Eggplant and pork vermicelli

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Ingredients:
Vermicelli – soaked for 1-2 hours
Minced pork
Chinese mushrooms – soaked for 1-2 hours, then sliced
Eggplants – sliced diagonally
Garlic, minced
Ginger, minced
Coriander – handful of leaves
Spring onion – thinly sliced
Fish sauce
Chilli sauce
Dark soy sauce
White pepper

Thanks, Dad!

:-)

Remarkable meals

These are hot sticky days we have here, days which remind me of the tropics – days for popsicles and peaches, ice-cold, s’il vous plaît.

I am sitting here typing, slightly dazed from the heat. The windows are shut to maintain the glad boundaries between bugs and men. There is no fan, and lazily ironically I am too hot to walk out to another room to drag the big standing fan into my room.

Earlier I wondered about blogging here tonight, thinking – to my surprise – of how few meals I have found remarkable of late. It sounds really rather ungrateful to say this, but I don’t mean it that way. I suppose … there has just been something missing. The crucial ingredient that makes food feed more than the body … but the person inside its skin.

Three meals come to mind –

A serving of coconut and soya poached chicken at lunch, cooked so exquisitely it made me exclaim and beg the chef for the recipe. A kindly, knowledgeable, even-tempered, quiet man – he wrote it down for me. (Chicken bone-in thighs: rub with a mix of paprika, dried herbs, garlic powder. Allow to rest for 2 hours. Bake for half an hour at 165°C. Bring onion, garlic, coconut cream, soy sauce and water to the boil – drizzle over chicken and bake for 20 minutes at 150°C). Tender, flavourful, inspiring. It’s on my list to try cooking at home soon.

More recently: roast lamb with rosemary and garlic, perfectly roasted potatoes, thick soft bread, big slabs of butter, salad with mango dressing. 10pm, cooked in a foreign oven while on holiday, after attending a wedding and going for a dip in the sea and walk into the sunset. Unbeatable.

Most recently: a picnic. Spiced chicken sandwiches, juicy stone fruit, some juice, etc … we ate on the grass by the sea before the ice cream man drove past with his musical truck. It reminded me of the children’s books I loved so much (you know, the ones with ample descriptions of the children’s lunches, suppers and adventures … sans iPad?) So easy. Pack your favourite things in a big bag, take it along to a spot you love (preferably with someone you love) – and enjoy. :-)

Just typing this I realise that I have more remarkable moments than I realise. How good it is to write and to realise how lucky we are.

Mmm …

It’s late and everything in me is saying it’s time to sleep. I hope that YOU have a remarkable meal today. x

P.S. A few memories from a recent weekend in Christchurch:

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Still

In the years in which I wrote most of Treehousekitchen I was searching for something – actually, a few things. Mostly, I think I was searching for a constant spark, that would ignite life around me – heck, that would ignite me … body, soul, spirit, as each day merged into the next. I was searching for a recognition, an activity or thing that was universal (meeting the need in me to connect) and yet, distinctly, my own.

And gratefully I say that food was the most wonderful, faithful channel open to me then (perhaps you too experience this in your soul!)

Memory adds distortion and objectivity both. Occasionally I read through my archives and am struck by how magical / ordinary the days were – how much internal struggle there was at times – how much both God and bad times continued to propel me forward through it all. There were times I just cringed reading some old lines, remembering the mood behind those words. Wanting, very much, to hit Delete.

But, perhaps there is no need to be ashamed.

Perhaps it was all – then, as it is now … exactly right.

I’m participating in an excellent career coaching program now (“Your Career Homecoming” led by the gifted and wise Laura Simms) and one thing she keeps reiterating is, “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.” She sent me a postcard with this message a few months ago, and at the time I had thought this:  yes, I was in the right place – on this journey … but what I got from the message was that the entire thing that made this journey worthwhile (or right at all!) was getting to the destination. 

