Yellow curry braised beef.

I spent the last half of my teens and the first half of my twenties playing field hockey for the Vancouver Rowing Club, and every Victoria Day long weekend I would dig through the piles of laundry I always left unfolded to find my jersey, skirt, and Dutch-soccer orange knee socks and then head out to the pitch to play in the Vancouver Invitational Tournament. Except for one weekend when it was so hot I spent the afternoons in the beer garden in my sports bra, it rained. In nine of ten years I spent the weekend soaked, my toes wrinkling in my turf shoes, my skin slick with a layer of moisture that never seemed to dry.

I was awful at field hockey. I am too competitive and would get aggressive at all the wrong times, but I never had the skill to back it up. And I don’t run very fast. In the wild, I could be taken down by the oldest, most arthritic bear or mountain lion. Nevertheless, in all the years since I played, I miss it most in the weeks before the May long weekend. And then the weekend arrives, and it rains, and I remember peeling my polyester jersey off my damp, sticky body, and I still miss it. There were always cute Australians to look at, and the beer was cheap and plentiful.

For half the time I played, I was dating one of the goalies on the premier men’s team. When that ended badly (oh so badly!) I had already been subtly trying to trick Nick into spending time with me, and when he finally relented, I found other things to do on the long weekend. I couldn’t go back to hockey, but at that point, I didn’t want to. The possibility of an awkward run-in was enough to keep me from trying to dig up those socks again.

But, you know … Facebook. I am still friends on Facebook with a few of the women I played with, and I see that they’re playing this weekend and I miss it all. I liked playing field hockey, and the interesting characters that comprised the teams I liked to play on. I am starting to wonder if I can have all that, and still avoid the awkward run-ins, and somehow convince Nick to come watch and cheer me on. Maybe not on the May long weekend, of course. It’s always so rainy.

This May long weekend has been fairly quiet, and it has been raining steadily since yesterday. So today has been a day for laundry and long hours spent braising meat in fragrant coconut milk and warm spices, and for remembering fondly how it feels to be so damp from the vantage point of my warm apartment, in my pajama pants fresh out of the dryer.

Yellow curry braised beef

  • 2 tbsp. coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 3 to 4 lbs. cubed beef brisket or boneless chuck (sometimes sold as stew meat) – short ribs would also work well here
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp. minced ginger
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh lemongrass
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro stems (leaves reserved)
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, minced (to minimize the spice, you can remove the seeds and the membranes before chopping)
  • 2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 14 oz./398 ml cans coconut milk
  • Zest and juice of one lime
  • 3 to 4 kaffir lime leaves (optional)*
  • 2 red Thai bird chilies (optional)
  • 1 lb. cubed sweet potato
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

In a pot you can use on the stove and in the oven, melt coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add beef pieces, and season with salt. Brown beef deeply on all sides, about three minutes. You want to get good colour on the beef, but you don’t want to burn it. When beef is browned, remove it and set it aside.

To the same pot, add onion, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro stems, garlic, and jalapeño peppers. Sauté until fragrant, two to three minutes. Add turmeric, cumin, coriander, black pepper, cardamom, and cinnamon, and cook another two to three minutes, until the bottom of the pan looks dry.

Add sugar, fish sauce, coconut milk, and lime. If you have kaffir lime leaves and Thai chilies, add these to the pot as well – I leave my chilies whole. Add beef back to the pot, with any meat juices that have collected in the meantime – there’s good stuff in there. Cover, and put on the middle rack of your preheated oven. Braise for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

In the last 45 minutes of cooking, add your sweet potatoes to the pot, and re-cover.

Remove the pot from the oven, uncover it, and return it to the stove over medium heat. Add bell peppers, cooking an additional 10 minutes until peppers are tender and the sauce has reduced slightly. Serve over rice, with a sprinkling of fresh cilantro.

*You can buy kaffir lime leaves at most Asian markets. They are very inexpensive, so if you end up with a lot of them, stick them in a baggie and store them in the freezer – they’ll keep a few months if well sealed, and you can use them to liven up curries of all kinds.

Advertisements

A maple-scented pudding and a quiet moment alone.

It’s finally quiet, except for the squeak-bark of some cat-infuriating miniature dog or giant rodent on its leash and squatting beneath the wilted rhododendron bush beside the street. Nick is out for a nerdy night of board games with his friends. The baby is sleeping. I have sent out all the resumés I feel like sending out for today, and am no longer wearing pants (as is my preference). There are dried smears of yogurt and vegetable purée all over everything including the washable high chair I keep not washing, but I am not going to let that be my problem. That is why I have Nick.

