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Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Back to basics: Inspired by Ranbir

So here’s the thing. As 2011 draws to a close (already?), and I reflect back on the year that’s been, I realise that I have just wasted a whole bunch of time. And you know what they say about Time (and Tide) not waiting etc. Apparently Time (and Tide) aren’t very patient gentlemen.

So the lost time? I ain’t never getting it back.

And the culprit? Myself.

Know why?

(Confession time folks) It’s because I have spent way too much time moaning about things I can't always control. Like the rain. And delays on the subway. And noisy neighbours (I hear them right now – bang, bang, bang, bang – what on earth do you do all day long?) And lukewarm coffee. And bad food. Yes, I moan constantly about bad food. Especially if it's at an expensive restaurant. 

But, honestly, does it matter? Really matter?

Not really...
(Except the banging, that is. Now that might just kill me one day. If the bad food doesn't.)

But really. Think about it, if you will: every minute that I have spent moaning could have been put to far more productive purposes. Like hanging with my amazing husband or cooking a completely satisfying meal (and then eating it) or playing with my cutie-cute-cute son, or writing writing writing or never going back to an expensive restaurant that serves bad food, or going for a run in the park with Romy, or reading a book, or playing the piano, or watching an old classic with my girlfriends. Or (very important) drinking.

I’ve done so much less of all this glorious stuff that I would have liked, this past year.

Shame on me.

(I'm going somewhere with this folks, I promise, I promise)

“Simplify!” I often preach to myself – “Less is more!”
True. True, all that. But I’m somewhat ashamed to say, I’ve been preaching to the unconverted.
Because I allow these usual silly little things to niggle away at me. It is so silly. Imbecile really.

Now take Ranbir for example, if you want to know how not to waste time. And really live.

He has no memory of what happened 5 minutes ago.

Zero Recall.  Nought. Nada. Zip.

Like when he’s naughty, I scold him. And he cries. Or if he tries to touch “forbidden” objects, I give him a stern look. He obeys me, but he looks hurt. If I raise my voice at him, he whimpers. But then seconds later, he’s forgotten. He’s gone back to talking animatedly to Eddie the Elephant or singing to his Formula 1 car, or holding the TV remote to his ear and trying to say "Hello", cheerful as ever, his mind – once again – a blank slate. When he sees me look at him – literally seconds after I’ve yelled at him – he lifts his arms up and stares at me with his big brown doe-eyes. “Fancy a Cuddle?” he enquires, in his little body-language-speak.

And when I do, he smiles at me with a smile so sweet that it melts me from the inside.

He holds no grudges, feels no slight, bears no malice.

He forgives and forgets.

He eats what I give him. Even if it's steamed cauliflower.
That's a joke. I would never do that to my only begotten child.

He has no worries about the future, no recollection of the past. He lives for the moment.

And when you stop just to think about this - his belief and his faith and his love, it brings facets of yourself under the microscope. And makes you realise, really, how little one needs in life to be happy.

And it’s the same with food.
See, you can spend hours and hours in the kitchen and buy the most exotic ingredients in the world and go all out and dish up something totally gourmet, or (if you're lucky) get yourself into one of the The World's 100 Best Restaurants and break the bank for a meal to remember for-now-and-ever-more and that’s just great, and I'm sure it's worth it, but sometimes – astonishingly – it’s the simplest, easiest, most basic stuff that truly hits the spot.

I mean, lookie here for instance:

Last night, we found ourselves at one of those spendy-trendy places with the beautiful people and the portion-controlled plates with the zigzag sauces. I usually try and avoid places like this, mostly because after emptying out most of the moolahs in my wallet, I leave thinking that a pizza right about now would be great...
...And you know what bad food at expensive places does to me...
But this one bucked the trend. Generous portions and utterly perfect food. Almost of the kind that wakes you up at night and makes you want to lick your fingers again. Not you, I mean – me. I wouldn’t expect you to do anything quite so bizarre. I know, I know.

So, yup...
Here we are. And as a reward for good behaviour, we decide to take Ranbir along with us. And in return for our kindness and generosity, by some heavenly miracle (that I will not question for fear of jinxing it forever), the little fellow is being a cherubic little angel. Halleluiah.

