Wednesday, 8 October 2014

allow me to tell you.

Where do I start?
Well, if you asked me this time last year, how I felt about being a responsible grown up and doing the whole starting a family thing, I might have laughed off sheepishly and quickly changed the subject. Just so I can avoid possible embarrassment of not necessarily feeling too maternal about the subject matter, and also in a slight fear that you might judge me, or categorise me into something which will only result in heated debate that I don't wish to get into. Because it is meant to be a very personal thing, right?

See, rewind the time back a few years, thinking about this whole baby thing, it was at the core of my relationship really. Whether it be with Toby, close friends, neighbours or even almost complete strangers, they will all quite happily and confidently ask me/Toby about the possible prospect of little baba of ours, assuming that we will, deliver one day.

I, over the past three years, thought long and hard about this little chicken.
Was I ready? Did we have enough financial security to afford a child? Was I physically and emotionally ready and fit enough go through this most mental changes in my life? And did I have any faith and hope in my dearest Toby to support me along the way and be my punch bag that I can hit hard, as and when I felt beaten up with the uncontrollable surge of hormones? Did we have enough room in our very grown up shack to accommodate the little chicken roaming freely around? Were we ready to love and coo over this non communicable little thing, just so we can allow it to be sick on our dry-clean-only tops, change their pooped nappies and wipe its enviously plump and soft bottom that will ultimately make me feel like 100 years old sack? Oh, lets not forget, I definitely was not ready to even think about life without WINE and our from time to time madly-in-love date nights where we can behave as wild and bad as we wish to feel each other to remind us who we are!
I mean the list of questions just goes on. 
The more I asked myself those questions, the more I tried to justify and find the reasons why the possible presence of chicken would be a negative attribute to my life.
Then there was people. You know, the ones that tell you 'oh, there never is right time, you just do it because that's what everyone else does.'. 
That, really, made me retaliate. Why would I ever put myself through this most biggest and greatest commitment in my life without having the clarity and confidence in decision making process? I lived my 34years of life being an absolute control freak(-ish), I wasn't going to change over night and suddenly adopt a just-go-with-the-flow mentality, because that's what everyone else does! 
I was so sure that one day, when the time is right, I will, for sure, know about it. I will be able to make the conscious decision to go a head to let my womb to be the home for our grain of rice, or not.

Let me tell you. 
That day did come. Like the lightbulb moment.
One day, I woke up and everything kind of started to make sense in my head. I revised my list of questions, had more serious discussions with Toby about pros and cons of our life dominated by chicken/s, and reached the verdict of 'Yes, we do want to put ourselves into many sleepless nights and we will find the joy in pooped nappies because we're here to reproduce, and we endorse the imminent need to start the Scott Empire before we face the limits of our frail infertile body clock. '. 
I suppose the fear of us two getting old on our own, the visions of Christmas in 30years time without children, and us staring at each other bickering over nothing because we're bored shitless definitely contributed huge part in my decision making process. And yes, there was number of weekends where Toby and I just stared the hell out of our empty hall way like two lost souls as we didn't have any plans nor the enthusiasm or will to do anything because it all felt a bit same old and meaningless.
But it was an advice from a good friend gave me the kick up the back side. 
She said 'you'll always doubt what life would be like with one and think I wish if I'd done it, if you don't do it. But if you do it, you'll never regret it.'.

Well, action speaks louder and we made many many endless attempts of try an error of exercising making chickens, of which I can tell you, for me it was not fun. It wasn't sexy and it was damn frustrating when unwelcome period visited me every month. This monstrous blooded witch made me feel very inadequate. Over 15 years of trying hard not to get pregnant, it was as if my body has just completely forgotten how to accommodate the wriggly worm. Peeing on the stick obsessively just so I know if my body was even doing what it suppose to do was getting tedious and I almost nearly gave up. 
Honestly, I learnt a lot about female body and have huge respect for our amazing human organism.
Then one day, and who knew that I could be in owe of the little digital stick that I just peed on, when the little plastic stick, really unexpectedly read I was 2-3 weeks pregnant, my heart raced and I cried, relieved that I, my body does bloody work!

