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Well, hello there. It feels like it’s been a long time. Starting a blog post after a long absence always feels awkward. What to share? What to leave out? Is an explanation even necessary?

Survival Mode has been the name of my game in the past few months, and it doesn’t leave room for  anything other than what keeps you treading water. I’ve tried to keep breathing though. Inhaling and exhaling, I can do that. I guess you can say it’s been an even mix of life with two small kids, sleep deprivation, cultural adjustment, dealing with sickness, the disappointment of laundry that won’t wash and fold itself. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera.

I’ve been reaching for whatever I can find in the fridge for our meals, waking when the boys get up and stumbling around in my pajamas until 9am. No routine, no meal plan, no celebrations – these are the things that are my downfall every single time. Some people flow with the changes of a day, I don’t. I flow from one to two to three on my schedule, and if there is no plan, I look like a lost, confused person wandering around with no map and likely, I’ve dropped my phone in the toilet, so not able to call for help.

meat

But the fog lifts, as surely as winter gives way to spring and spring gives way to summer (or more spring if you live in Sweden), the fog lifts. It must. It cannot last forever. I’ve moved past survival mode now, and while I’m far from thriving, this place in between is an improvement even though my laundry still refuses to wash and put itself away.

Yesterday it felt like we had our first real summer day as a family. The sun was out, it was hot, the sunscreen came out (our June weather was much like Melbourne, Australia, where it is winter), we played football, climbed on balance beams, I planned ahead and made Sunday dinner. We sat down together as a family, held hands and thanked God for our food.

And it was very, very good.

plate

Oxtail Stew

Adapted from Jamie Oliver

This isn’t a summer meal, but when I saw oxtail – or what I thought was oxtail, I suppose one can never know when you’re working with a language you don’t understand – I had an instant craving for oxtail soup. I ended up making this recipe instead. We ate it with roasted sweet potato mashed with some feta cheese, a green salad and blanched sugar snap peas. The lightness of the sides offset the heavy, wintery taste of the stew. 

This cut of meat isn’t for everyone – it’s not classy, quite fatty and grizzly, but when cooked for so long, something beautiful comes out. 

1 kg oxtail, chopped into 4cm chunks (I bought mine like this, but you may have to ask a butcher to do it for you)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
1 medium leek
4 stalks of celery
4 medium carrots
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
4 dried bay leaves
4 cloves
2 heaped tablespoons plain flour
275 ml beer
stock of your liking (I used porcini stock I still have from a trip to Italy last year, and it was diving, but I think beef or vegetable stock would be great as well)

1. Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF. 

2. Take a large roasting tray and put the oxtail inside, cover with salt and pepper and drizzle over with olive oil, make sure each piece is well coated, and put in the oven for 20 minutes. 

3. Chop the leeks, celery and carrots into chunky pieces (it cooks for so long that larger pieces are better – it won’t disintegrate so quickly). Put the veggies with olive oil into a large ovenproof casserole pan over a medium heat, toss the rosemary and bay leaves in there as well and cook for 20 minutes or so until the veggies have a nice colour and smell sweet. 

4. When the oxtail’s time is up, take it out of the oven and reduce the temperature to 170ºC/325ºF.

5. Stir in the cloves and flour to the veggies on the stove, then add the beer. Let it reduce for a bit, add the oxtail and any roasting juices, cover with stock and stir well. Keep it on the stove, make sure the heat is high and let it boil then put it in the oven for around 5 hours or so. I stirred every hour and kept track of the liquid content. I put the lid on around hour 4. 

6. When it’s done and cooled, take the oxtail out and remove the meat from the bones and return into the stew.

My grandmother passed away on Tuesday. She would have been 96 in December. This is an essay I wrote about her when I was living with her and some other family in Sri Lanka in 2009. Growing up all over the world didn’t make for a lot of regular time with our grandmothers, so the few memories I have are extra precious to me today.
Irene Regina Samadanam Anketell was born on 11 December 1918. She is my grandmother, and I am seeing her now for the first time in eight years. I can’t even remember what she looked like then, probably some variation of old.  She is 90-and-a-half now, with a keen mind and a disintegrating though still-functioning body.

