We grow together.

‘The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.’ – Osho

It is true, you know.

It’s been almost 20 months since Kiki has joined the gang on this earth side. The small baby of ours who used to be so reliant on us round the clock, are now seeking her own freedom.
She’s walking, talking and constantly demonstrates her ability to challenge both of us and her surroundings. She is small but fiery pocket rocket who is not yet understood the ramifications of passionately expressing her feelings in public. She loses all senses when she’s not happy and goes straight on the floor with all burnt out floppy limbs and cries her lungs out like no one’s business. Then again, she does also find humour in silliness. It never fails to make me feel so high when she cackles breathless. She’s an emotionally rich soul with the swagger of her father. She became her own person.
We, somehow, miraculously, created a corker.

I always thought I wasn’t a natural mother. I definitely wouldn’t tick myself as an earthy type, if there was any boxes to tick or cross. I thought I struggled and was the only person perhaps incapable of embracing this what is considered to be a wholesome experience. For the past 20 months, I would often tell people that I am not a natural mother, that I am just trying my best keeping my small human alive. I doubted my ability to mother so tirelessly.

And that small child of mine is alive, thriving in fact. Somehow we have managed to navigate our way through the unknown.
I’ve learnt she’s not as fragile as I fear but fearless and agile, loves a bit of rough and tumbles, doesn’t like being hungry and has strong will and stubbornness of both her mother and father. She also has rather sweaty head and smelly feet. I think it’s the thick curly mops from her father and my easily sweaty chubby feet.
She also probably knows that she has us under her thumb. But I don’t mind. I won’t take her cheeky fake tears away to knock her confidence. I like that she is charming.

The thing is, I finally found motherhood interesting.
It’s not easy, for sure. How could it be easy when you’re the influence of her being though? I used to constantly ask myself questions after questions and google absolutely everything came to my head wondering what other parents would do. But in the end, for me, it was up to me; up to us, Toby and I. It was the collaboration between informations and decisions; my ethos and belief; husband and wife; mother and father; parents and child that mattered, no one else.
And after all those months questioning myself if I was doing the right thing by adopting a ‘no-method-but-go-with-the-flow-within-the-reasonable-boundaries’ free styling, well, it turns out I didn’t do too bad.

It’s a huge learning process for all us, isn’t it?
Since the birth of our child, Toby and I have been constantly working out how we could function better as a family. In our subconscious minds, we eat, sleep and breathe wondering how we can bring the world we love to her so she can really live her life to full. Since Kiki, I never stopped looking at my own childhood with my tired eyes, desperately hoping not to repeat the same things that I used to dislike. Not to mention my quiet desire of wanting to sneakily expose her to the things that I always wished to do well or be. And I think it’s this very process of delving deep into our own insecurities, allows us to grow.
We adult through our children, perhaps.

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Roasted Tofu and kimchi Spring Rolls
makes around 12

for tofu
1 pack of firm tofu
1tbsp sesame oil
2tbsp tamari soy sauce
1tsp dark soy sauce
2tbsp mirin
1tbsp cider vinegar
3tbsp water
1tsp chiu chow chilli oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1inch ginger, finely grated
pinch of black pepper
sprinkle of brown demerara sugar (optional)

for pickled carrots
2 medium size carrots, julienned
2tbsp rice vinegar
1 fresh lime, juiced
1/2tsp sugar
pinch of salt

for rolls
12 rice paper
12 small young kale leaves (6 cut in half if large), blanched and rubbed in olive oil and lemon juice
fresh coriander and mint leaves
some kimchi (shop bought), finely chopped
handful of peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped
crispy onions (shop bought)

Although it can be little fiddly to assemble if you’re not used to making these, this spring rolls offer quite a taste sensation. Roasted tofu itself can be made in advance if you like. You could throw these into rice bowl with some vegetables and enjoy it with some Sriracha or even Korean chilli paste to add extra kick.
Pickled carrots will taste perfectly sweet and sour like the sort you get in banh mi. Addition of kimchi adds depth of flavour and kick.
I used a lot of short cuts to make the prep easy as no one, especially those with small humans have a lot of time.