So for the past 26 weeks or so, I have been quietly embracing the changes.
I've been learning about how my body functions as I create a comfortable home for our then grain of rice, now a rice cake; mochi. 
I demolished many bowls of spinach and lentils, craved a lot of sweet pastries and cakes, and ate more bread than I ever consumed in my entire life. I sweated over the sudden weight gain, and fret over the possibilities of double chin I hate to carry. I am getting used to my fat chubby feet and comfortably crack a joke about it as Toby cheekily offers to lend me his shoes. Feeling sick from time to time gave me a great comfort in a weird way. And most surprisingly, I am sort of enjoying my ever growing tummy.
My wardrobe is getting very limited, and yes, it does piss me off when people make a comment about how big or small my tummy is and poke it around a bit as if it is a public property. But nevertheless, it is, for sure, an incredibly wholesome experience that feels so warm and precious. 

Lemon Polenta Cake (Inspired by Lemon Syrup Cake by Nigel Slater)

for the cake
210g butter (room temperature)
210g vanilla caster sugar
50g almonds
50g pistachio nuts (plus some extra, toasted and finely chopped for topping)
3 eggs
125g ground almonds
150g ground polenta
1 tsp baking powder
1 orange juice and zest
pinch of salt

for the syrup
1 lemon juice and zest
1 lime juice and zest
1 orange juice and zest
250ml water
75g golden caster sugar
30ml limoncello

I came across this recipe quite a while back and successfully used time and time.
Original version is absolutely divine. It is very moist and lemon syrup cuts through the cake really nicely. I played it around few times and found pistachio gives really nice bite to the cake. Also kept the syrup a bit sharper with additional lime and less sugar.
The cake above was made with blood orange which gave beautiful colour and sweetness.
It makes a decent dessert served with nice dollop of saffron yogurt.

First of all, finely chop almonds and pistachio nuts using either food processor or knife.
Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy in a large mixing bowl, and slowly whisk in the eggs one at the time making sure eggs mixed in thoroughly each time.
Add grounds almonds, chopped almonds and pistachio nuts into the egg mixture. Gently stir in the polenta, baking powder and pinch of salt along with juice and zest of orange.

Spoon the mixture into the lined cake tin, and bake for 25mins at 180º initially then for further 30mins or so at 160º.
If the cake is browning too quickly, cover the top with tin foil.
Check if the cake is baked through before taking it out of the oven. Depending on the depth of the cake tin, it may need little longer in the oven.

To make the syrup, pour all ingredients except limoncello into small sauce pan, and bring to boil. Keep bubbling at high temperature until the liquid has reduced to about 150ml. Remove from heat and add the liqueur.

When cake is ready, take it out of oven but keep them in the tin. Spike few holes, pour over the syrup, let it cool and top generously with chopped pistachio nuts.

So, what have you been up to?

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

she, who cries.

Family is a strange thing.

Last time when my family came over to stay with me, we had our fair share of unforgettable moments. 
The excitement of much longed reunion, misunderstanding of the cultural differences, love and hate that only existed in our shared blood that couldn't be forgotten, laughter and sadness of family's misfortune; all spread out evenly to the giant piece of lost time blanket, every bite was a mouthful I struggle to swallow.

Although I was so very excited have them all; although I had all those plans of treating them with something special everyday; although I told myself several times that I would make sure they'd have a lovely time during their visit, when the day finally came to unfold its story, I found myself standing one step further away from the family I was born into and two steps closer to the family that I married into.
My family from home was a distant memories of the past that once existed. 
I've been living as they've been living theirs. We have been busy with the duties of living in two different cities over the decade, that the girl they remember wasn't a girl anymore, and the family wasn't the family anymore. My sister wasn't a little sister who once wrote me tearful poem about the butterflies in cocoon. My brother wasn't a sweet little boy that I used to cuddle. 
Everyone had all grown with the time. And with the time and the distance, we have all grown apart. Miles away. 
Perhaps it was my fault, that I let it happen that way.

