slack media is saddeningly sobering. Likewise the last bit about a tiny demonstration, which was blown completely out of proportion by the media.

News about one of my Most Hated Organisations. NRA. Obama, don’t let them get away with it!

Feminism:

Do you love or hate chick flicks? A rather learned article on the subject. Including some depressing figures about women in the film biz.

Food:

Oh, please give me something to do that doesn’t have a downside to it? The newest environmental fad, which I’m also following, is to eat less meat. An article on BBC News tells me that that’s not an altogether good thing to be promoting, since people in the developing world need the protein they get from their livestock. The article is sort of made to look like there are two conflicting views here, but I don’t really think there are! No doubt all of us in the West could benefit from eating less meat? Healthwise and environmentally? That doesn’t mean we’re aiming at stopping African herders from eating their cattle!? Come on!

Science:

How the brain tends to switch off completely when put in front of a so-called expert. Avoid them, I say!

Ever wondered what’s on the other side of the planet? Literally? Wonder no more. For me? Ocean. Pointer from Sheamus.

Scientists are getting closer to finding the cause(s) of the demise of the honey bee. Good news, eh? Then we just need to do something about it!

Environment:

An article in Newsweek has this question:

How do you keep people interested in green initiatives and saving the environment at a time when people are concerned about their jobs?

That seems like such a silly thing to ask, when the vast majority of things you can do yourself for the environment is about being frugal? The article is interesting enough though, since it tries to answer the overlying question, which is whether there’s political will in a time of recession to invest heavily in the environment.

Growing hemp could be one of the answers to Newsweek’s question.

Where not otherwise indicated the above links are found via my own RSS feeds or via the busy, busy Nerdnews on Twitter.

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What makes you happy? I know and you don't…

Had nice Mother’s Day with flowers – hand-picked at real florist by young son – and womenly presents. It was an incredibly beautiful day, so we went to Box Hill, the highest vantage point here in Surrey bringing a picnic. We had a lovely time and even got some much-needed exercise walking up and down the hill.

Young son admiring view from Box Hill, Surrey
Young son admiring view from Box Hill, Surrey

In the morning I favourited a huge number of tweets and bookmarked an even bigger number of news from my weekly dosage of science news. All at your disposal.

Politics:

This is really good news: The US is completely reviewing and changing its policy towards the poppy-growers in Afghanistan. Lead came from @howardsend, who generally tweets very interestingly.

The populist blah blah blah about youth today and elevated murder and crime rates is just that. When the real pros dive into the statistics, a totally calming result emerges. But that doesn’t sell one single copy of the Daily Mail and doesn’t win over voters.

Happiness:

They don’t make us happy. A study shows that people with children aren’t happier than people without them. Personally, I think that the moments of utter happiness we have with and because of our children are offset by the colossal amount of worry they also give us. I’m guessing that people without children don’t suffer the same extremes – or at least not as often as we poor parents do…

A stranger is better at predicting what makes us happy than we are ourselves. See that’s interesting! The study was led by one of my heroes, Dan Gilbert. I’m always trying to get people to read his book.

Botox hinders happiness… Ah, well, sort of. If you don’t show your disgust over something but try to hold it in, the disgusted feeling will stay with you longer. People who’ve been botoxed can’t show disgust – or any other emotion for that matter.

Tech:

Stephen Fry is one of the most popular celebs on Twitter. I’m not following him myself, but I see the occasional ReTweet and I have also visited his page. He is funny, there’s no way around it. He’s given an interview to BBC’s Radio 4 about why he looooves the web. It’s good. He says things some of us dare not say, we just think it. That’s a relief!

Here’s a quick run-through of a panel discussion about the future of the music bizz held at SXSW. These bizz people were clearly well chosen, because here’s people thinking out of the box and not shooting at everything that moves from copyright trenches.

Tips for Facebook power users. There’s even a tip that tells you how to return your Facebook page to the old look and feel before THE CHANGE. If you so wish.

Twitterer Lulu has made this cute little Twictionary over the strange words you encounter once you’ve entered the realm of Twitter (AKA the Twitterverse).

Speed up Firefox. Wauw, I needed that piece of info! Thanks to The G Man.

An interesting list of influential people in the tech world. Nothing to do with money, I should add. Link from Sheamus Bennett.

Science:

A huge study (from the US) seems to have proven that blacks actually get cancer more than whites. Even if I can see that they’ve done a lot to eliminate other factors, I still wonder if this would also be true if the comparison had been made between white Americans and Africans (in Africa) with same demographic and social characteristics.

The language of music is now proven to be universal. Must admit that I would have been more surprised if it wasn’t.

Here’s a really odd one – of the archeological sort. A study of 500 year old teeth reveal which bodies in a gravesite on La Isabela belonged to sailors brought there by Columbus and the interesting fact that some of the people buried there were almost certainly from Africa!

Health:

The fatter the parent the less he/she is able to see a weight problem in own offspring. Maybe not surprising, but still? How can you fail to notice that your daughter’s legs are twice as big as the other girls’? And that your son needs shirts for grown-ups even when he’s same height as the other boys in his class?

