Variations on Japanese spinach (2) hourensou no gomaae

I can’t believe I put the first variation on my blog in 2013. Eeeek!

My friend S-L got me into a site called Just Bento long ago. S-L is a diligent Bento Box preparer, I’m not. I don’t know if this is an explanation or an excuse, but I don’t leave the house to go to my work desk. Cooking lunch in my kitchen is a normal part of my routine. That doesn’t mean I don’t use the recipes. In summer we often have a simple bowl of rice and spinach done one way or another. Last night it was as follows.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbs. white sesame seeds toasted and roughly ground. Reserve a few whole to decorate the top of the dish before serving.
  • 1/2 Tbs. mirin
  • 1/2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce (I use Tamari)
  • spinach for two, washed and blanched, squeezed to rid it of excess liquid and chopped
  • rice

Method

The spinach can be prepared ahead. It can be blanched with just a teensy amount of water added, length of time will depend on the age of the spinach. We like it chilled, but it can be room temperature.

While the rice is cooking, make the sesame dressing – in fact we had enough spinach that I made a double quantity. It’s all terribly moreish. Mix the seeds, mirin, sugar and soy. I make this with Thai Jasmine rice lightly salted.

We also have these spinach dishes with Soba Noodle Salad Stephanie Alexander style.

Just Bento points out that Westerners often eat spinach raw, whereas Japanese people never do. Yes, she says, some nutrients are lost, but on the other hand, a lot more spinach is eaten. True. We ate far more cooked last night than we would have eaten raw. My understanding is that cooking spinach helps the absorption by the body of some of the goodness, so in fact maybe this means a balance of raw and cooked spinach is the best path.

Advertisements

Summer Yoghurt and Green Pea Soup

Madhur Jaffrey’s Cookbook Food for Family and Friends sees a different side of this heavily relied upon author-cook. It constructs menus which are for a Western dinner table, but of course with a strong South Asian and Asian accent.

I first had something like this in Geneva, where, as is often the case hereabouts, restaurants/cafes have a very heavy hand with soups. Stodgy in winter, so thick in summer one could turn the plate upside down and it would sit there unmoved. I like soups to be much lighter, at least some of the time, and surely in summer. About a drinking-out-of-cup-thinness. Certainly not the ‘eat this soup with a fork approach’ so often seen in Geneva.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds, tied in cheesecloth or inside a tea-ball
  • a knob of peeled fresh ginger chopped – 1/2 an inch or so
  • 4 cups chicken stock (or vegetarian equivalent)
  • fresh green (for colour consistency) chilli to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups (200g) shelled peas, fresh or frozen
  • 30g/1 lightly packed cup fresh green coriander
  • 12 good sized fresh mint leaves
  • 150 ml plain yoghurt blended until smooth with 4 tablespoons of water
  • salt to taste

Method 

Put the potato, onion, cumin, ginger, stock and chilli in a large pot, bring to the boil. Cover and lower to a simmer for 30 minutes. Take out the cumin and add the peas. Bring to the boil, and then to a simmer for 2 minutes. Add the coriander and mint. Turn off the heat.

Blend/puree the soup until smooth. Pour the soup into a clean bowl, and after it is cool add the yoghurt and mix. Season with the salt. Cover and chill in the fridge. Serve cold.

In retrospect, I wonder if the coriander should perhaps be added, and the soup pureed, after it has cooled somewhat. Simon Hopkinson is totally against the idea of cooking fresh coriander and I can see why. Ditto with basil.

This is lovely and unaccountably I have failed to make it this summer.

 

leek vinaigrette repurposed

You must imagine the scene. Large wide white bowl, a mix of salad leaves on the bottom, with artfully placed hard boiled quartered eggs and leeks on top, and drizzled over them the vinaigrette. That’s the photo.

In practice, I chopped up the salad leaves and leeks, adding to them the same weird cold soft-boiled eggs that have to be scooped out of their shells that I mentioned in my previous post. Mixed in the left over vinaigrette. Tasted divine. Looked like a vegetarian dog’s dinner.