It's been over four months since I spoke to any of my family.
And it has been about the same since I sent them a thank you card to say my thank you, and to say sorry if they ever felt I didn't look after them well enough.
But I still haven't heard, and I can't seem to be able to pick that phone up, even just to say 'hello'.

Strange thing is, it isn't as if something bad had happened. 
Okay. Yes, there was an argument or two like every other families do, but it wasn't anything serious that would have caused any upset to anyone.
Although it angered me that my mum cried her eyes out for an almost entire day, two days before my wedding party, screaming that her heart had been used by a boyfriend of hers, I knew she probably just wanted someone to comfort her. Although my dad's attempt to give me a pep talk and the lack of his appreciation of everything Toby and I had done really infuriated me, I knew he probably just wanted to be a dad.
But as the days went on, I felt myself looking into them from few steps away, outside the little circle. That transparent wall that I couldn't see was clearly there, and I was stood one step too far away. 
As we watched each other from the distanced circle through the transparent wall, I think, we've all realised that maybe, we couldn't break that wall. 
The invisible transparent wall was already cemented deep into the grounds of our lost time blanket, now was too late. 
Too late to compromise. Too late to demolish such a solidified differences. 
I was me and they were them.
It wasn't anyone's fault. Just one of those things.
Part of growing up; growing older.

Mixed Vegetable Rice (Bibimbap)
Serves 2

2 portions of steamed rice, kept warm.
2 fried eggs
1-2tbsp Gochujang (Korean fermented chilli paste)
little drizzle of sesame oil

for the mushrooms
4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2tbsp mirin
1tbsp soy sauce
1tsp sesame oil 
1/2 tsp runny honey
1/2 garlic clove, minced
pinch of white pepper
little oil for frying

for the spinach
200-300g spinach
1/2 tbsp spring onion, minced
1/2 garlic clove, minced
1/2tsp soy sauce
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
pinch of toasted sesame seed
pinch of white pepper
little drizzle of sesame oil

for the carrots
1 carrot, thinly sliced like matchsticks
pinch of salt
little oil for frying

For me, good vegetarian dishes should have solid back bone that gives you a satisfactory bite. There is no reason why you won't be satisfied if the vegetables are handled and cooked with this in mind.

I think well flavoured shiitake mushrooms in this dish does just that. It is meaty. 
Each individual vegetables cooked with care, and a good dollop of spicy fermented chilli paste as a binder, the whole thing comes together as one quite well.

Although I am only using few vegetables, you could easily use anything you have in your fridge to substitute what I used or add a few extra to make it even more exciting.
Traditional recipes call for well seasoned sauteed courgettes or bean sprouts and the garnish of sliced or minced beef. Some others opt for generous helping of wonderful shell fish to substitute the beef.
I kept mine very simple, but cooked the rice in traditional stone pot to give it ever so slightly crunch bottom, which is just a delight to eat.
With regards to the eggs, you can use poached if you prefer. And if you are like my dad, you might even decide to have the raw egg cracked into the warm finished dish to give it a extra silkiness. 

For the mushrooms.
Rehydrate the mushrooms with some hot water for 30mins or so. Squeeze the excess water out but keep the mushroom soaked water on a side for later. Slice the mushrooms thinly.
In a small mixing bowl, add the rest of the ingredients with the sliced mushrooms and marinade them for 10mins or so to allow the mushrooms to soak up the flavour.
If you are using fresh mushrooms, make sure to blanch them first to remove excess water. This process will help you to retain the good texture and intense flavour of the mushrooms.
When ready, saute gently with little oil over medium heat for few minutes. Add some mushroom soaked water to the pan, lower the heat and simmer for further 5mins or so.

For the spinach.
Blanch the spinach, squeeze the excess water and put aside.
Using pestle and mortar, roughly ground toasted sesame seed with pinch of salt.
In a mixing bowl, add all ingredients and bring it together. Mixing it with hands will allow you to evenly coat the spinach with the seasoning.
Season with little more salt if necessary.