My grandmother was the baby of the family, the youngest daughter of nine siblings, born to David and Eunice Anketell of Jaffna, at the tippy tippy top of the Tamil class totempole. Ammamma (what I call her, it is Tamil for grandma) used to tell me when I was younger about the horse-drawn carriages that drove them around the town. Their ancestral home in Uduville, which is still standing after 30 years of war, was made by laborers from India.

Adored by everyone and a real knockout, my grandmother sounds like the belle of the ball character out of a southern American novel. Just today she was telling me (while we looked at the photo below) about how she used to wear her saree Colombo style, to emphasise her small waist and sumptuous figure, and that she heard a guy at her university say she had “luscious curves.” Ammamma went to to university for two years, studying English, Latin, mathematics and logic at the University of Colombo, probably sometime in the 1930s. People I have met around the world during the past years often remark about her charm, wit and vivaciousness. Apparently she had a personality that endeared her to all.

ammamma2

Dolly, Ruby and Irene Anketell, I’m guessing Ammamma was 21 or 22 at the time

But 90 years, being widowed at 56, five children and 11 grandchildren in four countries, and life in general takes its toll.

Today when Ammamma walks, it is a slow shuffle forward, she rocks back and forth like an unsteady reed, each step requiring leverage from the rocking motion of her fragile hips. She is a wisp of a woman now. Her body’s brittle bones look like they could snap at any minute, penetrating her sagging, translucent skin and rupturing the bulging green veins. The curves are gone, robbed by time and a mastectomy.

We were sitting on the couch yesterday and talking; the sofa looked like it would eat her small frame in its folds as she rested her neck against it, face turned upward to look at me.

What was your favourite decade of your life, Ammamma?

What?

Decade…you know, your favourite 10 years, or just years of your life?

She paused.

When grandpa saw me, and, you know…when that all happened. He thought I was so beautiful.

She was referring to how she and my grandfather met, and their famed love story. Louis Richard Jayaratnam Watson was a young doctor who needed a place to stay for a few days, and through a family connection, stayed in the house of Ammamma’s oldest sister, Daisy, and her husband. My grandmother was also there at the time, he took one look at her and fell madly in love. She was around 18 or 19 at the time. He begged her not to return and finish university (for fear that she would get snatched up by someone else) and asked her to wait for him.

She did. She quit university and waited for seven years without seeing him, without hearing from him. They were married in 1942.

He wrote me a song before he left the first time…he didn’t write the song. It was a song at the time.

Somewhere the sun is shining, she warbled faintly, So honey don’t you cry, we’ll find the silver lining, the clouds will soon roll by, each little tear and sorrow only brings you closer to me.

Her voice was without the sound of loss, her eyes shone softly, and for a few moments, she was young, beautiful and adored once more.

salade 2

For us Easter lunch always means a spread of salads, some warm, some cold, but the table is full of a variety of vegetables. Even though the centerpiece is a roast leg of lamb, I still think it’s the salads that steal the show. I try to pick recipes that will be colourful, fresh, full of flavour and inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine.

This year I made four “salad” type dishes. I planned to make three, but while I was cooking on Sunday morning I realized the recipes were for four people, and we had five adults plus two hungry kids. But the potato drawer was full of sweet potatoes, so I sliced those into thick wedges, tossed with cornflour, cumin, chili flakes and sea salt and roasted them for a filling side dish (inspired by The FauxMartha‘s sweet potato fries recipe).

Time was involved, yes, but this is a meal we eat once a year. The time is worth it, and honestly, I had so much fun in the kitchen getting lost in my work. Now, on to the salads. All of the recipes are from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. Do yourself a favour and get this book. One day I’ll get out of the salad section, but for now, I can’t help myself. I am not a salad person. I laugh in the face of people who think salads are a meal. And yet. This cookbook. These salads. Fresh, tasty, punchy, at once crunchy and then it’s smooth. Almost all of the ingredients are simple and easy to find, and when it’s not easy to find, I leave it out, and the dish still tastes great.