My father-in-law (80, super-fit, very healthy) has been eating after the GI diet principles for many years (1/2 plate: veg, 1/4 plate meat/fish, 1/4 plate rice/pasta/pot./etc.). Apparently one of the reasons it works is because a diet low on GI will make you feel more full. Makes good sense. Am trying to buy more veg and less meat already, inspired by Mark Bittman.

My husband sometimes angers me by salting his food before he’s even tasted it. I’m showing him this article about how a very slight reduction in daily salt intake significantly reduces your risk of heart deceases.

IQ:

More evidence that it’s highly hereditary.

Children:

Parents grossly underestimate the influence their children have on them when grocery shopping. Well, I don’t. Which is why I generally avoid having any of them with me when shopping. The 20-year old is worse than the 7-year old!

Viva music! The combination of children and music is good. Always. Never underestimate it. I’ve written about it before, here and here. And now there’s a new American study, showing that children who learn music also enhance their cognitive skills.

Psychology:

It pays off to be nice. Not just in the afterlife…

On a much related note: It’s harmful, particularly to men, to be angry and aggressive.

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Musings before Mother's Day

Feminism:

It being Mother’s Day tomorrow, the Times has asked six women, mainly writers, to write a letter to their children at 21 (they all have young children) or to share the advice of their own mothers. Some of these letters are so, so beautiful. I didn’t just well up, I had to go and get a clean hanky out of the drawer. I like Sarah Vine’s and Justine Picardie’s the best. Found on Tania Kindersley’s brand new blog.

The Times has also compiled a list of the most powerful Muslim women in Britain. An interesting read!

So, at 49, I’ve finally found a word that defines me: Geek Mum

Olivia James writes a very poignant piece about Mother’s Day. Read it if you have a troubled relationship with your own mother!

Food:

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a weekly food column in the Guardian. If it wasn’t online I’d feel compelled to buy the paper every Saturday. Actually, I might do that anyway, the Weekend Guardian is a very good paper, lots of sustenance! Today it’s about flour. Also one of my pet causes. I buy almost all my flour freshly milled at the Farmers Market, not least the lovely spelt. It’s a totally different experience from the supermarket stuff. Hugh forgets to mention cornmeal – not the dreary stuff that you buy to thicken your gravy, but the real stuff. I use it in muffins, which then look beautiful and yellowish and as one of three types of flour in my sourdough bread.

Sourdough bread & cake with muscovado sugar, cinnamon & courgettes.
Sourdough bread & cake with muscovado sugar, cinnamon & courgettes.

I’ve promised Tania Kindersley to publish my recipe for Panzanella. It’s from The Blue River Café Cook Book. I hope they won’t sue me for copyright infringement…

Panzanella – serves 6:

  • 3 stale ciabatta loaves
  • 1 kg fresh, plum tomatoes, chopped, seeds removed, save juices (key to recipe is the tomatoes actually tasting of something)
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed (I always dump them in boiling water for a bit to take the top of the “sting”)
  • Maldon sea salt (or similar) & freshly ground pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 3 red peppers – grilled until black & skinned, then chopped
  • 2 fresh chillies – not necessary
  • 100 gr salted, large capers
  • 100 gr salted anchovies (these can be ground to a paste and mixed with the dressing)
  • 150 gr black, pitted olives
  • 1 large bunch of basil

Cut the bread (preferably stale) into bite-sized chunks. Mix all “wet” ingredients and toss the bread chunks in this. Mix all ingredients. Don’t serve cold.

Science:

Also in the Guardian, Ben Goldacre again crucifies a number of journalists for their faulty and misleading interpretations of a scientific paper about prostate cancer.

I’ll never stop recommending TED. Probably the best source of ideas on the web. It never, never fails to inspire and to lift my spirits. Here’s about how to grow your own fresh air… What to do when you DO NOT have green fingers?

Tech:

A lot of people are – as usual – angry with the new design of Facebook. Maybe I’m easy, but I’m fine with it… Here’s one who doesn’t like it, but makes a good joke of it.

Here are some very useful tips about how to customise the new Facebook. I’ve already done it – I have some FB friends whose updates are rather boring, to be frank. But I still want to keep them as friends. Done!

I don’t find any reason whatsoever to doubt this story about the GRU and the FSB in Russia using cyber “weapons” against Georgia in the war. But then I’m not a great fan of the Russian Leadership.

Oh yes, and as an Iphone owner I’m thrilled to bits by this. Can’t believe I forgot to write about it earlier!

Politics:

An American soldier tells the moving story of when he accompanied a fallen soldier to his final resting place. Very touching and also enlightning. The Americans are good at honouring their fallen. Would be nice if they were as good – or even better – at honouring the wounded and crippled.

Here’s about the methods of torture applied by the CIA. You know, the ones sanctioned by John Yoo, as mentioned yesterday.

This sounds like a good plan. Geithner reveals how the US will deal with its toxic assets.

See, here’s what sets a respectable Republican apart from one you can’t respect. Please Sarah Palin, can’t you just go elk hunting forever?

How can this and this take place in the same country at the same time? It’s about the right to life on the one hand and the right to a dignified death on the other.

With a few exceptions, which are from my RSS reader, all of the above were harvested over 24 hours on Twitter. So don’t tell me twittering is a waste of time.

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