filling up

20 06 2011

oh boy.

for the first time in 7 months i have no assignment pending. i’m free to do whatever i please.

what to do – what to do?

first, i’m going to start tidying my long-suffering house. kitty will have to find a safe spot while i suck up everything that is loose on the floors (and walls for that matter).

then, i’m going to have a bath. a long bath with candles and chocolate and something bubbly.  someone may need to turn the pages of my book and feed me – it’s more elegant that way.

afterwards, well… i’m just going to roll around on the clean floor and laugh and sing – there may be dancing.

at some point i’ll start creating a fabulous meal and i’ll giggle and tell funny stories to kitty (and m who is injured and recovering at home with limited mobility).

zuzu will come home, soon after, and i’ll run to the door with my frilly red apron on, over my crisp and white ironed shirt and pretty, poppy skirt, and fling it open. we’ll embrace and i’ll feed her veggie crudités with home-made dip and warm-from-the-oven plump chocolate chip cookies with a glass of milk. we’ll sit at the round table and share highlights of our days.

ooh, a movie. a poignant, funny, dramatic, obscure, romantic movie – i guess it’ll have to be French. then, a book i’ve always meant to read, like – The Mill on the Floss or The Good Earth.

gracious me – there’s still so much left to do.  thankfully, i have a three WEEKS to fill with all this joy and abundance and gratitude…


some like it hot

22 01 2011

Can I just say, it is boiling down under…

Oh – and Happy New Year!

I will attempt a bit of a recap from my last post which was… checking … UH OH, almost two months ago. I’m not sure what happened there, I meant to increase my posts not dive headfirst into blogging obscurity. It is a new year – I can freshen my intentions and leap for the sky. I’m in a bit of a leaping mood, actually. I don’t know much about stars and alignments and biorhythms but I’m feeling change afoot. I’ll take it!

Now for the recap.

Zuzu graduated from her school and was awarded a big silver cup for ‘Most Outstanding Student of 2010’. I was very fortunate to have a variety of friends scattered through the school hall who, very thoughtfully, took photos for me. My camera sat on my lap as I watched my little girl, through very blurry eyes, stand on stage and speak so eloquently about her years at the school.  A beautiful day.

December arrived: Everything seems enhanced, somehow, during the holiday month. School is out and southern hemisphere heat boils our blood; mismatched ornaments dangle from odd corners of the house; children are wide-eyed and full of optimism; eftpos pin numbers are loaded into retail machines all across the land. ‘Tis the season…

At this time of year, we are often confronted with our belief system.  We attempt a reconnaissance, of sorts, and gather our  rituals to best represent our perspective. We may include magical Santa stories with our children and the simplicity of Christmas carols;  dreidel games and candle ceremonies;  untangling from or rejoicing in the mysteries of religious adherence and of course our fervent declarations of intent for the coming year. These kinds of symbolic observances are dear to us and we rely on the reminder that we are thoughtful creatures with our own values and practices.

I love the idea that ritual can support the model that each of us have chosen as our ‘raison d’être’.  I particularly love that we can borrow from all kinds of sources to create these rituals and if we do so mindfully and respectfully then we are certainly perpetuating a positive cohesiveness. For example: the wonderful candle lighting practices of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa can be mesmerising and any family gathered around a candle light may find their conversations deepen and their intentions clarified by such a ritual.

2011 entered elegantly and I was very pleased to greet it. Oh, what is it about the fresh year – starting from scratch, almost. Although I deliberately refuse to tie myself to a 1. 2. 3. system of resolutions,  I do renew some of my intentions and kick out some of those badgering annoyances that shackle me to failure – such as: completely cleaning out my downstairs storage before such and such a date and ironing all my wrinkled clothes in one massive effort.

This annual transition, whether you are bundled up in front a fire or hotfooting it to the water’s edge to escape the burning sand,  is a fitting time to step back and look at what you have created. Reflectively observing your life provides a perfect opportunity to add mindful rituals to enhance what you have decided is important – it is also a wonderful time to discard those behaviours and patterns that do not work. On weekdays, I wake up early and spend an hour with M – talking and sipping coffee or walking briskly in the pre-dawn light (and talking through my panting). This one-hour morning ritual is about connecting and staying close and current with one another’s lives. It is invaluable.  On the flip side, I do not want to find myself heading to the pantry at 4pm on the dot, to grab an easy snack of cookies or chips. I must find a way to remove myself from the house at 4pm each day – as that snacking ritual has become an absent-minded trek and it does not serve my best interests.

