It’s been raining and a crisp 22 C/72 F here in Stockholm, summer is fading away from us, and it won’t be long before the leaves start changing colour, and I’m wearing rain boots every single day. What is it about the summer freedom that makes table time so much fun? Perhaps it’s lighter food, the kind you can pick up with your fingers, the way everything seems crunchier and not because it’s a potato chip out of a crackling bag. It’s the pop of a sugar snap pea bending in your hand, the splash of juice against your face when the knife slices watermelon, the corn that gets stuck between teeth as you sink into the cob for each bit.
Ribs have been our summer food this year. I can’t remember now how many racks we’ve roasted or eaten with others. Many. It helps that both the boys love it, and I love the silent chewing that ensues when loaded plates are first put down in front of them.
We had ribs several weeks ago at a friend’s house, and I licked my fingers and hands and tried to keep myself from eating my Baby’s food, easily the best ribs I’ve ever eaten. Perfectly cooked, flavoured and salted, not dripping with sauce or overwhelming but sticky enough to require a napkin. I had to find out how she did it. It was a dry rub, something I’m sure many of you have already tried, but I had never done. She gave me a list of her ingredients, and I played around and found a mix that work for me. These aren’t as amazing as hers, but as always, it’s an easy recipe, makes for a great family meal, and with a few weeks left of summery weather, perhaps it would suit your weekend table as well?
Dry Rub for Ribs
Inspired by Wilma
We ate these ribs with roasted potatoes with garlic, roasted asparagus and a rocket and baked nectarine salad. The salad was sweet and sour (with a lot of balsamic vinegar), the asparagus and potatoes suitably salty and the ribs a bit sweet, spicy and savoury. A wonderful combination.
2 TBSP dark brown sugar
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
2 tsp sea salt
1. Mix all the ingredients together and store in a cool, dry place. You can use immediately or use some and store some, which is what I did. This should be enough for four baby back ribs.
2. To cook: I chopped five cloves of garlic for two baby back ribs and rubbed it into the meat and then rubbed the dry rub in.
3. Preheat oven to 140C /280F and once ready, put the ribs in (I put foil over my baking tray first for easier clean up at the end) and bake for two-and-a-half hours. You can also shorten the cooking time in the oven and put it on the barbecue for a smokier finish. My friend bastes with barbecue sauce, but I skipped that step for a bit less of the fiddle-with-the-oven time (Baby underfoot).
Swedish summer is a bit like the bashful Swedes themselves. Cool at first, it takes a while to get to know them, and I think for a long time that there must be a secret code I’m missing to get through the door. But once in, it’s only warmth and light and kindness and helpfulness and everything good that any culture could hope for.
For a while there in June I thought I was going to be wearing winter pajamas to bed and jackets out during the day, but July came and it’s been all bathing suits all the time, flip flops, hair in a ponytail, and I would be lying if I told you that the words, I’m way too warm right now, haven’t left my lips. We are all allowed moments of total irrationality. Even in the summertime.
Swedish summer 2014 is everything anyone has written about summer and then some.
Dipping my toe into the Baltic Sea for the past year sent freezing shivers into my fingertips, each cold wave washing on the sand beach claiming no happy visitors. In the past few weeks though, we’ve spent almost every afternoon splashing in its warm waters, watching Little Boy overcome his fear of the water and walking out deeper and deeper until even I have to stop him from going any further. Baby sits on the shore splashing in the waves and digging sand with a shovel.
Swedes are consumate egalitarians, which means that men take paternity leave, wash the dishes and supposedly do most thing Swedish mothers do, likewise Swedish women do all the things Swedish men do. The beaches hold their own form of egalitarianism – almost every woman I can see is wearing some form of a bikini. It doesn’t matter how old or young she is, the sag or tightness of her body parts, the drooping, thick hula hoop of skin around her middle, her colour, the number of or lack of children. She’s in a bikini, and she is not looking around wondering what everyone else is thinking of what she looks like (at least, I don’t think she is – I could be wrong about this).
I’m still Asian in some of my clothing sensibilities, but I have never felt more free to run around in a bathing suit in all my life than I have been this summer. Mommy, come to the water!!! Little Boy has screamed afternoon after afternoon, thank God I listened. We play, we dance, we splash, water running down our faces, cooling down our skin, bathing us and making us new one risk at a time.
We eat strawberries and watermelon for afternoon snacks, red juice dribbling down chins, red skin pushed under too-long toddler fingernails, who has time to cut fingernails in the summer? Baby’s belly is permanently stained with sticky watermelon residue, he could sink his teething gums into the rind all afternoon long.
