Thursday, 10 June 2010

Ode To Love

It all started some years ago, with those deep caring eyes. Bereft of the ability and will to live, she found me and took me into her arms. It was a strange sensation, feeling her warmth against me, for a moment it felt it wrong, somehow that I was undeserved of such kindness. If there ever was a need to prove the existence of God, that moment, and the comfort I felt then, would be good for a thousand sureties…

I peeked from under sleepy lids, her languorous movement getting off the bed, in her almost playful mix of sloth and sunshine. As always, her measured gait will slowly blossom to her usual bounce, so full of joy.

I hear the pitter patter of the shower shortly after and soon she was already getting dressed. She threw on her black pantsuit, with her new slightly lacy white top and I get the feeling today is going to be a wonderful day again for her. She always seems to come back home all abuzz and gleeful when she puts on this persona of hers.

Of course by now, I am finally awake, albeit still stretched out on the bed. She finally slung her oversized black crocodile leather tote and floated off to the kitchen. Comforted by her lingering scent, I rolled back and decided a few more Zzzzs wouldn’t really hurt.

I can hear her in the kitchen, taking her glass of juice, crunching her cereals and of course of her washing her dry cereals down with a half glass of milk, one of her adorable quirks. Then, as sure as she has done hundreds of time, she will lovingly set my breakfast on the table for me.

A few moments later, she would be calling out her goodbye for the day and I would be left all alone again. Parting, even for only half a day is hard, but I take refuge in the fact she will be home by dinner and we would be able to just bask in each others presence.

In the mean time, I do whatever needs be done, starting with my breakfast that she has set for me. There are moments when I still wonder what exactly it was that I did in my life to be blessed with such kindness and luck. I guess God does have a plan for me and I am thankful for this blessing.

It is true what they say, time flies when you are tied up with tasks. I almost hadn’t notice the click at the door signaling her return if it wasn’t for her intoxicating perfume. Oh how I love this Venus of mine. I rushed to meet her at the door, where we cuddled a bit and I stole the opportunity to plant wet sloppy kisses on her cheek.

Soon after a luxuriously indulgent bath, she rejoined me in the hall for our favourite show. Tonight’s episode was particularly good, where our belligerent child of a doctor managed to solve yet another medical conundrum and at the same time learns a humbling lesson on how he carelessly hurts those who love him. I have no wonder at all in me as to why the show has garnered such rave reviews. We both love the show to pieces.

We ate a late dinner together, quietly this time, as she had to finish up some work on her laptop. People would say that working on your computer while at dinner is rude, but this woman can do no wrong in my eyes, not since she also surprises me with occasional toe tickles.

And soon the magic of the Sandman was starting to take hold of us. We adjourned to the bed room for slumber to celebrate a wonderfully ordinary day. We said our prayers and lay on white crisp linens next to each other, a mixture of contentment and comfort, as we waited for the fog of sleep to drift over us.

She stroked my cheeks, my supine form and even my belly as a goodnight gesture. Oh how I desperately love this woman. Breathing ever so gently, I purred my goodnight to her before sleep took us both.

Inspired by old memories and current tails from feline friends and animal lovers everywhere.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Good Eating: Mussels

Let me first get these off my chest: I LOVE FOOD and I LOVE EATING FOOD!

I love the flavours, the sensations, the textures; be they luscious, smooth, chewy, or yielding, and I even love the monster headaches some give me after (I have a yo-yoing diagnosis as a borderline hypertensive, mainly due to my reduced capacity to let things go, teehee!).

Thus I feel I should write about specific kinds of food that I love even though I may not necessarily be able to enjoy them as frequent as I would love to, due to you know- work commitments, time, budgetary limitations (constraints more like it), and yes, health reasons (this is a particular sticking point!)

Let me introduce you to one of my favourite things - Mussels! There are several subspecies to begin with i.e. but to commoners we know them as the large Green Shell Mussels which are often misleadingly called Green-lip, it is their shells that has the green colour, not the meat itself. New Zealand exports serious amounts of these everywhere in both fresh and cooked forms. Then there is the Blue Mussel (sometimes appearing black) of which their shells tends to be rounder and the much smaller Black Mussel, also locally found in our inter-tidal brackish water zones. I have had the pleasure of sampling them in several ways.

