Wednesday, 25 August 2010

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What I learn from the Singaporean and the Danish heritage

What I learned from the Danish heritage is the courage to experiment and not to be afraid to make mistakes. My ex-Danish boss from Hempel, Christian Vang, once said to me, “E, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Make mistakes and you will learn from them”. They are willing to pay the cost of me making mistakes, as long as I learn. I have the freedom to experiment in a project, I only need to deliver the end results. To this day, I am forever grateful for this lesson that my ex-boss had taught me. This I kept it in my heart.

What I learned from the Singaporean heritage is to minimize mistakes. Singapore is a country which thinks and plans way ahead. In planning ahead, it achieves greater efficiency, greater output and minimizes mistakes. In a way, I am a mini Singapore personified. I think and plan ahead, sometimes way ahead. Sure, some things cannot be planned. There is always an element of uncertainty that makes a perfect plan go haywire. But planning doesn’t have to be to-the-dot. It just means to anticipate and to have as best an overview of what would be coming ahead, so one does not miss the train, when it passes one by.

I believe the combination of these two is winning. This is just my own belief, and these are the two cultural values that I will be embracing and passing it down to J:

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but think and plan ahead, so that you will minimize mistakes”

Sunday, 22 August 2010

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Back to Basics... cut down on Blogging... or Facebooking!


My mind generates new ideas faster than I can record it down. My blog is a mean for me to record them. Thank God for those ideas that he plants in my head... it gives me ideas for projects after projects... but I have to learn to be a good steward and be wise to know how to strike a balance.

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Child raising... a life-long lesson in generosity


Normally, I had to feed J his breakfast, but this morning marked a special milestone. Before I could go and feed him, J took the spoon, fed and finished by himself the breakfast and later dinner. Today marked the milestone of J (17M17D) compleing the journey for self-feeding.

Life is getting easier and easier each day for me with J getting more and more independent by the day... yet i am getting sentimental... each new day of independence brings joy, but also reminds me that it is 1 more day nearer to the day he will leave home... our baby is growing up so FAST!!!

This evening as I washed the dishes, a tear dropped... someone once told me that children is on loan to us by God... how true... my mother-in-law brought up my Significant Other, and generously gave him to me... to this I am forever grateful.

J will grow up in no time and leave home, and I have to learn to be equally generous and give him away to someone else. May I start praying that I could be as generous as my mother-in-law. May God graciously teach and patiently prepare me for the day to come, that I can greet that day with inward-flowing grace and generosity, just like my mother-in-law.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

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Homemade Spinach Noodles/Hjemmelavet Spinat Nudler/菠菜面条[bō cài miàn tiáo]


Ingredients:
- 4 cups wholewheat flour
- 1 cup white wheat flour
- 4 eggs (best not to use eggs straight from the fridge, but let it warm to room temperature)
- 250g fresh spinach
- 2 TBS olive oil
- 1 pinch salt (optional)

Directions:
1. Wash, rinse and drain spinach.

2. Blend spinach with the eggs and stir with olive oil and salt.

3. Pour the flour into a big mixing bowl and the spinach and egg mixture into the middle of the flour.

4. Mix the mixture and the flour with a fork until they are completely blended.

5. Knead well using hand or hand-mixer (3-5 minutes) until it is homogenous and consistent (a good mixture should not stick to your fingers. If the dough is too soft and sticky, add more flour. If the dough is too dry and hard, add a little water).

6. Place the dough onto a lightly floured table top and cut into smaller portions (approx. 5-6 smaller doughs)

7. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin until desired thickness is achieved. As you roll, flour it, so that it won't stick to the surface*.

8. Fold into 3-4 folds (and as you fold, flour it) and then cut into strips using a knife or scissors.

9. Unfold it and best to leave it to dry for an hour (if you can wait, I can’t!)

10. Bring a pan to boil (add a TBS of olive oil and a pinch of salt in the water if you wish) and add a handful of pasta into it and cook for 2-5 minutes, depending on the thickness.

11. Drain and serve :-)

* If using pasta machine, replace step 7-8 with the following steps (for my own quick reference only):

1. Set the machine regulator to position 1, pulling it outwards and turning it so that the two smooth rollers are completely open (approx. 3mm).

2. Pass one portion of the dough through the machine turning the handle. Repeat this operation 5-6 times, folding the dough over and adding some flour to the middle if necessary.

3. When the dough has taken a regular shape, pass it through the rollers once only with the regulators set on number 2, then once again on number 3, continuing until you obtain the desired thickness (min. thickness at no. 9 is approx. 0.2mm).

4. With a knife, cut the dough crossways in pieces approx. 25cm long.

5. Insert the handle in the hole for the cutting rollers, turn it slowly and pass the dough through.

Note: If the roller won’t “cut”, this means the dough is too soft. In this case, you should pass the dough through the smooth rollers, after adding some flour to the mixture. If the dough is too dry and cannot be “caught” by the cutting roller, add a little water to the mixture and pass it through the smooth rollers once again.

Storage:
Pasta can last a long time (1-2 weeks) if kept in a cool dry place or the fridge. You can freeze them in the freezer up to 2 months in ready-to use portions.

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Additional Comments:
I have to use up the packet of spinach I bought, if not it will go bad. So I decided to make spinach pasta. I haven't decided whether we would eat it with tomato meat sauce or salmon with pesto sauce.

I have decided that I will eat this with meat sauce, since we were out today, and it was easier to take the pre-made meat sauce from the freezer and warm it. I made the meat sauce with home-made tomato sauce.

My Significant Other liked the dinner very much, and J ate 1.5 bowl. I am in doubt how I should classify this post, but for the sake of convenience, I will classify it under Asian food, together with the other posts on home-made noodles.

References:
Instructions from the Marcato Atlas pasta machine

Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron


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Healthy Claypot Quinoa without Claypot/煲仔藜谷[Bāo zǎi lí gǔ]


Adapted from Rasa Malaysia

Serves 4

Preparation & Cooking Time: 45 minutes (excluding marinading the meat)

Ingredients:
- 2 cups quinoa
- 2 cups water
- 250g meat (beef, pork or chicken sliced or minced)
- 8 dried Chinese/shitake mushrooms (soak in hot water for 30 minutes and cut into strips)
- 1 carrot chopped
- 1-2 cloves garlic chopped
- 3-4 slices of ginger chopped
- 1 TBS cooking oil
- 1 stalk spring onion chopped
- 1 leek chopped (white portion) (optional)
- A handful of frozen peas (optional)

Seasoning for meat:
- 2 TBS oyster sauce
- 1 TBS soy sauce
- 1 tsp ground oatmeal
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- ¼ tsp brown sugar
- Dash of pepper
- 1 tsp Chinese Shaoxing rice wine (note: contains approx. 17% alcohol) (optional)

Seasoning for quinoa:
- 1 TBS soy sauce
- ½ tsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tsp Chinese sesame oil

Directions:
1. Marinade the meat with the meat seasoning, mix well and set aside in the fridge for 1 hour.

2. Rinse quinoa in rice-cooker, add 2 cups water and the quinoa seasoning and switch on the rice-cooker.

3. Then heat pan with cooking oil and fry garlic and ginger until golden.

4. Add in shitake mushrooms and leek and fry until fragrant.

5. Add carrots and fry until almost cooked, then add in the meat and quickly stir-fry until almost cooked.

6. After the quinoa has been cooking in the rice-cooker for 15 minutes, transfer the meat and mushrooms from the pan into the rice-cooker by placing them on top of the quinoa, throw in the frozen peas and continue to cook until the rice-cooker button jump to “cooked”.

