Every few months I pull out a Koan card. This card is something I keep in mind for the coming months and it's always the perfect advice for me. A few months ago, when I was finishing writing my book ("Polska" is now available for pre-order), the Koans advised me: "I burn the books in my bag, but the verses written in my guts cannot be forgotten". After all the research, this advice really struck a cord - it was time to forget about all the other books and create something new. Then when my baby was born the Koans said: " The seeds of the past are the fruits of the future". A reminder that every moment counts, because the baby is like a sponge. Today, I pulled out a new card. Right now my life is very busy - my baby is nearly 6 months and requires more attention than before, I am building a website for myself (something I haven't done since 1999) and I have a very long to do list, which needs to be completed before my book launch (July in the UK, September in the US). I am also selling my flat and trying to buy a family home with my partner. So the Koans told me: "Water heats slowly and it boils suddenly". They are advising patient perseverance. Perfect. Difficult, but really the perfect advice for me for now. Slow, consistent perseverance in the knowledge that everything will come in the right time and in the right way. In the midst of all these things I need to do, I also need to cook and eat. As I'm breastfeeding, I'm making an extra effort to eat healthy, nutritious, filling, food (because I am starving all the time). I made a risotto recently with local asparagus, which we bought in a farm shop somewhere in Sussex between London and Eastbourne. I also used local cheese instead of Parmesan. Apart from that the risotto recipe was the basic one - onion, arborio rice, vegetable stock added gradually. Then the steamed asparagus and some par-boiled peas. The cheese is added right at the end, once the risotto is cooked. The next day I rolled the leftovers into balls, covered them in breadcrumbs and fried them in rapeseed oil.
I bought beautiful carrots from that very same shop and shredded them. I juiced an orange and used that, along with good quality Virgin olive oil, Moroccan cumin and salt and pepper as a dressing. Finally, I tore some mint leaves from the garden and straight into the salad.
As the climate becomes more Mediterranean so should our diets! I don't mean to trivialise climate change, it's just that in the UK a slight climate change isn't such a terrible thing. Weather has never bean our strong point. So far this year it's been a lovely Spring and today felt positively hot. Days like these I like to eat light food that makes me think of holidays in Italy or the South of France. These mushrooms are perfect for sitting in your garden with a glass of wine and envisioning the glistening Mediterranean Sea, even if you're just staring into your murky pond.
2 Portobello mushrooms or similar
200g ricotta or another soft, white cheese
Handful fresh basil
5 sundried tomatoes
Handful pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices halloumi
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the mushrooms upside down in a baking tray and put the oven on 150 degrees C. Fry the halloumi cheese for 3min each side or until golden.
Blend the ricotta with the basil, sundried tomatoes, pine nuts and olive oil, reserving a few pine nuts and sundried tomato for topping. Season. Stuff the mushrooms with your ricotta mixture and top with the remaining bits: halloumi, sundried tomato and pine nuts. Bake for 25min. Serve on a bed of rocket and eat outside in the sunshine if at all possible.
Seemingly overnight Spring has brought with it many wonderful things: shiny, new leaves on the trees; showers of cherry blossoms; the first warm rays of sunshine and also, happily, it has also returned to me my love of cooking. Motherhood dimmed my passion for the act of cooking somewhat in the first few months as I focussed exclusively on the butter bean (who's not so little these days). Yet here I am, joyfully spending an entire weekend by the stove. Over the past few days I have baked sourdough bread, made aubergine curry, an Alfafa sprout salad and these spelt cookies, twice. They were good the first time but I felt like I could improve the recipe by subtracting half the butter. Yes, you read it correctly the recipe has been improved by adding less butter.
150g spelt flour
4 tablespoons tahini
100ml runny honey
2 tablespoons ground almonds
1 tablespoon soft butter
1 tablespoon raw cacao nibs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Topping: either Eridanous Sesame Paste (you can buy this at Lidl) with honey or 2 tablespoons tahini and 1 tablespoon set honey and 1 tablespoon soft cheese like mascapone or Philadelphia
Melt the butter in a large pan. Once it has melted add the tahini. Stir for 1min on a low heat then turn the heat off. Stir in the flour, followed by all the other dry ingredients. Finally, add the egg. Mix it well to a paste the consistency of peanut butter. Pull off bits of the dough and roll it into a ball about the size of a golf ball. Flatten the top and lay them all out of a greased baking tray or on a baking tray covered in baking paper. Bake for 12min at 180 degrees C.
