You, Me and Teddy

Parenting adventures and activities in and around Neuchâtel, Switzerland.


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Herbs?

I am aware that many people don’t use herbs in cooking or are unsure with what to use and why they are using them. So after my last post I thought I might give you a little introduction to cooking with herbs and to those that I chose to plant in my kitchen garden.

What’s so great about herbs?

While herbs are great for adding an extra dimension to your dishes they also are great for your health. Herbs and spices have long been used in remedies and for preserving food. It is only now that we are starting to understand the full health benefits that they hold and how they can help with many of the most common diseases we suffer from today such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and cancer.

Why use fresh herbs over dried?

Quite simply because you get more nutrients from them (as with fresh vegetables) and often get more flavour. In making tea with fresh Lemon Verbena leaves I find the taste to be much more citrusy. One thing I love about having fresh herbs is that they can lift any salad. Most people know about adding basil to tomato salad or mint with yoghurt and cucumber salads, but I also like to chop any herbs I have lying about into everyday salads to give them a lift. Have an experiment.

Should I cook with fresh herbs in the same way that I cook with dried herbs?

Yes and no. You can add the same herbs to the same dishes but while dried herbs and fresh woody herbs (sage, thyme and bay leaves) should be added at the start of the cooking process, fresh tender leaf herbs (such as basil, chives, coriander, dill, and  parsley) should only be added at the end. 1 teaspoon of dried herbs generally is the same as 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs.

aromatic herbs

Curly leaf and flat leaf parsley are the most common forms of parsley out there. Flat leaf has a bit more flavour and is more peppery than the curly variety but the texture of curly leaf parsley is sometimes more desirable in certain dishes.

I often use parsley to neutralise the garlic I add to dishes. In fact parsley is a great breath freshener if you chew on some after a meal. Parsley is also good for cutting through rich dishes with lots of cream or egg. Parsley pretty much goes with everything and it’s great for decorating dishes. Heston Blumenthal has even paired Banana and Parsley check out his recipe here.

It is not only the leaves that are useful but also the stalks which you can use to make a bouquet garni for flavouring casseroles, stocks, sauces and soups. A bouquet garni is a little bundle of herbs that you tie together (or put in a little muslin bag) – think Bridget Jones and the blue string incident – and it acts a little bit like a tea bag in that you use it to infuse the dish and remove it at the end of cooking. It often includes parsley, thyme and a bay leaf although there is no set recipe and vegetables and pepper corns are sometimes added .

Coriander (Cilantro)

While it looks quite like parsley and is sometimes termed “chinese parsley” it is not. Coriander is a herb which does not keep and doesn’t freeze very well (unlike parsley) tending to lose its taste.

I use it mostly with Indian cooking where you tend to add it as a garnish at the last minute as it loses its flavour when cooked. There is nothing better than a lamb curry, daal (lentil stew) and raita (yoghurt based sauce) with plenty of coriander.

It also goes really well with Mexican cooking as coriander pairs excellently with avocado, chicken, fish and shellfish, peppers and salsa.

Coriander is also linked with many health benefits like most fresh herbs ranging from antioxidant properties to being useful in treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Dill

Dill has a fairly distinctive taste being a mix of fennel, anise and celery. It is most commonly added to fish or pickles. I mainly associate it with Scandinavian cooking where it is added to almost everything you eat: soups, grilled and boiled fish, gravlax, potatoes and vinegars. However it is not only the Scandinavians who love Dill: in Eastern Europe it is often added to hot and cold (creamy) borsht. They use it in salads (much like I describes above) or in creamy dressings and sandwich spreads. Dill sauce is also used for poultry, eggs and potatoes.

In Asian cooking Dill is also commonly used and in India they believe it has good digestive properties and is also often given to mothers after childbirth.

The Greeks also use Dill pairing it with yoghurt and cucumber in Tzatziki – Yum!

Feeling a bit braver with Dill yet? Next time you are preparing poultry, fish, eggs, salad or a creamy sauce add a bit and see what you think.

Basil

I reckon basil is the most used herb in western cooking thanks to the popularity of Italian food although the plant originally comes from Asia and plays a major role in their cuisine too.

The Italian basil I chose is the most commonly sold in the supermarkets and is known as sweet basil while the Greek basil is much more peppery and has a stronger flavour. I’d use the Greek for salads but the Italian one more for cooking or pesto.

One tip I learnt off an Italian ex was to never cut basil with a knife but rather tear it to release the aromas. Obviously this isn’t practical when making pesto but I try to stick to it when making salads.

Basil pairs excellently with tomato and most vegetables, as you probably know, but it also goes great with other fruit such as pineapple or strawberries.

Another basil tip to be aware of is when picking your basil never pick the tips of the shoots but select the larger leaves from below allowing further regrowth.

