Tag Archives: food

Thoughts while washing dishes (or why I cook)

There is a certain quiet in the kitchen when everyone has eaten and left.

Sleep starts to tease your eyelids as your hands work methodically to soap and rinse the sprawl of pots, plates, utensils … getting slower as you start yearning for bed, then quicker as you look at the time and remember that your alarm clock will ring in 6 hours.

It is work, you work harder than you have all day at your day job. You hop off the train, kiss your husband, run to the store, come home, march into the kitchen, don an apron, get moving. When guests expecting dinner are due in 45 minutes, there is no pointless dawdling or twiddling of thumbs, no pointless scrolling, no staring at the clock willing 5pm to come sooner. It’s work shift #2 after a full shift #1, but it’s rewarding work – chopping, measuring, sniffing, stirring … eating … talking … checking that guests’ glasses are full and bellies filling. You whip cream and make tea. You co-host. You listen, talk, laugh, catch up. And then, just as quickly as it began, it’s over. They go home. Time to wash up and then to go to bed.

But THIS moment, washing dishes, marvelling at how cooking smells and laughter give way to crumbs on the table and oil splashes on the stovetop. THIS silence is golden. You understand that time is your own to do what you want with it. You understand why people are the most important thing in the world. You understand that all the work that goes into cooking and feeding makes sense and is worthwhile, even though food takes effort to cook and less effort to eat and once done it is a cycle to be repeated in the days to come.

Finally – when people have left and the plates are clean again, you can feel the difference it has made. You have given, but received so much more in return. You are satisfied with food and the fullness that comes from eating together with others. And you are filled with gratitude.

That’s why I do it. To feel good, to have fun – but equally, to enjoy the satisfaction of working hard with my hands and feeling rested, well and grateful.

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Bacon, tomato & mandarino spirals

On my birthday last month, I drove purposefully to Sabato. One has to be strong (as I learned) to shop there with self-control! On this particular day, full from brunch with friends, I thought I might manage …

When I got there I was greeted with a smiling face, pleasantly-stocked shelves, a table with various oils and vinegars to taste. I took my time, dipping cubes of bread into oils and vinegars, gazing at cheese and chocolate. It was difficult to maintain my resolve to pick up just dinner ingredients and a treat or two. In the end, I left a little guiltily with a brown paper bag filled to the brim with goodies.

After all of that, I didn’t enjoy our dinner that night that much, though J complimented me very kindly on it.

But this dish, made a few nights later with one citrusy Sabato purchase, won both of us over.

    Bacon, tomato & mandarino spirals 
    Ingredients:
    Olive oil
    Pasta spirals
    Fresh heirloom tomatoes – halved
    Garlic cloves, minced (we used 3 for 2 of us)
    Shoulder bacon, roughly diced (we used 100g)
    Sundried tomatoes, chopped
    Handful mushrooms, sliced
    Chilli flakes
    Ormond Rich Cream or white wine (optional)
    Mandarino* oil by Marina Colonna
    Salt
    Pepper
    Method:
    Bring a saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Salt it generously, then add in pasta spirals**. Ensure that the pasta is well covered with water. Cook till al dente, stirring every so often to prevent the pasta from sticking.
    While the pasta is cooking, place a skillet over moderately high heat and add in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. When the oil is warm, fry the tomato halves until they smell sweet and begin to collapse, then remove and set aside.
    Add in a little more oil if the skillet is too dry. Throw in the chilli flakes, minced garlic and sun-dried tomatoes – sauté. Once you can smell the garlic, deglaze with a splash of Ormond Rich Cream (you can also use any white wine or water) and cook for a minute or two till it evaporates. If you add in too much liquid at this point, just take some of it out with a spoon and set aside.
    Add in the bacon, fry till they turn a rich pink and brown in bits. Add in the mushrooms. Add in excess liquid from above if any – or add another splash of cooking wine / water, as well as a tablespoon of water from the pasta pot. Stir and lower the heat. Add the cooked tomatoes back in.
    When the pasta is ready, drain it, shake off excess water and stir it into the ‘sauce’.
    Now for the finishing touch*. Drizzle on the Mandarino, and serve immediately. Add freshly ground salt and pepper as you wish.
    * In lieu of using Mandarino, perhaps you could leave it out / experiment with another infused oil, or perhaps with adding a pinch of sugar, some chopped preserved lemon or a squeeze of fresh orange juice?
    ** Depending on the cooking time of the pasta, you may wish to adjust the order of cooking so the pasta and bacon ‘sauce’ are ready at the same time.
    Measurements are not exact as I cooked this rather spontaneously (i.e. without measuring things) – this post is intended to serve as a guide / inspiration rather than a definite ‘how-to’. :-)

Kuching, Sarawak: hidden treasures

Growing up in Southeast Asia, I used to take this part of the world for granted. Like some of my friends, my dream vacations involved faraway, ‘interesting’ places like France and Italy.