I am doing my own brand of earth-mothering right now. I can't quite bring myself to use cloth nappies, but I am washing my bubba in camomile water and using the most eco friendly, natural products possible. I'm probably not going to do prolonged breastfeeding, yet I am still doing it at 5 months and will try to keep going for the rest of the year (though that's not to say formula won't get introduced at some point too). I guess I am trying to be as much of an earth-mother as I can without making my life too inconvenient. I think that's a fair compromise. I do dream of living somewhere more green and growing my own organic fruit and vegetables, but for now this is just a dream while we survive our first year in busy Hackney. Luckily, we do have some (over-priced) organic shops here now. This is where I found my purple carrots for this earthy soup.
Roast the purple carrots with a handful of sage leaves, some rapeseed oil and Maldon sea salt on 200 degrees C for about 20min. Reserve a few crispy sage leaves for decoration and blend everything else with some good quality stock (I used chicken stock). Return to the pan and season with more sea salt, white pepper and mustard powder. Serve with a dollop of soured cream, some alfafa sprouts and those crispy sage leaves you put aside.
I spent my pregnancy cooking and eating Polish food: practicing my dumpling making; stuffing my face with caramel and cream and cookie dough; making many, many doughnuts (three times in the space of 2 months) and generally re-working my favourite recipes. The book is coming out in July, now there's a stubborn stone sitting on my hips and penance. But penance doesn't have to be unpleasant. I won't lie, the beginning is hard, but it becomes more enjoyable with time. Both the exercise and the food. Tracey Anderson is getting (marginally) easier to handle and I'm remembering my favourite healthy recipes. This crunchy salad has a Middle-Eastern flavour and doesn't make you feel like you are doing penance at all. Ok, so it's not cardamon-custard seductively wrapped in choux pastry (it's in the book, you'll love it), but it is flavour packed none-the-less.
Ah the dreaded 4 month sleep regression, turning our perfect sleepers into... not so perfect sleepers. I feel uncomfortable with a lot of the advice I've read online: move your baby into another room now; leave the baby alone to cry; holding baby is a negative habit we need to break... I'm sure it works for some but at what cost? Of course, we all love to sleep (especially when sleep is what's lacking), yet as my Greek friend pointed out when I was still pregnant and he was surviving on 4 hours a night with a 7 month old: "we used to not sleep at night for stupid reasons, at least this a very good reason to not sleep". So, I'm doing the opposite of what I've read and when she wakes up, I bring the bubba into bed with me. Controversial. I even nurse her a few times in the night. Whenever she wants in fact. Why? Because I want to show her that I am here for her during the hard times. Of course at some point she can have her own bedroom, but I'm not going to push her away just because she's being needy. Less controversially, I have also brought her bedtime forward by an hour and I'm making sure she gets 2 naps during the day. These things are not only helping me get more sleep, but, more importantly, the bubba is not getting upset when she wakes up anymore. The sleep regression is annoying for her too and I feel like she needs my support more - not less - during this difficult moment. It's only been a couple of nights of improvement, so whether my tactics work longterm or not remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, I feel good doing this and Delfi feels better too. We are in Eastbourne at the moment with my folks, while my partner is away filming. The change of environment could have been what kicked off this regression. I'm glad, as it has motivated us to find a more appropriate schedule and to teach my daughter a sense of trust.
I know, I know, this is supposed to be a food blog, but I just wanted to express a different perspective on the 4 month sleep regression, without shoe-horning a recipe into it. Thank you and goodnight.
I always say that in food, as in life, simplicity is a virtue. Simple days, simple pleasures are the best. A baby's laugh, the sun coming out from behind a cloud, a flower in bloom, these are beautiful things we do not need to fight or struggle for, simply appreciate. A daily practise of gratitude (in whatever form) can make you more aware of wonderful, everyday pleasures. Something simple to eat does not mean grabbing a packet of crisps though. A simple soup takes little more effort and is infinitely warmer, more nurturing...
