Fish was a family staple while we were growing up. We probably ate it once a day until I was 14-years-old. These were the cheapest kind of Filipino fish – galungong, dalagang bukid and others. We only ate it deep fried from the top of the head to the tail. The eyeballs were doable, but other than that, I was not a big fan. It has taken me many, many years to realize that fish can taste fantastic and be as satisfying as meat or chicken.

These days I have even more incentive to eat it as much as possible because its omega 3 and DHA are excellent for the small one inside of me. White fish is my preference, and so far cod – or le cabillaud royale in French – is definitely my favourite.

Cookbooks are one of my favourite wedding presents and some of the presents that I use most frequently. A friend of mine bought me the Thai Bible by Jacki Passmore, and the Fish Cooked in Butter recipe is a winner for cod. I followed the recipe closely with the exception of putting very little butter and no cornflour on the fish. I skipped the breading part entirely and put the fish directly in the pan. I also left out the bamboo shoots – didn’t have any – and added pak choy instead.

  • Fish Cooked in Butter season with salt and pepper 400 g of firm white fish (sliced), coat evenly with 1/2 cup of cornflour (no need, really), shaking off the excess. Melt 120 g butter in a large pan over medium heat and cook the fish slices for about 40 seconds on each side, until golden brown and almost cooked through. Carefully lift out of the pan and onto a plate and set aside.
  • In the same pan sautee 4 thin slices (shredded) of ginger, 3 spring onions (chopped), 1 clove of garlic (sliced), and 1 chili (sliced). Sautee for about a minute, stirring. Add 60 g of bamboo shoots and 2 tomatoes (cut into wedges) and simmer for a few minutes, stirring. I added the pak choy here instead of the bamboo shoots.
  • Season with 1 tablespoon of fish sauce and 1/2 a teaspoon of brown sugar, and add 3-4 tablespoons of water to make a sauce. Simmer for 1-2 minutes, then return the fish to the pan and heat gently in the sauce. I also added some lime juice to it because I think lime juice is always a good addition to Thai dishes.

Being at home during lunch time, making sandwiches, cleaning house and crossing off things on my to-do list is probably not the vision I had for my life when I was at the peak of career-dreaming in university. That was six years ago when I slept little and never rested, ate pancakes three times a day and considered ramen noodles with frozen vegetables a complete meal. This is my Now, I rise to make porridge on the stove for breakfast, make or cook lunch and dinner. I am feeding a child who lives in my body, vacuuming and scrubbing two toilets (only weekly, it is worth noting).

I used to congratulate myself for a well-written and argued column that was going to change The Universe, now I consider myself The Best House Wife Ever for changing our sheets weekly. Six months after marriage I shamelessly brag to Husband when I’ve cleaned the whole flat.

This is not the big plan I had for my life in the years of change-the-world aspirations. I am starting over again. Again. Again. Looking upward for the restoration of the inside, empowering the inside to look outward. Again. Again.

We are in need of wholeness, our dreams are no exceptions. How corrupted they are by other people’s plans and ideas, by notions of success and the false burden of potential. What I have in my hand is what I need Now. What fills my life in this season is what is best Now. Nothing has been withheld from me.

He crowns the year with bounty, His wagon tracks overflow with abundance.

These are my meditations in 2011, a year that promises to be the best of my life not because of the great things there are to accomplish but because of the change there can be in my attitude, habits, lifestyle and heart. Body, soul and spirit change. This will be my food for the simple year of gratitude and joy.

With thoughts like these, it’s no surprise that my taste buds are craving the most basic of things like a tuna sandwich, simple, nourishing and perfect. Is it too much to say that this sandwich ministers to my soul? That my body, soul and spirit feel more whole and integrated after chopping the onions and pickle, squishing my fork into the meat, and piling it on a slice of not European baguette bread but fluffy whole wheat American bread?

The soul needs simple food these days. It is fuel for the simple life I need where laundry is done, pillows are straightened, relationships are right, rhythms restored and life made whole.

  • Soul-Feeding Tuna Sandwich take a can of tuna and mix some kind of a white sauce on it (mayo, ranch, whatever), chop a quarter of an onion and a dill pickle into it. Mix. Eat. Love.

We started the new year with one of my eating no-nos – pork. There is probably enough research in the whole world that suggests that there are a few problematic things about eating a lot of pork even if there are a few benefits. We eat as little pork as possible, and it is difficult because it’s so darn tasty especially in smokey, cured, raw ham-laden Europe.

But every now and then I make an exception especially when I find a recipe that looks as great as this one. Confections of a Foodie Bride is one of my regular blog reads – I love her recipes but don’t cook them often as the ingredients can be hard to find in Europe, and I’m not a baker. I couldn’t resist this one for the ingredients, but also because I’ve never brined anything. It is always fantastic to learn something new about cooking.

Her secret to tender pork chops is a 24-hour brine in molasses, water, salt, pepper and rosemary, and it works. The meat was soft and tasty. The sauce is also a real winner. I followed the recipe carefully, so I don’t have any cooking notes today. I paired the pork chops with a creamy polenta that turned out to be a bit of a disaster. I have rarely cooked polenta and forgot that it really does thicken at the end. I thought there was too much liquid and started adding more polenta after the first part had already cooked – BAD idea. It was still salvageable at the end, but I’ll be doing that a bit differently in the future.