7. Sprinkle with spring onions and serve.

Nutritional Value:
Quinoa is a highly nutritious food. Quinoa has been rated by the WHO as possessing protein of a quality similar to milk. It has been classified as a supercrop by the United Nations on account of its nutritional value and high protein content. Not only is quinoa high in protein, but the protein it supplies is complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids. The protein quality and quantity in quinoa seed is often superior to those of more common cereal grains. Quinoa is especially well-endowed with the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. Quinoa is higher in lysine than wheat. Quinoa grain has a lower sodium content and is higher in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc than wheat, barley, or corn. Because quinoa is a very good source of manganese as well as a good source of magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus, this "grain" may be especially valuable for persons with migraine headaches, diabetes and atherosclerosis.

Quinoa is a very good source of manganese and a good source of copper, two minerals that serve as cofactors for the superoxide dismutase enzyme. Superoxide dismutase is an antioxidant that helps to protect the mitochondria from oxidative damage created during energy production as well as guard other cells, such as red blood cells, from injury caused by free radicals.

Quinoa also contains vitamins B6, Niacin and Thiamin. Quinoa is lower in carbohydrates than most other grains, but an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and cooks in about half the time of regular rice. Quinoa is low in fat.

Quinoa is gluten-free, suitable for people allergic to gluten.
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Additional Information:
I ran out of idea what to make for dinner tonight. So I asked my Significant Other, whether he would mind if I make the same dish as yesterday. He did not mind. But I decided this time round to make this “claypot” dish with quinoa, instead of brown rice. Quinoa is a super grain, very nutritious and comes with complete chain of proteins. Hmm… where should I classify this dish… quinoa is eaten in South America, but the method of cooking is Chinese. For the sake of convenience, I will classify it under Asian cooking. Cooking quinoa is quicker than cooking brown rice.

References:

http://rasamalaysia.com/claypot-chicken-rice-without-claypot/
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Millet Crackers/Hirsekiks/小米饼干[xiǎo mǐ bǐng gān]



Adapted from Super Baby Food

Makes about 1 tray

Ingredients:
- 2 ½ TBS oil (I like to use walnut oil or macadamia nut oil)
- 1 ½ tsp honey or maple syrup
- 5 TBS skimmed milk
- ½ cup raw millet, ground to a powder in blender
- 1 tsp brewer’s yeast (optional)
- 1 TBS wheat germ (optional)
- pinch of salt (optional)
- ½ cup grahams flour
- ¼ cup grahams spelt flour

Directions:
1. Mix all ingredients in the order of the ingredient list.

2. Add more flour, a tablespoon at a time until good dough consistency.

3. Knead for a few minutes.

4. Divide the dough into 3 or 4 portions and roll out 1 portion at a time to about 2-3mm thick using a rolling-pin.

4. Use a pizza-cutter or sharp knife to cut almost all the way through the dough (the baked biscuits will break easily at these score lines).

5. Prick several holes in each biscuit using a fork (these air holes is to help the biscuit to stay flat during baking)

6. Bake for 15 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 175° C until they are golden brown.

Storage:
Fresh biscuits stored in airtight container for 3-4 weeks at room temperature, 3 months in the fridge or up to 6 months in the freezer.

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Additional Information:
The oatmeal crackers I made for J was such a big hit. He requested for it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack. The first thing in the morning today, he did the hand sign for “more”, but I didn’t quite understand that it was biscuits he wanted. I brought him to the kitchen counter and the air-tight container with biscuits was also there. He pointed straight at it. His face lighted up each time I gave him the biscuits.

I brought some over for snack, when we visited our neighbour and her toddler, Amy. Amy is used to having commercial biscuits and cakes, so I didn’t think that she would like my healthy version of crackers. But she asked for more and more. So, it has been a great hit also with one other toddler. Needless to say, Daddy likes it too.

So this evening after dinner, I decided to roll up my sleeve and make more biscuits. Where do I get the energy from to make all these? Since J, Daddy and Amy enjoy it, it is worth all my efforts to spend time doing it, no matter how tired I am.

This evening, I made a new type of crackers - millet crackers. It would be interesting to see whether J would like it as much as the oatmeal cracker. This time round, I use less honey. I would like to see if I make it less sweet, whether it will reduce J's request for crackers.


References:
Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron

Friday, 20 August 2010

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Healthy Claypot Rice without Claypot/Kinesisk Claypot Ris/煲仔饭[Bāo zǎi fàn]


Adapted from Rasa Malaysia

Serves 4

Preparation & Cooking Time: 45 minutes excluding marinading time

Ingredients:
- 2 cups brown rice
- 250g meat (beef, pork or chicken sliced or minced)
- 8 dried Chinese/shitake mushrooms (soak in hot water for 30 minutes and cut into strips)
- 1 carrot chopped
- 1-2 cloves garlic chopped
- 3-4 slices of ginger chopped
- 1 TBS cooking oil
- 1 stalk spring onion chopped
- 1 leek chopped (white portion) (optional)
- A handful of frozen peas (optional)

Seasoning for meat:
- 2 TBS oyster sauce
- 1 TBS soy sauce
- 1 tsp ground oatmeal
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- ¼ tsp brown sugar
- Dash of pepper
- 1 tsp Chinese Shaoxing rice wine (note: contains approx. 17% alcohol) (optional)

Seasoning for rice:
- 2 TBS soy sauce
- 2 tsp Chinese sesame oil
- ½ tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 pinch of salt

Directions:
1. Marinade the meat with the meat seasoning, mix well and set aside in the fridge for 1 hour.

2. Wash and rinse the rice in a rice cooker with 2.5 inches of water above the rice (you need more water to cook brown rice) after the meat is marinated for an hour.

3. Add the rice seasoning into the rice and start cooking the rice.

4. At the same time, heat pan with cooking oil and fry garlic and ginger until golden.

5. Add in shitake mushrooms and leek and fry until fragrant

6. Add carrots and fry until half-cooked, then add in the meat and quickly stir-fry until half-cooked.

7. By now, the rice would have been cooking for approx. 15-20 mins. Open open the lid, add the meat and mushrooms on top of the rice, close the lid and continue cooking.

8. Ten mins before the rice is done, sprinkle in some frozen peas and continue to cook until the rice is done.

9. Sprinkle with spring onions and serve.

Nutritional Value:
Brown rice is rich in complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins B1, B3 and B6, manganese (essential for healthy bones, manganese also reduces the symptoms of asthma and is a powerful, energy-providing antioxidant), iron, phosphorus, selenium, Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), fibre

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Additional Information:

This is the modern Chinese "claypot" rice made using the automatic rice-cooker, not the traditional claypot. There are many different types of Chinese claypot rice, just like there are many different types of western soup. There are chicken claypot rice, pork claypot rice, claypot rice with Chinese sausages, salted fish and fried egg, etc. It is up to your creativity what ingredients you want to put in. Traditionally, Chinese claypot rice does usually come with Chinese sausages. But sausages, whether it is Chinese, European, German or Danish, are the worst and most processed kind of meat you can ever find (Sorry, I may be offending the Germans here, since sausages is so much of a German tradition that it is their traditional Christmas dish).

I like Chinese sausages, but it is very unhealthy. I can do without it, and don’t have so much craving for it. If I do have craving for it, it is a blessing then that I live in Denmark, and Chinese sausages are unavailable. We hardly eat it when we were young, only in restaurants or when we were out. My mother did not use Chinese sausages in her cooking so much. In fact, I don’t think she ever did, unless we specifically requested for it. Come to think of it, I have a lot to thank my mum. Now that I have become a mother myself and started recalling the food that was served at our dining table when I was a child, my mother had actually done a very good job at serving us healthy Chinese food.

When I was a child, we were rather poor, but like all Chinese, my mother always managed to have 3 dishes on the table - a meat dish, a vegetable dish and a soup dish – to go with the rice. As a working mom, this is something I have not been able to achieve to reach my mother’s standard in the traditionally Chinese balance diet sense. I tend to follow the Danish one-dish tradition. Thus, the Chinese claypot rice is a good dish to make, since it is a complete meal consisting of rice, meat and vegetable all-in-one. But of course, we are still missing the soup… ha ha… To think that I used to complain and even threw a tantrum, when I got tired of my mother’s cooking. I am getting back the taste of my own medicine with J!!!