Basil is another well noted antioxidant and various studies have been done linking it with cancer preventative properties. Basil is also good for high blood pressure.

Verbena

I planted Lemon Verbena as I love using it to make teas, you just pop a few leaves in some boiling water and drink it as is. Lemon Verbena is also great to use in cooking as it adds a lovely citrus taste to dishes without the acidity.  You can add it to marinades, dressing or sauces and it pairs great with fish and poultry. I’ve also seen it being used in jams to add a freshness or summery aspect.

Verbena is galactagogue (which means it promotes lactation) so it is great for breastfeeding mums. I tend to drink it as a tea in the evenings after dinner as it aids digestion and has certain sedative effect. I’ve also heard that it has antibacterial properties and is effective against yeast infections. It is also good for menstrual cramps making it a good standard for any woman’s garden.

Camomile

Another soothing tea which tastes so much better fresh and helps with digestion. German chamomile, which I planted, produces daisy like flower which you should trim and make the tea out of. This one is not recommended for nursing or pregnant woman, however, as it can cause contractions. The flowers can also be added to salads or can be made into an herbal beer.

Chives

Funnily enough I’m not a big onion fan but I love chives as its much more of a delicate taste which cuts nicely through rich dishes with eggs or cream, for example, I’ll add lots of chives to my scrambled eggs. You can add chives to any dishes which you would normally put raw onion into such as salads. They are also great for decoration or even snipped into mash or soups.

Like other allium family members, chives possess thio-sulfinites anti-oxidants. Thio-sufinites breaks down to allicin when chives are processed. Studies show that allicin reduces cholesterol production and has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties. Allicin is also a vasodilator compound which is great for those with high blood pressure.

Thyme (silver leaf and lemon)

Thyme is a lovely fragrant herb which I associate mainly with Provençal dishes. It goes great with with Mediterranean vegetables, pork, lamb, fish and game. I love thyme with eggs in omelettes or in mushrooms dishes.

You can use it in stews, stuffings, marinades, omelettes or even in scrambled eggs.

Lemon Thyme adds a citrus dimension to dishes which is especially nice with fish and can be lovely sprinkled into salads.

Thyme goes excellently in quinoa or rice dishes. Lemon thyme and mushroom risotto is gorgeous and very easy to make. I don’t generally follow exact quantities when I make risotto but I’ll try and write it down for you. For 3/4 people I tend to sweat down one onion and a tablespoon of olive oil in a deep pan and then add a clove of crushed garlic.  Once all of that is mixed and soft I add a tea cup of risotto rice and coat it with the mixture. Then add about 250g of chopped mushrooms and a tablespoon of chopped thyme and cook the mushrooms down. Risotto is a dish which once you start you have to stick with until it is ready as it needs to be constantly stirred. Keep the pan on the Next add about a ladle of stock and stir until the stock is absorbed then add another (I often add a slosh of white wine instead of one of the ladles at some point during the process). Continue in this way until the rice is cooked (it should be firm but with no hard bits remaining) and then add some grated parmesan (about 2 tablespoons) and stir through. You can add anything to risottos which is great for using up leftovers. If you have any left over vegetables or meat you can also stir it through at the end.

Tea can also be made from thyme by immersing a sprig in water.

Another herb with a lot of health benefits, Thyme has often been used throughout history to preserve food and to disinfect, the ancient Egyptians even used it in embalming. Thyme had also been linked with various anti-aging properties.

Oregano

Often know as the “Pizza Herb” I only discovered it relatively recently. The British recipes I grew up with always just substituted parsley and oregano was not readily available in supermarkets. This is one of the few herbs which actually has a stronger flavour when dried. Oregano is a sweet herb with some spiciness that adds warmth to any dish. It pairs particularly well with tomatoes, aubergine and lamb.

Oregano is a great barbecue herb and goes great with grilled meat or fish and vegetables. It goes well on Greek salads and Turkish cuisine you often find it as an extra seasoning next to the salt and pepper. You can even use a large bunch as a bed on which to roast a joint. Saying that oregano is generally added just at the end of cooking, so that it retains its pungency.

In Greece and the Philippines oregano is used to treat sore throat and coughs when brewed in teas. It is another herb with antimicrobial properties I have heard it is good for fungal infections.

Mint

English mint, which I planted is apparently less invasive than other mints although those roots are sprouting out all over the place and trying to take over already. It is a sweet, spearmint type rather than a peppermint mint and is very versatile.

Mint is a common ingredient in Thai food like rolls, as well as in Middle Eastern dishes such as tabbouleh, and in traditional mint tea from North Africa. It goes well with lamb, aubergine, desserts (such as chocolate), salads, vegetables, and fruit.

It’s not unusual to see mint used in jellies, sauces and cocktails. I planted my mint thinking mainly about the cocktails. I will be watching Wimbledon and making Pimms (a traditional English gin-based drink) this summer although I seem to be drinking it mainly in tea on a daily basis (keeping it cut back so that it doesn’t take over).

