First things first: kla-foo-tee. That's how the word is pronounced.
Clafoutis is one of the classic French desserts which you will never find in most cafés or dessert shops. Probably because it is so easily homemade that one is embarrassed to charge money for it. Okay, I was only half joking. Unless it is served in pretty single-portion baking dishes, charged at the same price point as crème brûlée, I really doubt it'd be feasible to put clafoutis on one's menu. And that's my half-assed amateurish deduction as to why it is rarely found when eating out.
Clafoutis is essentially a baked, firm batter with some fruit in it, the classic choice being fresh whole cherries. Talk to the French about cherry clafoutis and you will see the opposing sides of pitting or not pitting the cherries. The latter, some say, will add a subtle nutty flavour to the dessert. Ask my mother-in-law and she will shrug her shoulders and say that's how she does it because she doesn't have time to remove the stones, and besides, why spoil something that's not broken?
"Bienvenue à ma maison!"
Those were the first words my father-in-law said to me the moment I stepped out of his car after an hour and a half of soaking in the sights along the French autoroute starting from Lyon-Saint Exupéry airport. The air was fresh and cool, you would agree too had your feet felt the terracotta tiles on the ground. Not that I was barefoot. A pair of house slippers were waiting for me in the bedroom. Still, I could feel the coldness of the ground wearing them.
That was June six years ago, when I couldn't understand 95% of what I heard around me. Most of what I learned back then I did with my eyes. I remembered faces and places, really, short of sounding like the Beatles' song: JL's immediate family, close family friends who are family too, his best friend, wife and children, one of whom JL is godfather to.
I watched the simplicity of having family and friends around, spending the day talking about everything under the sun, even taking naps at the corner if one wishes so. I followed everywhere JL went as he followed everywhere his father went: the bakery, the deli, the florist, the tabac shop for newspapers. Everywhere. The French really kiss a lot, I thought to myself. Even men greeted each other with a touching of cheeks and pats on their backs with varying strengths, as if a sum of how long since you last saw each other and how much you love the other person. But all done naturally, quietly, and absolutely without exaggeration.
My friend K is a full-time junior college teacher in Singapore. She has a cute toddler who is turning three this year. And he is expecting a baby sister in the coming weeks. So when I saw the photo K sent me of her 15-minute creamy mushroom spaghettini two weeks ago, she really made my day. First, someone actually tries my recipe. Second, that particular someone could have easily justified not wanting to cook.
Feeling encouraged, I told her I'll work harder on the 15-minute theme. So it got me thinking: how can I reduce cooking time? Can I possibly put a meal on the table faster than 15 minutes? And I have not forgotten my promise to my schoolmate D who asked for a simple aglio olio pasta a while ago.
I went to the post office two days ago. While I am familiar with stamp purchase and mailing of parcels, my trip this time required taking a number. Mine was #1130 and the counter was only serving #1108. Might as well come back later, I told myself. But then again, at 11:15am, it might get worse since the office lunch crowd would soon invade the mall.
Trust me - you wouldn't want to be hungry and looking for a table any later than 12:15pm in KLCC Suria mall. Just look at the Petronas Twin Towers and its new Tower 3. Can you imagine the office workers there, spanning from the administrative staff to the Big Shots (self-proclaimed and otherwise)? Which means there are queues everywhere from nasi lemak bungkus counters to fancy overpriced eateries, at least two with poor hygiene. (It is not easy trying to forget the restaurant whose staff you had witnessed leaving the washroom without washing her hands. A former classmate in my language class had also warned the few of us never to patronize the restaurant where he worked, followed by a demonstration of how his colleagues prepared the drinks.)
I strolled towards Uniqlo, greeted by the chirpy staff with echoes of their trademark "welcome to Uniqlo" in sing-song style. I must have been there for quite a while, because when I returned to the post office, it was serving #1124. Great. Even greater was that a few people had given up their numbers, and in less than 10 minutes, it was my turn.