Early in the new year my little girl became a teeny-bopper. She had been counting down to her 13th birthday since last September and at midnight on the day, we all whooped and hollered and celebrated. Zuzu was so ready and I think her frame of mind has had a huge influence on me. I watch her navigate her life with such poise and determination and I am so inspired by her attitude. She believes in herself and in her ability to create her dreams – I shouldn’t be surprised, I taught her these things – but the ease with which she moves from decision to action is impressive. After a week at a very high intensity sailing camp – she was exhausted but she’d decided to enter the annual island wharf to wharf run the next day.  Zuzu had never expressed a particular interest in running but the idea had caught her fancy and she was quite determined. On one of the hottest days of the summer,  she and her partner in crime (her oldest friend) ran the 7km and the little dude came 3rd in her division. That is some impressive follow-through!

After many months of pondering on it, we have a kitty. Well, Zuzu has a kitty. She named her ‘Thirteen’ and this little grey ball of fluff has insinuated herself perfectly into our hearts and our lives. She is plucky and sweet; twitchy and acrobatic; smoochy and – all in all – a charismatic little character.

Finally, I have plopped myself headfirst into yet another University programme. I have enrolled in a Post-Graduate Diploma of Creative Writing.

This was not my plan. I was all set to renew my New Zealand teaching credential and was accepted into my University of choice,  I even had my ID photo taken. All that was left was to enroll in the certification course. I got my application off, just after the deadline, but that was all fine. I went along to a literacy test just before Christmas which I passed easily, the next step was an interview. This was all starting to seem quite serious and I marveled at how things had changed from my first go-round in the ‘olden days’. Everything went swimmingly and although there were only 60 places (give or take) to be filled and over 400 applicants, I was quietly confident.

From time to time through the holidays, I found myself thinking about the course but instead of the excitement I had expected to feel, there was a jittery sort of discomfort. It was strange. No-one had coerced me into this –  it was my idea and a good one.  Still I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was about to spend a year or so in drudgery.  The letter came – “Congratulations, you have successfully made it to the wait-list!”  I realised that getting a rejection letter would have given me a way out and I had been, at some level, hoping for it. The wait-list, however, bought me a little time.

How nutty to be vigorously pursuing something that I really didn’t seem to want to do. I started looking around online at other programmes that tickled my fancy – just looking, mind you. M suggested I look at Culinary Institutes that specialised in Vegetarian cooking – wherever they might be in the world. I did find an amazing one in New York and a very promising one in India, if you are interested. Then, by an inadvertent stroke of the keyboard, I found a Creative Writing Center that offers a post-graduate course run by established and well-known authors. It is affiliated with a major University, yet cocooned in a small alcove of the institution – which means I would not have found it by browsing the catalogue.

The joyous feeling that immediately bubbled through me was both emotional and physical and I knew I wanted it.

So, here I am – embarking on this wonderfully impractical course of study. I am simultaneously intoxicated and terrified by the idea that I will have to stand and read aloud my small creative offerings – I will have to present my very being for critique.  How deliciously scary.

Naturally, through this busy month I have been fiddling with food and recipes. It is so hot, though, I am often just pulling out vegetables and fruit to make a platter for dinner that we can all nibble on. There is one dish that makes a regular appearance, these days, because it is simple and we all really like it.

Antipodean Black Beans


Antipodean Black Beans ( remodeled from the traditional Caribbean dish)

Step 1: Sauté  in a little oil – 1 large chopped onion; a couple of minced garlic cloves; 1/2  red and green capsicum diced – until tender (about 5 mins)

Step 2: Add a can of diced tomatoes and stir for a couple of minutes

Step 3: Stir in 2 cans of black beans (undrained)

Step 4: Add 1/4 c lemon juice and 1/4 c orange juice

Step 5: Add 1/2 tsp of cumin, oregano, and sage

Step 6: Season with salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper to taste (I usually add more than a pinch because we like it spicy)

Step 7: Cook gently, stirring often, until the mixture begins to thicken

Step 8: Sprinkle coriander on top.

This looks and tastes beautiful with some Cuban yellow rice – which  is traditionally long grain rice cooked with annato seeds and yellow asafetida powder.  However, I  use turmeric, and sometimes saffron, to colour the rice and I add a cup of peas just as it becomes tender.