There were the date nights – often two per week – Husband and I feasting on time together after a year of almost none. I felt like a giddy teenager every evening we went out: Getting ready, sketching on eye liner and spraying the perfume, the heels came out, and every fun summer dress I could find in the closet. Mommy, why is there purple on your eye? Little Boy wanted to know one evening. He still thinks spit up is a normal part of a woman’s hair. I will have to re-educate him in the weeks to come.
I couldn’t hold Husband’s hand enough, we kissed for what felt like an eternity on the bridges of Stockholm, explored Gamla Stan (the old town), ate good food, walked arm in arm and watched too many sunsets except there’s no such thing as too many sunsets.
I’ll never forget the pink summer light shining on the palace when we drove up to it on one of the bridges, water and canals on either side, legion of boats in their docks, majestic buildings on every side, clear blue skies streaked with feathery, yellow clouds. It’s 7:30pm in Stockholm. The sun is hours away from setting.
WE LIVE HERE??!?!?!? I squeal to Husband. You’ll have to allow me some cliches and platitudes, I spent most of the last year changing diapers and not sleeping.
One evening we went out without knowing where we would end up for dinner. I dressed up because when you normally wear food-and-liquid-encrusted clothes all day long, you dress up because you can can can can can. We ended up at a well-known vegetarian joint, Hermans, and quickly realized we were overdressed by…a lot. In my youth this would have caused endless minutes of insecurity and self-consciousness, but not tonight. No hippie bohemian liberal is getting in the way of my date night face.
We roll with the daily routines of one child getting up between 4:30am and 5:30am and the other up by 6:30. This is my second time around with the Swedish sun; I know they’ll be sleeping until 8am when November rolls around, and if not, I want my money back (or at least, my sanity back). For now we try to keep breakfast simple and manageable. And thank God when nap time rolls around at 11am.
I cook some special things, but mostly we do a lot of simple food with Husband regularly pulling out the charcoal barbecue. We tag team, him cooking some days and me some others. He took almost all of his annual leave in July, it was not part of our plans, but we knew our family needed some space to breathe. Ok, that’s not true. I needed some space to breathe.
I could not be more thankful for the man I married than I am right now. We celebrated our fourth anniversary in July, and I will forever remember this past year as the hardest of my life, the one I survived, just barely, the one where I broke many of my marriage vows yet was loved graciously in return. We saw our real selves this year, and it was rarely what we hoped it would be, but we made it. We’re here. Still standing, or sitting as it were because if I have to choose between sitting my ground and standing my ground, I choose sitting. Every time.
We have play dates with new cherished friends, conversations that make my heart sing, people with whom there are real relationships, and we talk as the wind blows by, and slowly, slowly the dream of community starts to take shape. It’s not what I thought it would be, there is no plan or formality about it, but these surprises are so much better, the connections deeper and sweeter. After the long drought, it is cold, refreshing, pure water to the soul.
The blueberry bushes cover the underbrush of Swedish forrests. I have no idea that it’s there until a Swedish friend took us to her family farm out in the country. We go on a walk to forage for wild raspberries and blueberries. The berries are smaller than the store variety, it’s been a dry summer, so they are also a bit sour. You won’t see them unless someone guides you, but once you know how to spot a bush, it’s easy to wade into the middle, bend down and begin uncovering each deep blue jewel. No one in my family cares how sweet, sour, big or small each berry is. We are berry fanatics each one of us, and within minutes Little Boy’s fingers are black, his lips and mouth blue, his eyes bright.
Brushing through each bush, pushing back the leaves to find our little berries, we bend over and silently, methodically work through each one, picking and eating, picking and eating. The berries never seem to run out, there is plenty for everyone, for everyone who can find them, for everyone who can see.
A Malaysian Airlines flight goes down over Ukraine, 298 people dead in an instant, taking with them decades of HIV/AIDS research, family life and memories. Israeli teens are kidnapped and murdered, a Palestinian teen’s life is snuffed away. Rockets fire into Israel, the mothers of Gaza hold 414 broken, lifeless bodies. Rachel is crying for her children. Hagar weeps for her sons.
Yezidis hide in the mountains with no water or food, surrounded by an enemy bent on their total destruction. Christians flee Mosul and Qaraqoush, they have no idea where they will go. Children are beheaded, women raped, men tortured and killed.
Bombs are falling in Gaza, bulldozers tearing down buildings leaving the rubble of an economy and dignity behind. Jets fly over Iraq dropping food, hoping for bombs to fall on men of evil, holding back an advance.