Whenever I roast a chicken I use the bones and leftovers to make a broth. I stick whatever I have lying around in there. This time it was an onion, a carrot and a chilli pepper. After about 3 hours of boiling these together with the chicken carcass and a sprinkle of Malden sea salt, I strained the liquid and distributed it among various vessels: some for immediate use, some for the fridge, some for the freezer. You could, of course, replace the chicken broth with a good quality chicken stock. To make this particular soup, I fried some garlic along with the spinach and (once cool) I blended it with the chicken broth. To thicken I added a tablespoon of rye flour and some ground flaxseeds. I brought this back to the boil, seasoned with salt and white pepper and served with spinach trottole and crumbled feta cheese for a healthy, filling and delicious dinner.
If you have some old apples slowly shrivelling away in a fruit bowl somewhere in your house, this is a great way to use them up.
We had these baked apples for breakfast with yoghurt, baobab powder and pomegranate seeds. Yasin said it was a "magical" breakfast. It was, literally. Like something the fairies would eat. Simply cut the apples (we had 4 Braeburn apples) in large chunks, cover in a tablespoon of brown sugar and reason of cinnamon and bake at 150 degrees for about an hour.
Habits are funny things. They aren't easy to form, but they aren't as difficult as they first appear either. Sometimes they are painstakingly hard to break and other times painstakingly easy, yet they are one of the most important things in life. A bad habit can be detrimental to our happiness just as a good habit can shape our life in the most wonderful way. I now can't seem to get into the habit of blogging twice weekly, something that used to come very easily to me. Giving up eating processed sugar every day after the indulgences of Christmas is another habit I am trying hard to break and seems almost impossible to fully achieve. Although I am still eating sugar on most days, it's getting less and less. As a result of breastfeeding my appetite is larger than normal (and it's usually pretty big already), so I am replacing processed sugar with more of other foods. I am focussing on foods that can be more beneficial to Delfi, such as vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts, eating often and filling up so that I don't have room left for evil sugar. As tends to be with new habits - each day is easier than the last and before you know it, what seemed impossible a few weeks ago becomes second nature. I learnt this from practising Kundalini yoga, which is all about habits, and just knowing this is enough to change your life. Nothing seems insurmountable anymore once you know. This curry is packed with all the good stuff. Some people say the spicy food can give the baby colic, other people say chickpeas and spinach are culprits, but I ate this for 2 days and Delfi was fine. Sweet potatoes are a super effective and healthy way to thicken curry, just make sure that they cook until they become mushy.
200g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
1inch of ginger, peeled and chopped finely
1 inch of turmeric, peeled and chopped finely
1 green chilli
1 tablespoon garam masala
3 tablespoons rapeseed oil
1 egg per person
Rice to serve
Using a pestle and mortar or a blender make a blend out of the onion, garlic, fresh ginger, turmeric, chilli, garam masala and the oil. Fry this in a large pan for about 5min, adding a tiny bit of oil after a couple of minutes so that the spices don't burn. Add the chickpeas and cover with about an inch of water. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 20min, then add the sweet potatoes. Simmer for a further 30min before adding the spinach and the chopped tomatoes. Cook for another 10min then season with plenty of salt. Crack the eggs into the middle of the curry and cover the pan. Cook on a very low heat for about 3minutes. Serve with rice.
This is a little list of the more useful stuff I learnt in my first month of motherhood, inspired by the useful list someone sent me before I gave birth. Remember, when you go home with your (first) baby in your arms, you are basically clueless. Many people will bombard you with opinions but not many people will give you advice that's actually useful. I'm writing this list while it's all fresh in my mind - my baby is 6 weeks today - in the hope that this will mean it's relevant to new mothers (unlike some of the advice you get from people who gave birth years ago).
1. Those little nightmare vests that you can't get over the head without a struggle can actually be pulled down.
2. Most nappies have a yellow stripe that turns blue to tell you if they need changing.
3. You don't have to become obsessed with making your baby sleep. Babies sleep for 14-18 hours a day. We do have a particularly good sleeper though so perhaps that's something to do with babies that wake up more often. It helps to feed them lots during the day and particularly before bed (an hour if on-off feeding just before bed does it for us) At 6 weeks Delfi sleeps in 4-5 hour shifts during the night and naps during the day for shorter periods of 1-2 hours. This is completely manageable.
4. Babies don't cry all the time. I really thought they did and imagined I was going to be pushed to the brink of sanity. This hasn't happened (as yet). If I had to take a guess at what makes our baby so calm and peaceful it would be yoga and meditation - a little bit every day during pregnancy. Baby loves to listen to shiva chants and watch me stretch and meditate.