J is only 1.5 years old, and I am already feeling tired about always thinking what to cook for dinner night after night after night after night! To think that this will be my job for the next 2 decades!!! Can someone please tell Daddy to offer to take us out for dinner so that I don’t have to think of what to cook, after I come home from work evening after evening after evening? Now I begin to understand that my mother didn’t have an easy job back then. If I have known earlier and could turn back the clock, I would not throw my temper at my mother anymore for complaining about the food she served on the table.

My mother also has a way of resisting her appetite so that she would be eating with us at the table, and yet not eating much at all, perhaps because she wanted to save money, knowing that she had to manage a tight economy. But she would never tell us that that was the main reason. So every time we asked her to eat, she would say she was not hungry. But I noticed that she would always be able to finish the left-overs, no matter what she said earlier about not being hungry!! I am also following my mother’s foot-steps by eating all the leftovers that Daddy doesn’t want to eat. No guessing today I will be eating the left-over brown rice from yesterday (it will be a waste to throw it away), while serving the family freshly made claypot rice to J and Daddy. I guess the saying is true that you will be more like your mother, than you think you would be.

I like to make it nutritious and kid’s friendly – thus I like to include the carrots and green peas or any other vegetables I can find. Traditionally, the Chinese will use Caixin as the green vegetables in this dish, but it is so expensive in Denmark and I can only get it in Chinatown. To save time, I usually soak the mushrooms and marinade the meat overnight in the fridge.

References:
http://rasamalaysia.com/claypot-chicken-rice-without-claypot/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claypot_chicken_rice

http://www.goodfood.sg/claypot_rice

http://jewelpie.com/very-easy-claypot-chicken-rice-in-rice-cooker-6-ingredients/

http://www.funnymalaysia.net/10-delicious-and-easy-rice-cooker-recipes-that-you-should-try/








Thursday, 19 August 2010

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Menu Planning Using Baby Food Cubes


Fresh out from the freezer...

Top roll left to right: Yellow and orange vegetables - parsnip, cauliflower, parsnip & carrot & cauliflower mix, pumpkin, carrot & spring onion mix, carrot.

Second roll left to right: Grains and root vegetables - brown rice, oatmeal, potato, corn, sweet potato.

Third roll left to right: Green vegetables - broccoli, haricots verts, green peas.

Fourth roll left to right: Beans - mung bean, red bean, black bean

Bottom roll: Meat protein - Chicken

I try to mix a favourite food with another non-favourite food so as to ensure that J will have a balance diet. For example, he loves potatoes, but can accept or tolerate broccoli. Thus, I like to do a combi of broccoli + potato to ensure that he will enjoy his meal. Below are additional combinations following this principle for J:

Combinations for main course:
- Haricots verts/Broccoli + Potato or
- Parsnip/Carrot/Green peas + Brown rice/Oatmeal or
- Sweet potato/oats + Oatmeal or
- Black beans + brown rice
- Black beans + carrot

Dessert:
- Avocado + 1/4 banana
- 1/2 Banana
- Corn + oatmeal
- Mung bean + 1/4 banana
- Red bean + 1/4 banana
- Red bean + corn
- Sweet potato

When planning menu, I try to ensure that he gets a varied meal. For example, beans does not provide complete proteins. Thus, if I serve beans to dessert, I will serve a type of grain such as brown rice as part of the main course. If I serve an orange vegetable in the starter, I will try to serve a green vegetable in the main course. In a meal, I try to ensure that there is a yellow veg., green veg. root veg. and grain. Making and freezing food in cubes allows me to easily combine to make a varied meal for J. The following menus are examples following this principle:

Lunch/Dinner (4 – 6 cubes)

Menu 1:
- Broccoli + potato (starter)
- Carrot+ brown rice (main course)
- Mung beans + 1/4 banana (dessert)

Menu 2:
- Green peas + potato (starter)
- Haricots verts + brown rice (main course)
- Red beans + 1/4 banana (dessert)

Menu 3:
- Haricots verts + potato (main course)
- Parsnip + brown rice (starter)
- Corn + Oatmeal (dessert)

Breakfast menu (2-4 cubes):
- Corn + oatmeal or
- Banana + oatmeal or
- Carrot + oatmeal or
- Green peas + oatmeal or
- Sweet potato + brown rice or
- Parsnip + brown rice
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How much food and in what proportion should baby eat?


According to my mother's group Ilona’s research, on average each meal baby eats should be around 130 – 150g. This also seems to be about the amount that J is eating. In fact, J sometimes and increasingly eats more than that!

Furthermore, the Danish authorities recommend a "Y" shaped "plate" for every portion, divided into 2/5 consisting of vegetables and fruit; 2/5 consisting of carbohydrates such as rice, bread, potato or pasta; and 1/5 consisting of protein such as meat, fish, egg or cheese.

Here is how I turn the above theoretical advice into practice when feeding J:

For each main meal, I serve J 5 cubes (i.e. ice cube size) of food for each main meal, consisting of:
- 2 cubes of vegetables,
- 2 cubes of carbohydrates and
- 1 cube of protein.

My favourite combination is:
- 1 cube of carrot (orange vegetable) and 1 cube of broccoli (green vegetable);
- 1 cube of potato (root vegetable that provides carbohydrates)
- 1 cube of brown rice or oatmeal (providing another carbohydrates source); and
- 1 cube of chicken OR fish OR red/mung/black beans OR an egg yolk (making up the protein portion).

For the protein portion, this is how I rotate it in a week:
- Day 1 - bean,
- Day 2 - chicken,
- Day 3 - bean,
- Day 4 - cod fish,
- Day 5 - bean,
- Day 6 - egg yolk and
- Day 7 - salmon.

In this way, I achieve the US FDA’s recommendation of eating beans 3 times a week and fish 2 times a week on a regular basis and I will also manage to give J egg yolk once a week. In addtion, i give a little yogurt to J everyday. Thus, in this way, a balance diet for J is achieved without forgetting a single source.

J is an exceptionally good eater, so usually he eats more than 5 cubes of food. So what I do is that I will then go on to serve 2 more cubes of vegetable such as broccoli or move on to serve him a dessert. My favourite dessert for him (and also his favourite) is 1 avocado and 1 banana mixed together.

If your baby doesn't eat as much, reduce the cube size so that you can still keep to the recommended number of cubes per serving.

I serve J 3 main meals a day: breakfast between 7 - 8am, lunch at 11 or 11.30am and dinner at 5 or 5.30pm.

I like to breast-feed J first before serving solids at each main meal, because breast milk is still the best for babies at this age.

However, as J gets older, i.e. 9 months old, milk gradually takes a secondary role. Thus, by that age, I like to serve solids first, and thereafter give him milk.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

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Oatmeal Biscuits or Crackers/Havregrød Kiks eller Krakker/麦片饼干[mài piàn bǐng gān]






 

Makes about 500ml container

Ingredients:

- ¾ cup ground oatmeal
- ¾ cup wheat germ
- ½ cup flour
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ cup oil (I like to use walnut oil or macadamia nut oil)
- 1 TBS honey or maple syrup (or amount to taste)
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp brewer’s yeast (optional)

Directions:
1. Mix all ingredients together.

2. Add more milk, a teaspoon at a time, until the dough forms a cohesive ball.

3. Divide the dough into 3 or 4 portions and roll out 1 portion at a time to about 2-3mm thick using a rolling-pin.

4. Use a pizza-cutter or sharp knife to cut almost all the way through the dough (the baked biscuits wil break easily at these score lines).

5. Prick several holes in each biscuit using a fork (these air holes is to help the biscuit to stay flat during baking)

6. Bake for 10-15 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 165° C until they are golden brown.

Storage:
Fresh biscuits stored in airtight container for 3-4 weeks at room temperature, 3 months in the fridge or up to 6 months in the freezer.

