Back in about 2003/04, Andrea and I took a cooking course through the continuing education section of either the City of Ottawa or one of the school boards. It was a six-week course or so specializing in tastes of Asia, and each week was recipes from a different country.
Generally, as I recall (or as per Andrea and I talking about it tonight, while trying to explain to Jacob why I like the recipe), the class ran from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.-ish. It was over at a high school on St. Laurent, and we would leave work and take a bus to get there just in time. For the first 45 minutes or so, the instructor would walk everyone through the recipes and demonstrate some of the techniques to try that night. Then, we would break into about 5 or 6 teams and we would all make 1-2 dishes each, with lots of repetition. Sometimes it was 4 of us on the same dish, most of the time it was Andrea and me as a team making a dish or two. Since Andrea and I were still dating, and often ate out on “dates”, this was one of the first times we really made an effort to cook “together” and were happy to see we were compatible in the kitchen.
Around 8:00 p.m. or so, we would all get back together and share our combined efforts and eat. Supposedly there was supposed to be a bunch of conversation but by 8:00 p.m., we were all pretty hungry so it was more like wolves sharing a carcass of a hyena.
Each week, I think there was about 3-4 recipes in total and not all of them were keepers for us. Usually the result was good, but it was either too complex or too finicky for a technique or simply just not tasty enough to want to make regularly. However, there were two big exceptions to that.
I’ll mention the second one first. We have a recipe for siu mai i.e., a form of Chinese dumpling. Also written as shumai (and often pronounced that way too). Lemongrass, green onions, pork in tiny pieces, wonton wrappers. They were even fun to make and also easy to cook in a steamer. I have no idea why I don’t make them monthly other than I think a couple of other ingredients were hard to find at the time.
Our favourite story though is not about their taste (which is good) but rather about how we made them one night at Nelson Street, and the next day, with ingredients left over, I made up a bunch more. You know what? Chopped up lemongrass looks a lot like chopped up green onions. And when you use lemongrass in place of green onions and in the same quantity as the green onions, the resulting dumplings are rather potent. I can still feel the reaction. We ate them, but it was a bit deadly.
However, the real big recipe was a curry chicken. I have it on the website, although it needs to be edited aggressively for order and content. Plus add some pictures. (See https://polywogg.ca/green-curry-chicken-pwr00001/).
It is, arguably, one of the best recipes we ever make. But it is generally also the most work. I describe it as complicated, but really that is just because there are so many ingredients and so many steps. Although we have had the recipe for almost 17 years now, we probably haven’t made it 15 times in total. We did at first, maybe once or twice a year, often for special dinners like anniversaries. Since Jacob arrived, and given that it is a curry, we haven’t made it very often recently, maybe once or twice in the last 11 years. So we were due for another effort.
We tried making it yesterday, as it is really a weekend-type meal rather than a quick weekday one. Lord only knows what it is in a COVID, work-from-home world. But I wanted to do it. To make the effort. To say, “Today I choose” to do something other than what is easy, available or quick. I forget that it makes enough to feed an army and we’ll have leftovers out the wazoo though for future nights.
Our first problem for yesterday was groceries…I ordered an eggplant, but sometimes the website glitches if I go too fast, and while I know I clicked on it, it wasn’t on my order / receipt / pickup. We substituted bamboo shoots and water chestnuts instead. Our second problem was right at prep time. The last thing to chop was some chicken, and we had left it in the fridge a little too long. Normally, our fridge more than keeps things chill, but as I was cutting, I didn’t really like the smell. I have a very sensitive nose, and often overly sensitive enough to create false positives, but even Andrea didn’t think it smelled right. We had everything prepped and ready to go, and no chicken to put in the pot. Herbert Hoover would not have been happy with us.
We could have tried switching to thighs and defrosting some stuff, but we really didn’t have a good freezer option to thaw in the microwave. So we cooked the shoots and chestnuts, put the potatoes in water, put everything in the fridge, and ate pizza yesterday for dinner. Today, I ran out to the Metro and grabbed some fresh chicken breasts plus a few other things that I wanted for later in the week, as well as ran to Canadian Tire for garden hose (no, that’s not related to dinner!), and a local vegetable kiosk for some other things, now that they’re FINALLY open. It’s like there was a pandemic or something keeping them closed.
Interestingly, I chopped the chicken tonight, and then Andrea did most of the cooking with my handing her a few spice jars here and there and monitoring the recipe. It actually worked out okay that way, splitting the workload over two days. Something to think about for the future. I am determined to eventually adapt it to something we can nuke in a silicone steamer, but we’re not there yet.
It was different than usual, with a different consistency to our sauce, more potatoes, no eggplant, with water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. We even went easy on the curry as we wanted Jacob to try it. Not only did he try it, he liked it and ate it up. It turned out really well. Hopefully, it’s a promise of curries to come. 🙂
But mostly it’s a positive act of defiance. In a world where we get beaten down by time, workloads, other demands, once in a while we say, “Enough. We’re going to do a big recipe, with lots of ingredients, preps and steps. Because we choose to do so, not because we have to or that we should. We just decide.”
Today I choose to make a complicated dinner with my family.
What did you choose to do today?