Bodies pile up in West Africa, 961 with blood flowing out of them as a disease shuts down borders and hospitals and lives and families and communities. There is no cure, the world scrambles to halt the spread.
Our broken world.
My one-year-old and three-year-old sit on their matching red IKEA chairs at a red table, outside in a beautiful, spacious garden. The air is cool, it’s a perfect summer evening, and they munch contentedly on ears of corn and sauteed asparagus. They smile at me, I smile back, we talk about the day, playing, about the wonder that is corn. Husband will be home in a few minutes, we’ll dress up and go out for tapas, slicing our knives into perfectly seared tuna with pickled ginger and pea puree on the side.
And it feels unspeakably wrong because I’m thinking about a mother in Mosul as she hides with her children, praying for another day, I’m thinking about a father hiding in a cave hearing his children beg for water and food when there is none.
Shame and guilt are unproductive at best, evil at worst, and I can pray, grieve, remember, give and advocate without both. If you’re like me, living with our western comforts and safety and feeling uncomfortable, your guilt serves no purpose. It doesn’t make anyone’s life better, all it does is rob you of your ability to do something now.
In heartbreaking times I want to shake off my guilt and live this way instead:
Pray I am a person of faith, when I pray, I pray in the name of Jesus and believe that God listens, hears and acts. I am praying that he will draw near to the brokenhearted, to bind up their wounds, that he will come and heal bodies and spirits and hearts, that he will rescue from the dominion of darkness and transfer to a kingdom of light, I pray that hearts and spirits will be opened, that a flood of justice will flow down, that the world will see and hear and know Truth.
Grieve and remember This feels small and insignificant, but I do it anyway. I keep the stories of loss in my heart, reminding me that I am human, I am connected to those who suffer, and that one day I, too, may suffer great physical and emotional trauma. Because the loss of human life is always a tragedy. We were not meant to die, we were intended for life. I read the news, in balance, and try to keep myself informed. I try to give my toddler appropriate information, right now it sounds like, There is a country called Iraq and there are people and kiddos there going through a very sad time, so we are thinking about and praying for them. As they age, they will receive more information because I refuse to raise ignorant, materialistic, over-privileged kids.
Advocate There will be many assylum seekers and refugees who come out of Iraq. Wherever you live but especially if you live in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and other European nations, talk to your politicians about keeping their policies welcoming toward assylum seekers. Look for and help refugee and assylum seeker organizations in your cities to find housing for people as they come in and provide food, clothes and education.
Give There are several organizations doing frontline work that are I’m sure in need of financial support.
Preemptive Love Coalition are in Iraq offering heart surgeries for Iraqi children. Please go through this website – they do a unique, necessary work in this troubled nation. The founder and director Jeremy Courtney’s twitter feed is also a great source of information from someone on the ground in Iraq.
World Vision has suspended it’s program in Gaza for security reasons, but intends to reopen as soon as possible. They are currently supporting injured children and families with its Psychological First Aid and hospitals with medical supplies.
Live I will choose to look for the goodness of God in the land of the living, I will see the beauty in a sunrise, the cool air against my skin, I will rejoice in it. When I watch my boys growing and changing and filled with life and joy, I will be thankful. I will keep entering into the beauty of each NOW moment, and I will do it as an act of war against the powers and principalities of evil in the world who want to remove beauty and joy and peace. I will choose not to be anxious about anything, I will choose not to feel guilty, and instead I will choose to pray for those whose lives are in unspeakable danger. I will choose thankfulness in all things and at all times because everything I have comes from the hand of God, a gift of grace unearned and unmerited.
How We Fed The Toddler This Summer, just in case anyone gets the impression from reading this blog that our children eat three-course meals, cutting meat with a knife with their right hand and spearing broccoli with the fork in their left hand while they down organic kale salads. No one in our home eats like this. Just kidding. My husband totally does (and you should see his knife and fork skills).
The last few months have seen us struggling mightily to feed our three-year-old toddler. He has never been difficult to feed, but with every month of extra age, there have been some new peculiarities. NO SAUCE. NO TOMATO SAUCE. NO TOMATOES. THE SAUCE TOUCHED MY CHICKEN. PIZZAONLYWITHTOMATOSAUCE. We haven’t eaten spaghetti bolognese in months. I almost miss it. I’m sure you’ve been there, and I’m sure there is more to come.
This is not a post about curing toddler aversions – although if you have tips, please leave it in the comments – only to share one little presentation tool that seems to have made a difference this summer: The Communal Plate.