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Additional Information:

No guessing why I started making crackers/biscuits… I was out with a friend, and it was dinner time. She took out some biscuits for her toddler to keep the hunger down and J wanted some too. Biscuits are a convenient snack to carry around, but commercial biscuits tend to be full of sugar and plain flour, thus, I prefer to make my own. I like to add enhancers such as wheat germ and brewer’s yeast as they increase the nutritional value of biscuits/cracker.

While thinking of a name to give, I got confused between a cookie, a biscuit and a cracker. Apparently, cookie is sweet while biscuit is not as sweet. Cookie is like a flat cake, while biscuit is like a flat bread. A biscuit is considered a bread, while a cookie is considered a dessert or treat. The difference between biscuit and cracker is the thickness. Cracker (usually 1-2mm thick) is thinner than biscuit (usually 3-5mm).

I don’t make my biscuits/crackers very sweet, because it is for J. But if you make it for adults, you may want to double the honey and salt.

References:
The Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

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Tang Dynasty Poem: 江雪 [jiāng xuě]




江雪

千 山 鸟 飞 绝
qiān shān niǎo fēi jué

万 径 人 踪 灭
wàn jìng rén zōng miè

孤 舟 蓑 笠 翁
gū zhōu suō lì wēng

独 钓 寒 江 雪
dú diào hán jiāng xuě

Sunday, 15 August 2010

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My Very First Prayers in Chinese/English



This is another book that I bought. it is also very expensive, around 60 SGD. It has a lot of good bedtime prayers and good Christian values. I bought it at Bras Basah Complex in Singapore. It is also published by www.mount-kidz.com

I sometimes can't find the words to pray with J, and I find the words inside very meaningful.

Here is a couple of examples:

Dear God,

When my mum is happy, let us laugh and play together.
When my mum is busy, let us do the work together.
When my mum is worried, let us sort things out together.
When my mum is weary, let us sit and rest together.

Dear God,

When a perfect day is spoiled, help us find a way to mend it.

When the weather is cold, may our home be warm.
When the weather is wet, may our home be dry.
When the sun shines hot, may our home give shade.
When the world is dark, may our home be bright.
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My Very First Bible in Chinese/English


I bought this Chinese/English bible for J from Tecman Christian Bookshop at Bras Basah Complex in Singapore. It was quite expensive, approx. 60 SGD I remembered, but it was a very good investment.

I have been reading to J in Chinese and Daddy in English, since J was a newborn.

The advantages are:

1. It comes with Chinese and English text side-by-side and is very colourful and reader-friendly. It is very hard to find such books in the market, thus, this is a rare find.

2. I like the content very much.

There are two disadvantages though:

1. It does not come in Chinese Hanyu pinyin. But my mum came to visit me, when J was born, and with her help, I have put Hanyu pinyin in some of the words.

2. The pages do not come in hard cardboard, thus not so baby-friendly. However, I usually read to J during bedtime, thus, he does not get to touch the pages.

J loves it when I read to him, and it is one of those books that he doesn't get tired of, which is good, considering the price I paid for it! Now that he is a toddler, he loves to point at the illustration in the book. Also, now that he is a toddler, he does not tear book, but gently flip the pages, which is nice.

It is published by www.mount-kidz.com
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Tang Dynasty Poem: 别董大 [bié dǒng dà]



别董大

千 里 黄 云 白 日 曛 ,
qiān lǐ huáng yún bái rì xūn

北 风 吹 雁 雪 纷 纷 。
běi fēng chuī yàn xuě fēn fēn

莫 愁 前 路 无 知 己 ,
mò chóu qián lù wú zhī jǐ

天 下 谁 人 不 识 君 。
tiān xià shuí rén bù shí jūn 

Literal Translation:
A thousand miles of grey clouds dimmed the sun,
North wind blowing on the geese and the snowflakes flying.
Worry not the road ahead without a close friend,
For who under heaven would not recognize a fine character.

Author:
This poem was written by a Tang dynasty poet called Gao Shi (702-765), who came from Wuzhou Yiwu, located in today’s Hebei Jing County in China. The poet is known to be a character untrammeled by formality and convention, a person who was uninhibited and was not bother about trifles. The poet roamed the earth half his life, and was very familiar with life at the borders.

Modern Translation:
The title of the poem means “Goodbye, Dong Da”. "Dong Da" is the name of a person, in this case, the friend of the poet. “White day” in ancient Chinese is a description of the sun. “Yellow clouds” in ancient Chinese is a description of grey clouds. The word “曛" means dim. The word "君" here means a gentleman, someone of good character, integrity and talent. The first two lines described the harsh and dismal weather conditions. It was a hasty turn between autumn and winter. Layers of grey clouds covered the whole boundless sky. Even the sun seemed dim and dismal, losing its radiance. It was snowing hard and the snowflakes were flying all about. Only the formation of the wild geese flying southwards under the cold blowing north wind was seen. It would have been natural to feel sentimental and sad to part under such bad weather condition, yet the tone of this poem is surprisngly bright and cheerful in the last two lines.

In the last two lines, the poet urged his friend, called Dong Da, not to worry about not being able to find another close friend in the future, for who would not have appreciated the good character of a person such as him. These two lines not only expressed the deep friendship that existed between the two, but it is a high praise by the poet for his close friend’s exemplary character and talent. It is also a sincere wish for the best for his friend’s future. It is a rare ability of the poet to be able to write a parting poem of such upbeatness.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

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Lyngby Factory Production - Finger Food - Green Peas





Preparation & Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

- Frozen green peas

Directions:1. Steam for 5-7 minutes.

2. Pack directly into small containers

Storage:Can freeze for 8 weeks.

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Additional Information:


The teachers in J's daycare were complaining that J is not receiving enough finger food, apart from his usual rye bread.

So, I rolled up my sleeve and get into factory production line to make 2 weeks' worth of finger food for J.

The containers is a brand called Rice from China. It comes in a very colourfyl, handy and storage friendly size. I bought it in a store here in Lyngby. These containers were recommended by Lan from my mother's group.

This is a fast way of making finger food. How do I like to work in the factory for a day? It is tiring, although it is very efficient. It makes me respect those who work in a factory more.
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Italian Braised Beef Shanks/Osso Bucco/炖小牛腿肉[dùn xiǎo niú tuǐ ròu]






Serves 4

Preparation Cooking Time: 3 hours

Ingredients:

- 4 beef shanks
- Some flour to coat the beef shanks (about 4 TBS)
- 1 litre water
- 1-2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 leek chopped white portion
- 1 onion chopped
- 3 carrots chopped
- 4 stalks celery chopped
- 2 tomatoes chopped
- 2 TBS cooking oil
- 1 cup (240ml) white wine (optional)
- 1-2 strig of rosemary (optional)
- A few strigs fresh or dried thyme (optional)
- 1 cup of frozen green peas (optional)
- Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the beef shanks and coat them lightly with flour.

2. Braise the beef shanks by heating the pot with 1 TBS cooking oil and lightly fry the beef shanks for 1 minute on each side until brown.

3. Add half of the white wine and cook for 1 minute (optional).

4. Add water and simmer under low heat for 3 hours (no. 2 on my stove).

5. While the shanks are cooking, wash, rinse and chop vegetables.

6. Heat oil on a separate pan with 1 TBS of cooking oil and fry garlic, leek, onions, dried thyme until brown, then add celeries, carrots and fry for 3 minutes and add salt.

7. Add the rest of the white wine and cook for 3 minutes to let it evaporate (optional).

8. Pour it into the pot with beef shanks and add tomatoes and rosemary.

9. After 3 hours, serve with rice, potatoes or couscous and a teaspoon for eating the marrow.

Pressure Cooking Method:
After step 4 above, add all ingredients into pressure cooker, cover lid and once pressure cooker reaches pressure according to your cooker, let it cook for 30-35 minutes (for me: no. 2 setting on pressure cooker and no. 2 on stove) .


Tips:
1. In order to include a super green vegetable, I sometimes throw in a cup of green peas just 5 minutes before serving and let it simmer for last 5 minutes.

