There has been no time for cooking these last two months. Dinner has consisted mostly of Grand Chicken Ranch burgers from McDonald’s (the three lettuce leaves, slice of tomato and single onion ring constituting my 5-a-day as far as I am concerned) or toast. So it’s been rather nice to have someone to cook for and have a bit of time to get into the kitchen again. Even if that kitchen is a desk and toaster oven in a tiny Chinese hotel room, and finding ingredients for a specific recipe could mean a three hour round trip to the Avo Lady. If you’re in Shanghai, you can find lemon grass here (and only here, as far as I have been able to tell).
This is one of my all-time favourite recipes. The extremely obliging people at Woodall Country House & Spa in the Sundays River Valley were kind enough to pass the recipe along after my book club spent a pampered weekend there a few years ago, reading nothing but wine labels and enjoying their exceptional cuisine and warm hospitality. It is dead easy and very, very good. The butternut blends to a velvety, smooth soup without the need for straining and the Thai flavours turn what would ordinarily be standard weekday fare into something a little special.
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I had one of THOSE days again. I pretty much went into panic mode about my occupational / living / geographical status.
Don’t get me wrong, being a lady of leisure and traveling all over the place is bloody, damn awesome. Particularly as I somehow managed to find a husband who will virtually beg me to spend a bit of money on myself and never makes me feel guilty that his was the career we chose to nurture while I get to sleep in late when I want to. But every now and then – between the lunches, and copious amount of reading and experimental cooking time – I suddenly realise “Holy crap, I don’t have a job. My husband is a contract worker. We don’t know where the next job will be. When don’t know WHEN the next job will be! We don’t know where we’ll be next week, let alone next month!! I don’t even know what to fill in when asked for my residential address!!! I don’t know what to fill in where Facebook asks what city I live in!!!! I can’t breathe!!!!!”.
But on days like this, there is one thing I can count on to quiet the voices, ease the pressure, still the storm and envelope me in a warm, cuddly haze of happiness: Food. Those dishes that evoke a happy childhood memory, or remind you of a special time and place with special people or, simply, remind you that no matter how crazy and unpredictable and scary your life might seem right now, you can always count on a few things to stay the same. The right meal can achieve all that. Your favourite spaghetti bolognaise recipe will taste today like it did last week or last year or the first time you closed your eyes and savoured that second mouthful (the first mouthful you just shoveled down of course, because it was just spaghetti right, how good could it be?). This is one of those dishes. A very special take on something resembling a bouillabaisse that reminds me of home and my mom. It is also one of the first things I remember making after I discovered that I rather loved cooking, so adding a bit of orange zest to some fish was very shoo-wow! Some people would get comfort from aunty’s cottage pie or granny’s chocolate cake or matron’s mash. I found it in a bowl of my mom’s seafood broth.
What dish do you choose when you’re in the mood for a bit of nostalgic psychotherapy? Google Analytics tells me there are loads of you out there reading my blog, but you’re all rather quiet. I’d love to hear from you! What passes for mash in Jakarta, Nottingham, Madrid, Glenorchy or Roodepoort?
From Elsa van der Nest’s fabulous book, Simply Entertaining.
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If you’re a three-hours-or-longer-Friday-lunch kinda person, the Chinese work ethic can take a bit of getting used to. It’s no wonder they’re taking over the world one “Made in China” label at a time – they work like machines. So my husband works really long hours. We hardly see each other on a work day and then he only has one in every twelve days off. Needless to say, rain days have become very precious to us, because he gets to stay home. We get so ridiculously lazy on these days. We COULD use them as a precious opportunity to spend some time together exploring all the fascinating new places around us. But when that call finally comes, confirming there will be no pick up that day, we inevitably turn to each other and, slightly embarrassed at our anti-wanderlust tendencies, timidly suggest simultaneously, “Movies?”. We will then proceed to spend the entire day in bed watching movies, only emerging to make tea or something to eat. On one such day, while one of the many typhoons that battered China’s eastern coast this summer was raging outside, I hit a personal low on the uselessness scale. I got up around four in the afternoon, still in my nightie, and looked in the mirror (probably to check for bedsores). The mirror is behind the bedside lamp and the globe is naked because the hotel uses these ridiculously ostentatious lamp shades that are all shade without the lamp bit. They are so covered in gold they don’t let any actual light through so I’d removed it. Anyway, I leaned into the mirror and accidentally burnt my boob on the globe! I pulled my nightie away and was horrified to discover I had burnt a blister right through the fabric! I was also a little confused as, while it had smarted a bit, it didn’t seen to be as sore as a big, brown blister warranted. Nonetheless, it was not lost on me that I could use my injury as a means of getting out of tea making duty for the rest of the day. So I put on my best quivering-lip face and, nursing my injured appendage, made my way to my husband to garner some sympathy. I was just rounding the corner of the bed, wondering whether limping a little would be overkill, when my blister fell off. We stood there staring at it for a few seconds until realization dawned: The blister was nothing more than an errant popcorn kernel, stuck there from wolfing down a bowl from a prone position hours earlier. So it was on this day – trying to make up for being caught at such an obvious deception just to get out of tea making duty – that this dish was conceived. Adam declared it to be one of his favorites. The inspiration came from my mom’s preferred way of doing prawns. The original recipe (from a Vroue Federasie cook book from yore) used lemon juice (and had a few different tweaks I don’t recall) which is an ideal substitute for when you’d rather drink your wine than cook with it. This pasta dish is perfect for days when you are so lazy, that anything you eat needs to take ten minutes or less to cook from start to finish. Maximum impact with ridiculously little effort.
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