May 18, 2013 in Uncategorized
April 15, 2013 in Uncategorized
It was when I stood there last night, turning two sizzling duck breasts in the pan, that I smiled and sighed my delight at being back in my kitchen. I had a clear moment of sensing the shift to being fully back, after the recent six weeks interruption of recovering from surgery. Already in the week, on Wednesday, I had the first stirrings of this: I cooked us a meal of pan fried scottish salmon, skin on, baby potatoes and sweet carrots: a simple mid week meal turned celebratory dinner as I opened a bottle of good sparkling wine: the celebration? Three years of being lovers. I am teased by my now husband often about how many anniversaries I keep track of: the first coffee date, the first kiss, the first meal I cooked for him, and then that night three years ago when he did not go home after yet another meal I had cooked for us. Our love story is inextricably linked to cooking and eating together… and documented by my very prolific journal keeping(thus I know the exact dates) and also by this blog: In July 2010 when I started this, we were new lovers, discovering delightedly that we had as much of an erotic connection as we had in music and food and life philosophy…
But back to last night’s meal: when I bought the duck I could not decide how to do it: I have two basic ways of cooking duck breasts: pan fried and served with a red wine reduction and veggies, or dry-marinated with chinese spices and extra szechuan pepper, pan fried and served sliced atop a bowl of fragrant oriental noodles.
Last night the more traditionally french way won out: dauphinoise potatoes, green beans in burnt butter and almonds, and duck breasts pan fried and served with a red wine and blueberry jus. Also actually very simple and really easy to cook. I am often surprised when I hear people say: oh, I can’t cook like that. It’s as simple as following a recipe, at least the first couple of times. I often still take out a recipe book to just make doubly sure of an ingredient or a quantity, as I did last night, not remembering if I used to mix the cheese into the milk and cream mix or sprinkled it on top only when I last made dauphinoise potatoes.(it’s on top).
I phoned my sister last night and told her about the meal I was cooking, and I knew that she had probably never made duck, or even eaten it. Even dauphinoise she did not know the name of. I could not help again wondering about how it happened that I became so almost obsessed with good food and cooking: even though my mother liked to cook(well, I think so), she never made elaborate meals or experimented with exotic ingredients. Partly I think because her options ingredient wise were limited and her husband was a conventional eater, and her food budget was probably half of mine, and she cooked for six people. There were some nudges though in the direction of knowing that food and cooking was important: always part of celebrations: birthday dinners, sunday lunches, christmas cooking. Something of that must have stuck in my brain, because here I am: even writing about cooking and food and my love for it.
And cooking nice meals for two, turning the very act into a celebration of life and love and togetherness.
Next I shall be having a dinner party to officially announce my return to the kitchen. Probably more french food: not quite cold enough for a Toulouse cassoulet, yet another incredibly simple dish which once was so exotic that I did not even know of it’s existence. But maybe a casserole of coq au vin… hmmm, at last. I’m back.
March 5, 2013 in Uncategorized
I have moved to the couch for the early evening. The last couple of days have gone by with me lounging mostly in bed: not quite in bed: on top of it, looking out onto the back garden and my straggly and surprisingly successful veggie patch through a double door swung fully open, against a vast stack of pillows and cushions, my knees supported by more, my laptop by yet another on my healing belly. Standard advice for healing after an abdominal hysterectomy is to hold a pillow over the incision and press down when you cough, sneeze or laugh, so that has come in handy.
I am lying here, listening to my husband trying out a new tune on his alto sax: he sometimes plays the alto, though really his instrument is the tenor sax these days. He used to play the oboe like an angel, years ago when I first noticed him, and long before he noticed me. I often marvel at how our lives intersect others’ and sometimes come together in a powerfully meaningful way, but that is the topic of quite another conversation.
This conversation is about soup. Particularly since there is a pot of lentil soup bubbling on the biggest burner of my gas stove, cooker, as the English will say. I know, it’s really only just autumn, and I am already making soup? And not the summer soups like gazpacho or vichyssoise, but a full bodied brown lentil soup. When I say that I am making it, it’s somewhat inaccurate too. Recovering from a hysterectomy also means no heavy housework, including heavy chopping and lifting of full kettles or pots. So earlier, I directed my husband to chop onions(which he did tonight without wearing his swimming goggles), and celery, and carrots and potatoes, so that all I needed to do was to fry the soffrito, add the lentils, and stock and come and lie on the sofa, and listen to him play and muse about soup.
I have always loved soup. I grew up with chunky vegetable soup with at least two thick cut-bone in beef shins to add flavour. That was my mother’s version of vegetable soup. And my idea of vegetable soup for a very long time, until I discovered cooking. I remember that I loved her soup, bar the floating strips of curled up tomato skins: she always cut up raw tomato into the soup. My twin(non identical in almost every conceivable way) hated chunky soup: my mom had to strain her soup, and, guess what? I greedily asked for her solids to be scooped into my bowl. I just loved the texture on my tongue and in my mouth. I still do.