Mint is a calming and soothing herb that has been used for thousands of years to aid with upset stomach or indigestion it is thought to help to speed and ease digestion. Mint also contains menthol, which is a natural decongestant and it can also be effective in tea for relieving sore throats. One health benefit which I didn’t know about previously linked with the fact that mint contain an antioxidant called rosmarinic acid. Because of rosmarinic acid’s anti-inflammatory properties it has been studied for its effectiveness in relieving the symptoms of hay fever.

Sage

When I think of sage I remember one of our first holidays with E where we went to a lovely little place in Tuscany, Italy called Villa Pia. We found it through a site called Baby Friendly Boltholes when we where desperate to get away to somewhere child friendly which wasn’t a resort hotel. Villa Pia was a lovely communal setting, they really looked after us and even provided babysitters to keep the children while we could take an on site cookery class. During this class we made everything from meatballs to various sorts of pasta. One of these dishes was a gnocchi with a fried sage butter sauce. Never had I known something so simple could be so delicious.

Sage has a lovely strong flavour which is a good herb to pair with foods traditionally considered heavy, rich, and creamy. It goes great with poultry, sausages (or stuffing), pasta, beans and certain dairy products such as cheese and cream (ravioli with sage cream sauce), as well as sweet and savoury breads.

The botanical name Salvia is from the Latin for “to feel well and healthy, health, heal” referring to the herb’s healing properties. It has a long history of medicinal use and the Arabs associated sage with immortality. The praise for sage is not unfounded: It is often used as an herbal remedy for afflictions including gas, bloating, poor appetite and excessive sweating. Sage has also been seen to be effective in the management of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Leafy Herbs

So there you have it: my reasoning behind buying quite so many herbs and why I am so keep to buy more. I hope you find this post useful and I have convinced some of use to use more herbs if not for the flavour then for the added health benefits.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your weekends!

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Touring Neuchâtel and Diet

While I am relatively well integrated over here I’m constantly looking at new ways of making friends and discovering Neuchâtel. The BCN Tour du Canton is something I have wanted to do for a while now and this year I’m going to do it!

bcn tour 2014

Let me fill you in: the BCN Tour is a series of 6 races between 9.3km and 11.4km run all over the canton of Neuchâtel on Wednesday evenings during April and May. Anyone can take part, for a small fee, with categories for 9 year olds all the way up to the over 60s. You can choose to run or there is also the Walking Tour (which starts a bit earlier in the evening so it doesn’t get dark). There are also a few shorter races for kids as young as 5.

Before now it simply wasn’t practical for me to do it. I was based in Lausanne, then in Lucerne and when I finally moved to Neuchâtel I fell pregnant. This is really the first time I can do the races so when a friend of mine asked if I would be interested in doing it with her I jumped at the chance.

I have run before and completed a few 10k races but I am not very quick. I get around a 10k in under an hour (or I did back then) but that was when I was at University and I was a overweight and less fit despite the running.  Since having the children I have found weight loss much easier. Maybe it was the breastfeeding or the fact since my first started walking I haven’t been able to sit still for more than 5 minutes at a time. Working out with a personal trainer has also definitely helped. I had one back in 2006 over the summer and managed to shed a few kilos and keep them off.  After the birth of E I started looking for a new one over here to shed my baby pounds. We have one session a week which is enough to keep me healthy.

While I am fit I haven’t run properly since before the kids so I am a little concerned as my friend’s father is a running legend here. He is over 60 and still runs faster than most the 30 year olds I know. I have no idea on her level but we are going to be training together starting this weekend.

So, yes you’ve probably figured it out by now, there is an ulterior motive: I am also currently dieting. I stopped dieting officially last time I reached this weight in October as it was cutting my milk supply. Slowly a couple of kilos crept back on over the winter months but I have managed to lose them again over the past 3 weeks since stopping breastfeeding. I’m looking forward to the extra exercise calories – that should give me extra motivation to train!

Ok, so I hear you say, you aren’t overweight and you seem in reasonable shape; why are you pushing yourself to do all these mad things? Well… because:

  1. I’m stubborn and I like to complete a challenge.
  2. It seems like fun!
  3. I get to meet new people.
  4. I’d like to have a body at some point in my adult life, in peak condition, that functions as it should.

I feel like with all my eating issues, in my teens and at Uni, my poor body got pretty abused. I was so hung up on how “awful” I thought I looked I never saw how amazing my body actually was before my yoyo dieting behaviours weakened it.

Also, before you worry, I am doing this sensibly. Before I agreed to do the races I did a test 10k which was fine and I have a trainer who monitors me. My trainer has also actually calculated my goal weight based on my ideal weight worked out from body fat percentages (I hate callipers!). What is more I do actually love my body now for what it did carrying and growing my two munchkins.