First of all, place the block of tofu on a plate with another flat tray on top and use something heavy to extract excess moisture. Couple of cans of baked beans will do it. After 30mins, blot it with some kitchen paper, cut them into 12 sticks and put them in a roasting dish. In a separate bowl mix rest of tofu ingredients, pour it over tofu in the roasting dish. Sprinkle sugar if using.
Roast them for 40mins turning once mid process at 180º. When ready, remove it from the tray to cool down.

While tofu is roasting, you can prepare pickled carrots and sort out the rest of bits and pieces so they’re ready to go.
Kales will need to be blanched quickly after removing hard stalks, then rubbed thoroughly with some olive oil and lemon juice to soften.
I would also highlight, although kale in this recipe provides wonderfully deep earthy flavour, it can be quite hard to take a bite if it hasn’t been softened enough. I purposely used young leaves for that reason, but if you’re worried, you can always shred them or opt for baby gem or cos lettuce.

Assembly is simple. Well, relatively.
You need shallow bowl with warm water to soak the rice paper. Each paper should only be dipped for no more than couple of seconds and you do this as you go along, not all at once.
Place wet softened rice paper onto flat surface, place all components onto the top half of the circle, fold over the bottom then tuck one side and roll. This will give you open rolls like mine. If you prefer to have sealed rolls, just place all components in the middle of the rice paper disc, fold over bottom end, tuck both sides and roll.
Once you try few times, you will get the hang of it. If all fails, just get people to wrap theirs themselves which will also be quite fun.
I’m banking on the days I can ask Kiki to make her own and mine, too.

As each components are all well seasoned and sourness from pickles and kimchi provides enough sauce alike, I personally don’t think it requires dipping sauce. But as with anything else, it is up to you.

Hope you enjoy.

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Let me tell you. She still has me in tears and belly laughs all in the same breath. There’re many days that my sanity is being pushed to the knife edge and somedays it’s just plain boring hard for no reason. But I know I am doing the best at staggering on and Kiki knows that she is loved with an inch of our bone and to the death. And I think that really is the truth of motherhood; parenthood. We’re all doing the same, trying and in it together.

In pursuit of.

I left my day job.

I am sitting by the window in my kitchen/living that overlooks my side turn wall which has many objects that Toby and I have accumulated over the past 12 years of our life together.