But I also have developed a taste for clear broths, delicately flavoured, with not a speck of even parsley in sight: maybe at most an artful leaf of coriander in the eastern inspired, gingery infusions sipped hot from a handmade ceramic bowl. Or an earthy extraction of simply potato, celery, carrot, bay leaf, garlic and herbs: almost a vegetable stock really, which can be exquisite in it’s simplicity: served as a starter or as nourishing food for the really sick. When my mother was dying of cancer in my house 12 years ago, today marking the day of her death, I made sure that I had a constant soup on the boil, which I would put through a sieve and feed tiny spoonfuls to her, until she could no longer eat anything. I found that I still had a voracious appetite at the time, and felt almost ashamed that I had whatever was left over, plus the solids, sometimes in the middle of the night as I took a break from the bedside vigil, almost to remind myself that I am still alive and healthy.
I am still alive and healthy, if somewhat incapacitated at the moment. I am astounded in moments at my body’s capacity to heal: a knife was taken to my lower abdomen, and I have survived! Is that not rather miraculous?
And here I am, ready for a bowl of not quite seasonal lentil soup, a heel of parmesan added by my husband when I remembered to instruct him to add that about an hour ago. It has been hard to abandon the cooking to him: not because he is a bad cook: in fact, he cooks very well. But it’s more about asking: will you take out the pot for me from the bottom drawer; will you chop the celery for me; will you check the soup for salt: all these things I have been doing so automatically and easily and lovingly all along.
Now I am forced by my body to take it easy, to ask, to receive. A good primer for letting go and letting be towards the end of time.
February 28, 2013 in Uncategorized
I’ve had to adjust my opinion, based on memory, of hospital food. The Dickensian bowl of gruel did not materialise, not once. Though on the first day, I did not have a choice but to eat liquid food: very fragrant soup for lunch and dinner, and oatmeal porridge for breakfast. The offer of fruit flavoured yogurt with each serving, already elevated it to at least hostel, if not hotel food. Not the hospital food I remember. Imagine my surprise when a pert, uniformed woman arrived at the end of my first day post-procedure with a pre-printed, carbon interleaved pad with menu options for the next day’s breakfast, lunch and supper. I was a little sedated from painkillers at first, and could not make out what she was rattling off. Turns out: a whole menu. I asked to see it, so that I could have a more leisurely look at my options. It read like a B&B or hotel room service menu. I chose the warm breakfast: whole-wheat toast, scrambled eggs, bacon(breakfast rashers) and mushrooms; chicken supremes with mashed potato and a salad for lunch; and a lamb and lentil curry with rice for dinner. The other days I tried out more options, delighting in the gourmet style descriptions of the meals: ” Deboned lamb scented with rosemary and thyme, served with a herb enriched sauce” for instance.Deserts on offer? Coconut panacotta, trio of torte, blueberry marbled cheesecake, and of course the more conventional hospital style jelly and custard.
My first encounter with hospital food was when I was 13 years old. At the local hospital where my uncle did minor and not so minor procedures, I had my appendix out. He diagnosed acute appendicitis when my mother thought that I was really just not feeling like going to school: tummy ache being the ubiquitous excuse for such days. So I was bundled off to hospital. I got a new nightie I think. But I also got shaved unceremoniously and rather unsympathetically. I lay there softly crying, feeling terribly exposed and humiliated even while my very private pubic area was scraped free of a first, prepubescent growth of dark hair by a hard talking, harsh looking nurse. Later, in theatre, when my uncle lifted the cover to see if my lower belly was prepared properly, I almost cried again. It was as if I had lost something precious: my private parts had suddenly become public. I guess that was my introduction to how helpless and vulnerable one is when one’s body needs that kind of intervention… (this time around and almost 40 years later I at least knew to shave!)
I woke up that first time to three days of feeling awful: in pain, very alone in a ward with two other women, and awful food. Oatmeal breakfasts only. Colourless, tasteless soup for lunch and dinner the first day. Pale, overcooked veggies with small portions of dry chicken. No yogurt. White bread toast was offered, I think. It is a long time ago after all. But it set in my mind an association with hospitals of feeling helpless and being hungry for real food. Add to that a smattering of minor other procedures when all I remember eating was flavourless soups, since I never stayed beyond two days, and the idea of horrible hospital food was entrenched in my mind.
