Monthly Archives: May 2014

Bruges, sleepless nights and banana cake

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We spent last bank holiday in Bruges (weekend of 24/25 + Monday 26) and I was hoping to write a post about it the day after we got back. As you can see, it didn’t happen.

The trip was great, the place is so so beautiful (even Laura was sad to come back home), but our accommodation wasn’t great and I ended up having a sleepless night, which ruined the following day, which ruined the rest of the week.

Speaking of sleepless nights, sleep in our house seems to be a roller coaster. Some days good, other days bad. Beatrice is not too bad, I am ignoring some of the cries in the middle of the night (because it is not a proper cry, it is more a “dream” and she falls asleep within seconds. I do tend her when she is really crying, which was the case yesterday, 1st June, when she didn’t sleep at all) and we have great nights when I only go to her once. I can live with that. On the other hand, miss Laura has been a pain, sleeping in our bed since too long now. Again, I can live with co-sleeping, BUT I cannot live with someone kicking me through the night. The night after we got home (after a sleepless night, remember?), she kicked me three times: on the face, on the breast and on my ribs. Not a gentle kick, a Bruce Lee kick, that left me in pain the whole of the following day. If you want to see me deadly angry, just mess up with my sleep.

And because I cannot return the kids to wherever they came from, what do I do? Call Supernanny? Sleep in the living room? Run away? No, I stuff my face with things that are not good for me and will make me overweight again eat. Within 6 days, we had two banana cakes (very yummy) and a creme caramel. Oh, well, I think I’ll have to resume the diet once my mum goes back, next Saturday.

So, what’s with the banana cake? We had a few bananas that were nearly going bad and I was sick of throwing bananas in the bin so I googled a banana cake recipe and found this one here. But I had to adapt because I didn’t have certain ingredients, so here is (are) my version(s) of it:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of coconut oil – I quickly melted it on the microwave
  • 150g caster sugar – I also tried with muscovado sugar and the result was good
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 190g flour (2nd time I used 150g of flour and 50g of ground linseed, as I had loads at home and don’t know what to do with it)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 30g of preferred chopped nuts (I used pecan the first time and mixed nuts the second)
  • 60ml coconut milk

Method:

  1. Grease and line a loaf tin. Mix oil, sugar and vanilla.
  2. Add the mashed bananas, mix well.
  3. Add the egg, mix well.
  4. Stir in the flour and the milk. And finally add the baking powder.
  5. Pour into the prepared tin. Optional: sprinkle with a tablespoon of demerara sugar to give a crunch topping (I did that the 2nd time but didn’t like the result that much).
  6. Bake at 180 C until a skewer comes out clean. (it took me about 45 minutes)
It was the first time I  baked a banana cake and it was so yummy that I didn’t wait it cool. As a result, I had to bake another one two days later (because more bananas were going to waste and because I was stressed with something else).
Our window view in Bruges

Our window view in Bruges

The banana cake saga: the first attempt

The banana cake saga: the first attempt

The banana cake saga: the second attempt

The banana cake saga: the second attempt

Creme Caramel, beautiful and tasty after nearly 4 hours baking (it doesn't take that long though)

Creme Caramel, beautiful and tasty after nearly 4 hours baking (it doesn’t take that long though)

Who would have thought that this little angel is a Bruce Lee in the making?

Who would have thought that this little angel is a Bruce Lee in the making?

Cancer, not the solar sign

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So I learned that May is National Cancer Research Month. In the United States. After a quick research online, I couldn’t find anything like that in the UK, although we have the Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October (we always do some activities at work to raise money and, of course, awareness).

Cancer is such a bastard. It just feels like, no matter what you do or how you live, you will be affected by it at some point in life. And that’s why research is so important; to find ways to prevent it and to find a cure for it. Cancer Research UK is one of my favourite charities in the UK. Whenever I need to buy gifts, I always try to go to them first (they have high street shops and an online shop), but it is not the only cancer related charity, of course. Recently, a little girl, no more than 12 years old I would guess, knocked at our door to ask for donations. She was going on a 10 mile bike ride to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. I felt very proud for her parents, and wished my girls will do something like that in the future. I also felt a bit rubbish about myself – I should be doing something like this; it’s a great excuse to exercise and help others. Mental note: look into Race for Life.

The fact that I lost my father in February to cancer changed very little my feelings towards cancer. If so, it made it feel even more real, but the awareness was always there, and so was the fear of being haunted by it. My father had bladder and lung cancer, both related to his many years of smoking lots of cigarettes. He stopped smoking 11 years ago, but the damaged was done. He stopped smoking, but didn’t change other lifestyle habits. Things like looking after what he ate and exercising. It surprises me how people can still smoke when there’s so much information out there about all the damage a cigarette can cause to smokers and non-smokers. But then, it’s their choice to poison themselves (well, adults, at least, and the ones who choose to smoke).