But recently I received a second postcard from her and this time it clicked. The whole process … is right. In every moment, we are in the right place. Ah, what joy comes back when we can truly believe this in our hearts on both the sunniest and greyest of days!

When I look at the mirror now, I see a girl, a woman, still searching for The Spark – except I now understand a little more that the spark is not one final goal, but a series of movements constituting the dance of life. I have lost about 8kg since I penned the last post on this site – and I am happy with how I look and getting happier each time I am able to put together an outfit that I feel proud wearing. I was mostly fine with my appearance back then, but now with the benefit of new experiences and some very hard challenges, I truly marvel at how the body faithfully processes so many morsel of food every day, at how it bounces back from all the things we put it through (like 8 hours of computer work each day, alas!) … I marvel that I am here, writing this post, thinking less of getting this post perfect or of posting about some swell dish … rather, just being here ‘cos it’s fun to be, even if no one else happens to be hanging out here today.

For the inspiration to post here today, I thank a certain culinary student who contacted me through my blog; my friend Paul (ah! He will be sighing); and my loving man Jarred who has held my hands in my recent ‘creative restlessness’ with much grace and kindness.

Well then. Good morning :)

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On dithering and moving

I learn by going where I have to go.
~ Theodore Roethke

Another hot day in an atypical string of consecutively hot days. Three of us sat like stuffed turkeys in the front of a large van, waiting to get out of the oven. The streets held plenty to look at – Cookie Monsters, aspiring Egyptians and Peacocks, just to name a few! We rumbled on and I waved back at a few tipsy Peacocks and eventually we arrived. We fell out of the oven, sweating disgustingly. My stuff made its way into my new abode on perspiring arms.

I moved flats. And, as I have been so lucky to be able to keep saying – I like my new flatmates, and they seem okay with me! For the first time since who-knows-when, I let myself put a few things on the wall. That felt good.

Something else feels good, too: writing this post right now, even though I kind of don’t want to, because I’m ashamed / afraid / unwilling to tell you this:

That somewhere between melting in the sun, the Cookie Monster sightings and putting things up on the wall, I addressed the Time Machine in my Head. “You’ve got to stop,” I said. You see, the Time Machine in my Head keeps wanting me to live in the past or the future, ALL the time. It wants me to be sensible, or be sad, or worry, or get trapped in indecision, or settle down, or move out, or…… just be a hundred people in a single day.

And so I go east, then west; pack up, then try to stay put; buy a week’s worth of groceries before eating out three days out of five.

And so I murder blogs, then start them up again, then write, then try to quit writing.

And so I love this city, hate this city, and learn that home is lovely and imperfect and ever-changing and smile-inducing and confusing and ultimately a place which forces and welcomes you, always, to be.

And so I’m finishing up on this blog, again. Thank you for reading – for commenting – for journeying with me. Blogging is so much more fun with you!

P.S. Social media tool-wielding friends, please note I have changed my Twitter account name to @mwrites_ and gotten rid of the Facebook page!

Gluten and dairy-free for a week? Will try

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
~ Thomas Edison

It’s interesting, what and how you eat, when necessity (e.g. travel, budget, health) dictates that you change something.

Years ago, I had abdominal pain and bloating that left me writhing on the ground or pushing my stomach against a pole in an attempt to soothe the pain. A doctor thought I had IBS, but he wasn’t sure. The episodes ended after high school. So who knows… maybe it was just high school – which can really be quite bad for health in itself ;-)

Then at university, changes in diet, weather, lifestyle, etc saw my weight hit an all-time high: something I disliked mildly but more or less ignored until one day I tried running across the road and experienced a sensation like that of my knees giving way. That was a little unsettling.

Still, diets were not made for people like me – force on me restrictions like that and I’ll do double the damage. After I graduated, 10kg of that excess weight evaporated. Not sure how. Maybe Wellington’s wind blew it away.