A couple of years ago I was in hospital for a total of ten days after two back surgeries, but for some reason I don’t recall the food at all. I don’t remember being impressed. I may not even have been paying attention to what I ate. I was quite depressed, knowing that I was going home to a man who required constant attention and who in the end and true to form, could not cope with me being a patient. The relationship had been strained for a while, and all my energy went into just surviving: I did not have the luxury of feeling so relaxed that I could pay attention to something as frivolous as hospital food and the quality thereof. The fact that I am doing that now: thinking and writing about my experience of hospital food is significant of exactly how free I feel. I can turn my attention to whatever I want, and write about it, without fearing judgement and criticism from a supposed partner.
This time around I am being pampered and cared for and cooked for: a big pot of chicken soup, at my request, was on the boil on the morning that I got home. I have chocolates next to the bed. And as many cups of tea as I feel like asking for. And back rubs, and listening in the middle of the night to a vivid dream which woke me up and I had to tell: I can cope with any hospital experience knowing that I have this to come home to.
Earlier today I peeled off the wound dressing and found that my doctor has made the incision in such a way that my very first scar from my appendix operation is incorporated in this new wound so that it forms one seamless line. Somehow this seems fitting. A coming together, a completion. And soon I shall be back in the kitchen. For now, I am healing. For ever, I am healed.
First appeared in my primary blog: http://foodsmoodsmomentsmemories.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/healing/
January 27, 2013 in Uncategorized
I am not good with desserts. There, I’ve said it. They are my least favourite thing to make when I cook for family or friends. I have at times asked well-meaning guests(the kind who insists on bringing something) to bring pudding, but I don’t do that anymore. That has sometimes turned out a little disastrous: a supermarket bought black forest cake once, with faux cream: or plastic cream, as my mom used to say. The guest did not know that I was somewhat of a food snob. She does now! Even in restaurants I hardly order a dessert. Today my husband and I had the high tea menu at the Westcliff Hotel in Johannesburg, and the array of sweets for after the rather mediocre(for the expense) buffet were impressive, but could not tempt me beyond a taste of a very good pecan pie and a dark chocolate ganache square with a bit of marzipan on top. Deeply delicious, but not something I will try my hand at.
My favourite thing to make if I must, is pears poached in red or white wine, served with cream, or mascarpone with blue cheese turned through it. And when berries are in season, a big bowl of them steeped in castor sugar with star anise tucked in between, served with shop bought vanilla ice cream. I have made tiramisu in the past. Once. I went through a sorbet phase, hand churning sorbet: mango and strawberry and lemon. Ah, and pannacotta a couple of times, speckled with vanilla seeds just like they are made in the expensive restaurants of my imagination, or the beautifully captured photographs in well-known chefs’ cookbooks. For family get-togethers I used to make Marie biscuit pudding: my dad’s favourite. I want to cry when I remember that I will never make another one for him. He died in 2011. Much longer ago, I was a deft hand turning crepes Suzette at the table. Oh yes, and more recently I managed a fairly successful apricot tarte tatin: an aside to a foodie guest: “VERY tart!!”
So, despite the above, I generally do not like making desserts nor am I particularly good at it. But I am planning a dinner party soon, for a couple whom I have not cooked for before, and as I idly wondered out loud about the menu, my beloved suggested, for pudding, that I make clafoutis. The last time I had clafoutis was at a dinner party where the very capable hostess presented a perfectly cooked one, hot out of the oven, with a flourish and flush of pride. My husband, then fiancée, so loved it that he had been asking since then(not every day of course but more than three times!) if I would make clafoutis. I guess it is as good a suggestion as can be: cherries are available right now, and the process is really simple, though it is also easy to overcook it. My recently acquired kitchen timer will come in handy! That is if I can hear the rather short ring at the end of the ticking time. It is an old-fashioned, non digital, lime green plastic egg, sitting on the central cooking station, the green echoed by low green enamel station lamp style lights overhead and a green painted bookshelf holding all my cookbooks tucked in a corner in my kitchen. I often listen to music in the lounge or type away on my laptop as food is cooking away, so that I sometimes don’t hear it. And so far, when I scorch something, I get teased. I hope never(again) to get scolded by an irate husband over that: I have had two of those. Irate husbands, I mean. I get irritated myself though when I burn something, thus the timer.
But back to desserts, in particular, clafoutis. I have a couple of recipes in books on that green shelf with variations on the theme, but I turned to the Les Halles cookbook for a simple but definitive version. And as I am planning a very retro French menu, starting with vichyssoise, a main course of whole fillet of beef with bearnaise sauce or a red wine sauce for which I will make demi-glace and freeze it a week before, as per instruction of Mr Bourdain and other French inspired cooks worth their proverbial Maldon. Green beans and sweet carrots to accompany I think. And clafoutis.
Or, if my courage: my guests most certainly have eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world(they travel), and in their homes(the wife, a niece of my new husband, cooks); fails, I will resort to poached pears in red wine. French enough, easy enough: almost impossible to overcook!
Originally posted on my paralel blog: http://foodsmoodsmomentsmemories.wordpress.com/