We are spending a lot of time together now that neither of us is required at an office every day, and though the ratio of arms to babies is now 4:1, I’m still finding myself busy most of the time. There are cover letters to write and my resumé to tweak for each job application. Every time I click “submit” or “send” on some application I panic that I accidentally typed the bad words I’m always thinking, or that I used the wrong homonym, or that I spelled the word “editor” with two Ds.

There are meals to make: minimally spiced purées for the baby and interestingly spiced lunches and dinners for the diabetic, who answers “I’m not really excited about that” to most of what I suggest we eat. We keep producing dirty laundry. I spend a lot of time shaving my legs in case someone calls for a last-minute interview and there’s no time to find or buy pantyhose. I always have to go to the store.

But when there is no one around to bug me, I eat pudding.

The surest way to ensure that no one else touches my pudding is to make it with tapioca.

Stirring a sweet-smelling pot of goo can be relaxing, helping to erase the little panics and trifles that so often take up the days. The goo will burble softly, in a way that is wholly unlike something tedious like oatmeal or hot cereal (which splatters and plops and lacks euphony). You can make pudding for other people, and sometimes I do, but a small amount of pudding is the sort of easy indulgence that suits a night alone, in a room barely lit by a lamp in the corner that’s just bright enough to read a book beside.

The tapioca pudding recipe I like to use is at Simply Recipes, though once you make it the recipe will stick in your head forever (it’s that easy). I don’t know enough people who like tapioca pudding to have ever made a full batch, so I can tell you that a half-batch works quite nicely – it will make enough to fill four ramekins or two soup bowls (I always eat one serving warm, and then another much later after it’s been in the fridge for awhile).

I am not going to bother reprinting the recipe here as it’s all right there, but I will tell you that I make a few changes.

  • Instead of white sugar, I use maple syrup, and rather than add it after the pot comes to a boil, I add it at the beginning. It’s less sweet this way, but more complex. If you don’t have maple syrup, use honey, or brown sugar.
  • At the end, rather than add a drop of vanilla extract, I like a scrape of half of one vanilla bean.

When you are making something that is just for you, use good ingredients (tapioca costs so little anyway) – you will be more inclined to savour if you use the good stuff, and it will be the good kind of eating alone (there is a bad kind of eating alone, which I also enjoy, but for that just use the cheap stuff).

This is a good for-now recipe, for while we’re still not into the abundant-fruit season. Do you realize that in just a few short weeks and we’ll be having conversations like this one over lightly sugared local strawberries? And reading our books in patches of summer sunlight. I can’t wait.

Nasi goreng.

For the past six months, with one of us being off work and on parental leave, after the rent and car insurance come out there isn’t much left for the first two weeks of the month. I spent what little was leftover on clothes to wear to job interviews and a cute outfit for the baby, and why can’t I stop buying cute outfits for the baby? He’s like a damp, squirmy doll. One that never stops eating. The kid lives for food – convulses for it, even – so maybe the outfits are a kind of reward for fitting in with the rest of us around here?

Anyway, we’re in for a week or two of pantry meals.

One that we eat frequently during times like these is nasi goreng, a spicy Dutch/Indonesian fried rice dish I learned about the first time I went to meet Nick’s family. There’s a Dutch breakfast restaurant near us that serves nasi goreng wrapped in a pannekoek. The Dutch are into it.

It was Nick’s and his sister’s birthday when he first brought me over, and he’d requested nasi goreng with beef for their special birthday meal. I wasn’t eating red meat at that point, so his mom made me a separate meal (Relationship tip: start out high-maintenance, especially with your in-laws!). I was grateful – “nasi,” as they called it, looked semi-unappealing due to the unusual and disgusting (to me) addition of fried bananas.

Nasi goreng is one of Nick’s favourite dishes, so fortunately I would encounter it again later after I had re-embraced red meat and understood that bananas aren’t mandatory. Side note: I am living proof that there is someone for everyone, even if he probably did something awful in a past life to deserve this. He doesn’t like bananas either.

