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Getting to the heart of things..

There is something beautifully hopeful about this time of year. Every year, once the post-festive-season after-effects have worn off, I have a feeling of being given another chance. A chance to create a simpler, fresher approach to life. To spend less time, energy and money on non-essentials, and to focus on the things that really matter. Such as answering children's questions properly (although I must admit this morning being faced with 'why does a bruise change colour' and 'how on earth did I fit when I came out of you' before I'd even opened my eyes was a challenge). Such as avoiding waste by being creative (of particular relevance when the sound of crunching plastic tat underfoot accompanies every trip into the children's bedroom) and cooking proper nourishing family meals to help us battle the positive battalion of bugs that is charging round Leiden. For all we know, this peculiar spring-like weather will suddenly turn and the crocuses will be covered with a foot of snow. So it's best to be prepared.

So this homepage is about focusing on the heart of things, through making something out of nothing, and appreciating what we have.

Making something out of nothing.

Kitchen dramas

Sometimes you look in the fridge and your heart sinks. With all the best intentions, things go off and food gets wasted. But wait! Some things can be used to make yet yummier things!

Scenario 1 : The milk has gone bad. Solution? Make drop scones!

We used to have these as a treat for tea as a child (they are also called scotch pancakes, and are a bit like American pancakes). We eat them for breakfast now which makes my mother tut at our weird foreign ways. They are yummy with butter and jam/golden syrup/stroop. If you make tiny ones you can use them as blinis.

Makes enough for a hungry family of 4

300g plain flour
300ml milk (ideally bad, but you can also use ordinary milk or karnemelk)
1tsp bicarbonate of soda (available at Tucker Box)
1tsp cream of tartar (ditto, use 2tsp if using ordinary milk)
2 eggs
pinch of salt

  • Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.
  • Mix eggs with milk, then pour slowly into dry ingredients while whisking.
  • Grease a non-stick frying pan slightly (butter packaging paper is ideal for this) on a medium heat, then ladle small spoonfuls into the pan (I do three per go). When the bubbles burst, flip them over, then after a minute or so they are done. If they stick they are probably not ready to flip. Serve warm.

Scenario 2 : The bananas have gone black. Solution? Make banana bread!

I think banana bread is actually nicer with really squishy bananas - it makes the taste more intense. This masquerades as healthy but is in fact full of sugar - hey ho, at least it's homemade.

125g soft butter
150g golden caster sugar (lichte basterd suiker is fine)
3 large or 4 small squishy bananas
1tsp cinnamon
175g self raising flour
2 eggs

  • Butter a loaf tin (I use a silicone one so it's easy to remove)
  • Whisk butter and sugar until pale and fluffy
  • Stir in mashed bananas and cinnamon, stir.
  • Add half the flour and whisk
  • Crack in eggs and whisk
  • Add rest of flour and stir.
  • Pour into the loaf tin and cook at 170 for an hour.
  • Cool before slicing if you want it to stay together, although I love it warm and squishy!

Playroom dramas

I am permanently depressed by the quantity of stuff that comes in the door, and the other things that go out. Yes, obviously all spurned or too-hideously plastic toys go either to Bengels, Terre Des Hommes or the Weggeefwinkel (more on that later) but still, some things fall through the net. Here are two ideas for toys from nothing.

Scenario 1 : Piles of broken wax crayons. Solution? Make new funky ones!

If you pull all the manky bits of paper off old crayons (my children always did this immediately anyway, for some unknown reason) and separate them into colours, you can in fact melt them down and make new ones. You can do this in a muffin tin, but it works better in one of those silicon bun cases with very small shapes (they have them in Xenos very cheaply) or a bonbon or an ice cube tray (but check it's one that can go in the oven).

Basically, break up the crayons and put groups of each colour into the cases. If you are using a silicon tray, place it on a metal tray. Then follow the instructions here.

Scenario 2 : Empty tins. and bored children . Solution? Tin can alley.

This is very simple (and can be noisy) but fun. Fill some old socks with beans/rice/lentils/barley or suchlike, and tie them at the end to make instant beanbags. Remove paper and wash at least 8 tins (tomatoes, lentils etc).You can decorate them with new paper if you want (keeps children busy that bit longer). Pile them in a pyramid and have competitions to see who can knock the most over with the fewest 'balls'. It's extraordinary how long it keeps children happy. It makes much less noise if you spread a blanket over a wooden/stone floor, or send them round the corner...

And appreciating what we have.

So much has changed since Tanneke and I set up Homeinleiden in 2008 - so many new initiatives, so much energy in our city. Seeing all the new groups set up by enterprising mums, seeing children I first met as bumps going to school. it's incredibly satisfying. Alice has just handed over to me (Harriet) for the next period, and huge thanks are due to her for all her hard work, including updating large chunks of the site. Jessica continues her hard work too behind the scenes, as does Tanneke. I am so proud of everyone who has and continues to contribute to HomeinLeiden, as well as all the members of our community who have made the effort to share their time and skills with others. Well done everyone! And please keep up the good work - the contributions to What's On, help with running the site (all newcomers always welcome!) and all the groups and new initiatives in Leiden. The Vogelwijk group is on again from this Wednesday, but the Bumps and Babies group is looking for a new venue to house the increasingly wriggly next generation! Marie Claude has also started the ball rolling for a sewing club - I'm very happy as despite much enthusiasm for my attempt to do the same last winter I never managed to get it off the ground. If you would like more information, to be involved in setting it up, and/or would like to join, please contact Marie Claude on

For those looking for a spot of inner peace (not quite in a Kung Fu Panda kind of way) then Leiden is amazingly well stocked with options for yoga and meditation. One particularly lovely person who offers classes in English is Dounia of Aurora Yoga. Her Tuesday class is now specifically English speaking, and a small and friendly group. She offers a trial price of three classes for 20 euros, and her studio is lovely. See her website for more information:



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