a spring in my step

19 09 2010

There is an international consensus to acknowledge the 21st as a date of seasonal change – be it March, June, September or December. Here in New Zealand, however, we insist that Spring begins on the 1st day of September. A case of wishful thinking after a rainy winter, perhaps.  Still, there is no denying that the air is warmer; the sky is bluer; the birds are trilling in the trees and I am no longer filled with flu and such …

How glorious it feels to be well. I am clear-headed and bursting with flavour – think more artistic potential than ripe blueberry…

I have spent the last few weeks enjoying the company of one of my dearest friends – Jandy.  She popped down to our little island from London, to chat with me until the wee hours; to play board games with all of us; to sample the wines at local boutique vineyards;

to shop and indulge her impulse to buy stylish outfits for Zuzu; to watch Bergman movies from M’s massive movie collection – having sat through my share of those bleak, cerebral, Swedish  masterpieces, I slunk out during the opening credits. However, I deigned to join in the Kubrick love fest…

Jandy and I bopped our way through adolescence together, in style – from ivory tower academics to Sierra ski resort bums; Alaskan fisher-folk to creditable professionals. Our paths diverged about 10 years ago and we were out of contact for some time, but a few years ago Zuzu and I met up with her in Paris and the three of us hailed the New Year together on  Petit Pont, overlooking  Notre Dame – a poignant realisation of  one our teenage intentions.

Now, we find ourselves living in different time zones leading very different lives. She: an important mover and shaker with an office in the Tower of London and Me: a mumma, a student and a novice ‘cooker’ – my little 3-year-old Zuzu used to say “Mumma, you a good cooker” – living by the beach, on an island, way down under.

Reminds me of a Michelle Shocked song.

I think we are both very happy and grateful for our beautiful lives.

While Jandy stayed with us, I wanted to cook for her.  I suppose I wanted to share my new passion and show her my achievements – a far cry from the English muffins with peanut butter we survived on whilst living in a small Aleutian island fishing village, 90kms from the Russian water border.  Cooking somehow  illuminates, for me,  the contentment and abundance I feel in my little island oasis and allows me to express the gratitude I feel for the beautiful people I am so lucky to love.  Sharing this with Jandy was my way of including her.

Jandy was genuinely appreciative of all of my offerings but she seemed to enjoy one dish, in particular. I have fiddled with Vegetarian Moussaka for some time and have tried all kinds of combinations and variations in the layers between the eggplant and the creamy sauce. Finally, I have found a rich and tasty concoction that I love.

Prepare the Eggplant:

Step 1: Thinly slice an eggplant (or 2 if you are making a large Moussaka).

Step 2: Liberally salt the eggplant slices, leave them for 10 mins, then rinse them well and pat them dry.

Step 3: Spray a fine film of oil on both sides of the eggplant and bake on a greased tray (or on parchment/baking paper) in a 180°C oven until just brown – around 20 mins.

Prepare the secret layer:

Step 1:  Thinly slice 2 zucchini (courgettes) lengthwise.

Step 2: Thinly slice 1 apple (cut in half and cored)

Step 3: Cut 1 red pepper in quarters and remove seeds and ribs.

Step 4: Place zucchini, apple slices and red pepper on tray with oven proof paper and bake with the eggplant until pepper skin is blistered and zucchini is browning.

Step 5: Let red pepper sit for a few minutes then peel the skin.

Make the Filling:

Step 1: Sauté 2 large onions in oil. I usually spray a non-stick pan with olive or bran oil.

Step 2: Add a few crushed garlic cloves; 2 cans of kidney beans (I often use one can of kidney and one can of black beans); 1 can of peeled tomatoes (I use crushed);  1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Cook well, roughly mashing the beans as they soften to form a thick sauce.

Step 3: Add salt and pepper and a little sugar to offset the bitterness of the tomatoes.

Make the creamy sauce:

Step 1: Beat 1 cup of natural yogurt  with 1 egg. Season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg.

Construct the Moussaka:

Now for the fun…

Step 1: Layer the baked eggplant slices into an oven-proof dish (I have used round and rectangular).

Step 2: Cover the eggplant with half the bean mixture.

Step 3: Layer slices of zucchini, apple and red pepper on top of the beans.

Step 4: Sprinkle a little layer of cheese (optional). M and Zuzu do not care for cheese but M can tolerate a little Mozzarella and Zuzu can handle a small sprinkle of Vegetarian Tasty – so I have been known to separate the dish into 3 parts. I know – very forbearing of me!

Step 5: Repeat the steps,  finishing with a final layer of eggplant. Pour on the creamy sauce and lightly dust with  paprika. Add a little more cheese if you like – Parmesan is a wonderful choice for this dish.

Bake for 40 mins or until topping is golden and bubbly. Serve with your choice of lightly steamed vegetables or fresh salad.  It is worth any fiddly bits – pour yourself a glass of wine in a really nice glass while you cook – this Moussaka is delicious.

Jandy is now back in her busy world and I am firmly planted in mine – both of us happy in our respective skins. However, there is something very comforting about spending time with someone who has known you for so many years. They know your funny little ways and can tease you about things you might rather forget; they have seen you try on versions of yourself and tweak them accordingly;  they know challenges you have met and pain you have endured; they have shared successes and celebrated triumphs with you.

My daily life now includes wonderful connections with many intelligent, mindful women who inspire, support  and challenge me.  I feel so grateful to be surrounded by these new ‘soul sisters’ and I believe I have learned to have  such a relationship with these women, in great part, through my abiding  friendship with my dearest Jandy.




One response

20 09 2010

Lovely tribute to true friendship!

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