Salads are not my “thing,” and I’ve never understood people who can eat a salad for lunch or dinner and have enough energy to live for the next few hours. If I make a salad for us at home, it’s generally just a leaf that I like – spinach, rocket or watercress – with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. I break out the cherry tomatoes if I’m feeling generous. But veggies are a favourite of mine, and I enjoy doing creative things with them with the right inspiration.

When I lived in Ukraine for three months, I was introduced to the world of beets. They were everywhere, the gigantic, sandy orbs of brown that after boiling in a pot, bled the most red juice imaginable.  After a bit of research, I also found out that beets are one of the best kinds of veggies out there – a superfood, whatever that means. It is full of antioxidants, B vitamins and other goodies, and it is so naturally filled with flavour. Ukrainians primarily ate beets in salads, so I started making one of them while I was there. Since then, I usually boil the beet, peel it, slice, add salt and pepper and eat.

I had to take a salad to a dinner a few nights ago though, and went hunting for a salad recipe that looked interesting because, as previously mentioned, I don’t really “do” salads. This warm salad recipe from Taste looked great, and after a few modifications, I loved it. It was very easy to prepare, all that needs to be remembered is to put the beets in the oven 45 minutes to an hour before you want to start making the salad.

  • Warm Beetroot Salad I followed the recipe unless I didn’t have an ingredient. So I used real beets instead of baby beets, and spinach instead of the silverbeet. Roast the beets in a hot oven for as long as it takes for them to cook, remove, peel and cut into manageable pieces (I did squares).  Chop walnuts – I used pecans because it’s what I had – and toss in a pan with chopped garlic and olive oil. Don’t let anything burn, the point is to let the garlic infuse with the oil and for the nuts to get the flavour as well. Turn off the fire and toss the spinach leaves in there as well but do this QUICKLY because you don’t want the leaves to wilt. They should be in there enough to get warm but removed before they really “cook.” Toss with the chopped beets, crumble feta cheese on top and add a bit of red wine vinegar to finish.

It is probably a bad sign that my first blog entry for 2011 is two weeks into the new year and about last year. Oh well. Christmas anticipation was not usually a part of my life, and 2010 will always be special for me in that it was the first year that I meditated on Jesus’ birth, planned for Christmas and found ways to make it special for myself and Husband.

Our plan was always to have a special Christmas Day of our own even though for 2010 and 2011 at least we spent and will spend the 25th with our respective families. We wanted to start our own traditions now, so that our children will always have our family traditions to embrace and enjoy, not just the ones that their grandparents started.

It’s a short story in some ways – December 19 was one of the most special days of the year for me and easily one of my favourite ones of our married life. It was quiet, peaceful, tasty, fun, sacred and surprising. We began the day with a Christmas brunch of breakfast casserole (an ode to America) and pear and almond meal tarts.

Everything for the day was easy to prepare, and I think the sorts of food that our children could help us prepare as well. Husband took care of our afternoon spread of appetizers – our homage to Europe.

We finished off the night with a roast dinner (photo at the very top). This was the meal I put the most amount of thought into. I picked lamb because we want to connect Christmas and Easter for our kids from the very beginning. We want them to understand that these aren’t two separate occasions, one that has lots of fun things, the other just a weekend. The idea – for now, who really knows in the long run – is to have a roasted leg of lamb twice a year, on Christmas Day and on Easter.

With the lamb, which was amazing, we had mashed potatoes, roast sweet potatoes and roasted green beans.

  • Roast Leg of Lamb I did most of what was suggested in the comments section of this recipe – added balsamic vinegar to the marinade, roasted it at slightly lower temperatures, and if I had a rack on which to put the meat in the pan, I would have done that as well. I took the drippings and used it as a gravy.
  • Roasted Green Beans I followed the recipe pretty much to a T. Confections of a Foodie Bride is one of my all-time favourite food blogs.
  • Mashed potatoes I wish I had followed a recipe because I wasn’t thrilled by how these turned out, a bit too gluey in texture (I added butter, cream and salt), and it’s possible that I didn’t pay enough attention to what kind of potatoes they were as well.
  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes chop, coat in olive oil and salt and sprinkle chopped rosemary over the top. Bake until cooked at a medium high temperature.
  • Pear and Almond Meal Tarts my mother made these for Christmas brunch a few years ago, and it was out of a cook book by this New Zealand woman, and I can’t find it now. This recipe is kind of from memory and also a bit from this recipe online.  Preheat oven to a medium heat, roll out some puff pastry and cut into circles (I used an upside down saucer). Mix almond meal with apple juice – I apologize for the lack of specific quantities, I just estimated based on the puff pastry that I had. You want the mixture to be firm but also a bit damp. Spread on the puff pastry leaving a centimeter or a bit more of edge all the way around. Slice the pears finely and arrange in a fan on top of the almond meal. Melt honey on the stove and brush on the pears. Put in the oven to bake. It’s done when the puff pastry is cooked and the pears are golden. Melt a bit of apricot jam on the stove and brush on the pears to finish.