We spent most of the month of July in Stockholm for a family staycation. We ate as many meals as we could as a family, something we are rarely able to do when Husband is at work, and did a lot of eating outside. One day on a whim, I put everything on a beautiful black tray from Vietnam that a friend gave us for our wedding, took it outside and put it in the middle of the table. All of us had forks or used our fingers and picked food off the plate.
Mommy, what is this???? Little Boy wanted to know. The Communal Plate, I told him. He was hooked. He loved that we ate the food off the plate together, there was less of a focus on quantity of food to eat and more of the experience of eating as a family. He also probably loved that there was no sauce on anything.
We pulled The Communal Plate out as much as we could this summer, for lunch, for dinner, whenever it was possible. They both like vegetables, but we don’t eat salads all that often, so it’s not something they are used to. I don’t typically care too much about this, but it becomes a problem when we are guests in someone’s home where salads are usually part of the meal. So the communal plate became a great way to get a bit more of the “salad”-type food into our boys.
There are no rules here. I take a look at the contents of my fridge, chop up whatever veggies need to be chopped, thaw frozen chicken meatballs or warm up leftover chicken satay skewers. A can of beans would work well, we love olives, cheese, cucumbers, grapefruit, orange, avocado, red peppers, anything.
Husband grilled these chicken skewers on Saturday, so the boys and I had the leftovers on our Communal Plate for lunch this week. Tasty, easy, delicious. Happy tummies, happy toddler, happy parents.
700g chicken breasts cut into small chunks
½ a small bunch of fresh coriander
1 clove of garlic
3 heaped tablespoons good-quality crunchy peanut butter
a 2cm piece of fresh ginger
1. Put the garlic, ginger, lime juice, garlic, coriander (stems and all) and peanut butter into a blender or food processor and blend at a high speed. If you’re making this for older kids or adults, chili is recommended, but I left it out because our kids are a bit young for very spicy food.
2. Add a few splashes of soy sauce and some water and blend some more. It should be a a sauce-like consistency, not thick like a paste, but not too runny either.
3. Coat the chicken pieces in it and put in the refrigerator to marinate for a few hours. I usually do this in a bag because it’s easy to make sure all the chicken gets properly coated.
4. When you’re ready to cook, thread the chicken onto skewers, drizzle on some oil and barbecue on a hot grill until it’s cooked. You can also cook it in the oven under a hot grill for 10 minutes on either side. I’ve also cooked these on the stove (not on a skewer) like a stir fry, and it’s been great. Drizzle on some honey toward the end of cooking, whatever method you use, for a sweet finish.
Sometimes it takes a long time to understand what lies beneath the surface, what the thing is that needs our focus until it waits no longer, it gives up being a gentleman or woman and pushes through the surface, lava out of an erupting volcano, crying out for attention, unrelenting and turning you to face it and pay attention. It corners you somewhere and says, I’m here, we are going to work this thing out.
This moment comes for me on a cold afternoon in March, holding a baby in my arms, standing on our green grass and waiting for Assistancekåren to come and re-charge our dead car battery.
Music class is the most highly-anticipated event in our week. We started attending a few weeks after we moved to Sweden, Little Boy could barely let go of my leg when we walked into the first class, everything was new and scary for him.
But not the guitar and the strumming of his teacher, Dale. He’s always loved the guitar.
Most weeks he started by sitting on my lap, refusing to stand or do any actions, but he watched guitar and all the instruments that came out from time to time. In a new place, in a new stage of life, music was one of the few things he could understand and trust. In the spring we had the second semester of the class, and now he sings along, does the actions, runs around and is still devotedly in love with his teacher. Almost every day of the week, he asks me, Is today for music class?
One of the best parts of my week is when he wakes up from his nap on Tuesday afternoon, and I get to tell him, We’re going to music class now, quick let’s get in the car!
Basically, music class is a big deal.
Several months ago on a Tuesday afternoon, I woke him up from his nap for the class, it’s the only time I can interrupt nap time and get away with it because he’s thrilled to go. We got in the car, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon in late March, I turned the key and the car did not start. I turned it again. Nothing. Checked if it was in Park, put it in Drive, and put it back in Park. Still nothing. I tried everything I could – including laying my hands on the car and praying for it – and nothing happened.
You can imagine how this went down with Little Boy. He’s logical enough to hear the car not starting and see the key turning with no result.
Mommy, can we walk? Can we take the stroller to music class?
No, my sweetie it’s too far to walk.
Can we take the bus, Mommy?
We will be late if we take the bus. I’m sorry kiddo. I’m so sorry.
He got it. He knew he was not going to music class, and my son was devastated. He hugged me as his little frame shook with sobs.