2. If the vegetables in the stew are too overwhelming to finish, scope some of them out together with a little of the oil that is floating on top and blend in the blender to make a sauce to accompany the osso buco. I blended in also some fresh parsley and salt, and viola, a ready and healthy sauce is made immediately.

Nutritional Value:
Beef shank is a good source of phorsphorus, zinc, selenium, iron and vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B12, but it is high in cholesterol and calories.

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Additional Information:

I saw beef shanks in the Danish supermarket, and asked my Significant Other what it is. I have never tried it before, but my Significant Other’s mother made it sometimes, when he was a child. The meat is rather tough, but if you braise it, it gets so tender and juicy. The marrow is very nutritious and it is the best part of the beef shanks, but it is high in cholestrol. This dish is very time-consuming and I only make it during weekends. Osso buco means braised beef shanks in Italian. Besides fish, this is the only meat that J is willing to eat right now, as it is very tender after simmering for 3 long hours.

This dish cost around 125 DKK or 30 SGD for ingredients alone in the Danish supermarkets. The beef shanks alone cost 75 to 80 DKK or 18 SGD, but I can save money if I don’t add in the fresh herbs. Although without the fresh herbs, it will not be an authentic Italian dish, it is still very tasty, because of the flavour from the beef shanks. This dish is very similar to making Chinese soup. I am discovering that there are actually many things in common between Italian and Chinese cooking, apart from the different herbs used.

Most recipes call for using chicken stock, but in my opinion, the beef shanks give a lot of flavour already, and it is not necessary to use chicken stock. I tested making this dish without using the white wine, and it still tasted as good.

I like to make stew such as the Chinese beef stew or the italian Osso Bucco especially on weekend when we usually have a packed programme and I can't reach home in time to make dinner. With stew, I can start making dinner way ahead of time already in the morning when J is still sleeping. Then we can go out, and by dinner time when we reached home, we can just warm the food and eat dinner. I don't have to spend time making dinner.

一种炖小牛腿肉的意大利盘子;(用蔬菜、白酒及原汁汤料泡制的)燉小牛肉

References:
http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-make-osso-buco
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Couscous/蒸粗麦粉[zhēng cū mài fěn]



Serves 2

Preparation & Cooking Time: 10 minutes


Ingredients:
- 1 cup of couscous
- 1 cup of water

Directions:
1. Bring to boil the water.

2. Add in couscous, stir to mix well, take it off the stove, cover and set aside for 5 minutes.

3. Serve.

Nutritional Value:
Although frequently compared to as a substitute for rice, couscous is actually a pasta and not a whole grain, it’s not as rich in vitamins and minerals as some whole grains such as quinoa. It’s a decent source of thiamine and niacin – and an excellent source of the antioxidant mineral selenium. On the plus side, it is fat-free and a decent source of protein – with a full cup of cooked couscous containing six grams of protein. It has only two grams of fiber, which is lower than the fiber content of whole grains such as quinoa and barley which have a similar texture when cooked. A full cup of cooked couscous has 176 calories.

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Additional Information:
Couscous looks like small rice, but actually belongs to the pasta family. Couscous is a type of semolina originating from North Africa, consisting of granules of crushed durum wheat. It is a super easy dish to prepare and very tasty. This is super-convenient for working moms. On days when I forget to make rice, or run out of time, I will make couscous.

Couscous is eaten in France and Denmark, although not in Daddy's family. But I will make it once in a while in our home, as it saves time and I would like J to grow up with multi-cultural experiences and respect for other cultures.

I choose only the full-corn version of couscous as it is healthier.

References:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Couscous

http://healthmad.com/nutrition/is-couscous-really-healthy

Friday, 13 August 2010

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Should I use alcohol in my cooking?/Skal jeg bruge alkohol i min madlavning?/烹饪时,我是否应该用酒浸?


Many Chinese and European cooking call for alcohol to enhance the flavour of the dish. Now that we have a child of our own, I find myself re-visiting this topic. I am just wondering whether what my parents told me is a truth or is it just a myth.

When I was young, my parents told me that alcohol and caffeine will damage children’s developing brain, and I should not drink it. This is the general opinion of Chinese about alcohol, coffee and children, which runs contrary to Chinese cooking. But my mother hardly used alcohol in her cooking. My brother, sister and I always heeded the advice and never drink a drop of alcohol until we became adults. My Danish friends could not believe that I never drink any alcohol or tried any drugs, and in their minds, I have never “come of age”. The Danes believe that if you make something forbidden, it becomes even more desirable, and it will back-fire to make your child even more rebellious. So everything is freely available in Denmark. You can get harsh in Christiania for example.

I turned to my own case to test this hypothesis – my parents forbade me to drink alcohol, but it didn’t make it more tempting for me to try it. In fact, it was a not an issue at all. My parents did not allow me to drink alcohol, and I did not do so. Simple as that, full stop. I didn’t think so much about it. There wasn’t any peer pressure in the school in Singapore, unlike in Denmark, which I believe will be a lot of peer pressure in school. So, in my case, this hypothesis doesn't stand and is overturned.

Fortunately, I happened to marry a total non-drinker. In my Significant Other’s case, he has proven the Danish hypothesis. It was freely available, he tried it, he didn’t like it, he doesn’t drink it anymore. my Significant Other doesn’t drink AT ALL, and on a very very very rare occasion a glass of beer. His grandfather used to give him exquisite bottles of wine. Not wanting to break his grandfather’s heart, but yet not liking wine, my Significant Other would give the wine to his friends and asked them how they like it. When his grandfather asked whether he enjoyed it, he would tell him how good it was etc. without telling him that it was the verdict of his friends who drank it, not his own.

So for both of us, the alcohol policy in our home is an easy decision, although I like very much to use it in my cooking, as I think it enhances the flavour of the dish. But should I use alcohol in my cooking? Does alcohol affects the brain development of children? Does alcohol evaporate during cooking?

Does alcohol affects the brain development of children?

A limited amount of Science suggests that the developing brain is prone to the deleterious effects of alcohol. This is sufficient enough to make me decide not to use alcohol in my cooking.

Does alcohol evaporate during cooking?

Alcohol’s boiling point is at around 79°C. At boiling point, alcohol evaporates.

I have measured the temperature of my stove at no. 2 for simmering, and the temperature reaches above 93°C to above 100°C. So, I can safely simmer on my stove knowing that it reaches a high enough temperature for alcohol to evaporates.

But how much alcohol evaporates and how long it takes to evaporate?

According to page 12 of the USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors Release 6 December 2007, here is a summary of the alcohol retained:

1. Alcohol added to boiling liquid & removed from heat – 85% retained

2. Alcohol flamed - 75% retained

3. Baked or simmered for 15 minutes - 40% retained

4. Baked or simmered for 30 minutes - 35% retained

5. Baked or simmered for 1 hour - 25% retained

6. Baked or simmered for 1.5 hours - 20% retained

7. Baked or simmered for 2 hours - 10% retained

8. Baked or simmered for 2.5 hours - 5% retained

Should I use alcohol in my cooking?

Based on the above, I have decided that from now on, I will not use alcohol in my cooking. I would only use alcohol to enhance the flavour of food when serving guests, but it will not be on our daily dining table. It is not that I am paranoid about raising the IQ of J, although, yes, I admit that I am a super-kiasu mom, and will do the very best for my child. But which mother does not want to give the very best she could give to her child!!! It is just that I don’t want to have any slight guilt conscious over being contributory towards any suboptimum brain development in whatever remote way because of the alcohol used in my cooking.