The races increase in difficulty as you go through them but it seems doable. Below you can see the race statistics that they publish on the website:

races

The gradual increase in difficulty should mean that I improve my stamina as we go through them and become a better runner.

I am very excited and I plan to keep a photo diary of my races and thus take you on the tour with me. Hopefully we can all discover Neuchâtel together!

Check out the official BCN Tour Facebook page here.


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Jinxed

Do you ever feel you are being punished for something?

I stop breastfeeding and guess what happens? My usually very healthy family falls ill! Well except me… I think my immune system was perhaps supporting everyone. Or maybe at least blocking the littlest midget from being a source of illness.

Do I feel guilty? Yes. Did I crack and breastfeed again? Yes, but only once for a little boost.

We spent Sunday in emergency after M went really drowsy despite the drugs for fever. We now have antibiotics for ear infections and ibuprofen to combat the inflammation and fevers.

It has therefore been a pretty quiet in this household over the past few days. Every time I try to do an outing just for some fresh air the fevers spike and then I just end up tucking M back in for yet another nap or E in with the iPad or a book.

M is currently sleeping 16 hours a day minimum while E refuses to sleep more than 12 despite being exhausted. I am knackered too dealing with the extreme moods of an overtired yet bored two-nager.

I am, however, learning new techniques of easy play for my usually totally boisterous pair involving den making and basic drawing or painting as they get slowly better.

So if you wonder what black hole I have fallen down now you know. Off to the docs again this morning. Let’s hope we get some good news.

Wrap up warm and take care. Spring is nearly here!


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Calling it quits

My little boy turns one tomorrow and I’m still breastfeeding.

birthday

He has been a struggle to breastfeed from day one: he slept the first 24 hours, waking to feed only briefly 3 times. However, he gained weight after the third day and fulfilled the minimum feeding requirements. I was told not to worry, your body is on automatic second time round, and that there is very little you can do wrong; “all will be fine”.

My daughter just fed and fed from the word go. She would latch on and stay put. E woke every two hours for a feed till she was 4 months. It was a miracle when at 6 months she slept 6 hours straight! M was already basically sleeping a full night by then. He never woke to feed and while my initial milk supply was great it soon started to dwindle.

When we weaned at 6 months we did baby led weaning (BLW). This meant we went at his rhythm giving him the same as us minus any salt. M didn’t start slow like his sister but tried to eat full meals immediately. He has always had great hand eye coordination and so it wasn’t much of an issue apart from the fact M decided he didn’t really want the milk anymore.

I felt like I was forcing the milk on him and then he decided to make things even more difficult: he would only eat in a lying down position in a darkened room. Ok, I know I shouldn’t have put up with it but I was so worried about him not feeding I didn’t want to push my luck.

The paediatrician seemed happy with him at his 9 month check and just told me to make sure he was getting his calcium through other sources. Up to then I had been pumping like crazy to maintain supply and also to give him some milk for his time at crèche.

Both my kids do some time in daycare despite me being a stay at home mum. We have a few good reasons for this:

  1. This is how we fought the jealousy aspect with my daughter. Giving her a day with mummy suddenly stopped the tantrums and nasty behaviour towards her brother. I also love having the one on one time with both kids.
  2. It gives our children the opportunity to play with their peers. There aren’t really that many activities you can do with your children where they can play with other kids here. Being a stay at home mum is pretty rare (most mums work at least part time) meaning most kids are in crèche so there isn’t a big enough demand for lots of play groups.
  3. Crèche is where our children speak French. We have a strict English only house as is often the case with those trying to keep their mother tongue pure in a foreign speaking country. Establishing these zones will hopefully mean that our children will muddle their languages less and get a real foot in anglophone culture before they start full time school and get froggied.

So, to up his calcium, I started introducing baby yoghurts and then some formula.

Tomorrow as he turns one M is in theory fully weaned and can have cows’ milk. I should be proud of getting to a year but actually I feel sad and disappointed. I fed E up to 16 months and it felt natural to stop. With M I feel like I’ve been probably forcing it for a while but I haven’t done the same for him that I did for his sister (like with so many other things). Its like I’ve let him down and thus let myself down.

Doubts enter my head: maybe it’s because he took a bottle straight away (E only took one at 10 months); maybe it’s because we offered a bottle too early; maybe I didn’t feed him enough in the first few days… On the other hand my logical side is telling me that I’ve done great. I don’t frown on anyone who has stopped after two weeks deciding its not for them so why am I giving myself a tough time?

I’m totally ready to stop and yet not. I’d love to see out the winter but then I’m really not producing enough anymore for my growing boy. I put him down tonight with yet another struggle to give him any breast milk with the intention that that was my last feed.

Have any of you had such different children leading to similar parenting dilemmas?