23 October 2011

Balancing Act

Menu du jour


Trio of Clams* Linguini

Ingredients: Simply stemed with white wine, chilli,and garlic. Clams tossed with linguini, own liquor, tomatoes, oregano and saffron.

Thought: Harmony-The delicacy of this dish was unreal... all of the flavours blended perfectly but could equally be distinguished on the palete... 


* Trio of clams to include: Scottish razor and little neck clams, French palourdes


A tip off the Chopping Block


If a sunless summer gives you green tomatoes...Make chutney!

Cyrille made two different green tomato and apple chutneys with the stubborn fruits who opted out of ripening this summer. 

Recipe? Well... Cyrille is infamous for NEVER writing down any recipes--- so, in honour of the blog-- he wrote them down. 


The recipe should now follow--- but after searching all afternoon for the coveted pieces of paper--- they are not to be found. From the Queen of Organisation-- this is a painful defeat.


If you have spare green tomatoes just laying about... and wish to make some chutney-- I'll coax him into reciting the 100s of ingredients...


The lighter green chutney pairs well with poultry or ham while the darker is great with wild game terrine or strong cheddar. As much as I love sweet summer tomatoes, I secretly hope each season that some protest and stay green-- just so our stash of chutney can be replenished. It is a lot of work... but once jarred, they can last for years... and make great gifts!


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The past few weeks have presented my mind, body and soul some new endurance tests. 


BODY BALANCE
A Bikram Yoga studio opened in the neighbouring village. You could not, not notice it. Bright three-foot yellow lettering "BIKRAM YOGA" chanted at me each time I sheepishly drove past.


I enjoy yoga-- I am far from a yogi-- but do enjoy feeling invincible in warrior pose and hanging out in plow pose. Bikram Yoga has always alluded and intimated me. First of all- I am not one for extreme temperatures. So the idea of willingly subjecting myself to 105˚F temperature for 90 minutes just seemed a bit dramatic if not traumatic. 


With the desire to get back in pre-maternity shape,  I had been scouting cardio options to coincide with my husband's day off for watching our daughter. As fate would have it-the only class to fit his day off led me straight into the inferno. 


And so, last week, I found myself inside the daunting "BIKRAM YOGA" studio being coaxed into signing up for a 30-day intro offer to experience as much heat as I could take.


First class- Sunday, 10 am. Outside temp- 64˚F. Inside- 105˚F. 
The website advises you to bring two towels, a litre of water and to arrive no less than 15-minutes before the start of class. With my gear in hand, I made my way into the studio to warm up.  


The heat greeted me like a bad hangover. My skin started to glisten with the little effort used to put down my mat and towel overlay. My eyes instinctively hunted down the wall clock, sending panic waves to my brain "You will not be able to sustain this heat," advised my brain. " You did not have a good night's rest (again) and you really should not over do it....you just had a baby" (ummm...8+ months ago...think that card is played).


Heat. Sweat. Light headed. 14 minutes until class starts. Parched. 
I laid down. Mistake. I stood up. Dizzy. I sat and tried to fake a serene meditative stare at my flushed cheeks in the mirror. Who was I kidding? Why I am here again? 


10:01. Finally. The instructor enters.
And then begins the first of 26 Hatha yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises. Each posture you complete two sets- so you are actually doing 52 postures and 4 breathing exercise (I did this math half way through the series).


After the first breathing exercise, sweat is dripping off me. I am self concious thinking I must be in terrible shape- until I hear little drips around me and realise we all are sweaty hogs together. 


The heat is an obstacle. Playing with your brain, testing your strength. Trying to break you down. Half of my brain begs me to get out while the other half wants to push through. You draw strength from your breath and your entire focus is on the air entering and leaving your nose. Nothing else. Your breath gives you balance for holding the pose, and with each exhale you push deeper into the stretch.  


As I focus on the instructor's voice, my breath steadies, my heartbeat surges and sweat streams down my limbs. Is it time for meditation and cool down? 45-more minutes to go....


 "Push, push, push-- and change." 90-minutes. And then I echo the instructor-- "Namaste."  
I have finished my first class. I look at myself in the mirror. My cheeks are not flushed- they are deeper shade of plum. The towel covering my mat is soaked through, and I am drenched in my own sweat. I feel exhausted but, strangely, more energetic than when I arrived. I am not sure if I have loved or hated the class. This was the hardest test since labour that I have endured in the past 8 months. Not physically--- but mentally.


WORK BALANCE
Last week I started back to work on a fixed 8-week contract job. An ideal transition allowing me to dabble back into work two days, bring home the bacon (even if just some scraps) and have the rest of my week for my favourite job- Mummy. 