I know I can get into trouble for using the word easy, but these salads are easy. There is very little food preparation involved, most of the work happens in the oven or in the jar you’re shaking that’s full of tart dressing. Trust me on this. If I’m an expert on anything food related, I’m an expert at knowing what will make for awesome results with as little work as possible.

pomegranate

Roasted Aubergine with Saffron Yoghurt

from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, p. 29

The most important part of this recipe to me is to make sure you roast the aubergines until they are a beautiful golden brown colour. At this stage, they are soft while the outside is caramelised slightly and a tiny bit crisp. Honestly, I don’t think the dressing is necessary – it is lovely, but if you want to keep it lighter, skip the dressing. I didn’t have any saffron, so I substituted turmeric to get a yellow colour. 

serves 4

3 medium aubergines, cut into 3 cm circles
olive oil
2 TBSP toasted pine nuts
a handful of pomegranate seeds
20 basil leaves
coarse sea salt and black pepper

Saffron yoghurt
a small pinch of saffron threads (I dissolved several dashes of turmeric in 3 TBSP of hot water)
3 TBSP hot water
180g Greek yoghurt (I used Turkish)
1 garlic clove, crushed
21/2 TBSP lemon juice
3 TBSP olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 220C/420F. Line a baking tray with baking paper (for easier clean up) and place the sliced aubergines on it. Brush with olive oil on both sides – don’t be tempted to skip one side, it really does make a difference to the taste and colour. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2. Roast for 20-35 minutes, but keep an eye on it depending on what kind of oven you have. For me the salad is made when the aubergines are roasted well but not too roasted, and it’s worth taking the time to check and re-check. Their done when it’s golden brown in colour. (Tip: You can roast these up to three days before hand and keep in the fridge and warm them up before serving.)

3. While the aubergines are roasting, make your dressing. I had Turkish yoghurt and no saffron threads, so I put 3 TBSP of hot water into a bowl and put several dashes of turmeric into it to dissolve and then mixed that into the yoghurt. I didn’t even check the amount of yoghurt I had, to be honest, I just eyeballed it based on the quantity of aubergines (and we still have a lot of dressing leftover).

4. Add the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt to the yoghurt and stir to mix it all together. Taste and check if there’s enough salt and lemon juice. You should be able to taste the bite of the garlic and tartness of the lemon, my favourite part of the dressing.

5. To serve: arrange the warm, roasted aubergines on a platter, slices overlapping. Drizzle the dressing over and leave some on the side as well. Sprinkle over the pomegranate seeds and pine nuts. Be generous. I don’t follow the recommended quantities here – I really pour it on. Finally lay the basil on top.

salade

Fennel and Feta with Pomegranate Seeds and Sumac

from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, p. 17

This is another favourite salad in our home. We are fennel lovers cooked or raw, although there aren’t too many salads out there that can pull it off raw. Fennel has a distinct, licorish-y taste, it’s sharp and quite chewy if not sliced finely enough. I’m sure it’s not everyone’s favourite vegetable. But with the pomegranate and this sharp, sour dressing, the fennel sings, and tastes fantastic with roasted meats. I’ve made the salad with and without feta (because of lactose intolerant guests), and I don’t miss it, but I’m not a huge dairy person. The sumac adds a nice touch, but if you don’t have it, just leave it out. 

1/2 pomegranate
2 medium fennel heads
11/2 TBSP olive oil
2 tsp sumac
juice of 1 lemon
4 TBSP tarragon leaves
2 TBSP roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
70 g Greek feta cheese, sliced
salt and pepper

1. Start by making the dressing. In a bowl mix the olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon and parsley leaves, sumac and a bit of salt and pepper. Set aside. I didn’t chop the tarragon leaves, by the way, just picked them and left them whole, so it’s almost like another tiny salad leaf in there as well (I made this the evening before and refrigerated it.)

2. Remove the leaves and green fronds from the fennel and set aside to garnish at the end. Cut off and discard the base then finely slice the fennel lengthwise. The cookbook suggests a mandolin, which I don’t have, so I just try to get each slice as thin as possible. Toss the fennel with the salad dressing, making sure that the dressing coats each slice.