If I could turn back time, I’d change my perspective. Hot, sticky summers; amazing thunderstorms; delectable food; juicy tropical fruit … how much I overlooked the gifts of home :-)

Around two weeks ago, I popped over to Kuching, Sarawak to visit my friend Soo Sian. We met at university more than a decade ago (!) and I was excited that I was going to see her again … and visit her in her hometown! I didn’t really know what to expect; I had heard about Kuching’s famous orang utans and ‘food that was better than Singapore’s’ (a bold statement?) … aside from that, I went with an open mind.

Soo Sian came to pick me up at the airport and we dove right into easy, rapid conversation – as if the last time we caught up face to face properly was mere days ago, rather than years ago. My first thought about the city was that it was a cross between Singapore and Phuket in terms of pace, feel and cleanliness. It has the best of both cities :-) We headed straight to the heart of the city, into charming ‘old Kuching’ for lunch – sweet and smoky satay, noodles cooked in a gentle broth. I relaxed immediately.

So began six lovely days :-)

Old Kuching / Main Bazaar / Carpenter Street

Some parts of the area have been ‘touristified’, but it doesn’t take away the quiet beauty and charm of this area – loved both the cheerful, well-preserved buildings and the tranquil waterfront. Some really good food in the area too, which is great to enjoy in such surroundings.

The only downside for me was one public loo I walked into there, but I won’t say too much about that – just try not to need one if you are used to public toilets in Singapore or New Zealand.

At one of the jetties we caught a sampan across the river to Fort Margherita (where I got a quick introduction to the history of Kuching at the Brooke Gallery, recommended for first-time tourists).

Street art / heritage

One of the best things about Kuching for me was how you didn’t have to go far to step back in time, or admire the simple pleasures in life – and I mean that in the best way. Cities develop at such a rapid pace now, it was honestly such a joy to gaze at street art, see people doing things the ‘old (and best!) way’, walk past shops that brought back happy childhood memories …

Food

It goes without saying … diets don’t work well in Southeast Asia, and definitely not in Kuching :-) And yes – there were moments in which I thought the food was good enough to rival Singapore’s!

I fell in love at first bite with this crunchy, succulent jungle fern known as midin. We ate it cooked with red wine twice, and belachan (shrimp paste) once. Scrumptious. I could eat it every day.

Local kueh, zhong zi / bak zhang (glutinous rice dumplings) and other delights: my grandma used to make or buy these quite frequently when she was alive. Always makes me happy to see them. I feel they are getting more rare now in shops, as they are labour-intensive and their low prices hardly make up for it.

Kolo mee: affectionately known as one of Sarawak’s national dishes – it’s easy to see its appeal, especially at breakfast time! You can find it almost anywhere in Kuching where there is food sold, though Soo Sian did say there are a few places that do it better than others.

Kway chap: a robust dish with the potential to charm or offend. Flat rice sheets – a little like torn lasagne sheets – served in a herbal broth flavoured with hearty spices like star anise and five spice powder, with braised offal, tongue, belly, etc. It has to be cooked well in order for it to be enjoyable and not pungent; we ate this dish at two places and both were delicious.

Let’s not forget one of the most important meals: dessert! We had some mighty fine dessert … most notably Cocopuri (try their signature). Light and delightful. I don’t think I’ve ever had three scoops of ice cream in a single sitting, nor would I have welcomed the thought, but here it was easy! On the night we were there I loved the combination I got: coconut + lychee bandung + teh-c special. This was topped with what I think were toasted coconut flakes and gula apong.

Kopi-C / China House was a haven of relaxation and indulgence too, with their tempting selection of cakes, good coffee and tasteful decor :-) A great place to visit alone with a notebook and pen, or with friends.

Being in Kuching at the start of Ramadan meant we got to visit a pop-up Ramadan bazaar, a lovely and lively experience, and pick up some delicious ayam penyet, biryani and sugar cane juice.

Indian Temple Trail, Matang

Home to three Indian temples, the trail is also a lovely walk for nature lovers and introverts. Ideal for those looking to start exercising too ;-)

Serapi Virgin coconut shake

A delicious treat after our walk! It was busy but still felt like one of Kuching’s well-kept secrets :-) Also enjoyed the drive there as we got to enjoy lovely views and lush greenery en route.

So it feels like I’ve spent most of this post talking about food … and it is obvious that I missed some of the obvious places and activities most tourists head to Kuching for :-) It is home to many other treasures besides what I have listed here, guess another trip there in the future may be in order. From a fellow tourist-who-loves-exploring-great-places point of view I hope tourism there will grow, yet in another way I hope it doesn’t grow so much that it loses the quiet beauty it enjoys now.

For me I was very lucky to have a friend and travel companion who also hosted me and drove me around, as I do think it would be very hard to get around on my own otherwise. Attractions are spread out and signage and public transport options were not clear to me. That said … when there’s a will, there’s a way. :-)

Thanks Soo Sian and all the beautiful people I met there for a relaxing, restorative getaway!

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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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