Most of the time, with travel, moving country three times and discovering new and exciting foods, health tends to come last when good food is in front of me. Luckily, I don’t tend to like overly oily / processed / creamy things anyway, but I avoid them solely because I don’t like their taste. Anything else, if it’s to my taste, I eat. Even if I feel terrible afterwards. I don’t think I’ve blogged much about this (if ever? Hmm) – it’s always just been so good to concentrate on the joy and beauty of cooking, food and all that. As I am sure you know!

So for a while now, I have been allowing many moments of eating anything I want and bearing any subsequent discomfort like a reluctant soldier. I haven’t experienced abdominal pain as severe since high school, anyway.

But over the last months, I’ve noticed changes yet again in my body. It hasn’t been so well. When I look into the mirror, nothing seems amiss. But I guess I’ve gotten used to just not feeling that great. For much of it I attribute it to other things – you know, change, work, sleep, etc (all of which certainly play a role) but lately I begin to wonder whether changing my diet significantly might make a difference.

Because when I list the symptoms – puffy eyes, bloating, a terrible fatigue that strikes at random, headaches, etc… I think, hmm, that’s not so good. Somehow I manage to carry on working and doing other things, rushing sometimes to make up for lost time spent lying down, but this last Sunday I fell in pain into a steaming bath for over an hour, and thought… I should probably do something now.

One of my dear friends has recently had to make huge changes in her diet due to an autoimmune disease – changes which I know other people have made for their own reasons too. These are changes that I understand… mostly… and imagine must be difficult to implement. In a world of fresh pastries, butter, milk-and-cookies and friends who tend to eat mostly anything, who would choose to be gluten and dairy-free? I have never seriously considered doing this, since I have not been diagnosed with anything that requires it.

Anyway. When I received the news from my friend, I was very sympathetic. It’s a way of eating that is easy to mostly ignore until you are a dinner host with a gluten-free friend to cater for. But what about being unable to take gluten and dairy (or any other things) without being ill? Having to learn a whole new way of relating to food and nourishing oneself? Having to cope with people thinking you are just being difficult or chasing after a health fad? Having to change the way you shop for groceries, spend more than you used to, stop eating at your favourite cafes and walk past bakeries without acting on your resentment?

Frankly, I almost think I’d rather keep on being sick.

But this week, I am going to try to stick to gluten and dairy-free eating in support of my friend, and so we can exchange notes too… so far so good, though the banana and chocolate muffins I made last night are getting increasingly hard to ignore. I’ve eaten, so far, Ceres’s brown rice cakes; gluten-free pasta spirals with zucchini, tomato, paprika, chilli and basil; coffee with almond milk… and, the VERY BEST THING… two fresh figs. Oh my goodness! Figs send me into a state bordering on wild frenzy.

While I don’t know if I want to totally change my diet right now, and actually I am a bit apprehensive if there ever comes a day when I NEED to do it to protect my health, if you don’t try – you don’t know, right?

Any health stories or tips for eating gluten and / or dairy-free? Do share.

Cathy put the kettle on

I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.
~ Dr Seuss

Inspired by an email from my friend Cathy. The nonsense aspect is entirely mine (she is a sensible lady).

Cathy put the kettle on
She made a pot of tea
Just as she was pouring it out
Her eyes caught sight of a bee

The bee was big and juicy
It seemed to glow and dance
Cathy’s tea fell on her fingers
But she was held in a trance

It took about five seconds
For her finger to go RED!
And then Cathy found her head hurt
She needed to go back to bed

So to the hallway she hobbled
Up the stairs she crawled
Her back soon started twisting
“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” she bawled

By now her nose was dripping
The mucus was yellow and green
It made its way to the carpet
Leaving it less than pristine

Cathy got angry with Mr Pain
She pushed him with all her might
At last he rolled down the staircase
That really was a sight

Her belly started laughing
And then so did her feet
She laughed till tears ran down her cheeks
And she had to take a seat

Oh, what a crazy morning!
What a crazy day
Where is Mr Pain now?
No one can really say.

