Learning Curve

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52

The number of totally new recipes I have cooked in the last year and a half.  The only thing I have to say is, thank god for Evernote (where I keep track of most of my cooking)!  As I am not a natural cook, saving the recipes I’ve tried and the occasional photo of the final product gives me a sense of accomplishment, and looking back, as I did today to count the number of new recipes, puts a smile on my face.

16

The number of recipes that often make the menu rotation and have become favorites.

6

Of the 52, six I can make without looking at the recipe anymore! Yay for me!

So, without further ado, here are those six delicious, healthy and easy to make dishes:

Chickpea Dahl, kachumber salad and wholewheat rice – This is such a yummy dish that we have been eating almost weekly for the past year and a half.  I got this recipe from Gabe Evans who is a great chef and teacher and also a close friend.  He has also written a book called Foodintuition with an array of information on how to “shop, cook, eat and live the natural way.” Here’s the recipe.

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Chicken enchiladas – Nothing to do with what you get in the restaurants. This is a recipe I got from my Mexican friend Isabel. This is a recipe she learned from her mother and her mother learned from her mother, so this is the real deal.  For some reason WordPress won’t let me upload the photo.  

Meatballs in tomato and spinach sauce – Again, another great recipe from my friend Gabe.  I love it as you can vary it so easily.  Sometimes the sauce includes feta and kalamata olives, sometimes a bunch of chilli flakes to make it spicy, or sometimes just the spinach as an add-on. Here’s the recipe.

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Thai green curried fish parcels – Another of Gabe’s recipes.  Delicious and so easy as you can put tons of vegetable to steam together with the fish inside the foil parcel. It goes without saying that the green Thai curry sauce makes this a superb dish for cold winter evenings. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a photo of this dish, so I will take one next time I do it.  Here’s the recipe.

Mini-pumpkins stuffed with minced beef and rice – This is a recipe I adapted from one in here. The sweetness of the pumpkins goes very well with the minced beef and ginger. Sometimes instead of mini-pumpkins I use big red and yellow bell peppers. Either way, the end product looks really nice and tastes delicious.

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Chicken and spinach flautas – The perfect recipe to do with leftover rotisserie chicken.  I love it as I can hide lots of spinach in them for my son to it without too much fuss.  You can personalize it with guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream, salsa verde… well, you name it. Here’s the recipe.

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1

The number of hours before midnight and tomorrow is a work day.  Good night!

A long ride

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So, it’s been years, literally, since I last blogged. Why, you ask? The answer is simple: I got too busy and as time went past, blogging kept going down the priority list. That is, until now. I’ve decided that I like writing and I like sharing, so blogging should actually be high in my priority list! Today I got up feeling energized, with a spring in my step, and when I tried to plug a USB into my computer it went in at the first attempt, so I feel I can conquer the world.

Before starting this entry, I went back and re-read my past blog posts and it was encouraging to see how much things have changed for the better. I don’t feel so inadequate in the kitchen any more (hey, it’s been 1 1/2 years since I last wrote!) and I am definitely in a different place in my life right now. This is, precisely, one of the reasons I want to start blogging again. I find it very rewarding to have a record of different moments in my life which I can go back to and relive. When I was reading my previous posts, I remembered how I felt at the time and it really gives me perspective and hope. Things can and will get better if you persevere. I persevered though my woes in the kitchen, and I have to say that now I can whip up a nice variety of healthy meals without too much fuss. No, I am not a top class chef, but I am a decent cook now, or at least that is what my husband and son say. I know, they’re biased.

Anyways, I plan to write about some highlights of my cooking adventures in the next couple of weeks. Although I haven’t been blogging about it, I have kept some sort of a record of what I’ve cooked using Evernote and Evernote Food. If you haven’t heard of these apps or are not yet using them, I truly recommend you check them out. They are brilliant and free! It doesn’t get better than that.

Well, I feel great having posted again so let’s hope that this ride blogging again is longer than the way I’ve travelled so far.