What scares me the most are the type of cancers that we don’t even know exist and how we get them. I’ve learned recently about mesothelioma, a deadly type of cancer caused by the exposure to asbestos (amianto, in Portuguese). I also learned, after Goggling “asbestos”, that “asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK”, according to the Health and Safety Executive website. Asbestos fibres are present in the environment so we are all exposed to small quantities of it. But then we decided to use it in construction and other sectors and in greater quantities than found in the environment, and when inhaled, these fibres can cause serious diseases, mesothelioma being the worse.  

 

A couple of weeks ago, my mother and I were chatting about the fact that the roof of our shed/garage is made of asbestos and she mentioned that she was pretty sure its usage had been banned in Brazil because it was dangerous. And I even said that it couldn’t be that bad, because the UK is the land of health and safety and surely it would have been banned here if it was that dangerous. Little did I know… How crazy is that? The thing is a deadly material and still it is present in our homes (and several other places) and it seems that it is widely known. I don’t want to spread fear and paranoia around, but if you feel like knowing a bit more about it, read the Mesothelioma site (USA) and the HSE I mentioned above. I do need to read more about it, to understand what are the implications – if any – of having that roof in our garden.

A great thing about the internet is the information that is now at our fingertips. It’s quite daunting sometimes, hard to see what is true or not, what is relevant or not, and trying not to be too paranoid about everything is hard. I recently reduced – almost to nil – the consumption of vegetable oils and spread at our place, as there are claims that they are really bad for our health and a cause of certain cancers. My neighbour was saying that, in Asia, coconut oil is widely consumed, way before vegetable oils/spreads arrived in the market claiming they were good for our health. And now we are back to basics, where coconut oil is the “new” superfood and your old sunflower oil is the villain. To be on the safe side, we have been using mostly butter and coconut oil (and, of course, olive oil), but try to limit the quantities of everything. As I said, it seems that it is just a matter of time until cancer knocks at our door – so we need to do our best to avoid this day to come. Prevention seems the best approach.

Have you been affected by cancer? Do you have any tips or information that can help prevent it? Are you taking any challenge (like Race for Life) for charity? I am always looking for information and inspiration. I don’t want to live in fear or become (more) paranoid, but it’s always good to know about things and decide how we want to live our lives, don’t you think? Moderation is key, but one thing I want to add to our family is a little more exercise, in a fun way. I am seriously thinking about going for one of these 5K runs to start with (I will need to train before it, which is a perfect change of lifestyle).

Party food

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I got the recipe for the cheese bread from here, after researching on Brazilian websites. The recipe is all in English, so I won’t write it here, but it is worth mentioning that I changed it slightly. Instead of either using tapioca flour or sour cassava flour, I used half of each, after reading a comment somewhere from a girl saying that the original recipe uses both. And because I don’t use vegetable oil at home anymore, I replaced it with coconut oil. If you read the recipe, you will see that they say that pão de queijo should be crunchy on the outside and hollow on the inside. Well, I disagree – I like it chewy on the inside, and this is exactly like it!

Now… I made pão de queijo using this recipe twice. The first time, I could shape it into balls and it was alright. The second time, I tripled the ingredients and the result was a liquid dough, which I couldn’t shape at all. So I put it in cupcake cases. The result was yummy, but I was very stressed.

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Cheese bread – not as round and beautiful as they should be, but as yummy as they can be

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Cheese bread

The recipe of the hot dog bun came from this video; I just shaped it differently:

I don’t have a bread machine, so everything was done by hand. And I kneaded it for about 15 minutes or more. Oh, and I doubled the ingredients as well.

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Mini hot dog – they were delicious just after baked, but also quite yummy the following day

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I baked about 50 buns

The pie is very simple and quick to make and it’s great for a last minute lunch or party food. The original recipe was taken from here (Portuguese) and the translation is below.

Pastry:

3 eggs

13 tablespoons of flour

1 and 1/2 cup of milk

1 tablespoon of baking powder

3 tablespoons of cheese (option)

A little less than 1/2 cup of oil (I used coconut oil)

Salt to taste

Filling:

You can use your creativity here. We cooked chicken tights with onion, garlic, tomatoes, tomato passata, salt and other stuff, removed bones and that’s it. You can also use tuna, cheese and ham, pork… Great to use leftovers.

Mix all ingredients in a blender – add baking powder at the end. It will be a very runny mixture. Pour half of it in a tray, then add the filling (make sure you spread it very well) and finally cover with the remaining of the pastry. You can sprinkle cheese on top (some people like to put sliced boiled egg or olives), but it’s totally optional. Bake for about 40 minutes (at 180 degree celsius) and eat it.

