Posts from — March 2017
March 29, 2017
Friends, March just tipped over into spring and the snowdrops are out. The coldest, snowiest winter we’ve seen in a lot of years (because we are spoiled with warm, rainy winters most of the time) has become an archived story filled with even more of those superlative adjectives. Now it’s time to move on.
As in, move house.
The quaint old character home we’ve lived in since before the kids were born is soon to belong to someone else. We are soon to leave this city for a bigger one. Find new friends, playgrounds, bookstores and food spots. Opening the proverbial new chapter.
It’s funny how nostalgia creeps into your thoughts even before you’ve left a place. I’m already walking through rooms picturing them bare and sunlit, like when we moved in. I think about how much younger we were. How much older we are.
I’ve started compiling photos from the seven summers we’ve lived in this house, the first few years concentrating on food and garden, unsurprisingly. Memories of sleeping in and making self-indulgent breakfasts. Long afternoons in the garden digging potatoes, the dog waiting at the edge of the patch for a stray tuber to roll his way. Cutting flowers for the kitchen table.
The second group of photos: the kid-filled ones. The painted wooden stork on the porch that proclaimed both babies’ arrivals. The birthing pool in the living room where The Tiger was born. A multitude of food-splattered faces at the dinner table. Christmases, Easters, Halloweens. All in this house.
We knew we wouldn’t stay here forever. We knew it would be less than a decade. It feels good–really good–to move on. But. This house is ours, and it will be ours forever, even when it’s someone else’s. Just like the house I grew up in, now renovated and repainted and a hundred kilometers away, is still and always will be mine.
This morning Little e’s newest pet, a woodbug, died. She’d had him for fourteen hours. We talked about the lifespans of wood bugs and the abruptness of death and how many other woodbugs exist in our garden and she accepted it all with a five-year-old’s gravity and openness. We talked about memory and gratitude, though not in those terms. Then we went out and found another woodbug.
And soon we go out to find another house, and though there is nothing dead about our current one, it does feel like that sort of loss. A choice to stop and turn. A choice to abort one life-course and start another. All the things we could do in this house will never come to be. We have chosen it that way.
But we will pack those things up and move them somewhere new. We will find new woodbugs in a new garden. Find a new house that could never not be ours, for however long we will be in it, and beyond.
March 21, 2017
I have returned from my whirlwind trip to Macau and Hong Kong. My head is still spinning. Being on the other side of the world, without my little tribe, submerged in a different culture, climate and language, had me feeling discombobulated. And then again, five days later, on re-entry to my family’s orbit – dynamic, fun, unpredictable chaos – I have been scrambling to re-adjust. Could life be busier?! It seems hard to imagine. But, you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The baby nudging her sweet, silky head under my chin, the middle child almost bowling me over on arrival, the eldest eagerly glancing behind me to spy the presents I bought her, their Daddy looking a little worse for wear and genuinely relieved to see me… it sure does make a person feel required / loved. I really missed them.
It was an honour to be invited back to China for The Script Road Festival by festival director, Helder Beja, and his team, all of whom worked very hard to take care of their guests, speakers, musicians, press and public. The very idea of co-ordinating a literary festival blows my tiny mind and they managed it superbly. I am sure, behind the scenes, there was much hidden calamity and downing of stiff drinks. As for me – aside from doing my best to speak about writing and books, in particular, ‘Marjory and the Mouse‘, of course I spent my time consuming every interesting looking thing in sight. I knew you would want me to. I felt it my duty to report back from the front lines.
March 15, 2017
This is the story of a little cookie that looked humble and unassuming, but was actually a buttery, chocolatey killer in disguise.
I’m serious. This cookie has committed manslaughter. It has slaughtered my man for any other cookie. Every time I make them they disappear at a frightening speed, and now that DH has two cookie-lover-apprentices in the house, things are only getting worse.
There’s nothing to these, which is why they are so good. (I mean bad.) They’re basically a chocolate shortbread, but that makes them sound boring or something from a grandma’s tea table. (I love tea with grandmas, really.) The ingredients list has only eight things, and they’re simple.
But the result isn’t simple. The result is slightly crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle, with slightly bitter dark chocolate that’s buttery at the end. And the salt on the top somehow balances out the background sweet note. It’s amazing how something so easy and basic can provide so much enjoyment. And so many adjectives.