Oh... parenting is sooooo challenging!!! Prayerfully, I hope that this Danish hypothesis will both be overturned and proven by J… after all he may inherit half of the Singaporean “obey the law” gene from me and half of his dad “non-alcohol liking after freely trying it”gene :-)

References:

http://www.brad21.org/pdf/Nwsltr_6%2007_JGCM.pdf

http://www.mentorfoundation.org/uploads/Adolescent_Brain_Booklet.pdf

http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data/retn6/retn06.pdf

http://www.ochef.com/165.htm

http://whatscookingamerica.net/Q-A/AlcoholEvap.htm

http://www.secondhelpingonline.com/?p=625

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

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Implementing "Time-out"... I mean for mom, not child


Over breakfast in the office this morning, I learned a tip from a colleague, which I thought was brilliant. I will share it here.

"Time-out" is a concept usually mete out out on children when they misbehave, to get some self-control. The child is asked to sit in a corner or in his/her room for a time and it is over when the parents say so. It is recommended for 1 minute for each year of age.

However, we moms are not perfect too. Sometimes, we, being human, do things that are not the best models to our kids. For example, getting angry, occasionally losing our cool and yell when we know we are not supposed to, etc. When we do something which we are not supposed to do, it is good to "mete out" time-out to ourselves.

How do we do that?

According to my colleague, you do so by:

1. Telling your child that you have done something you should not have done, and that you have regretted your actions, so you need a time-out for X amount of time.

2. Then you go to the room and have some time for reflection (my colleague's sister actually use this time to indulge in her hobby - reading)

3. You come out of your time-out, with all guilt removed, and ready to try again... in your role as mom :-)

Why should we implement time-out on ourselves?

1. You show your child that you are not a double-standard person, but a just and fair mom. When you do something wrong, you get the punishment too.

2. You release the tension from whatever situation that made you lose your cool.

3. You get time alone from your child, to re-charge your energy and try again.

4. You become a role model to your child by meting time-out the same type of punishment on yourself.

5. You take yourself out of the situation before it gets out-of-hand, i.e. more yelling.

6. You actually get some time to relax from the frentic and hectic every-day life with children at home. It is good for the mental and emotional well-being of mothers to have time-out to themselves.

7. You remove the child's fear for time-out if he/she sees that you get the same "punishment" too.

I have to say thank you to my colleague for this idea.

Hmmm... going by the 1 minute for each age recommendation... I would have more than 30 minutes to myself, hurray :-D... that would be great!!! Well, however in reality, it should only be for about 10 minutes. But even 10 minutes of break from your child can do wonders, isn't it?

When Joshua is older, and able to understand, I am certainly going to implement "Time-out" on myself with him :-)
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Steamed Chicken/Dampede Kylling/蒸鸡 [zhēng jī]


Recipe from Haiyan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sLi21HEYvI

Ingredients:
- 1 chicken
- 4 stalks spring onions
- 5-6 slices of ginger
- 1-2 cloves of garlic chopped
- 2 TBS cooking oil
- Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Stuff the chicken with 3 stalks of spring onions and 4 slices of ginger.

2. In a big pot with one inch of water, when the water boils, put the chicken in, turn down the fire (no. 4-7 on my stove) and steam the chicken (skinned or unskinned) in a big bowl for 40 minutes to 1 hour under low fire.

3. Remove the chicken (but save the chicken juice in the bowl) and place it into a serving dish.

4. Fry oil with garlic and ginger, then add in chicken juice from streaming chicken, salt and pepper. Lastly add schopped spring onions.

5. Pour the mixture over chicken and add some fresh spring onions.

6. Serve with rice.

Video Demonstration:


References:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sLi21HEYvI


This is how you steam a chicken:

Fill the big outer pot with 1-inch of water. Place the chicken in another bowl big enough to contain the chicken. When the big pot of water boils, place the bowl of chicken on top, cover, turn down the fire and steam for 40 mins to 1 hr. (If you wish, you can place a metal rack on the bigger pot of water to hold the bowl of chicken and steam the chicken.)




Monday, 9 August 2010

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How to make learning fun for a young child? How to prevent pushing a child too hard? How do you know how much to stimulate a child?

• According to "How to Raise a Brighter Child" by Joan Beck (Ch. 2), the most important thing an infant needs is at least 1 person who is crazy about him – willing to interact with him, respond to him, talk to him, return his smile, and share his delight at each new discovery and cheer each new milestone. Each time a baby gets such feedback, his neural circuits register happiness and pleasure, reinforcing his desire to learn and interact again.

• Children seem to have considerable built-in protection that should prevent mental overloading: they fuss, they look away, they go to sleep, they run off, or they simply say “No more book” or refuse to cooperate. You need to go along with them. If he is interested, if he enjoys learning, if he is responsive and if he seems generally happy, you are doing him good. But if he resists your efforts, squims away or won’t pay attention for even a few seconds, you should stop and reconsider whether the learning opportunities are age appropriate, too difficult or too easy for him.

• Learning can be intrinsically enjoyable, and small children learn voluntarily when their efforts are not distorted by pressure, competition, extrinsic rewards, punishments or fear. The more things your child has seen and heard, the more new things he wants to experience. Play or learning activities should be appropriate – aren’t too immature or too advanced, too easy or too difficult. The purpose of these activities is not to push the child or pressure him or make him compete with the neighbour’s child or perform like a puppet to show off, but to make the child happy himself.

References:
- How to Raise a Brighter Child - Kindle Edition - Kindle Book (Feb. 21, 2001) by Joan Beck



- How to Raise a Brighter Child - Paperback (Sept. 1, 1999) by Joan Beck


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When are the critical periods for a child to learn specific functions?



According to "How to Raise a Brighter Child" by Joan Beck (Ch. 2), there are critical periods in which the child’s brain is being “hard-wired” for specific functions. Learning those skills is easiest during those critical periods – and far more difficult once those periods have passed. Below describes the critical periods for visual, language, music, sense of orderliness and read, write & understand numbers:

• Age 2 – 4 months – Visual

The brain’s visual cortex has a growth spurt between 2 and 4 months of age – the period when your baby stares wide eyed at everything around him as if he is drinking in information visually. He is. If babies miss out on this period of visual input, they never learn to see. That lesson was learned the hard way with babies born suffering from cataracts. Doctors once waited until babies were older and stronger to remove cataracts, but the children remained permanently blind. Now doctors remove cataracts as soon as possible, before the brain becomes hard-wired without learning the senses of sight. It is also why it is so important to do eye-sight test for newborn. http://www.childrenshospital.org/clinicalservices/Site1766/mainpageS1766P4.html

• Birth - age 4 – Sensory

During this sensitive period, the child uses all 5 fives – touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing – to understand and absorb information about his environment. A great deal of frustration in many children is caused by parents’ constant admonitions not to touch anything. Allow your child to touch as many things as possible. The most repetitive (and therefore most important) of these will strengthen neural pathways, while the less common, although initially detected, will not provide enough brain activity to develop sensitivity to them. By age 4 or so, the brain has finished its "decision-making" about which stimuli are relevant, and worth attending to. Other stimuli will be ignored. This period, then, is important for helping the child attend to differences in sensory stimuli, which in turn can lead to a greater ability to impose a mental order on his environment.

• Birth - age 5 – Language

The brain’s auditory cortex, which processes sound, explodes with new connections from birth until age 10, and it is closely linked to the ability to hear, speak, and learn languages. The connections form the pathways that a child will use to process the words he hears, the thoughts he understands, and the words he speaks back – all the rest of his life. Thus, a child can learn a second or third language easier at this time than he ever will again. When a child learns a second language early on, his brain can still form new neural pathways to process it. His fast-growing brain has dendrites and synapses to spare, and it can easily and automatically dedicate them to hearing, understanding and speaking something even as complex as another language. But the excess capacity will have dwindled dramatically by the time he is 10 or 12 years old.

Babies make all of the sounds of all of the languages on earth during the early months of their lives as they babble and experiment with making noises. But after they learn to talk, they gradually lose the ability to pronounce sounds that are not part of their native language. By 6 months old, babies prefer the vowels common to their native language. By 12 months old, a baby’s babbling has acquired the sound of his native tongue. Babies whose mothers talked to them more had larger vocabularies. At 20 months, they knew 131 more words than those with less talkative moms. At 24 months, the gap had grown to 295 words and the child enjoys story telling. The time to learn languages is when the brain is receptive to these kind of things, and that’s much earlier, in preschool or primary school.