3. De-seed the pomegranate. (This video from The FauxMartha is helpful.)

4. On a platter, layer the fennel then feta then pomegranate seeds and keep repeating until it’s finished. Garnish with fennel leaves, more pomegranate and a sprinkle of sumac and serve immediately.

josiah basil


Baby, Little Boy, Husband and I had scrambled eggs and avocado for breakfast, we cleared the plates, put Baby down for his nap, then got to work. Husband fired up the barbecue outside, Little Boy ran around as, Papas große Helfer (Papa’s big helper), and I stood between my kitchen counter picking basil leaves, toasting pine nuts, chopping and roasting aubergines, washing yams and cucumbers, slicing fennel, shaking dressings up in jars, and generally having the most fun I’ve had in a long time in the kitchen.

It’s taken four years for me to realize that Easter lunch is my favourite meal to cook and eat every year. Perhaps after the long European winters, a spring celebration makes me feel more alive, the weather has usually been beautiful, sunny and warm. Remembering the meaning of Easter also resonates with me more than the typical feasts do, and every year we have made the intentional choice to stay home for the long weekend and invite people to our table for this special day.

lamb

Whatever the reason, I love our Easter meal, and this year was no exception. It was a warm day, we took our dining table outside and ate in the sun. The leg of lamb, which we normally roast, Husband first sealed on the barbecue. Little Boy spun the basil dry in the spinner (one of his favourite kitchen tasks), and I prepared the salads. Family feasts are so much more fun when everyone is involved.

Cooking our Easter meal is usually the thing that takes me out of the winter food slump and into a spring of asparagus greens and rhubarb pinks. The colours, textures, the crunch, it all shouts, LIFE. LIfe is here. New life is here.

We welcome it with open arms.

drink salad

salad 3

salad 2

(Recipes to come later in the week. )

flowerlight

What did they think, I wonder, when they saw his body taken down from the cross? Did they believe it was happening or did they wonder until the end if somehow something was about to change? These women and men, they had followed Jesus for three years because they believed, he was the Messiah, he was the one who was going to fulfill prophecy, change their world and who was changing their lives. He was going to win. It’s not supposed to end with him vulnerable, humiliated, naked and broken on a cross.

I’m one of those people who has her mind set on the ending before it even happens, and when it turns out differently, I’m sitting there shaking my head and saying, It can’t be. It can’t be. I know what I would have been thinking at the Golgotha hill. My hope is gone.

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Several friends recently had major shifts in their lives, prayers they poured out for years to God finally answered. I’m not talking about, Please God I need a parking space, kind of prayers, but long-prayed, deeply-desired things coming to pass. Some of them I’ve watched from the distance of a Facebook news feed, others closely followed over years of friendship.

One of them I’ve known for almost a decade, and the desire in her heart was so heavy, so strong, so good, and I’ve watched her wait for it’s realization. There were seasons of strength and joy, others of heartache and pain, days when her hope was strong and days when hope barely existed, but in every stage she waited. In the end, she waited.

I’ve watched on the sidelines of her lifes, sometimes near, often far, but always knowing the desire of her heart and always wondering when or how God would work this out for her good.

He did not disappoint her. Today she holds in her hand the realized hope, the fulfilled faith, the beauty of experiecing, living and believing that God is faithful to keep his promises to her.

And me? I’m on the other side of a skype call filling up with tears because even though it’s her story and her miracle, it’s for me, too.

wildflowers

I’m four years deep into major life changes that were wonderful and profound and permanent, I didn’t even notice that my dreams and hopes for the future – what I was waiting for – were unrecognizable to me, so unrecognizable in fact that I don’t know what they are.

Hopes and dreams sound like a fluffy, pink cloud of cotton candy, the stuff of self-help books and cheesy television. But hopes and dreams are pictures of our deepest heart, light in the darkest days and fuel for the toughest stretches of the journey. Hopes and dreams keep our lives moving in a certain direction.

Seeing friends receive the substance of what they hoped for, it renews my hope. It reminds me that I’m not waiting in vain. It tells me to keep watch, to wait, the story will not end as I thought it would. There is still a miracle yet to come.