One last note that Little e would want me to mention: because these have no eggs, it’s fine to eat the raw dough. Which is what she calls them. The ones-that-don’t-have-eggs-so-I-can-eat-the-dough cookies. Also known as…
Salted Dark Chocolate Biscuits
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp table salt
35 g cocoa powder
250g softened butter
1 tsp vanilla
Sea salt or kosher salt for finishing
Preheat the oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment, or grease with butter. Whisk or sieve together the flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa in a bowl. Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer) until pale and fluffy, then add the vanilla. Then turn the mixer down to the lowest speed and add the flour mixture. It will take a moment for the flour to be incorporated, but don’t worry, it will all combine into a dark, solid dough. Pinch off bits that you then roll between your palms and place on the cookie sheet; we make them slightly smaller than golf balls. They don’t spread much, so about two inches between them is fine. Once the trays are full, take a fork and press down on the balls, then sprinkle with a little sea or kosher salt.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, rotating the trays around halfway. The cookies don’t darken when they’re ready, but when they are slightly firm and can be gently lifted up to find the bottom not raw anymore, they’re done. They’ll harden up as they cool. Leave on the trays for five minutes, then transfer with a spatula to a rack. These are best at room temperature and on the first day, but will last about three days in an airtight container.
March 8, 2017
In a few days time I will be on a plane heading back to a place that has given me so much. Wonderful friends, my eldest child (“Made in China”, ahem) and a beloved career. Oh, and let’s not forget the unnaturally eager predilection for yum cha.
My last trip to Macau was in October. I took my two biggest girls back with me for the launch of the picture book, Marjory and the Mouse. Announcing the trip was a blast – two enormous fortune cookies with surprise messages inside – but the trip itself surprised me; it exceeded all my expectations. Travelling solo and long-haul with two kids make you think of that emoji face with the gritted teeth? I get it (I made that face many times before and during). But truly this trip was incredible for all of us. The girls got to experience a completely different culture, the sparkling lights of the casinos, the morning smogs, apartment living, fine dining, crazy taxi rides, heat and madness and a beautiful, heartfelt book launch with Marjory Vendramini, the inspiration and protagonist for Marjory and the Mouse. We were fortunate enough to visit Cradle of Hope, the orphanage Marjory founded and to which all the profits from the book go to, the day after the launch and the girls saw how the kids live and are cared for with all the love and support Marjory and her team provides them. Okay, so they still mostly remember the trip to Hong Kong Disneyland but perhaps, one day, the other experiences will be recalled and cherished. It was a joy, for me at least, to watch them experiencing so much for the first time. I didn’t expect to get such a huge buzz out of that.
But this time I am travelling solo. I have been invited by Helder Beja and his hard-working team to The Script Road – Macau Literary Festival. The festival schedule is jam-packed with authors, filmmakers and artists of all kinds; two weeks of dialogue, celebration and inspiration, which I am hugely honoured to be a part of. I am also very excited to be visiting two schools as part of the festival – International School of Macau (Monday, March 13th) and Zheng Guanying Official School (Tuesday, March 14th) as well as a public event with three other festival guests:
Writing from Within or Without – The Local vs the Universal
Sunday March 12, Old Court Building, Macau
I am really going to miss my two tiny travel partners-in-crime (they have placed their present orders) but returning to Macau, to talk about Marjory and the Mouse and the incredible role model Marjory Vendramini is for us all, being part of such a dynamic, ambitious, trilingual literary festival such as The Script Road is an opportunity I could not pass up. Extra bonus – going to the bathroom by myself. Yes!! (Parents are nodding)
If you are based in Macau (or Hong Kong!) I would love to see you at The Script Road. It’s worth scrolling through the festival schedule for events, concerts and performances that tickle your fancy. And if you’re not near Macau I promise to post photos. Here, on instagram and on facebook. Without my accompanying travel duo I will have free hands for taking snaps! Imagine that.
March 1, 2017
Here’s the thing: I generally don’t like recipes that announce they are something–cheesecake, say–and then swiftly reveal that they aren’t. I just don’t like the misrepresentation. Call it what it is! Don’t dash my hopes! Grrr.
Ahem. So here’s the thing. I’ve been making this cheesecake lately. Only it’s not cheesecake. It has no cheese, no eggs, no normal-cheesecake-crust. It’s one of those really healthy, no-sugar, whole food, good fats desserts.
And it’s really good.
You might actually think it has cream cheese, or at least something more than what it does have, to create that texture. It’s gluten-free and raw. It’s rich but not cloying. It’s fudgy.