The Cracked chapter of Plenty More was difficult work. This chapter focuses on cooking with eggs, and we do not use eggs in our kitchen. So I translated the recipes into ones that kept the main flavours of the dishes but did not use eggs. It was a bit of trial and error, but mostly successful.
This chapter, Mashed, is a short chapter in Plenty More, but is dynamic in its content. I enjoyed it a lot, and wish that it had twice as many recipes. Coming after the Fried chapter, it was a welcome relief. I whizzed through this chapter very quickly without much angst.
I’ve finally finished cooking through the Fried chapter of Plenty More. It was a difficult chapter to complete because – who wants to eat fried food every day? It sounds heaven, right? But in reality it was quite difficult to think about another fried dish day after day.
Obsession is one of the character traits of perfectionism. I define it as a focus on an activity or item to the exclusion of all other contextual factors. Perfectionists at work, for example, might pursue a particular goal oblivious to the cost or benefits of that goal. Obsession might be fixed on quality to such an extent that it becomes the person’s own definition of what quality is, and it is one that is not aligned with the organisation’s strategy or requirements. While perfectionists think they are the eagle in the midst of turkeys, the cost of that might outweigh the benefits that they bring. It is tricky.
The colour of Winter is green, I have decided, sitting here at the desk, looking out to the park across the road. Spring is pink, Summer blue, and Autumn is golden, but Winter is green. The flurry of colour – the bougainvillea, nasturtiums, violets, plumbago, marigolds, viola – lifts the garden, extends its palette, but the real colour of Winter is green.
Elizabeth David and Yotham Ottolenghi. Opposite ends of a scale.
Ms David is about simplicity, using the flavours of the key ingredient to make a dish shine. Mr Ottolenghi is always asking how can I pack more flavours and textures into this dish? Rather than accentuate the flavours of the key ingredient as David does, he takes them as a base and layers herbaceousness and spiciness, sauciness and sourness, crunchiness and creamy and nuttiness on top of that base. Both styles are glorious, but there are no overlapping portions in the Venn diagrams of David and Ottolenghi.
There is something fundamentally satisfying about exploring the foods of other cultures, searching out ingredients, talking to strangers in the grocery shops of other nations to understand ingredients better, researching foods and recipes and trying to recreate something akin to the original intent of the dish in your own kitchen. Friends are made in the process, kitchen mentors are discovered to guide your process and answer all sorts of questions, and the secret tricks and techniques of their home cooks are discovered.
My kitchen bench is always full of small bowls, terracotta vessels, some glass mixing and storing dishes, some Japanese earthenware, and stainless steel containers for cooking small puddings. At times it looks like a weird mis-en-place, with bowls of all sizes and materials. Some soak grains or lentils, some hold half an onion, half a chilli, half a garlic clove or half a lemon, waiting for the next recipe to use them in. A couple have nuts – pistachios in one and some walnuts in the shell in another, pwaiting for the inevitable salad. There are left over herbs in another, sometimes chopped finely and sometimes long branches of leaves. The daba adds the Indian touch with its small pots of mustard seeds, cardamom pods, fennel and cumin seeds, and dried chillies. There might be a plate with today’s produce from the garden – some cumquats, spring onions, beetroot and eggplant. Tiny zucchini. Greens of all sorts. There are bunches of noodles, standing upright in a glass, wanting to be cooked, and perhaps some fresh harissa, or fresh capsicum puree, or tomato and olive puree, waiting to be dolloped into or onto dishes.
Rice is a favourite in this household. Not a daily thing, but we eat it often enough to have 7 or 8 different rices in the pantry at the moment. This doesn’t seem a lot when you compare it to the 7,000-odd rice varieties of the world. It does reflect the fact that each type of rice is fundamentally different in its properties and in its flavour. For a mostly bland ingredient, this is a remarkable thing.
Call me a little obsessive if you will, but I find great benefit in focusing on one aspect of food for a few months – even longer. There is a chef who often spoke of her time training, and how her teacher spent 3 months with them, just on potatoes. It is only through this relentless investigation and persistence that the inner subtle secrets of the ingredient, the cuisine, the dish, the approach, are revealed. The most recent of my projects have included Okra, Meenakshi Ammal, Parsnips, Barley, and Bittman Salads. Many of the dishes in these projects are yet to be published on Life Time Cooking; many are scheduled to appear over future months. A few projects are ongoing; several will continue for a long time before they are replaced. Some have inner parts – for example, there has been a Sambar project and a Rasam project within Meenakshi Ammal. There was a Sundal Project one Navratri Festival time.