I never thought of myself as someone with horrible knife skills. I swear I wasn't sloppy with my precious knife. On the contrary, I babied the thing to keep it with me forever and perhaps one day, bequeath it to a grandchild (or grand-nice/grand-nephew) worthy of its awesome thin-bladed power.
I'll be lucky if it lasts me through the season. Sympathetic friends regale me with stories of how some of their MAC knives have puttered out long before they're supposed to, chipped or cracked by some innocuous action. They're good people, my friends. But the fact remains, my knife was one of the best in the world. At the top of its game like an "Iron" Mike Tyson. And like the heavyweight champion, it's now utterly, irrevocably wrecked.
My obituary will read something like this:
"Vanessa Chang ... [generic things about life, relations, family] ... She will be most remembered for her unique ability to kill mint. And she killed her MAC knife."
The solution for professed vegetable-haters is to make something vegetal appear distinctly not. Case in point, a sauce of broccoli and spinach for a jumble of linguine. Not that I have issues eating any matter of vitamin-suffused roughage, but there's only so much steaming and sauteeing a girl can take on the plate. And given the blossoms on the branches, the warmer temperatures and sporadic rain, it's a nice dish to make on a quiet night-in, to thank the stars it's finally spring.
Ground meat often gets a bad wrap. Often associated with meatloaf, forgotten rather than rhapsodized about, or those unassuming grey burgers of school lunches, we tend to forget it's often the basis of the most comforting, filling and easy recipes. Most of its life, it lives in the dark cold of the freezer. Case in point: Lamb Ragu. I know. I cheated. But that's part of the deal when you're on a budget: you forage into the icy crevasses of the freezer and in the dark corners of the cabinet to figure out what else to transform into your next restorative. In my case, it was a couple of nests of fresh pasta, delicately frozen, and a block of good, organic, grass-fed lamb.
Who knows what would've happened to that lamb had I never been hit by this economic wake-up call? It could've remained untapped, like a wooly mammoth under yards of ice, undisturbed until something cataclysmic finally revealed its priceless remains. Perhaps I'm being dramatic about the emotional effects of the freelance life, but at times, it sure as hell feels like the earth beneath your feet is giving way. When that feeling kicks in, it's time for ragu AKA bolognese.
In the kitchen there are a few things you hold dear. They're priceless much in the way an old Aunt's wooden spoon is priceless or an old cast iron pan bought from a flea market. For me, one of those things is my spice caddy.
It's an unassuming thing. Cirucular in shape, flat-topped and silver all round. But it's what within the lid and the 3-inch high container that's pure magic. Seven little tins, empty and ready to be filled with whatever aromatic you wish to have. In my case, it's whole spices: coriander, cumin, brown mustard, black onion (nigella) seeds, cardamom and cloves. Plus, there's a diminutive spoon to scoop out whatever you need. That's the closest thing to a measuring spoon I use.
My dear friends, Amber and her family, gave this to me as a house warming gift, back in the day when I was ecstatic to grow up and move into a place of my own. Now, after a rancorous year or so, I'm now part of Amber's household and so is this caddy.
It's been with me since my first cup of chai. It was a recipe I wasn't particularly fond of and from there I improvised and riffed until something I liked came about. It was with me through every pot of dal, curry and the like. It was also there the first time Andy, my boyfriend, and I hung out together, making Thai curry paste from scratch with the mortar and pestle that usually sits next to this shiny caddy.
Little comforts are of monumental help when you think the world will crumble around you. Whether it is making a cup of tea for yourself or friends or simply opening up this little container and breathing in all the Scheherazade-storybook scents or taking in the simple beauty of a few spices arranged, by chance, the way they are in your kitchen, you take them the way you would a friend's or lover's deep embrace. When you feel as if you can no longer hold the worry and fears in.
If you've read a few posts, it's pretty obvious that I live with roommates. Roommates who aren't the best at cleaning. And I don't mean to imply that it's the only trait necessary to join the "great human being" club. But it helps when all you want is a proper breakfast before leaving for work. It's a little disheartening to wake up to a leaning tower of dishes, counters crowded with pizza boxes, groceries yet to be put away, and stray beer bottles. Cooking in something like this is like trying to juice a cold lime. I yield very little.
I have an odd relationship with my dishwasher. I know it's good for my life. But, god help me, I hate filling it. The mere idea of doing dishes triggers a massive bout of procrastination that'll leave me with a mountain of pots, pans, silverware, and dishes. It isn't only until I have nothing left to cook my food in or put my food on that I actually roll up the proverbial sleeve and just do a load.
So when my friend Nick sent me a link to a recipe for Dishwasher Salmon, I was intrigued. No longer would I have to be burdened with the cooking and wretched cleaning. In one go, I could do both. What a brilliant concept. That is, in theory. Doing it is another matter.