Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Was a Casserole enough?

Ah, it seems Matthew Evans and my chicken & sage casserole has finally broken the curse of the infamous duck risotto.

Not only did my sister's date love it, he asked her for the recipe.

I like the sound of him even more.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Reliable Recipe – I hope

My sister has been single for a couple of years now and a whole new world of dating has opened up for her (and me, vicariously). At different times she has met very different men, gone on a few dates, cooked a meal for them and – despite how different these men have been from each other – all dates have ended after this meal. The same meal she has cooked each time – once her signature dish, one could say – until she saw the pattern emerge.

‘I can never cook it again,’ she laughed, ‘unless I want to get rid of someone.’

What is it, you are probably wondering?

Duck risotto. A very rich, very tasty duck risotto that she has even cooked me. Restaurant quality I thought. It didn’t ruin our relationship (and hopefully this post won’t either).

She’s a great cook and it’s an impressive meal so we have decided it must just be a funny coincidence... but as superstitious as our family is I know she will never cook that duck risotto for a man again.

That has been fine the last few months, but not now. She has met someone; someone who (big sister thinks) sounds better than all the others put together.

There have been numerous dates and now we have reached the home-cooked meal one. I say ‘we’ because I have never really been in this position. When Stuart and I started ‘dating’ my mum cooked him dinner. That’s how young we were.

Late yesterday, I received a text from her asking for my chicken and sage casserole recipe. Perhaps you could call it my signature dish. I’ve cooked it so many times that Stuart is over it. That minor point aside, it’s a really easy, simple dish that does looks impressive.

I had given my sister the recipe a few years ago but she couldn’t find it anywhere.

‘Maybe it’s a sign you shouldn’t cook it for him?’ I text back.

‘Don’t say that?!?!?!’ came the swift reply.

Fair enough. I went to find it in my recipe scrapbook. I tore it out of Good Weekend magazine years ago when Matthew Evans had the ‘Weekend Fare’ column. I hadn’t looked at the recipe for a while either, given it’s one of only a handful I know by heart.

As I started typing the method out, I noticed the introductory paragraph he’s written above it.

“Love. As fragile as meringue. Women. As tender as slow-cooked chicken thigh. Feelings. As easily bruised as fresh herbs. Memories. Lightly salty, like tears. A good casserole. As reliable as an old friend and as warming as a hand on your shoulder.”

It has to be a sign...

This and the fact that on their first date he mentioned a strong dislike of risotto.

Only time will tell.

Chicken casserole with mushrooms and sage
(serves 3-4)
25g butter
8 chicken thighs
Flour for dusting
1 leek chopped
1 cup white wine
200g button mushrooms
15 or so big sage leaves
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 150°C
Dust chicken with flour.
Melt butter and brown chicken in an oven proof dish.
Remove chicken and fry leek until it’s softened.
Return chicken, add wine to deglaze bottom of pan and simmer for a minute or two.
Toss in mushrooms and 10 sage leaves, salt and pepper.
Cover and put in oven for an hour or so.
Add remaining sage leaves and serve.

*Recipe by Matthew Evans, torn from Good Weekend circa 2004

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Before we went away I was busy reading. Reading some of the best books I’ve read this year and two were the work of first-time authors. Their stories filled my creative needs and I realised a pattern – when reading takes over I just don’t feel like writing. Does this make me a fair-weather writer? Sometimes I wonder.

On previous family holidays I stole time away from everyone to write and think; walks alone along the beach, jottings in cafes and many sentences composed in my head. The urge didn’t appear this time. Five weeks, two countries, countless new experiences, conversations, observations and not one moment of wishing to jot it all down.

Ana├»s Nin once said “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” But sometimes I find that writing in the moment takes me away from living it.

For the last few months not writing has allowed me to taste life more fully.

Reading has allowed me to taste other lives more fully.

Wind in the Willows took on a whole new dimension when read overlooking the willow trees on the banks of the Thames.

Beginning The Diary of Anne Frank while flying between London and Amsterdam and finishing it the night before visiting the Anne Frank Museum made Anne’s presence even stronger as I walked through every room of that secret annexe.

The chiming of the Westertoren clock as I arrived at the museum at 9am took my mind straight back to the pages of her diary written nearly 70 years ago:

‘Father, Mother and Margot still can’t get used to the chiming of the Westertoren clock, which tells us the time every quarter of an hour. Not me, I liked it from the start; it sounds so reassuring especially at night.’

And all this time later I found that chime, loud and resonant, just as reassuring. The same clock bringing past and present together for a moment. A moment I was fully part of. I walked around those rooms, now unfurnished, knowing exactly where each piece of furniture would have sat. Her bedroom wall, still partially papered with postcards and film-star pictures, did look ‘much more cheerful’ as she wrote.

The museum was full of people yet no one spoke and we all seemed to tread lightly. Is that because tasting life in such a way is almost overwhelming?

Or perhaps it’s because we all need moments of stillness; time for experiences to settle, ideas to percolate and distance to experience life again in retrospect.


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