For the carrots.
Gently fry the carrots in little oil until carrots are softened, and season with salt.

To put this dish together, divide warm cooked rice into two large-ish serving bowls and arrange the vegetables on top of the rice. Top with fried eggs, drizzle of sesame oil for extra nuttiness, and serve with generous helping of Gochujang.
The best way to eat this?
Mix them together with a good dollop of Gochujang, and dig in.
It is delicious goodness in a big bowl!

And maybe, that was why we cried when we hugged saying our goodbyes. 
Trying to capture the moment. 
Feeling every bit of our own flesh and blood with the bitter sweet love rushing through our bones and veins, maybe we hoped, the only moment that we breathed in the same warm air to linger on for a bit longer.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

love: lost and found.

It has been a while, again. I know.
Maybe you were wondering where I had gone all this time. 
Maybe you were thinking I had disappeared to somewhere exotic on our honeymoon; having too much fun, and forgotten all about that you ever existed.
But the truth is, I have been too busy looking for the little heart of mine that still wishes to live the every minutes of our Westival, and found it almost impossible to retrieve myself back into the reality quite as so soon as I had hoped for.

Back in March 23rd, on our 9th anniversary, when I made that little speech back at our flat, I couldn't rescue myself from tears thinking of one person who wasn't there to witness the moments of our union; who I knew very well, would joyfully have shared my tears.
She might have squeezed my hands while helping me to dry my eyes, just to let me know that she's there, in the moment, with me. She might even have hugged me tightly with all her warmth to comfort me. And I know she would have, most definitely given me the wettest kisses on my cheeks that I found hard to wipe off, because.., I loved her love.
I knew her well, and on our wedding day when I made that speech, feeling every presence of her around me, I could barely finish the last sentence.

Exactly two years ago, on 23rd of March, when Toby accidentally scratched the wheels of our beloved car 'Merry Edna' named after Toby's nan, we both hoped in anger, that maybe it was the sign of nannie telling us the flat we were about to view was the one.
Later that evening, Toby and I raised our glasses with an excitement that finally the long search of finding our dream home may have come to an end, and thought of nannie who would have been so pleased to hear that we found our nest, at last.

In March 23rd 2009, I thanked nannie Dubery for her kind acceptance and generous loving, and said my good-bye for the one last time.
I bursted into tears whispering how sorry I was that I didn't come back soon enough to see her smile again. I told her quietly that I loved her, and promised her I would always be a good girl to Toby.
I remember so clearly, the very last day I saw her back at the hospital few weeks before her funeral. 
Nannie held my hand with her fragile hands and told me with smile that I was a good girl, and asked to come back soon to see her again.
To this date, I still feel so bad that I couldn't have made another journey to the hospital before she passed away. 
At her funeral, Toby held my hands tightly and comforted me with the little words of wisdom, just like nannie used to. 
He said, nannie was finally happy that now she's with granddad. And we should all be very happy that she found the peace in him.
Love; that lost her soul, that got found in eternity.

Earlier last month, when my family came to join our Westival, going through our wedding photographs they hadn't seen, my mum was surprised to see the snow in England in March. She said in Korea, snow on your wedding day means the wealth is wished upon you. 
I told her that I think it was nannie Dubery out on her little trip down to earth to spend the day with us. 
And as we were all hoping for the good weather for our much anticipated wedding festival, I whispered a little prayer to nannie to shine her lights on us, just like many other old times.


A huge thank you to all of you who helped us to create such an incredible weekend.
Max and Lucinda at the Park Farm were so helpful, and their 50 acre of private field was just stunning. The mother and daughter team of Vintage Scoops, Vic and Jo served up some of the most delicious ice creams. 
Henning and Kasia, the proud owner of the Taco Truck was one of the most loveliest and kindest people I've dealt with in this process of planning a huge party. And their taco is just spectacular!
And last but not the least, thank you Al, for capturing every moments of our special day. Every time I look at it, my emotions still run so high.
Thank you, thank you and thank you!

