Tag Archives: food

Embracing the spirit of French cooking

I had my first French meal and I never got over it.
~ Julia Child

I remember only a few things about my first trip to France. Being fascinated and enamoured by the French dish and its name – soupe de poisson (fish soup). Discovering the folly of eating at McDonalds in France (never to be repeated). Trying to enjoy the view from the Eiffel tower while the cold wind whipped my hair into a formidable tangle.

Then, I was a child too young to grasp the notion of romance, or the charm of the French spirit and culture. I was cold, and unaccustomed to eating so much dairy, or indeed, what seemed to be very rich food no matter where we went. I focused on the wrong things, like trying to spot signs in English, or getting my parents to buy me a miniature Eiffel Tower to take home. I ate escargot In Lyon without fuss – thanks to my food-loving family – but without the appreciation for the novelty of eating escargot in France which I would now have.

Years later, the magic of France would once again beckon, this time through a friend asking me to join her at the Alliance Française for evening classes. She had recently fallen for a French man. I rolled my eyes but oui, I went along. And twice, after class, we took the train down to a little French restaurant nestled in Little India in Singapore where we ate – I forget what now, except that our meals were unbelievably delicious. As life will have it, mere weeks later, I encountered a French man who – despite my inhibitions – managed to make me lose my head briefly. Alas! My friend had told me it would happen. She had warned me that I would find a French man “irresistible”. No, that will never happen to me, I had said to her, I will vomit if someone is too romantic. Also, it would be such a cliché.

Never be proud. Never say never. Or you’ll have to eat your words one heavy morsel at a time … c’est la vie

I went back to Paris in 2010 with my friend Annisha, after I spent a few days visiting her in London. We were there for a day. Our brief visit was nice but a little less than what we had hoped it would be. Annisha was feeling quite ill, we were so cold we could hardly think, and we were not successful in getting to the places we had hoped to see. The main redeeming moment for me was us, lost and hungry, stumbling upon a small humble hole-in-the-wall shop that turned out to have the most stunning slice of Tarte Aux Pommes.


From my visit in 2010

Here we are in 2017 and my heart aches for some of the things that have taken place and are taking place in beautiful France (not to mention the rest of the world). Yet as I pen this post I know that there are some things which will endure for as long as the French spirit endures. Her timeless beauty, her rich history, her elegance, her decadence, her soul, her charm, her deep connection with the seasons, her rituals, her ability to celebrate the everyday, to name a few …

For some reason France has been on my mind a lot of late, and yesterday, looking at some leftover wine from our dinner party last week, I decided to try making a version of coq au vin. I can hardly describe how good it smells frying sliced white onions and diced carrots in a pan just recently used to fry tiny strips of bacon and brown a few wine-stained chicken pieces. Sadly the finished dish did not turn out as I had hoped, despite the good smells and presence of good wine and a pretty bouquet garni. I had not followed any one recipe for it in particular, but I have definitely learned now that it is not a dish that deals well with indecision or an attempt to shortcut the process. It is a simple dish, but it is not easy … it is not a dish you can make without presence of mind and attention to detail. I have no doubt a well-made coq au vin would make a memorable meal … some time I will try again.

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After spending the afternoon in the kitchen, I asked my husband if he would come with me to visit the Green Bay Street Food market. We went along, it was delightful, and – still in French mode – I could not resist a crêpe with Nutella from the friendly couple running The Fab Truck. Verdict: C’est délicieux!

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This morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, having had a series of unsettling dreams. For some reason or other I found myself looking up Julia Child’s recipe for scrambled eggs online. I then went into the kitchen, placed a saucepan on medium-low heat, and slid a generous chunk of butter into the saucepan. While it melted with a pleasing aroma, I beat two eggs quickly in a bowl with a dash of salt and pepper and slid a slice of frozen bread into the toaster. Swirling the butter in the saucepan until it evenly coated the bottom, I poured the eggs in, and cut up some leftover chives I had in the fridge. I stirred the mix with a wooden spoon, watching as the bottom started to cook – at which I added in a dribble of milk and gave it a slow stir again. The slice of toast popped out nicely brown. I put it on a plate with a sprinkle of grated cheese, and stirred the soft egg mixture again till it looked almost done. I took the saucepan off the heat, ladled the egg on to the toast, added the chopped chives over the lot … and found The Cure for Unsatisfactory Sleep.