Monday morning- 5:45 am
Going back to work sounded so easy- until Monday morning. I gave Ouisie her early morning feed, got her back to bed and I started to get myself ready for work. All was fine until I watched my husband cuddling her in his arms as I stood in the hallway dressed in my suit about to leave. The reversed roles made a lump rise in my throat that was hard to swallow. But swallow I did. 


8:20-- Arrived to work. 
I introduced myself to my new desk which seemed so cold and unfamiliar. My stomach, a roller coaster of nerves, like the first day on the job. Except- familiar faces welcomed me back and with their sincere smiles and good wishes the nerves calmed. I am back in the saddle. As before, I showed up on time. But now- you can bet your bottom dollar- I also clocked out on time.

My head stayed down for the full 8-hours. No lingering at the water cooler with colleagues as those minutes are now treasured at home in the evening with Ouisie.

16:00-- one hour 'til quitting time. Watching the minutes tick by...
The end of the day. I switched off the computer and clocked out. I arrived home to a slobbery toothless grin and my heart melted. We made it through the first day with no tears and her smile reconfirmed that we are going to be okay.


Since then, I have returned to the inferno for a 2nd  (and 3rd) class and clocked out (on time) for day two at work. The 90-minutes in the Bikram Studio and the two days at the office have been rejuvenating. While my "Mummy hat" is always on, I feel that I am finding a healthy balance which will allow me to be a better spouse, mum and breadwinner all the while not forgetting about my own self.  


On that note, it's time to get to bed-- work in the morning. Bring it on week two!



































06 October 2011

Anything your baby can do... my baby will eventually do (better)

Menu du jour
Rustic Lamb Stew 

Ingredients: Leg of lamb, barley, celeriac, cavolo nero cabbage, kale, and leek slowly cooked in a red and white wine jus with garlic, shallots and chili. 

Thought: This stew was amazing! The recent heatwave  in England did bring sunshine, but also a nasty cold leaving me feeling less than stellar. The above stew was enjoyed last night by both me and my ailing throat and is credited for my cold being on the mend today. 

Cyrille had previously marinated and sous-vide cooked the leg of lamb for several days. The flavour and tenderness of the meat permeated the stew and the red and white wine enhanced its spices even more. We chopped any veggies we had on hand (any root vegetable would be a hit with this dish). The barley was a great touch to the overall rustic character of the stew. Cyrille garnished the soup with finely grated Comté cheese.
BBQ'd Bramley Apples 

Stew was served with toasted rye sourdough bread and wonderful French butter (Le Gall, Beurre de Baratte- au lait cru). I've had some good French butter in my lifetime... this one wins the blue ribbon to date. 

** An apple a day... Apples are coming into the prime of their season right now. Before you store away the BBQ for the colder months ahead- try this! Cyrille took some apples from the garden and placed them whole on the barbecue over cooling coals and left to slowly cook overnight. 

How beautiful do they look? Ready to be used to feed our daughter, add to dishes or just scoop into a bowl with a dollop of crème fraiche on top!




                  ##

I have recently started taking our eight month old daughter, Ouisie, to various activity groups to include "Baby Yoga", "Monkey Music" and "Sing and Sign". I waited until she was older as I could not rationalise the point of spending money on an activity when she could barely see, was demanding my boobs round the clock, and was alternating between cat naps and dirty naps every hour. I have avoided baby groups all together- not because I am unsocial- just not my cup of tea- a bit too staged. 

On the whole the classes have been great as it gets us out and about and Ouisie has the opportunity to interact with other babies. Wherever we go, I can't help but observe other mothers and their (self proclaimed) gifted and talented babies. Don't get me wrong, all our children deserve their pedestal and parents' praise. But I am not sure if we should gauge our babies' future success by what age they cut their first tooth or clap their hands. If this is the case, in a few years our daughter might need to repeat kindergarten to catch up. 

At the beginning of each yoga class- you introduce yourself and your baby and tell something about their progress over the past week. At our first class, Ouisie was seven months and two weeks and perfectly content spending her days on her back. She had been teething for the past three months, but still had no hard earned enamel to show for her days of pain and buckets of drool. Around us, babies months younger were sitting up, rolling over, loving tummy time... and showing off their pearly whites. 

After listening to the other mothers praise their future Olympians and Rhodes Scholars, it was our turn for introductions. I propped Ouisie upright and stated our names, daughter's age and her current tricks; namely, squealing at a high pitch frequency. And then, I found myself stating the fact that she arrived three weeks early-- as if this was the reason why she was not yet sitting, hated tummy time and had only rolled over once due to gravitational default. I had used the old "premature" excuse for our daughter's (under) achievements! I blushed inside, feeling ashamed that I had just thrown my own offspring under the special needs bus. 

