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…


Sunday, Sunday…

20 09 2010

One of my Nana’s old sayings came back to me, yesterday morning, as I stood with M on a secluded beach with gusts of wind fairly punching us and sharp streaks of rain hammering our heads – “that’ll blow the cobwebs out”.

It was wild, woolly and magical and I was overjoyed to be out walking in it, feeling refreshed and energised by the power of nature.  We managed to get home just before a torrential downpour which encouraged a certain smugness – as if we were at one with the awesome temperament of the weather.

I feel viscerally affected by the sound and the might of a significant wind. I believe I become quite unfocused and more susceptible to mood changes. We were prepared for these storm conditions, due to the glut of doom and fear media coverage but aside from making sure we had candles and water,  no other accommodations were made.  There was nothing to do but ride it out.

We spent most of the day in a lazy haze of chatting and watching movies; napping on the sofa and cooking.  M, who is working towards his PhD, attempted to add a little research study to the mix but was uncharacteristically distracted.  Zuzu was in her own little world – alternating between cocooning herself in her warm and cozy bedroom and trailing me around the house, feeding me little snippets of interesting information.  At one point, we all sat down for a conversation about getting a puppy and a kitten.  It started with somewhat of an agenda which included time frame, duties and responsibilities and swiftly moved to breeds and colours and names.  I’m not sure we accomplished much more than agreeing we would all like a puppy,  soon-ish.

M mentioned that he hadn’t had cornbread for years. Zuzu couldn’t remember ever having cornbread (although I am sure she has had her share at Thanksgiving dinners in the U.S).  Suddenly, I was compelled to make cornbread. I did a quick search on google and found some strange-looking cornbread recipes as well as cornbread forums and heated discussions over such things as the efficacy of sugar in the recipe and oil vs melted butter.  I did not let that deter me and found a simple recipe that allowed me to use organic polenta  in place of fine cornmeal. I used this basic recipe from  The Fresh Loaf :

Basic Polenta Cornbread

Step 1: In one bowl, combine: 1 cup polenta, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup sugar (I used brown sugar), 1 tbsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt.

Step 2: In another bowl, combine: 1 cup milk, 1/3 cup vegetable oil or melted butter, 1 egg.

Step 3: Mix them both together and pour into a greased pan ( I used  a square pan with parchment paper).

Step 4: Bake in 190°C oven for 20 – 25 mins. I left it in until the top was browning a little.

Zuzu wanted to make chili and I was happy to let her. I love knowing she is developing a nice little collection of meals that she can comfortably put together. I would like her to discover an interest in healthy and hearty cooking in her own way – I periodically solicit her help with my meal preparation (while it is still more fun than a chore) – and so far she seems to have a confidant attitude to creating interesting and tasty dishes.

The  recipe she used was a super quick  Can Do Chili that I discovered many years ago and have adapted to suit just about anything I have in the fridge or cupboards.

Step 1: Sauté 1 chopped onion, a few cloves of minced garlic, a ¼ tsp chili powder, salt and pepper.

Step 2: Stir in 3 cans of beans – drained and rinsed (this means anything from chick peas, four bean mix, black beans, lentils, cannellini beans, lima beans, broad beans, kidney beans). Add more cans if you are making chili for larger gathering.

Step 3: Stir in 1 can of peeled, chopped tomatoes (or more if needed).

Step 4: Add 1 can of spiced chili beans – usually found in the International section of the market near the tacos.

Step 5: Stir, checking spices and altering according to taste. Simmer on a low heat until ready to serve. I have also made this in a big pot during a power outage and put it on top of the fireplace.

There is so much you can do with this basic recipe. I often add fresh spinach at the last moment or corn kernels – I will use red or green lentils in place of beans, if I feel like it.  It really is up to you!

The wind was steadily howling all through the day and by the evening I found myself feeling a little fragile and weary. I sequestered myself for a few hours and vehemently insisted on some privacy – much to Zuzu’s annoyance. It was strange to have felt so buoyed by the wind’s tantrum in the morning, only to find myself having my own Greta Garbo – like tantrum in the evening.

"I want to be alone"

Later that night, as I lay with Zuzu talking about moods and behaviours, I couldn’t help but feel so fortunate that her temperament is so temperate. From time to time she has small outbursts which she clears up remarkably quickly and moves on without a trace of a grudge or residue irritation. I think that attitude will serve her well and I am doing all I can to learn from her.

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.