I love this with pineapple or mango chunks and sour cream on top – although, neither Zuzu nor M  would dream of sullying a dish with any kind of cream.  I  just love the abundance of sweet/tart pineapple and savoury flavour and a dollop of sour cream on black beans is heavenly to me.


I think we may have this for dinner, actually. Writing the recipe has made me hungry for it.

I’m looking forward to seeing how my blog evolves this year – my one year ‘bloggiversary’ is coming up on the 28th of this month. I am intent on being more regular with my posting and perhaps a little more varied in my content but my passion for cooking and teaching myself to be a great cook remains and I can only assume that it will be reflected in almost everything I write.

Let the New Year of the Rabbit begin!

in favour of curry

16 02 2010

These summer days are whizzing past and I am grasping the tail end of each to make sure I have at least one mindful moment of reflection. Sometimes, it’s a fleeting summary of the daily events – noting what went well and what collapsed in a dreadful display of ineptitude.  Other days, such as yesterday, taking many opportunities to deliberately create, interact, laugh, consider, talk and decide, all with a deep sense of gratitude for my blessings.

After a busy morning of tennis and sailing, Zuzu and I went to the market to choose  some exotic Thai ingredients for our Vegetarian Red Curry. I had already done a quick google search for a red curry paste  recipe as there is shrimp in the store-bought jars. There are many curry paste styles and combinations but I identified some common ingredients in the recipes I looked at : galangal, lemon-grass, kaffir lime leaves, fresh chillies and garlic. I deliberately did not search for Red Curry recipes as my vision and my memory of  Thursday’s lunch was still fresh and I really wanted to see if Zuzu and I could create a comparable dish.

Zuzu and I spent the rest of the afternoon in peels of laughter. She is hilarious and I have moments of stunned disbelief that this beautiful, poised and intelligent young woman is  the same chewy cheeked curly top that used to dance in my arms to “Love for Sale”,

and the same curious and adventurous little  4 year old who back-packed around Europe  with me for 4 months, staying in Auberges and illustrating  our story of ” The Travels of the Queen and her  Princess”.

At 12 years old, she has such style and confidence; gentleness and innocence; kindness and sensitivity; wit and humour and above all – an  abundance of joy.  I love spending my days with her.

Around 5pm we began our task in earnest.

The first step was to make the curry paste. It was a simple matter of dicing, slicing and grinding ingredients as follows:

3 seeded red-hot chilis, 1 small onion (or shallot), 4 cloves of garlic (because I like garlic), 2 Tbsp lemongrass, 1 kaffir lime leaf (or 1 small lime rind), 1  Tbsp galangal (or ginger), 1 Tbsp tamari sauce (or soy sauce), 1 Tbsp coriander leaves (or parsley), 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp brown sugar, ½ tsp chili  powder, juice of  ½ lime, salt and pepper.

We used a stick blender but a mortar and pestle would work very well.  Zuzu liked it so much, she called it salsa and ate some on rice    crackers. It was a bit spicy for me to eat fresh from the bowl.

We wanted to include puffed tofu in the curry but didn’t fancy the idea of deep-frying it and collecting all that oil. Instead,  Zuzu cut the tofu into cubes and placed them on a parchment covered baking tray. We baked them for about 30 minutes at 200°C, turning as they browned, and they puffed up beautifully.

The next step could not be easier. Dice, chop and slice a selection of vegetables that tickle your fancy.  We chose:  potatoes, zucchini, red peppers, cauliflower florets, thinly sliced carrot slithers and mushrooms. After sautéing the quartered mushrooms, sliced zucchini and the diced par-boiled potatoes in a little chili rice bran oil, Zuzu added the red curry paste and a 400 g can of light coconut milk followed by the red peppers and cauliflower florets and finally the puffed tofu, which we cut in half to allow better absorption of the sauce.

Stirring gently from time to time, she let the flavours combine and the scent was enticing. The curry simmered for about 20 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken  and with a sprinkle of coriander, it was done. Zuzu declined the brown rice accompaniment but I spooned my curry into a small rice nest. Three bowls later we were both very satisfied with our Thai dinner and determined to experiment with some other traditional flavours.

That evening, with Zuzu tucked up in bed, I sat quietly and cherished the memories of the day.