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… And perhaps gained a little more practical understanding of the spirit of French cooking: taking care and effort, being unafraid, allowing elegance and simplicity to meet in a dish as simple as scrambled eggs.

Bonne journée.

Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.
~ Julia Child

Hemingway’s words on oysters

As I ate the oysters, with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.
~ Hemingway, as quoted in “French Women For All Seasons” by Mireille Guiliano

These are busy days, days in which minutes melt into a digital soup of Microsoft Outlook dings and social media distractions – days in which it becomes hard to recall what day it is, what happened five minutes ago, what’s happening tonight, what groceries need buying, what clothes need washing, what things need doing. And all of a sudden it is always night again, driving through roads teeming with road works and drivers with interesting behaviour, sinking gratefully into a chair at home and journaling in between dreams and real life.

At times all that is needed to bring it all into focus again, is a few good words on the magic of soul food and living; to – yes – eat, and be happy, and make plans!

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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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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.

If I only knew what that ‘something’ was

God has all the time in the world.
~ Antoni Gaudí

Medley ingredients:
Roasted kumara with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Leek rings sautéed with butter.
A handful of fresh pomegranate seeds.
Feta cubes.
Baby spinach, gently wilted.
Fresh mint, chopped.
Squeeze of lemon.
Black pepper.

Something was still missing. Or something that shouldn’t have been there was. Anyone know what? Penny for your thoughts…

One fine croissant, and other stories

Do you know on this one block you can buy croissants in five different places? There’s one store called Bonjour Croissant. It makes me want to go to Paris and open up a store called Hello Toast.
~ Fran Lebowitz, journalist

So many things affect our experience of food. Who cooks. Who serves. Where we eat it, and with whom. How we eat it. Our mood and hunger levels at the time of our meal. What we eat. How it’s cooked (or not cooked).

Eating is seldom straightforward – even though, on the surface, it is a direct attempt to satisfy hunger. Every eating experience is a delicate dance between tens and possibly hundreds of hidden questions, thoughts, factors and functions all going on at the same time.

Good food, though, is a lot simpler to define: good food nourishes us. On many levels, or all at the same time if you’re exceptionally lucky. I’ll leave “good eating” for another post, shall I, so this doesn’t become a book stuffed into a blog post?

The topic of “good food” has been on my mind a lot this year, mostly in between dreams, plane rides and everything else. Travelling definitely makes me think about good food a lot. From the time you get on the plane, depending on the airline you’re with – you could be very thankful or very revolted looking at that box of stuff that’s meant to tide you over till you land! And, once at your destination, depending on a range of things like budget, availability, who you’re with and whether you’re the kind to dine in style or in hiding when alone – there’s a whole range of possibilities for meals that are different from and better than (you hope) the options at home. If you have dietary needs, then that adds a layer of stuff to consider and all your options under further examination, too.

I flew to sunny Nelson this last weekend – just a bumpy 30-minute plane ride away from Wellington. My belly was surprisingly unresponsive; I subsisted on three meals over two days despite my best attempts to make myself hungry. (Admittedly, one of the meals was had at none other than Burger King since there was nothing else close by and open, and my mind was too engrossed in work to travel much further in search of food).

But something unexpected did happen to me belly-and-food-brain-wise in Nelson; I was surprised by a croissant.

I had just returned to Nelson city from the airport on Saturday afternoon, slightly miffed that flights to Wellington had been disrupted and I was ‘trapped’ for an additional day in Nelson with a lack of clean clothes. This was probably the only moment in Nelson where I was suddenly attacked by hunger pangs… so I googled a place I had walked past the day before to check their opening hours and find their address, and promptly headed to The Swedish Bakery & Cafe – about half an hour before they closed.

As luck would have it, the only likely lunch options left were whole loaves of bread, or a solo croissant sitting in the cabinet. I wasn’t really in the mood for pastry, though this one was very pretty with its brie and chutney stuffing. And alas, this didn’t look nearly capable of killing off Hungry Monster, which was by now causing my belly some distress. Still, the lady there was so nice that before I thought about what I was saying, I bought it and hurried back to the place I was staying at (after casting a longing look at the pretty items on their shelves which I had to leave there since I had no space in my carry-on to bring anything home).