I see the ‘no smoking in the marquee!’ blackboard sign that Toby wrote for our wedding festival. The garden wire that holds the thing together is looking a bit rusty, but my memories of the glorious summer of 2013 that marked our togetherness in a true style of us-ness are still going strong.
To the left of the blackboard, it’s a vintage art deco mirror that was delivered broken which we felt too sad to throw away. It’s covered in dust and million pieces of Toby’s facial hair shavings, but still, it looks very happy to be given a second lease of life.
To the right, is a small blue pretend vintage metal signage that says ‘chickens for sale here’. We picked it up few years ago from our local garden centre. Back in those days, my mum used to always ask me about the prospect of possible offspring and referred her future grandchild as ‘a chicken’. She is funny like that.
We even subtitled our westival’…and then there will be chicken(s)…’, and here we are. We do have a 14 months old chicken. And Toby says we’re not allowed to call her dual heritage as it makes her sound more like tomatoes.
The thought of our chicken and us playing mama, dada and Kiki, never fails to make me laugh. It fills every empty holes in my bones and keeps me warm, whole and complete.
I never thought I would say this.
But indeed, having child does change you.
I suddenly started to see the world in a different way.
Even with my sleep deprived frazzled brain and forever twitchy eyes, I’m somehow a bit more generous, more forgiving and much more empathetic than I’ve ever been.
The balancing act of working on the project-life, Kiki and having a bit of life can sometimes feel nothing more than just negotiating my way through million different types of guilt. More than often I worry if I am being selfish by asking her to play on her own for a moment.
Some days will go so slow that I get fed up at clock watching every other second. Some other days will fly by and I would be wondering where the day has gone. And yes, for sure, my occasional but desperate wish for Toby to come home and rescue me, from our pretty evil eyed, non-negotiable little terror, that resembles nothing but me and my partner in crime is arguably the lowest point of my mothering game that I would not be boasting about on my cv.
But deep amongst these unpredictable day to day craziness, just as I feel like I’ve used all my reserves and wonder I might not be cut for this, I see the little human I created singing the twinkle twinkle in the language that she only understands, but somehow assures me that I am doing good and that we will, very soon, be able to speak the same lingo.
She reaches out for my hands and gives me the slobbery smacker. Nice.
And that, the triumphantly delightful moments that swings by out from nowhere, to reaffirm you, indeed you’re working on life, is what makes it all worth it. Hard work but so so special.
Then you start to sense and see the real frame of time. Even with oh-I-am-so-exhausted state of mind, you realised you’ve never been so clear about what is important in life.
And you really don’t want to waste a single minute on doing things that no longer feels right to you.I suddenly have that mother thing; the natural animal instinct of wanting to protect my own tribe; wanting to provide all I can for the better survival of my brood.
As I watch my little terror bastardise away the box of tissues, spice drawers, television remote control and anything and everything she can get her hands on, I realise that this little tiny human is learning everyday from the way we do and live.
I can’t think of better way to teach her, than setting up a good examples myself by living my own life to its full potential. So she can look back when she’s a bit older, to know that her mother was an inspiring woman, who taught her by bettering her own self.

Coconut Oil Roasted Masala Potatoes and Fried Egg
Serves 2 as brunch

350g baby potatoes, quartered
good extra virgin raw coconut oil, such as Vita Coco
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp onion seeds
pinch of chilli flakes
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 inch ginger, grated
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 fresh lime juice
some fresh chilli, finely chopped (optional)
handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
couple of eggs for frying

Well, good people at Vita Coco had sent me their coconut oil to try.
Although I don’t tend to do product reviews as such, since I already am a huge fan of good organic coconut oil, I gave it a go.

If you’re already familiar with coconut oil, you will understand that the depth of coconut flavours in oil varies depending on brands. Some of you might prefer stronger coconut flavour and others, like myself might lean towards milder ones.
Vita Coco’s new extra virgin raw coconut oil is very good.
It has distinctive coconut flavour but when used in Indian-esq recipe, it compliments the dish really well. It makes deliciously creamy porridge and wonderful to cook thick banana pancakes with. It’s a goodun.

This recipe on the other hand is good all arounder to have it up your sleeve. It can cure badass hangover, nurture stinking cold or just simply fill those hungry holes.
I am adding fried eggs on top but poached will be healthier option if that’s what tickles your fancy. You could serve this alongside with some roasted meat if you wanted to man up, or add some bacon rashers instead. Fried or grilled fish coated in some tandoori style spices  will also go very well with this.

Set your oven to 180º and put your baking tray in the oven with a good spoonful of coconut oil so it can get really hot.
Quickly boil potatoes for 5 mins with little salt, drain, and let them cool down a bit.
Dry roast cumin, fennel, coriander seeds until they release the aroma and ground them in pestle and mortar or spice grinder.
Put potatoes, ground spices, onion seeds, chilli flakes with some salt and pepper, mix well with spoon as the oil will be hot, and roast them for good 25mins or so until they appear slightly crisp on the edges.