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This pie was the next day’s lunch

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For the party, we had two chicken pies and they were all gone. Hubby didn’t even get to try it.

Party season

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I only celebrate birthdays when I’m on maternity leave. We had a party for Laura’s first birthday, then nothing until her 4th, which coincided with Beatrice’s first birthday and the last month of my maternity leave. So either this is the last celebration until they can organise their own parties or I’m having a 3rd child in a few years time. More likely it’s going to be the first option.

The party was last weekend. A beautiful day, very sunny and hot, with occasional clouds to cool us down. It was a bit mental, more because I am too stressed and have high expectations than actual hard work.

We hired an entertainer and I couldn’t be happier with her. Kelly, from Happy Hatters, was super duper. The kids and parents loved her. Laura told me, later in the day, that “Rapunzel was the best thing of her party. It was an amazing surprise!” She “warmed up” 15 minutes before the guests arrived, so Laura and Beatrice got to know her. When the kids arrived, Laura was already friends with the princess and the fun started straight away. Kelly called all the kids by their names and got everybody involved, even the parents. I know as a fact that all kids had fun because none of them wanted to leave.

The youngest ones didn’t get involved as much but they had toys and space to walk around and play. Maybe when Beatrice is 3 and Laura 6, they will have more fun together, but for now, she is quite tiny to follow her big sister’s steps.

Food-wise, I went with a half-healthy, half-trashy menu, but I ran out of time and due to lack of proper planning, I didn’t have any fruits and veggie sticks as I hoped. Yeeks! We did have tofu mousse though. Yes, tofu. And it was yummy. I ordered a few vegan items from my neighbour, who is starting her food business now (and will be at Brick Lane market from June!). We had chocolate, raspberry and mango mousses, mango and passion fruit cheesecake, vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, mushroom tart, chickpea curry, tofu teriyaki wraps and cream cheese and asparagus rolls, all diary/egg free.

I made hot dogs and baked the buns, baked cheese breads and two chicken pies. I had no left overs and all the adults said that the food was delicious. On the sweet side, I made brigadeiro and the birthday cake. No industrialised sweets and candies apart from them Kit Kats and Smarties of the cake.

One of the fathers told me that it was one of the best parties he has been to. We booked it for two hours but I told them they could stay as long as they wanted to.

The decoration was quite simple. When I was still in Brazil, at some point in February, I thought about having a picnic celebration, just because it’s easy and I wouldn’t need to think much about the decor (until you Google images and see how elaborated some stuff can be). Then I thought about adding some flowers , because it is spring, my favourite season. Never mind Laura’s opinion, as you can see. I learned to make fabric tulips and brought some ready made from Brazil. But it wasn’t a priority and my mum and I only looked into it the week of the party and, of course, zero time and patience to make all what I had in mind. Honestly? It wasn’t amazing and magazine-material decoration but Laura, Beatrice and her friends loved it and there’s nothing more honest and valuable than children’s opinion.

Biggest mistake ever: not taking enough pictures and actually making it a priority. Lelei had the cameras and was asking if we wanted to take pictures like this and like that and I didn’t want to interrupt the fun to take pics and I so regret it. Oh, most of the pictures are in her camera, as I forgot to charge mine and the battery drained half way through the party.

P.S.: I’ll share the recipes of the cheese bread, hot dog bun and chicken pie on another post

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Work in progress – although the table was set indoors, the whole thing happened outside

 

 

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The table, with a few bits and pieces. The majority of the food was outside, so the table was pretty bare.

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Party bags: a ‘picnic’ bag with some age-specific goodies inside; and a slice of the cake (which is how they do here)

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Detail of the flowers, including my two favourite ones

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All dishes had a similar label, but I don’t think people really read them

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Cake topper handmade by auntie/dinda Lelei – Laura and Bea Pig. hehe

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Post party clean up – now what do I do with all these? Kids’ bedroom decoration, me thinks

 

Birthday girl

Birthday girl

Photo wall. The idea was to have 12 photos of Bea and 12 of Laura, one for each month, but in the end I just put a bunch of photos I really liked

Photo wall. The idea was to have 12 photos of Bea and 12 of Laura, one for each month, but in the end I just put a bunch of photos I really liked

I {heart} Rapunzel! I want to get an entertainer for my birthday too!

I {heart} Rapunzel! I want to get an entertainer for my birthday too!

Mummy was playing too

Mummy was playing too

Rapunzel getting the kids to play whatever game

Rapunzel getting the kids to play whatever game

Lunch time: the table outdoor and the yummy food!

Lunch time: the table outdoor and the yummy food!

Beatrice between daddy and dindo (Godfather)

Beatrice between daddy and dindo (Godfather)

The cake

The cake

The table

The table