To start, the French classique
Moules Mariniere- Juicy plump mussels in butter, cream, lashings of garlic and a little astringency
 (in the form of either wine or a careful balance of good quality vinegar, sugar and salt). Pictured above is a thick creamy  version from a quaint restaurant in London called Cafe Rouge. London's  Chef Gary Rhodes' restaurant Rhodes W1 in the Cumberland Hotel offers a slightly soupier and the more richly perfumed version.

Moules Mariniere! Now, few things in life can compare to a plate piled high with mussels in smooth garlicky cream sauce. Especially if you have some crusty baguette lying around to sop up the gravy. It is always a challenge for me to go slow with this dish. I have to consciously control the urge to jam my maw with as much garlic-cream sopped bread and plump squishy mussels as I can and savour every little bit. This dish would be my idea of the penultimate posh comfort food.

I have also had mussels stir fried, done in a brilliant Chinese style that incorporated garlic and fermented black beans. This is off the wall good! Somehow the tang of sea is amplified by the saltiness of the black beans. And the modified proteins present due to the fermentation of the beans add such depth of richness and satiety. Some Malays love to use the word 'Lemak' to describe it, not your fatty kind of richness, more of a full bodied taste that envelops your palate repeatedly. The Japanese call it 'Umami' the so called fifth taste sensation picked by our tongues after sweet, sour, bitter and salty, that is not commonly found in non-fermented goods.

I love them topped with Cream and Cheese and put under a searing hot grill to bubbling perfection. Never mind the cheap versions I find are mostly using boiled frozen half shell mussels. But you know what they say, slap anything with cheese and give it a good whack of heat will turn even shoe leather into culinary bliss!

This is a variant with herbs,  fresh tomato marinara, cream and topped with loads of grated cheese
(one should mix several varieties for impact - aged Cheddar for oomph, Mozzarella for
the string factor and some Emmenthal or Gouda to round it off).

My mom used to make us a spicy Sambal Tumis Kupang (the Malay word for Mussel). Funny that as a child I didn't quite enjoy this treat as I didn't quite get the unique taste of the mussels. I only started paying mussels more respect after being properly taught to utilise them in Chef school and my industrial attachments (read practical training or what I swore was indentured servitude in far flung hotel kitchens!). Alas, Mak doesn't cook it at home anymore as my elder brother somehow developed an allergic reaction to them. Since then, I have been pining for it.

I steamboat place we frequent also offers mussels (yes, the dead boiled frozen on the half shell kind) to be dip-cooked  in your choice of chicken soup or spicy tom yam broth. In this case though, due to the fact that the mussels are dead on arrival, it is more for texture than anything else, although some flavour remains. Care has to be taken though so as not to dunk it in the soup for too long lest it transmogrifies into vulcanized rubber! By then, no amount of dipping sauce will help!

Did you know Mussels are sexually dimorphic? I was told that Boy mussels are the pale ones (as pictured above)
and the Girls are bigger, more plump and have this gorgeous coral/orange hue to them.
I know for a fact that girl mussels stain and perfume its cream gravy with a very mild roe scent, a gastronomic lesson experienced  in Gary Rhodes' W1 restaurant.
Some Chefs actually prefer girl mussels for this character it imparts on their dishes. Brilliant eh?

Visit any good buffets in town and chances are you will find the boiled versions on their buffet ice beds. Perfect with a drop of lemon and the tiniest lash of Tabasco and L&P sauce. I always end up piling my plate with a small mound of these every chance I get. These of course will invariably be partnered with shucked oysters and/or boiled shrimp. Unless the oysters are exceedingly fresh, I would attack the mussels first.

I also love them raw, but it is really really hard to find them in a superbly fresh (as in still alive and kicking), living in a city and all that. Mussels get toxic very quickly once they die and can cause a host of stomach ailments, explosive diarrhoea being the least inconvenient one.

Oh, and they also can accumulate a dangerous amount of 'Red Tide' microorganisms (dinoflagellates) that they are immune to but curiously badly affects our neurological system. So be careful when you do get mussels. I gotta get me some too.