While potatoes are cooking, place medium sauce pan or frying pan big enough to hold all of your potatoes, over low heat. Put little coconut oil, mustard seeds and gently fry the onions until they’re soft and golden. Add sliced red peppers, garlic and ginger. Fry them till peppers are soften a bit then add tomato paste and cook them down for another 5mins or so. You may need a little more oil at this point just so you can cook the paste a bit.
Add a splash of water enough to loosen the sauce and simmer for 15mins with the lid on. If the mixture dries out, just add a little more water.

Now, add your roasted potatoes into sauce, chopped chilli and coriander can be added at this stage as well as splash of lime juice to freshen things up. Give the whole thing a minute or two to mingle in the sauce over the low heat.
Season to taste and serve them with fried egg.
Good sprinkle of Dukkah adds a good texture but that is just my preference.

 

I positioned myself directly opposite to those three random but meaningful nicknacks to cheer me up, as I badly sketch up some designs for my new adventure. Tomorrow my sewing machine arrives. I’ll position it exactly where I am. 
As I rustle my way into this world of unknown, I am sure there will be doubts, fear and maybe some tears. But I hope the familiar surroundings, especially the chickens for sale signage will remind me why I’m braving and of course, that I am a mother.

Now the dark days are over.

I still remember the day.
The very first day that I was left alone with the tiny little thing. I was petrified. This little thing didn’t come with user manual.
I rely on manuals; for guidance and reassurance, so I can tackle it with confidence and familiarity.
What was I supposed to do?

The night before Toby went back to work, I struggled with momentary resentment. I was scared of the concept of being solely responsible for our new born baby. I was envious that he will be able to slam shut the front door next day and wiz back into the normality of his everydayness. I felt hard done by the lack of existence of my everydayness; aloneness; the ability to enjoy my own company.
Everything I knew and was comfortable in was gone, overnight.
Being mum didn’t come natural to me.

Hold your breath right there if you’re thinking I am being an ungrateful first time mother being miserable for the sake of moaning. Because I am not.
This new job of being mother hit me really hard. Although planned and prepared for, it was a mayhem.

I loved having her. I felt truly amazing being able to give birth. I felt like a super hero.
I didn’t mind having to change dirty bottoms ten times a day. Those sleepless nights weren’t too much of a big deal whilst my body pumped out the adrenaline. I could watch her face all day long and be amused by the tiny weeny movements and the sounds she created. Sometimes I worried she was too quiet and other times I worried because she won’t stop crying. Many nights I stood by her cot holding my breath so tightly in an attempt to listen if she was still breathing so I can be assured to finally roll into my bed knowing she’s alive; that I haven’t failed as her carer; that I have accomplished another day of being ‘a mother’ – a word that felt so alien to me at the time.
Heavy dose of caffeine kept me going by day and steady supply of wine gave me the strength to look forward and survive another day by night.
But I was lost. I felt incompetent.
Everything felt so infinite. It was relentless. I couldn’t shout time out. I was so lost I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I just wanted to figure out who I was. It felt as if though I’ve been put through the washing machine. It stripped me, washed every inch of me, spun me round the few times, squeezed me out empty.

I suppose you could say identity crisis. Or perhaps it could have been a form of post natal depression. In either case, I was fortunate enough to be able to see it through.
It was and still is tough going at times though. Even with the most loving husband on your side, even with the most supportive friends standing by your side firmly, the truth is, that the real battle of learning to be the best mum you can be when everything is so alien and unfamiliar, and trying to finely and carefully tune yourself back into this new found identity without upsetting the dynamics of your newly formed family, can really be somewhat lonely. Because, as I happen to discover my fellow mama friends, a lot of us, still, for whatever the reason, find it hard to speak out and share the true feelings. We, for some reason tend to fluff it up. Because, deep down, we know majority of general public will expect you to bond, be maternal the moment that you give birth. And whilst nursing and caring for your new born, you’re almost always put under the unspoken pressure of to be that perfect earthy mother.