5. It helps having the baby at arms' length. Delfi doesn't need to cry to wake me up, we just wake up in the night together. The first month she was in a pod in the bed, which is not recommended apparently (the one thing the health visitor was not too pleased about) yet we all loved. Many people told me that it was not a good idea, that transitioning to a bed would be hard and it was, but only for me. Delfi didn't mind at all.
6. People who do not have babies do not want to hear poop stories, as hilarious as they might be. I remember saying to my partner just before I gave birth how being surrounded by shitty nappies was going to be horrible. In actual fact, it hasn't bothered me one bit. There is some kind of poo paradigm shift when you become a new parent, but do remember that your non parent friends still believe that poo equals disgusting.
7. Drugs during labour do not mean that your baby will have problems breastfeeding. Some drugs can make some babies drowsy perhaps, but I had 2 shots of diamorphine and an epidural for my emergency ceaserean and she came out smacking her lips at me and nursing within half an hour of coming out. I was led to believe that taking drugs affects nursing ability. Even the health visitor said "oh she's so responsive you can tell it was a natural labour. You didn't take any drugs did you?". Er, yes I did, there was no question of not taking them for me.
8. Overdue baby does not always mean big baby. We were told at 34 weeks she was 5.6 lb and would put on 0.5 lb a week. I was expecting a 8.5 lb baby and I got a 6.7 lb baby that was exactly 2 weeks late. I enjoyed my 2 weeks of waiting time, even though everyone else seemed worried and annoyed at the delay. Different countries have different due dates, don't let yourself be pressurised by anyone.
9. Anxiety does drastically increase, as do constant irrational worries. No matter how cool you think you are, the first month you are responsible for keeping a tiny, helpless human alive, you will worry. All the time. If the worry is unmanageable and making you depressed then you need to see your doctor, and don't let them fob you off. Your feelings do matter.
10. Babies have a lot of folds. You may miss one when washing/drying baby and the skin is so delicate it may shock you when you find that bit. It was under one arm for me. Don't worry, their skin heals very quickly too. Camomile baths help, as does coconut oil and sudocream.
January is always about intention setting for me. By the same token it's about looking back at the year that's just been, reflecting on what happened and why. What were the seeds planted and what may be learnt. One very important seed grew into a beautiful baby girl that's sitting in front of me right now, falling asleep happily while staring at the fairy lights. She's just wonderful and has opened my heart in unexpected ways. I was never sure if motherhood was for me, but an unplanned pregnancy and miscarriage in 2014 revealed a part of me that was ready to be a mother. It's funny how different things look in hindsight, when you're not longer just a bug in a rug, but can appreciate the whole tapestry. Even very painful events can be useful. Motherhood is a whole new world. You learn new things every day on this journey and I will compile a list of the more useful stuff I've learnt shortly, for people that are about to embark on it.
Another reason why last year was so important was my cookbook, due to come out next Summer. The world of publishing is new to me and getting book deal has been both a dream come true and a challenge. It reminded me that things worth having don't necessarily come easily, yet also that if something is meant to be then those doors do open for you. That its always better to be swimming with the tide. So this year I will focus on swimming along, being kinder to myself (and therefore others) in the process, trusting what happens, being more conscious and present in the moment while gently shaping my future. The book will definitely still be a focus this year and this is an example of what it will feel like. It will be a whole new perspective on Polish food, and show another side of my homeland, a side that's dreamy and romantic. We're not all about meat and potatoes, you know.
The world of motherhood brings with it many anxieties, many unresolved feelings and issues from one's own childhood. It's an ideal opportunity to face oneself and to let go, if you take it as such. I am therefore very focussed on being conscious and calm right now, to not take too much on. Yet I am enjoying cooking. Nothing elaborate, just simple, healthy food like this quinoa and halloumi salad.
Ingredients (about 4 portions)
2 Corn on the Cob, cooked with the corn taken off the cob
1 Avocado, chopped
1 Courgette, shaved
Juice of 2 limes
3 tablespoons of good quality olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon Ghanan Shito sauce (or some chilli oil and fish sauce)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the quinoa and allow it to cool, while you prep all the other vegetables. Do use corn on the cob rather then the sloppy corn in the tin for this salad, it's worth the effort. Mix everything together with the dressing once cooled and allow to stand for about 15min while you fry the Halloumi until golden. Finish off with some black pepper. This salad benefits from standing around for a while, while it infuses with the flavours and its even better the following day.