I warmed it slightly in the microwave, took out a pen to keep working and popped a corner of the warm, oozing croissant into my mouth. I thought I’d do the whole eat-and-work thing which I profess to hate but do anyway so as not to disrupt the crucial flow.

Well, I had to hit pause on work because this croissant was too good to be true.

Perhaps I was just overly hungry and everyone knows that food tastes better when you’re hungry… but I’m pretty sure this is one of the yummiest bakery items I’ve eaten in New Zealand. And NZ has a lot of very talented bakers around. But it’s hard to get everything perfect – a croissant, for instance, can be just a little too flaky (so everything falls on you or on the plate); or too soft (meh); or too full of stuffing (so everything falls on you or on the plate); or too salty; or too floury… or something. Not that I can be bothered being so fussy ;-) …… and this croissant was PERFECT. Flaky, without raining flakes on me. Soft, without being limp. Melting cheese. Perfect chutney. Fresh, savoury, flavourful. Yummy! I really enjoyed it. It killed off Hungry Monster, too.

And while it contained neither meat nor veg it really nourished me – sustaining me through an inspirational afternoon at the The World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum. :-)

P.S. Not too difficult to see why Lonely Planet put in a good word for them, too!

The Swedish Bakery & Cafe – 54 Bridge Street, Nelson – Phone: 03 546 8685

Haphazard poetry, and Pizzeria Mozza

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.
~ Jack Brooks

Waiting for taxis; trains; lights to go green
as sweat forms patterns on your back
and oozes out of you
like rain
escaping from secret clouds

Taking in the sight of people permanently attached to
everyone (so it appears) via phone, laptop, iPad
Always
There is no separation from technology

From noise

And yet – for such a connected city
I have to ask – what is connection here?
There are people who do not connect, REALLY join in mind and heart,
with another human…
For days. Years. Ever?

A link on your wall is not a conversation

Merging into seas of humans in shopping malls is not filling your love tank

As you meander through people jams
as you take in the charm and madness of this place
as you eat – something amazing
as you walk – in permanent summer
as you glance – eyes stunned – by the tall buildings and shiny cars
as you dance – in wonder
as you spend – this country is not a place for the stingy

It is hot, so hot.

There is time, just a little, to think (briefly) –
to sleep (maybe).

The sky is blue and bright – but life is not a holiday
Time waits for no one

Waxing poetic at 1.00am, just ‘cos I can. I can’t believe I’ve already been here in Singapore for a whole week… it’s gone by so quickly!

I’ve had some great meals which I have blog posts written in my head about – but no time as yet to sit down and write them. Today was a day of amazing food (not a difficult thing to achieve in Singapore, I know full well)… and I want to write about it all, but that would make for a terribly long post so I’ll stick to lunch for now: a trip to Pizzeria Mozza with my aunt and cousin. :-)

Initial thoughts upon entering: I want to smile. The place is cosy and elegant. Wine bottles line the walls, cherry tomatoes and other colourful fruits beam at you from the bar and the ovens make you feel right at home. Smiling staff are at once discreet and ready to assist you immediately.

First to arrive at our table: fried squash blossoms with ricotta – the taste and fragrance of spring encased in light batter which, upon meeting my knife and fork, revealed a warm oozing centre of ricotta… a great start which certainly made us eager to sample the other dishes we ordered.

Calamari al forno with fagioli & oregano – not a combination I would’ve dreamed up on my own, but one I will bear in mind now if I were to try cooking calamari at home. Beautiful flavours…

(From my placemat: indeed a sad thing to read)

Listed as “funghi misti, fontina, taleggio & thyme” in the pizza section of the menu, this was simply the best pizza I’ve had in a LONG while. Everything from the way the mushrooms and cheese mingled on my tongue and the delightful traces of garlic which surprised me as I inched closer to the tasty crust… was yum yum yum – perfect!

I love it that they employ a “piatto del giorno” system for their main dishes. Today’s (Friday) was the pork ribs, cooked with fennel, honey and cider vinegar. Very filling, with lots of strong flavours which I imagine I would have enjoyed more in New Zealand right now (winter blues call for richer meals) – but still, a nice dish. I’d definitely be inclined to stick to pizza and starters on a future visit to this place though.

Pizzeria Mozza – 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore – Phone: +65 6688 8522