It took me a while. A while to understand and articulate what was exactly going on in my head. What it was exactly upsetting me and made me feel confused and unhappy.
And I am happy to say, once the hormones settled and the reasonable amount of time had passed by, those tiny little things and feelings used to bother me started to fade away.
I understood our relationship now has different meanings and we’re now no longer dynamic duo but a trio.
Do you know what, actually what really affected me was in fact, the fear; fear of finally becoming a proper grown up; the changes that I cannot predict or dictate. The prospect of life-long project that I am ultimately responsible to influence and nurture really did take my breath away. It was a fair weight to carry. Every night, I tucked myself under my duvet deeper and deeper in an attempt to escape that sinking feeling.
Tiredness, no actually, exhausted sleep deprived body, as well as hormones can really do funny things to your mind.

Braised Radishes and Toasted Freekeh
Serves 2 as side

for the radishes
120g radish, cleaned and quartered
1 small shallot, finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
sage leaves, finely sliced
250ml chicken or vegetable stock
1tsp white wine vinegar
some butter
little olive oil
salt and pepper

for the freekeh
50g freekeh
some butter
pinch of salt

to dress
some extra virgin olive oil
pinch of chilli flakes
1/2 lemon juice
good handful of parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Koreans do cooked radishes very well.
Although strictly speaking this recipe isn’t rooted in my heritage, this, I could prepare and make well under an hour, and be completely satisfied with its simple offerings and feel completely at home.
Peppery radish cooked mellow in sort of dirty sticky buttery way with nutty wheat grains dressed perfectly with little chilli flakes, generous coatings of olive oil and the sharpness of lemon cutting through the rich butter, indeed, is comforting.
It’s what I’d say easy food. I can it the lot.

First thing’s first, place the pan over the low heat, melt butter with little oil to stop it from burning and gently sweat shallots and garlic with little salt until soft. Add radishes and sage, and fry them off a little for couple of minutes. Then goes white wine vinegar followed by stock. Your choice of stock should cover the radishes really well.
Over the medium to low heat, you will continuously cook radishes for about 35mins or so until it’s soft and coated well in glossy sticky buttery mess.
If at any point you require more liquid to loosen it up, just add little water as and when.
Season when ready.

Braised radishes itself can be a great component to any roasted meat, if that’s where you’re going with it. I’d just make sure to increase the volume that I cook. Depends on the quality of radishes you source, you might need pinch of sugar to balance the flavour. I also find good glug of white wine helps to give the wonderful sharpness as well as some extra herbs such as tarragon.

Whilst braising of the radishes are happening, melt some butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat, add freekeh with little salt and toast until nut brown, to the point when you think it’s slightly over done.
Add water just enough to cover the whole thing loosely and lower the heat with the cover on.
Cook for around 10 mins or so on the lowest heat possible. I use diffuser to do this. Then turn the hob off. Let it sit for another 5 mins. This will allow the grain to cook slowly in residual heat that was left in the pan. In return, you will be guaranteed with nutty crunchy golden bites.

Toasting of grains really intensifies the nuttiness. If you’re not used to freekeh, you could do exactly the same with cous cous, bulgar wheat and quinoa. I often use mixture of some or all. Once you pimp up your grains this way, I promise you that you will never go back to your old ways.

Now the assembly.
In a large bowl, put both the radishes and freekeh. Add pinch of chilli flakes whilst both of the components are warm. Add good helpings of olive oil as well as parsley and lemon juice. Season to taste.

As with most of recipes, this is the sort you can add and experiment as much as you’d like depends on what is available in your larder.
Toasted pine nuts may also be welcomed as well as good handful of sweet raisins or sour cherries.
It’s an idea I’d like to share.
Now go, go, go and make yours.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/152085631

12 months on, I am in a much better place.
I seem to have slightly clearer visions on what kind of mother I’d like be and feel content the way things are going. Well, for now anyway.
You know, it is true. Time really is a healer.

I hope you’re all well.
And thank you for patiently waiting, as always.