Baked Eggs with Lightly Spiced Tomato Jam
Serves 2

for the baked eggs
4 medium to large free range eggs
1 banana shallot, finely sliced
2-3 streaky bacon rashers (substitute with toasted bread crumbs if making for vegetarian)
2tbsp creme fraiche or natural yogurt
handful of chopped dill
some butter
some rapeseed oil
salt and pepper 

for the tomato jam (inspired by Tomato Jam NY Times)
940g mixed tomatoes, coarsely chopped 
160g red peppers, roughly chopped
50g mixed chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped
25g ginger, roughly chopped
1 chipotle chilli, cut into small flakes
300g jam sugar
50ml balsamic vinegar
1 1/2tsp cumin seed
10 cloves
1tsp cinnamon
good handful of fresh thyme
1tsp malden salt

Okay, please let me tell you couple of things about this recipe.
One: you know one of those weekends when you have your friends and family staying over and you're in serious needs of mean cooked breakfast to show off your hospitality, this is it!
Two: this tomato jam in your fridge will rescue you from need-something-quick moments, turing everything into tangy sticky saucy culinary satisfaction, and the left over jars that you've given to your friends will make them think you are one cooking genius!

This recipe will make about 1pint of tomato jam. Having said that, this relies heavily on the ripeness of the tomatoes you're using and the thickness of the final jam.
There isn't any rules as such on how thick it should be. Just go with however you like it. If you make it slightly loose, it will be more like a pourable posh tomato ketchup. I like mine quite thick and sticky, so I can smother generously over the cracker with some mature cheddar.
This jam is amazing with bacon sandwich. It goes really well with grilled portobello mushrooms stuffed with some fried garlic, onion and chilli flakes, and a spoonful of jam in the middle with a good helping of grated cheese. It is also brilliant quick marinade to roast the jointed chicken with extra squeeze of lemon and crushed garlic.

Making the tomato jam is very simple, once you have all ingredients ready. 
I use lots of different types of tomatoes; half of the quantity is ripe vine tomatoes and the other half is made up with plum and cherry tomatoes.
Again with chilli, use different strength. I use some very hot ones like bird eye chilli and scotch bonnet, mixed with some very mild ones.
Using your food processor, blitz red peppers, chilli and ginger into fine flecks. They should have paste consistency with bits.
Ground all spices. Put all ingredients into large sauce pan, bring to boil, then simmer over low heat for about an hour and half.
Make sure to stir every so often to prevent the jam from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning.
When ready, cool them down ever so slightly and decant them into the sterilised jam jars.
This will last you about a week in the fridge. However, if you use the canning methods to preserve the jars, it will keep up to a year; stored in a dark and cool place.

That settled, lets move on to bake some eggs.
Start by gently frying the shallots in some oil over medium heat for 5-10mins until golden and slightly crisped up around the edges. Set aside.
Grill or fry the bacon rashers until very crisp. Break them into fine crumbs and set aside.
Lightly butter your choice of baking dishes.
Sprinkle some fried shallots into the individual dish, reserving some for the top. Spoon in the 1tbsp creme fraiche into the dish, crack 2 eggs each per person, rest of the shallots, sprinkle chopped dill and season well with pinch of flaky malden salt and lots of cracked black pepper.
Place the ramekins into the large baking tray and fill the tray with hot water only half way up to the outside of ramekins.
Bake them for around 12mins or until eggs are set to your liking at 180º.
When ready, take them out carefully and garnish it with bacon crumbs.
Serve it with toasted sourdough; it's delish!

It's a shame that I cannot find any old picture of nannie to share with you. 
But maybe, I hope we all have our own nannie Dubery somewhere who lives deep inside of us; who quietly carries us through; who gives us the strength to believe in love that sometimes gets lost, and other times... gets found again.

I am yet to find myself to go through the going-cold-turkey moments as my memories of the highs of Westival faint out. 
But as amazing as it is to be fed off on those wonderful snippets of the past, I also know that those past were once present.
And for now, I am glad to be back in this space.