The next week, Monkey Music. Before class, some of the mothers had gathered to meet for coffee. We arrived a few minutes early and I could not help but overhear the conversation in passing. The mother of a ten month old was telling the group how her daughter had started walking. Another mother mentioned how her five month old was sitting up on her own. The mother of the ten month old was quick to recall how at just four months her prodigy was sitting up and by six months was pulling up on her own. I watched the face of the mother with the five month old show defeat. I gave Ouisie an extra cuddle as we watched the ten month old topple over her feet on the way to the classroom. 

We grabbed a mat and said our hellos. I observed that most of the babies were actively engaged in the class and playing their instruments. And there was my child who cried at the sound of the rainmaker and preferred gazing out at a beautiful Oak Tree in the garden. A lover of nature? A daydreamer like her father? Perhaps she just did not find the lady with the stuffed monkey amusing? I admit, it was a lot of effort getting to the morning class for thirty-minutes of watching a lady shaking instruments and singing unfamiliar songs about a monkey and five little ducks. After week one, Ouisie and I decided to scratch this activity from the list.

Sing and Sign has been the best to date because it is a teaching class rather than just an activity. Ouisie is able to interact with the other babies and I practice the signs with her throughout the week. We are speaking both French and English to her at home, so I hope the sign language helps her in learning the two vocabularies. I have a hunch that the sign for "no" and "more" will backfire in the months ahead. 

What I have found in our initial month of classes is that more than anything, these classes benefit the moms by getting us out of the house and around other adults. It is also good for the babies as they are able to drool and coo with each other. But I have noticed that Ouisie is just as content, if not more, on our walks in the forest listening to the sounds of nature and looking at the trees blowing in the wind. Above all, whether it be an organised activity or signing songs and making funny faces together at home, our time spent together is invaluable. Each day she makes a new discovery about her surroundings and the wondrous mechanics of her body. 

After our first baby yoga class, Ouisie sat on her own for the first time. Do I credit the yoga? Not at all. Just think it was her chosen day to perch unaided on her round tush. When will she decide to scoot, pull up, walk? When she is ready. And that is soon enough for me.

Namaste!

Callie









03 October 2011

Heatwave



Menu du jour

Organic Hampshire Pork Loin
Method: Slow cooked in tequila and ancho chili rub 

Served with: Medley of tomato and courgettes from the garden, jalapeño grits

Thought: Sante Fe, New Mexico
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75 degrees

Sunshine and blue skies

Baby taking a nap

Mom at computer writing
Lyle Lovett singing the blues...

Life is good.


Our dog, Carib, enjoys day in the garden beneath her favourite Oak Tree
After living in England for four years I have come to have a greater appreciation for some of the smaller gratifications in life: warmth and sunshine. 


One of the best parts about life in England are the seasons. Now the English will bemoan the fact that they really only have three seasons as summer always seems to be a cold wash out. I guess Mother Nature got tired of the whining populous as the past week in England, and most of Europe, we had a second chance at summer. Autumn arrived in July and has been pushed out in October. 


The leaves are falling off the trees at the same time spring flowers are budding again. Birds don't know if it is time to head south or stay put. Autumn and spring are criss crossed- but I'll take my full serving of it! After all, I think the Brits and we, fellow expats, all deserve a scoop of warm temps. If for no other reason than to expose our pasty skin, break a bit of sweat and then have a moan about how hot it is.


Growing up in Houston I was not exposed to living- or more to the point- eating around the seasons. Take asparagus and strawberries. This beautiful green stalk with its flavourful crown was a regular vegetable at family dinners just as strawberries were contenders at most breakfasts--- even if it was December.  I never saw these as the "odd produce out" or ever realised that they had been imported from Peru  and Israel.  


The English are very proud about their seasonal produce. In recent years, there has been a big push to celebrate the "Best of Britain". And for good reason as each season brings a palate pleaser. 


Case in point: the asparagus. I've learned a lot about these mighty spears such as; it takes a crown of asparagus three years before it is harvestable. And, each crown has a lifespan of around 15 years.  And after all that hard work, the season is super short- starting in late April and finished by end of June. So while the getting is good- I like to have this green gem on my plate most nights! 


This week we bid a final farewell to summer. Our tomatoes have made one last courageous effort to ripen before temperatures drop and the sun is again masked in English grey. And with colder temps in the forecast we await the re-entrance of autumn and all the rich root vegetables she brings. 


Hope the sun is shining in your neck of the world...





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