Deprivation of language stimuli during this period can lead to severe language defects. Without stimulation, the synapses of Broca's area and related language-processing areas of the brain will literally waste away. By age 15, if he hasn’t learned to speak another language, he will never be able to do so without an accent. It is a pity that in some countries, youngsters only starts to learn a foreign language in secondary school.

A child who is exposed to 2 or 3 languages during the ideal period for language pronounces each with the accent of his teacher. It is often argued that it is useless to expose a small child to Chinese if he lives in a non-mandarin speaking community and will not continually hear and use these Chinese words while he is growing up. But even if your child forgets the foreign words he has learned, if he studies that language or visits a country where it is spoken later in life, he will discover that the basic units of that speech are still stored in his brain.

• Age 1 - 3 – Keen Sense of Order

Dr. Montessori observed that children develop a keen sense of order between ages 1. Peaks at about age 2 and subsides when the child is 3 years old. This is the age when your child insists on routine. It reflects a period of special sensitivity when a child’s growing brain is trying to form generalizations from observations and formulate concepts from perceptions. Insisting on routine and ritual gives children a sense of order and continuity from which they can draw conclusions. External order include keeping most material objects such as furniture, toys and clothing in the same location from day to day, following the same daily routines for meal time, when family chores are done, when family members depart and arrive and using the same procedures in doing things with the child such as how baths are given. You can use this special period to teach your child orderliness and good working habits. Children in Montessori schools are taught to put away every item of equipment they use before starting a new activity. They are encouraged to see every task or game as having a beginning, a middle and an end and to finish each cycle before starting another. These children show great satisfaction in completing self-chosen projects before beginning new ones.

If this need is not met, the child's ability to reason and learn will be precarious, since he may not be able to consider his conclusions reliable.

• Age 1 - 10 – Music

A growing body of evidence suggests that learning to play a musical instrument is easiest from about age 3 to age 10, and that children who learn to play during that period perform at a more advanced level than do those who start later. The earlier in life the musicians started playing, the larger was the area of the cortex devoted to playing music. Very few musicians who reach concert level started playing as teenagers or later. The late Japanese violin master, Shinichi Suzuki believed that young children could learn music much earlier, the same way they learned language – through listening and repeating. He pioneered a method for teaching toddlers to play scaled-down musical instruments as soon as they could hold them. Great emphasis is placed on playing by ear; children do not learn to read music until years later. I have done a post of the Suzuki Method: http://elainengfriis.blogspot.com/2010/11/suzuki-method-of-learning-music.html

• Age 1.5 – 2.5 – Interest in Small Detail

The sensitivity to small detail draws the child to the tiniest objects, the separated fragments, the faintest noises, the hidden corners. Also, when the child is drawn to a small thing, the sensitivity holds the child’s attention there for an extended period, fostering the ability to focus on that one small stimulus to the exclusion of all else. For example, your child will be on all fours following with great interest the zig-.zag crawl of a little black ant.

• Age 1.5 – 4 – Coordination of Fine and Large Muscle

Coordination of movement essentially means bringing the body under the control of the will: being able to use one’s fingers, hands, legs, feet, mouth and so on, precisely the way one wishes to. There is an involuntary inclination to perform and repeat movements purely for the sake of gaining greater and more precise control. For example, your child age 3 might loves washing hands, not for the sake of getting them clean, but simply to be able to work on the manipulative skills of turning taps, holding slippery soap, rubbing to make lather, rinsing and ginger-drying.

After this period, neural control of the muscles is relatively fixed, and improvement in fine motor skills comes only with considerable effort.

• Age 2 – 4 – Aware of Spatial Relationships, Matching, Sequence and Order of Things

The child is aware of Spatial Relationships, Matching, Sequence and Order of Things.

• Age 2.5 – 4 – Social Relations

In this sensitive period, the child pays special attention to the effect of one’s behavior on the feelings and actions of others. The work of this sensitive period enables recognizable affections and friendships to develop, allow play to be somewhat cooperative and makes mischief begin to appear conspiratorial. The child is also quite interested in basic rules of social relations such as manners, mealtime customs, graceful movement and showing consideration for others.This sensitivity to social relations helps to orient the child towards intellectual development after age 6, which occurs mostly in social setting and consists largely of the acquisition of social and cultural knowledge.

Children who are, for whatever reason, largely or entirely deprived of social interaction during this period will be less socially confident and perhaps more uncomfortable around others, a feeling which may take substantial effort to overcome.

• Age 3 – 6 – Interest and Admiration of the Adult World

The child wants to copy and mimic adults such as parents and teachers.

• Age 4 – 5 – Interest in Art and Craft

The child’s tactile senses are very developed and acute, and he enjoys using his hands and fingers in cutting, writing and art.

• Age 4 – 6 – Read, Write and Understand Numbers

Dr. Montessori also concluded that the sensitive period for learning to read, write and understand numbers is between the ages 4 and 5. The disadvantaged slum-area children she taught in Italy read and wrote beautiful script before they were 5 years old. You may see that your 3-4 year old is interested and eager to read and write. She may identify labels on cereal boxes in the supermarket because she has seen them on TV. He may pester you to teach him how to write his name, your name and the names of his favourite toy animals. He may delight in having you identify words in the books you read to him. These important signs of special motivation should not be ignored. The child who is eager and interested in reading and writing at 4 may already be past his optimum period for developing these skills by the time the school is ready for him at age 6 or later!

References:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensitive_periods

- Basic Montessori Learning Activities for Under Fives by David Hettman

- How to Raise a Brighter Child - Kindle Edition - Kindle Book (Feb. 21, 2001) by Joan Beck
- How to Raise a Brighter Child - Paperback (Sept. 1, 1999) by Joan Beck
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Why early childhood educational interventions are SO important?

According to "How to Raise a Brighter Child" by Joan Beck (Ch. 2), early childhood educational interventions are important because of the following reasons:

• Genes provide the basic framework of the brain, but experiences (in the form of input from environment) largely build the rest. Heredity is the brain’s hardware, and experiences are the software programming.

• At birth, a baby has 100 billion neurons – virtually all the brain cells he will ever have. Some of those neurons already are dedicated to controlling the heart-beat, respiration and other vital functions. But the rest are waiting to be wired into the complex tapestry that will form his working mind. Each neuron sends out branches called dendrites, which connect with the dendrites from other neurons and exchange information through connections called synapses. These connections/synapses form at an astonishing rate during the first few years of life – as many as 3 billion per second. By the time your baby is 8 months old, he will already have about 1,000 trillion. Most of these synapses form randomly in this frantic infant growth spurt, but they are activated and strengthened by sensory input from the outside world.

• Each new stimulus your baby receives sends tiny burst of electricity shooting through her brain, building new synaptic bridges. The sight of a new colourful mobile over her crib stimulates neurons in her retina to make electrical connections in her visual cortex. Hearing a new lullaby sparks neurons in her ear to signal her auditory cortex. The touch of a soft stuffed animal or a father’s scratchy beard sends similar signals flashing through her sensory motor cortex. The outside world comes in through the senses – vision, hearing, smell, touch, taste – teaching the brain what to become.

• The more such input your baby has, the stronger and more elaborate his neurological connections become. Those, in turn, will determine how smoothly the electrochemical impulses of more complicated thoughts and emotions flow as he grows older. By giving him wide, open access to as many experiences as possible, you can actually improves his brain, raising his intelligence and his potential to keep learning all through his life. Early stimulation can actually produce changes in the size, structure and chemical functioning of the brain.

• Between ages 1 and 2 the cerebral cortex adds more than 2 million new synapses — the connections between brain cells — every second (according to Zero to Three, a nonprofit educational group). By age 2, your toddler will have more than 100 trillion synapses — the most she'll ever have in her life, and part of the reason why she has such an incredible capacity to learn.