He’s thoroughly delighted to sit in his high-chair and look around, (can't fault him, the place is teeming with beautiful people) not a care in the world, smiling good-naturedly at the pretty waitress taking our order for egg fried rice (for him) and red wine (for us).

Luckily for everyone involved, both are promptly delivered, and received with much hand clapping and glee (by all).

(Now I'm not an alcoholic or anything (yet), but there are some nights when a girl needs her Chianti. I am that girl and tonight is that night. Ahhhhh....)

Anyhoo, between sips of my truly marvellous wine - all dark-cherry-and-leather in a glass - I sneak a sly look in the vague direction of the high chair. And there he is, my little man, clad in cuffed navy blue shirt and beige khakis, looking very preppie, chomping away at mouthfuls of his rice, keeping himself amused and happy and thoroughly content.

Really, sometimes he is an absolute delight to take out. “Sometimes” being the operative word.

So Sid and I get to talk. Grown-up talk. What a rare treat.

And really, it turns out to be a lovely evening. Candlelight, soft music, good wine, great conversation.

And all this is even before our food arrives.
And the food?

The food is sooooo good that the conversation (which I've just been ranting about) comes - if only for a brief few - to a complete halt.

But here’s the rub. (I told you I’m going somewhere with this...)

Somewhere between mouthfuls of pan fried Ostrich with 3 chillies and Soft-Shelled Crab with Julienne Green Mango, I decide to taste a big spoonful of Ranbir’s rice.

And almost swoon.

It is utterly, utterly delicious.

Delicious in a simple, subtle, delicate way - scented with only the slightest hint of coriander, chilli, ginger and sesame oil.

It is simply: Perfection.

And when I’m sort of totally lost in fried-rice heaven, a voice rudely interrupts my reverie.

“Stop eating his rice!” it commands me.

“But...I can’t!!!” I reply helplessly. “It’s just too good.”

“Ams, look at his face and please stop eating his rice,” the cruel voice says again.

I obey. I look at my son’s face. His eyebrows have come together in one massive unibrow and he is giving me the mother of all frowns. I put down my fork instantly.

“Ooops, sorry munchoo,” I coo lovingly. “Here you go.” And I offer him a spoonful of rice.

He doesn’t take it.

I think he’s upset with me. Quite justifiably so. I’d be upset too if there was a plateful of food in front of someone and they decided, instead, to finish mine.

I try again with my peace offering.

He still doesn’t take it.

Instead, to my utter amazement, he calls out to me, “mama,” and when I’m near enough, he holds up a spoonful of rice and shoves it into my mouth.

I am gobsmacked. And ridiculously moved.

Wanna learn how to live?
Learn from a 14 month old.

So, it’s back to basics for me. I can’t do Ostrich pan fried in 3 chillies at home. And nor will I attempt to, but I can do egg fried rice.

And here’s what you need:

- 2 tbsp groundnut oil
- 3 free-range eggs, beaten
- 400g/14oz cooked brown rice
- 3 tbsp light soy sauce
- ½ tsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 tbsp chopped coriander
- pinch ground white pepper
- 1 large spring onion, finely sliced
- 1 tsp minced fresh ginger

Here’s how you do it:

Heat a wok until smoking and then add half the groundnut oil. Add the eggs and scramble for 1-2 minutes. Keep aside the scrambled eggs and reheat the remaining groundnut oil in the wok. Add the ginger and the cooked rice and stir well to break up the grains. By the way, it’s supremely important that the rice you use is cooked and stone cold by the time you are ready to use it here. With just-made rice, you’ll find the result is mushy and soggy. This way, you’ll taste every grain, which is what you’re after.

(And – if you want to be really good and squeeze in your “5 A Day” into this dish, you easily can – just add in any or all of 1/2 cup peas, 2 finely diced carrots, ½ cup corn, 2 sliced red bell peppers, and a handful of chopped green beans – at this point and stir fry for a few minutes until the vegetables start to soften)

Return the egg to the wok with the rice (and vegetables, if you wish) and season, to taste, with the soy sauce, sesame oil and white pepper. Stir in the sliced spring onion and the coriander and mix well.

Inspired by Ranbir. In more ways than one.

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