A special evening at Ang Bahay

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.
~ Charles Dickens

Sometimes, life throws you a bouquet with flowers you fancy (my ideal one would have tiger lilies, chocolate mint and maybe a leprechaun or two thrown in for good measure). I am talking about days on which life tickles and delights – you know the ones. They don’t need to contain one million dollars or a rugged Prince Charming arriving on a motorbike (though I suppose they would be nice…). They could happen in good company; at the beach; at the duck pond – when the beauty of life rises to meet your face – and you find your heart and feet dancing.

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The last 10 days have contained a few of these moments for me – a crucial ‘aha’ moment in my work; swimming at Eastbourne; watching a ladybug glide slowly by; having my friend Jane visit. So many things. Hellos and goodbyes. New friends. Last but not least, a spectacular surprise – dinner with the gracious Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand, Her Excellency Virginia Benavidez.

Yes!

Through serendipity, friendship, a big dollop of warm Filipino hospitality and more, Her Excellency hosted a dinner in honour of Jane at Ang Bahay, the Ambassador’s residence. And I got to be Jane’s guest.

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Recently, Jane visited the Philippines and was clearly enthralled by the experience – I could feel her passion radiating through the phone as we spoke. It awakened good memories – mainly of a visit to Manila when I was a little girl, where I found myself chin and elbow-deep in mango heaven… and of the Filipino friends and domestic helpers I have met, almost all of whom are always, in my mind, laughing, boisterous, joyous, gentle as they speak with their beautiful Spanish-tinted accents.

Just the other day, I met one of Jane’s friends, a glorious Filipina lady, who had me beaming within seconds of meeting her. I begin to understand Jane’s heart for the Philippines and its people.

So… when the invitation to Ang Bahay arrived in our email inboxes, we were thrilled! Of course!

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Opening your door to someone is something special; sharing stories and food with someone, even more so. Her Excellency did these and more. I thought to myself, here is a lady in a significant position with a sea of facts and faces to remember – and here she is, humble, graceful and approachable. She included all of us in her informal address and in conversation. No one looked ill at ease – we dived into conversation. Never mind that I have little connection to the Philippines or that I only know about five words in Tagalog – we laughed, chatted, joked… and I forgot myself in the course of the evening, mainly in exchanging stories with the people seated at my end of the table. No attention to napkin placement / polite regal laughing needed (though, umm, I tried to behave ;-)).

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I could try to explain what made it all wonderful – getting to dine at the Ambassador’s beautiful residence, the amazing food, the smiling people… but all that doesn’t really say it. Pretty surroundings, novelty and friendliness are great, of course. I noted, with pleasure, the table setting, tall vases, art on the walls, menus printed on handmade paper cards supporting Samaritana, and (real) fruit candle holders! I enjoyed our meal immensely – everything from soup with a perfect puff pastry crown to an impressive ice dome with fresh fruit tucked into it, which kept cool the entire time. I soaked in the whole experience, marvelling at the fact that I was at the Ambassador’s place.

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But all that doesn’t encompass what made it possible to be fully present and at ease in a new and novel situation. Soaking in something that is at once complex and terribly simple: genuine hospitality. Hospitality that is generous, other-focused, radiant and passionate – hospitality from a host that brings out her best for her guests – hospitality that is glorious, yet humble and welcoming, with no airs and pretension. Hospitality that makes me fall in love again with the world, and its diversity, and the beauty of culture and humanity. Hospitality that seems to touch me not as a gesture, but as an embrace.

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It all sounds terribly cheesy, doesn’t it. But, well, that is the way it was. To Her Excellency, Jane and the other guests: thank you.

Masaganang bagong taon sa lahat!

P.S. Just in case you are interested, the menu was as follows (ah, I’m getting hungry all over again, typing this!):

Mushroom soup with puff pastry
Alfa salad with fruit
Strawberry sorbet
Fish and vegetables in teriyaki sauce
Chicken royale
Braised pork hocks
Fresh fruits in dome
Turon with chocolate dip
Wine
Date tea