There are no actual unappealing parts to this dish, which I would come to learn (bananas aside). It’s salty and spicy and meaty, and there is so much garlic in it (I use nine cloves, but you can use less if garlic isn’t its own food group at your house). It’s especially good after Christmas or Easter dinner when you end up with a lot of leftover ham – a little diced ham goes a long way in this. If you have a lot of leftover chicken, dice that up instead of the ground meat. Add shrimp if you’ve got it. Make it vegetarian with smoked tofu and a few handfuls of frozen peas.

This is best if you have a lot of leftover rice, but more often than not I end up making rice fresh due to my having forgotten to plan ahead. We use brown rice, but you can use whatever you want – three to four cups of cooked rice is about what you’ll need. And if you don’t have the ingredients I have listed below, substitute freely – soy sauce and sugar for the ketjap manis, sriracha for the sambal oelek.

Nasi goreng

(Serves four to six as a main course.)

  • 2 cups long-grain brown rice
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 6 to 9 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp. sambal oelek*
  • 2 tbsp. ketjap manis (sweet Indonesian soy sauce) **
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. lime juice
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 2 cups grated carrot
  • 1 cup finely sliced cabbage, packed
  • Salt and pepper

Accompaniments

  • One fried egg per serving
  • Cilantro, for garnish
  • Chopped scallions
  • Additional sambal oelek

In a medium heavy-bottomed pan with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat, bring rice and vegetable stock to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 45 to 50 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool completely, which will take between two and four hours.

In a large pan over medium-high heat, sauté garlic in oil until it is golden and crispy but not burned (two to three minutes – any longer and it will become too bitter). Remove garlic from pan with a slotted spoon, and drain garlic on a plate lined with paper towel. Set aside.

In a blender or food processor, purée the shallot with the sambal oelek, ketjap manis, fish sauce, sesame oil, lime juice, and cumin. Set aside.

Add ground beef to the now garlic-infused cooking oil in your hot pan. Continue cooking over medium-high heat until meat has browned and is cooked through. Add cooked rice, shredded carrot, and cabbage. Pour shallot mixture over pan contents and stir to coat. Cook an additional three to five minutes.

Stir the crispy garlic into the rice. Taste, adjusting seasonings with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, topped with a sprinkle of cilantro, some scallions, and an egg fried over-easy, so that the yolk is still runny. Nick always adds more sambal oelek, and then apologizes as he douses the whole thing in Maggi sauce.

*I find sambal oelek hotter than our usual hot sauces, so tread lightly if you’re spice-sensitive. If you don’t have sambal oelek, Chinese chili garlic paste will work, and so will Sriracha (which goes with everything).

**If you don’t have or can’t find ketjap manis (also called kecap manis), use two tablespoons soy sauce with one tablespoon brown sugar. You can find ketjap manis as Asian grocers or Southeast Asian specialty markets – I got a huge bottle for  less than three dollars at Thuan Phat Supermarket on Broadway and Prince Edward in Vancouver (though I hadn’t had much luck finding it at T&T). You can also find it online.

Picking a winner.

There was supposed to be a recipe to go with this post, and I had intended to make something really fresh and springy – I even bought the groceries. But then a day’s worth of errands and distractions got in the way, including a trip to the mini-spa near my place to get my eyebrows done so I look slightly less unkempt for my job interview tomorrow. The lady with the brow wax thought my eyebrows looked a little pale (maybe they’re not feeling well?) so she said she’d tint them for me, and now I look like a sinister Muppet and I’m sulking. So there is nothing special to report on the topic of tonight’s dinner.

But that’s okay. Because reading and re-reading your answers to the question of what is the best thing you’ve ever eaten, grown, or made has been more delightful than anything I might have cobbled together tonight. Warm tomatoes and summer berries plucked fresh from the gardens and wild bushes of your past, bread and gingerbread you made yourself, your magical first Hollandaise sauce, marmalade and strawberry jam, meat pies and tarts and sausage rolls, Chicken Tikka Masala, and the best hot chocolate or buttermilk fried chicken ever – we would have the best potluck dinner party, you know.

And I’m glad I decided to pick a winner at random, because you didn’t just tell me what you ate, but why, and even when, and your stories were wonderful and I couldn’t just pick a favourite, not like that. So the winner is Elina, who’s name I pulled out of Nick’s grubby green hat.

Elina, send me your mailing address and I’ll ship the book off to you. You can email me at emily (dot) wight (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thanks again for participating! We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming once the intensity of my new eyebrow colour fades and I get myself to the market.