In a fit of nostalgia on Sunday, I hauled out the A4 hard cover notebook, with lists of favourite food to cook and eat, and where I had documented all the meals which I cooked and ate for about a year during 2003 and 2004, and who I shared it with. I am still a bit preoccupied with how all of this developed for me, this identification with being a good cook, and loving food. I also on a more pragmatic level, needed inspiration for the meal which I wanted to cook for my lover last night: I have been cooking a new dish every time he has had dinner here, though I have repeated some which we particularly enjoyed before. In a way he has been getting to know me through the way I cook, and what I cook…
Paging through the book of meals and food related quotes and clippings of ideas for a new kitchen in a new house which I was going to move into in 2004, I was reminded of a relationship which had turned incredibly acrimonious before finally, very painfully breaking apart in 2008. I noticed that my entries about food cooked and meals shared started becoming fewer and fewer round beginning 2005, and stopped completely soon after. The only entry in 2006 was an ominous observation that I had lost my enthusiasm for cooking… looking back now an accurate reflection of how unhappy I had become in that particular relationship. I suppose that is in line with what happens when we get depressed: everything which before brought enjoyment somehow loses that enlivening quality, and becomes just another perfunctory task. I knew the relationship was in deep trouble when I stopped wanting to cook for this man, although I tried hard to not show it.
And then I stumbled upon this quote which I enthusiastically copied down, in 2003, feeling at the time obviously inspired:
“A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.”
These wise words were spoken by Elsa Schiaparelli, that icon of the fashion world who coined the term Shocking Pink, which rather says it all!!
I’m happy to report, as this blog clearly also testifies to, that I have recovered my powers as the sorceress which Ms Schiaparelli refers to. I really rather like the metaphor: there is something really alchemical in the cooking process of course… and then to recognize the happiness we dispense when we cook nice food. It IS almost magical: I smile at the image of myself in my apron and wooden spoon or chefs knife in hand, not quite the garb of a magician, but certainly the maker of some magic in my kitchen!
So, the dish which I decided to make last night for my boyfriend and with which I succeeded in dispensing this particular kind of happiness was seared duck breasts, rubbed with Chinese five spice mix and orange and lemon zest, served with Chinese egg noodles stir fried with garlic, chilies and spring onions, broccoli, and oyster and enoki mushrooms, dressed with a heady mix of orange juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil and more orange and lemon zest and honey…
I had almost forgotten how wonderfully duck goes with oriental flavours. The last time I cooked duck breasts I did it in a more traditional way, seared and served with a rich red wine reduction and potatoes dauphinois. Maybe it is time that I include this style of cooking more often in my repertoire: it is so easy to cook in this way: everything is prepared, at the ready, awaiting a smoking hot wok, and last night, the cooked noodles and veggies were simply tossed together in there, while the duck finished cooking in the oven after being pan seared first…then served in thick juicy slices on the diagonal on a bed of fragrant noodles..
I could not help thinking again how privileged I am for having all these wonderful ingredients to cook with, and how wonderful it is to be happy again, having a nice meal with someone I love and who loves me. And how delightful it is to have my enthusiasm and love for cooking squarely back…..