• This extraordinary growth spurt doesn’t last forever. A young child’s brain forms nearly twice as many synapses as it will ultimately use by roughly age 2.

• The brain of a 3-year-old is 2.5 times more active than that of an adult.

• This period of "synaptic exuberance" can last until age 8, but it's also accompanied by the constant pruning of unused synapses. By the time your child reaches adulthood, more than 50 percent of those neural pathways will be gone.

• After age 10, the brain ruthlessly prunes the weakest synapses (those that have been least used). By age 16, the brain has only half as many connections as it did at age 2, a level that stays steady until around age 70, when the number of synapses declines once again.

• The overabundance of synapses early in life ensures that the growing baby’s brain can adapt to virtually any environment he finds himself in – a jungle, a desert, an urban high-rise. The synapses that are stimulated early in life become part of the intricate web of the mind, and the more such connection there are, the greater the child’s ability to learn and understand, to make sense of his surroundings and generate new ideas. Scientists believe that the number of connections can easily go up or down by 25% or more depending on whether a child grows up in an enriched environment or an impoverished one.

• If a child gets too little stimulation, play, affection, discovery, language and person-to-person contact, development of the brain that depends on experience will be slowed down or will fail to progress.

• Exposing children to simulating environments and quality preschool programs where they are given individual attention can raise children’s IQ by as much as 20 or 30 points beyond those of children in control groups.

• It is the interaction of the environment with heredity which has changed the brain over millions of years. You can’t do anything to change your child’s heredity, but you can alter your child’s environment. It is your child’s environment that determines how much of his genetic potential will be realized.

Changes in mental capacity are greatest during the first few years of life, when the brain is growing most rapidly:

• The brain grows at a decelerating rate from birth on. A child’s brain undergoes a great spurt of activity between the ages of 4 and 10, using more than twice as much energy as an adult’s brain. After age 10 or so, the brain’s use of energy begins to trail off. By around age 16, it resembles an adult’s. In short, the brain is busy building itself in the years before age 10. This cerebral building boom in the early years helps explain plasticity – the young child’s remarkable ability to reprogram itself even after serious injuries. In numerous cases, children who have lost entire hemispheres of their brains because of accidents have been able to learn to walk or talk or write again through practice and therapy. Excess synapses in their brains are reassigned to compensate for the lost functions. Adults who have lost function because of strokes or other injuries can learn to reprogram their brains too, but with less success and far more difficulty.

• Your child will continue to learn and acquire knowledge after age 17, of course, but what he can’t change is the IQ level. The opportunity to increase his basic intelligence will be almost completely gone by the time he is old enough to finish his secondary school. Therefore, the stimuli you add to your child’s environment will have the greatest impact and results during the earliest years of his life. The same amount of input or efforts during his primary or secondary school years won’t result in nearly such high gains.

References:
- Start Smart (2012) by Pam Schiller
- How to Raise a Brighter Child - Kindle Edition - Kindle Book (Feb. 21, 2001) by Joan Beck



- How to Raise a Brighter Child - Paperback (Sept. 1, 1999) by Joan Beck


Sunday, 8 August 2010

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Chinese Stir-fry Bean Sprouts/Kinesisk Wok-Stegning Bønner/干炒豆芽[gān chǎo dòu yá]


Serves 2

Preparation & Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
- 400g bean-sprouts mix from Fakta (cost 12 DKK)
- 300g slice beef or a handful frozen prawns
- 1 clove garlic chopped
- 1 TBS cooking oil

Directions:
1. Heat oil in wok and fry garlic until golden.

2. Add bean-sprouts mix and fry for 1 minute, then add frozen prawns and fry until done (very fast, probably 30 seconds)

3. Serve with brown rice.

Nutritional Value:

Sprouts are a great, inexpensive way of obtaining a concentration of vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Bean sprouts, or rather Mung Bean Sprouts, as they are properly called, contain pure forms of vitamins A, B, C, and E, in addition to an assortment of minerals including Calcium, Iron, and Potassium. Produced from mung beans, the sprouts are free of cholesterol and low in calories, ideal for anyone trying to lose weight. Sprouts also contain a high source of fiber, are easily digestible and contain a high concentration of enzymes facilitating the digestive process.

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Additional Comments:
This is a very fast and yet nutritous Chinese dish. I found this ready-mixed Chinese wok dish from Fakta supermarket!!! This is perfect for a Chinese working mom – really saved me time!! Buying ready-chopped vegetables aren't that expensive and could work out to be cheaper in the long-run, as I very often don't use up all the vegetables I buy (if I have to mix-and-match the different vegetables myself), before it gets rotten.

Today, I actually made it with sliced beef, instead of frozen prawns. If so, fry the slice beef first with some garlic until almost done. Set aside, and then add it back to the beans-sprouts at the same stage that you add back the frozen prawns. This is so that you do not overcook the beef while at the same time would like to obtain the fragrance of a stir-fry beef.

The ingredients of this dish cost 15 DKK or about 3.60 SGD.

References:

http://www.everynutrient.com/healthbenefitsofbeansprouts.html
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Healthy Cream of Spinach Soup/Creme af Spinat Suppe/西式菠菜汤[xī shì bō cài tāng]


Adapted from Danish recipe http://www.freshchoice.dk/

Serves 2-4

Preparation and Cook Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:
- 300g fresh baby spinach leaves
- 200g or 1 rice bowl of frozen shrimps deshelled type (this is used to replace chicken stock called for in many recipes for soup)
- 300ml low-fat fresh milk
- 1-2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1-2 onions chopped
- 1 TBS cooking oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 100ml white wine (optional, substitute with water if you don’t want to use white wine)
- 30ml fromage frais 0.1% fat or cremefraiche 18% fat (optional, I usually do without this)

Directions:
1. Wash, rinse and blend baby spinach with some milk.

2. Fry garlic until golden, add onions under slightly reduced heat (no. 8 on my stove) and sauté until golden.

3. Add frozen prawns and white wine and bring to a boil for a minute until the alcohol evaporates. Blend soup with a hand stick blender and add the rest of the milk and simmer under moderate heat (no. 7 on my stove).

4. Add spinach mixture and cook for 1 min.

5. Add fromage frais and simmer under low heat for another 1 minute.

6. Season with salt and pepper and serve with bread.

Tips:
1. If you wish to have thicker soup, you can add 1 TBS of ground oatmeal mixed with a little of water and then add it to the soup before you add the fromage frais. Then mix well.

2. If you wish, you can also add in 1-2 slices of cheese, stir and let it melt into the soup.

3. You can also fry ½ pot of fresh basil leaves and use it as garnish or just using fresh basil as garnish.

4. You can also serve with some cooked organic wholewheat pasta. Joshua likes it a lot.

Nutritional Value:
Spinach has a high nutritional value and is extremely rich in antioxidants, especially when fresh, steamed, or quickly boiled. It is a rich source of vitamin A (and especially high in lutein), vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, folate, betaine, iron, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, folic acid, copper, protein, phosphorus, zinc, niacin, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. Recently, opioid peptides called rubiscolins have also been found in spinach. It is a source of folic acid (Vitamin B9), and this vitamin was first purified from spinach.

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Additional Information:
Many recipes calls for chicken stock. Store-bought chicken stock is basically MSG in disguise. Home-made chicken stock is too time-consuming to make. Whenever a recipe calls for chicken stock, I have found an innovative way to substitute it. I will cook some frozen prawns and blend it in a blender. It tastes really good, sweeter and more savoury than chicken stock. Try it!

The ingredients of this dish cost approx. 25 DKK or 6 SGD, thanks to the super high cost of living in Denmark!

I realise that it is very important to use a good cheese. I use ordinary slice cheese, and it turned out rubbery in texture. I found this Kerrygold Dubliner organic cheddar cheese from Føtex Supermaket that really enhances the taste of the soup:
References:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinach
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