Theetuin Eemnes

Five women, five babies and enough mint leaves to keep Marrakesh going for a night or three. We may have been just a tad scary to the women (because they were all women, or under-fours) who also made their way to Theetuin Eemnes. And yes, there was some screaming and crying but I think we did quite well.

Case in point: I ordered the red velvet cake, they were out and I did not scream. Or cry. Good, yes? Also, I resisted the carrot cake (very good, I’d say- at least for the waistband on my jeans) and opted for the crusty roll with cheese instead. Which was.. not so good. Plasticky cheese, factory-boiled egg slices and overly sweet pickles on humdrum bread.

The fact that I did not mind all that much is testimony to how truly good it felt to be sitting outside, in the sun in prettypretty surroundings. I am sure the women around me also had something to do with the quick passage of my disappointment- no better company than company that understands that the first weeks with a baby are much like the first work-out of spring. You think it is probably going to be uncomfortable but surely it won’t be that bad. And just think of the rewards! And then you’re whimpering on the couch after, still as un-fit as ever and hurting in the most unlikely places.

Until you stop whimpering, of course, and get out there again and discover that, hey. The sun is out, there’s tea to be had and lovely terraces to have it on. Maybe, just maybe, everything is going to be okay.

Eggs, sweet potato and veg: with broccoli with mustard seeds and ginger

Broccoli, oh broccoli. I want to love you. I really, really do. It’s because of cancer, you see, and the fact that David Servan-Schreiber taught me how great you are at preventing it (before dying of cancer, but about a decade-and-a-half after his doctors thought he would, so there’s that). But man, it is not an easy kind of love between us.

Most times, you show up on my plate mushily overcooked or squeakily undercooked. I cannot seem to find that sweet spot where you are bright green and tender but still have some fight left for when you meet my teeth. Also, you almost invariably seem cold, even just after I lift you from the heat. Is it something I do that makes you act this way?

Probably, eh? And on that hypothesis, I keep trying. If only I figure out how to treat you right, we can be good together. Love means cooking many, many pans of broccoli.

Nigel Slater’s recipe for broccoli with mustard seeds and ginger was not the answer for us. The dark brown sheen that my garam masala gave you did not help, I am sure. Nor did the fact that I do not like garam masala all that much. But the bigger problem was your texture. Amazingly (and annoyingly), stir frying over high heat and then simmering left me with a wok full of flabby florets and tough stems. I dutifully finished my serving but broccoli, oh broccoli, this is not an easy kind of love.

Meat and potatoes: Cauliflower cheese and roast beef

“I’ll eat half. Oof. No. I’ll eat a third. Fine, fine, I’ll eat a quarter. Gah. GAH. Okay, I’ll also eat some grated carrots.”

See here the, increasingly annoyed, voice in my head as I tallied up Weight Watchers points for the cauliflower and cheese I had just slid into the oven. My beautiful plan of eating half the pan turned into a decidedly more restrained serving decision as I asked the calculator how much for the cheese? and the flour? and, oh my god, the butter? The grated carrots were necessary stomach feeling, believe me. (And no points, because vegetables. Love the lovely Weight Watchers.)

This followed on an hour and a half in the kitchen putting together the cauliflower and cheese. It wasn’t hard (except for getting the lumps from my white sauce, but that turned out not to matter, what with all the lumpy cauliflower I stirred in) but it took so. much. more. time than I’d anticipated. Boiling cauliflower and giving it a rest to dry. Steeping milk with aromatics. Grating cheese and then more cheese. Stirring the sauce. All of it slurped up time as greedily as I would have slurped up the resulting cheesy sauce had it not had that many calories.

Sitting behind my plate of roast beef and a small puddle of luridly yellow cauliflower (I’d added curcuma for health and an unreal glow), I was kind of happy I’d gone through all that, though. A few bites were enough to transport me back to last summer, sitting in a Christchurch, UK, pub and digging into a massive, delicious Sunday roast lunch.

And then the puddle was gone and I was back in the NL, crunching my way through a pile of carrot as I fielded question after question after question from my toddler. A whole different kind of lovely, I suppose.

Cauliflower and cheese

From The Vegetarian Option, Simon Hopkinson

  • 1 large cauliflower
  • 500 ml milk
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 small onion, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 75 gr butter
  • 50 gr flour
  • 200 gr grated cheese, plus more for the top
  • salt and pepper [And curcuma, if you like things yellow; this is not in the original recipe but a fun way of sneaking a bit of immune-boosting curcuma into your meal. Be sure to add at least a few good grinds of pepper if you do, so your body can absorb the curcuma.]

Slice the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces. Toss them into a pan of salted, boiling water and cook until almost tender. Start checking at 5 minutes or so. Drain and turn the pieces out onto a towel to dry further. They’ll keep giving off water for several minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 190C.

Put milk, cloves, the bay leaf and onion into a pan and bring to a boil. Boil gently for two minutes, cover the pan, remove from the heat and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Fish out the aromatics and set the milk aside.

Melt the butter, stir in the flour and keep stirring over medium heat for a few minutes. Remove from the heat and add all warm milk at once. Beat until everything is mixed, return to a low heat and keep beating (beat, beat, beat!) until the sauce is thick and smooth. Leave on very low heat for 10 minutes, then add 200 gr of cheese and stir again until it has melted. Add pepper and salt to taste.

Mix the drained cauliflower into the sauce, put in an oven-proof vessel and sprinkle with the extra cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the surface is beautifully blistered and the edges are bubbling.

Serves at least 4

Big salad: Sausage and celeriac

Rather proud of myself this morning when I worked up the courage to try and make a friend at my baby massage class. Then I did some food shopping (always the good consumer, if nothing else) and went home to unpack a few boxes that have remained packed for far, far too long. To end the day, I made a Nigel Slater salad of boiled celeriac with sausage and we inhaled it while watching Homeland on the couch. (Obviously, the toddler was sleeping over at her grandparents’ again.) A good day, but I should probably plan for a few more adventurous ones before I get back to work.

Stuffed pita: with pork and onions, Turkish carrots

Undercooked and overcooked carrots somehow shared a pan. They were bound by non-fat yogurt and its chalkiness reigned supreme.  The marinated lamb had morphed into tough pork with burned onions on top. The pita were cardboardy specimen from the supermarket. Oh, and the toddler was deep into a tantrum about… who knows what.

Unfortunately, dinner was a rather apt reflection of the day that had preceded it. I wanted it to work, but just wasn’t feeling it. By 19.30hrs, I cut dinner short, tucked the toddler in and retreated to bed. Enough is enough.