We found out later than the battery died, and in the week that followed it died a few more times, so we knew we had to buy a new one. The place where I needed to go to get it done was five minutes away from the music class, and it was supposed to take 15 minutes, so when the next Tuesday arrived, I had a plan perfectly in place.
I was going to call Assistancekåren (the local equivalent to Triple A or RACV) to come and restart the battery, drive with the boys to the car place to buy and have the battery installed, then off to music class we would go. I left myself about two hours of buffer. Nothing could go wrong. We would go to music class.
Mommy promised a music class. It would happen this week.
I woke Little Boy up extra early. I wanted to make sure we had spare time. Then I called the car assistance people, and we stood in the yard and waited. They will be here soon, I promised. The last time I called they came within 20 minutes.
Twenty minutes passed. Then 30. Then 45 minutes. I’m starting to feel the pressure building inside, We will get to music class. There is no way we are missing music class again this week.
I called them again. You’re at the top of the list, the man says, We’ve had a lot of calls.
I’m praying, Please God, please make this work. I don’t want to miss music class. I’m watching the time, the class starts at 4pm, it was now almost 3:30. I didn’t even care if we would be late. We would go if there was only five minutes remaining.
One hour passed by. Fifteen more minutes and nothing. I realized that I had no idea what time the battery place closed, so I called them. It closed in 10 minutes for battery repairs and replacements. There was no point in the car assistance people coming anymore. I called them to cancel.
By this point I don’t think Little Boy believed we were going to class anyway.
But I was devastated.
I made promises. I made a plan. This Tuesday afternoon was going to be our redemption after last week’s heartache. And now again through events I could not control, I’m holding broken promises and undone plans.
Baby was in my arms, I turned away from my todler playing in the yard and walked a little bit so he couldn’t see the tears falling hard and fast down my face, but I didn’t hide the swelling anger inside.
How could you, God? It’s his favourite thing. How dare you? Fixing a car is nothing to you. This class is everything to him. We’ve been standing out in the cold for almost two hours now waiting, believing, expecting you to come through. How dare you? HOW DARE YOU?
My broken soliloquy continued until I was shaking so hard and so cold that I knew it was time to go back inside. Little Boy had moved on already. I put a video on and hid in the kids’ play corner of the living room.
I was shaking because I knew – this wasn’t about music class disappointing though it was, this wasn’t about the car, this was about me. And four years of adjusting to a new continent. Three years of sleep deprivation and stretch marks and hormones and nursing bras. Three years of no time for marriage, for myself, for the life I thought I would have. Four years of almost no community, four years of feeling ripped from my friends and family, four years of having no frame of reference. Four cold winters, cold springs and colder-than-normal summers, four years of feeling lost.
How dare you, God?
The words I felt in my soul for too long, finally making its escape.
The only thing I know to do in these moments is reach for my battered blue Bible and ask God to speak to me, anything. I hear Isaiah and turn to the middle and start to read, after a few mintues, I reach these words.
I know your sitting down and your going out and coming in, and your raging against me.
I know your raging against me.
I know your raging against me.
No words of comfort, assurance or hope, only the Truth.
I know you, I know what you’ve experienced, I know that it broke you in every way, I see your broken heart, I know you lost everything. I knew you were angry before you knew it. I knew you were angry at me when you thought you were surrendering it all. I knew you didn’t trust me. I know your raging against me. I have heard your raging against me.
It’s tempting to tie these stories up with a bow, a happy ending, but there is none today. I’m walking this path with God, rebuilding our relationship one day at a time, looking deeper to see what happened to simple trust, holding fast with what little strength I have to what I know to be true, enjoying the now surprisingly warm summer days in Sweden, taking my vitamin D pills, talking things out with a counselor and finding alone time when I can.
Perhaps you’re reading this, holding your own disappointments and anger in your hand and wondering when The Good Part of The Story Arrives. I’m sorry – I don’t have it. I walked away from that couch and made dinner for the boys and put them to bed, raw from emotion long hidden inside now let out into the open.
Friend, you’re not alone. I know your raging against me, that’s what He says. He knows your raging, your failing, your successes, your inadequacies, your disappointments and your pain, fill in the blank, he knows it. He offers his presence to you, to me, to anyone who would accept it, and he gives you the opportunity to keep walking, to see what He is like and what He can do in you if you keep going.
I know your raging against me, I hold this sentence tightly in my heart. God knows me, he knows the details of my thoughts, emotions and words. He offers his presence, his intimate knowledge of who I am, where I am and in knowing and accepting me as I am, he offers me an invitation to hold his hand and walk.