The word "easy" has different meanings. It largely depends on the person saying it. If Heston Blumenthal says it's easy, you might still need a blow torch, candy thermometer, syringe or some dry ice. When Anthony Bourdain says it's easy, you should read his recipe carefully and then read some more on the key techniques that he has mentioned. When Jamie Oliver says it's easy, it is likely that you are able to improvise his recipe. After all, that's his style.
When I say it's easy, it is easy. And I'll try to share as much details with you so that you are confident of pulling it off, even if your stove had not been lit for months, or in some extraordinary cases, since the day you moved in.
One of the husband's achievements of late - in terms of assimilating in KL - is watching Celestial HD channel. For the benefit of our non-Malaysian friends, Celestial HD is like HBO but only in Cantonese and occasionally Chinese. One can sit all-day in front of the TV watching back-to-back movies. We don't do that, though, because we don't have much time together during the week so TV-time is minimized.
Instead, we regularly scroll through the channel guide to record movies which we think may be interesting. If there is one improvement Astro could work on, it is to indicate the main cast of every movie in the write-ups. Only on weekend afternoons do we catch up on what had been recorded. If we can't sit through the first ten minutes, the movie is deleted. "Next!...."
I am so proud of the fact JL has watched all three parts of Infernal Affairs. And by the third installment, he was able to think like a Hong-Kong mafia boss and predict what is ahead. He loves saying "hai meh?" ("really?") in various tones of speech: sarcastically, sincerely, comically. And he makes the hospitable aunties at our regular Chinese eatery laugh when he says "mmmm goy..." ("please" or "thank you") and "mai dan" ("check please").
"So who's your favourite actor so far?" I asked him last night.
Short of planting my own xiao bai cai and kneading my own dough for fresh noodles, it gives me great pleasure to say that I made my own plate of wantan mee. All within 15 minutes.
You'd probably remember my previous post on the effortless 4-3-2-1 homemade char siew
, and another on what I'd affectionately call "my little soldiers on standby in the freezer"
. If you foresee a few solo meals ahead for whatever reason (especially if you're a SAHM, or when the spouse goes on a business trip), I'd strongly recommend that you upgrade your meals by staying away from MSG-laden instant noodles. All because eating without your loved one is miserable enough, let alone eating crap without your loved one. Instead, make the dumplings and char siew in large batches, preferably on different days, zero-pressure, and you'll have many 15-minute meals to enjoy.
I've tried many marinades in different proportions and finally found one that tastes just right. When I took a closer look at what I've jotted down, it made me laugh. There's a name to this recipe. I called it the "4-3-2-1 Homemade Char Siew".
A few things to take note of, though, if you are trying this for the first time.
The easiest way to pronounce this dish accurately is to be doubtful, as if you find its name so incredulous you think someone's taking you for a ride. And you think about the words "way" and "meow". So you ask again, with much caution, "Char? Kway? Teow??"
That's it! You've nailed it. For our non-Malaysian/Singaporean friends, the aunty at the hawker stall would be so proud of you. For the uninitiated, char kway teow (in Hokkien/Fujian dialect) literally translates to fried rice-noodle strips.
Two weeks ago, I fried my first plate of char kway teow at Bayan Indah's beautiful kitchen. I loved that precious few minutes of frying in a well-seasoned wok, with detailed guidance from my thoughtful instructor Pick Shan. With that little punchy boost to my culinary self-esteem, I went home wanting to make the ideal plate of char kway teow. Ideal in my book, at least.
So I wrote in my scribble book, "What makes a good CKT?" and here is a compilation of my thoughts.
Washing a basinful of bean sprouts brings me back to different stages of my life.
I think about the Chinatown in Boston where I'd stock up Asian supplies I could never find from the online grocer: dumpling skins, fresh egg noodles, sauces and vegetables. The fresh produce section would smell of bean sprouts, or mung bean sprouts as they call it. The place was crammed with old folks scrutinizing yellow crunchy pears for spots, workers packing newly delivered vegetables into quantities that could easily feed a family of eight, and then there's me - the one who felt neither here nor there.