Guilt Trip

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Mush. Pure slop. That’s what my brain feels like these days. I’ve always prided myself on my organizational skills, but they seemed to have abandoned me for good. Last week my menu went out of the window after forgetting, two days in a row, to leave thawing the meat for that day’s dinner. The worst part is when the moment of realization hits you as you walk back in and see the ridiculous sticky note that is still on the fridge, longing for some attention. I truly envy the nonchalance of seasoned cooks when they face moments like this. “No thawed meat? Fuss no more.” And they magically whip up some yummy, healthy dish. That kind of improvisation skills escape me completely. Even daunt me (What? No plan?). So, instead, here’s my take on an improvised dinner for Edmund:

Steamed vegetables and a cream cheese sandwich is what I came up with. Not my finest moment, I know. Sandwich variations include hummus and guacamole, both homemade (I felt outlandish when I came up with those two). Wholewheat or rice pasta have been in the rotation too. It’s only when I see the fella happily gobbling up those sandwiches that the guilt slyly makes its appearance. “If I worked a litte harder, I could have come up with a decent idea, cooked, cooled and ready before 7.” “Maybe he will just love sandwiches so much that he will never eat other food again.” In all fairness, as he eats the sandwiches, he also eats pretty much all his veggies. That doesn’t cut the guilt, though.

On the other hand, there are good days, like today: fish, veggies and potatoes. So simple, yet so tasty! Here are the ingredients ready for the oven:

Besides washing, peeling and chopping, there’s not much more to do. Easy and relatively healthy. Here is the fella’s plate (which he polished!):

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I have taken myself on some guilt trips lately. But not today.

Looking for the Holy Grail

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Thirsty like a dog in the desert.  That is a good description of my desperate need of ideas, tips or any kind of enlightenment that would take me out of my healthy cooking ignorance.  But unlike the poor parched pooch, I wasn’t going to settle for any kind of source.  I needed something that would give me finger-licking meals without requiring much in the cooking skills department, yet be quick to make and nutritious.  The ingredients also needed to be readily available in Suzhou.  At a reasonable price.  Was I looking for the holy grail?  Sometimes it felt like that, but I can say now that I’ve found a good selection of cookery books, magazines and websites that meet most of my requirements.  Our thirsty dog was finally licking away in the water bowl.

So here they are in no particular order (drum roll, please):

Books

Magazines (I subscribe via Zinio):

Website:

I am happy I’ve found these resources.  They have definitely made me feel less inadequate in the kitchen.  I hope they can help others like me who humbly needed a hand with the very basics to get started.  The dog is wagging its tail.

Happy dog

Photo: Robert Occhialini/Flickr

The First One

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I am a mid-thirties Colombian, married to a Briton and living in Suzhou, China.  Work brought us to China six years ago. Back then, I thought my life had changed forever when we moved so far away from our families and I was starting a new career as an international school teacher. What a misjudgment!  Little I knew that four years into our time in Suzhou life would bless us with a son who has clearly split life into before and after.  Cliche and all, but that’s the reality.

One of the biggest changes in our lives after the little fella was born, was our eating habits.  Parenthood inevitably destroys that youthful delusion of immortality.  The concern about what we were eating became ever so pressing when we had to introduce the fella to solids.  We obviously read whatever literature was available on the topic, consulted even-more-confused parents, and finally decided to do Baby-Led Weaning (BLW).  For those of you who don’t know, BLW is an approach to weaning where you just give your baby ‘real food’, as in food that you would actually eat on a day to day basis, rather than pureeing and introducing things one at a time. So, up to here, one might think, “What’s the deal with that?” Well, for two people who had sustained a long lasting affair with junk food, it was a big deal.

I had always had an interest in cooking, specially indian food, but I had never really bothered to cook meals often, let alone healthy meals from scratch.  So learning to cook food worth putting in the fella’s mouth with what’s available in Suzhou in terms of space, appliances, ingredients has been, well, a learning experience!  Don’t ask me how many times I have wished I had taken up my mum’s invitations to the kitchen to learn a thing or two about cooking.

So, where do we stand now?  The fella will turn two in a month’s time and I can say that he is a bit of a foodie (*proud parent swollen chest*). But he is a toddler too, so his mood at the time of eating varies with every meal (*frustrated parent sigh*).   Us, well, we’re still learning to be better role models for our son. Yes, I have learned to cook a lot in the past year and a half. Changing habits is a difficult task, so we basically cook at home during the week and we eat out (or order in) a couple of meals in the weekends. Ideally.  The reality is that there are days where tiredness or forgetfulness (should better put that post-it to remind me to take the meat out of the freezer before leaving in the morning) get in the way of a cooked-at-home meal.

I decided to start this blog because I wanted to have a record of our cooking feats and other aspects of our lives as working parents and expats.  It’s never boring around here.  Well, not really.  But these are our lives anyway!

The family in Nanxun. December, 2010.