Tip: the salad is better without bits of egg shell in it.

leek vinaigrette

One of my favourite English writer-cooks is Simon Hopkinson whose hand is equally deft with words as with ingredients. I recently acquired his Roast Chicken and Other Stories, merely 25 years or so past its first publication date. It is still fresh and charming…and still in print.

One reads Hopkinson’s books for pleasure, unlike some which are strictly recipe books, even if occasionally padded out with extraneous words. That’s not to say cooking will not follow and tonight we had one of his summer vegetable dishes, Leek Vinaigrette. I happened to find his recipe online in a column he wrote in the nineties. It is much the same as it appears in the book.

Leeks vinaigrette, serves 4

This is a dressing you will get used to making – a little more oil here, a little more water there, until it seems just right. The quantity here is more than you are going to need. Fret not. Put it in a screw-top jar in the fridge and it will keep for a few weeks – remove from the fridge about half an hour before using it. I find this creamy vinaigrette very versatile and it is particularly good on hot vegetables, particularly potatoes served with a Continental boiling sausage.

Ingredients

  • 8 large leeks, trimmed and sliced into 2.5 cm/ 1″ lengths and thoroughly washed. Or you could use 16 smaller ones and leave them whole
  • salt
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 300-450ml/ 12-34 pint groundnut or other flavourless oil
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  •  1 tbsp chopped chives
  • black pepper

Method

Boil the leeks in plenty of salted water. When they are done (just slightly less cooked than in the previous recipe), lift them out carefully with a slotted spoon and neatly put to drain on a tea towel.

While the leeks are cooling, make the dressing. Put the mustard, vinegar and salt in a blender with 4-5 tablespoons of warm water. Switch on and blend. With the motor running, add the oil in a thin stream until homogenised. If you think the dressing is too thick, add a little more water; if too thin, add more oil and perhaps a smidgen more mustard. The final consistency should be one of loose salad cream.

Arrange the leeks attractively in a suitable dish and spoon over the vinaigrette. Scatter with grated egg and chives, grind a little pepper over and serve with crusty bread. This dish is also good when served warm, and topped with a poached egg instead.

To Hopkinson’s words, I will add that the book doesn’t mention the idea of warm, though it sounds delightful for the colder weather. And as for ‘just slightly less cooked than in the previous recipe’, this is a reference to:

…cook for between five and ten minutes, depending on how thick your leeks are; test with a small, sharp knife for tenderness. You don’t want crunchy leeks, but neither do you want sloppy ones. Drain carefully in a colander for a good ten minutes to ensure that all the water has drained away.

I confess, I didn’t have my usual neutral grapeseed oil to hand, so I used olive oil instead and we found that fine. I made a half quantity for 8 leeks, and still had half of it left. When I went to grate the eggs, I found, upon taking them out of the fridge, that I’d managed to make cold soft-boiled eggs. Grating was impossible, instead they were sort of inelegantly scooped and slopped onto the leeks. You can imagine what the photo would look like.

A fine addition to a summer menu, the leeks can be cooked a day or two ahead and the vinaigrette can be done any time, it takes a few minutes to make.

 

Bad Boy Bubby: Oz movie #3

Showpiece of an Oz film festival held in London a couple of weeks ago. Spawning, amongst other things, a FB page for those who love nothing more than reciting bits of the movie at each other. “She say cat be dead. Is cat dead?” posts fan. Thirteen other fans respond in like manner.

You can understand why. This 1994 movie Bad Boy Bubby is astonishing. This statement for a UK film festival by the director, Rolf de Heer is revealing. (The original source is a defunct website.)

I wanted to make a film about childhood, about the importance of being loved as a child. Previous research for an aborted project about serial killers had taught me that almost without exception serial killers had had some form of deprived childhood. Is this then an indication that perhaps the single most important thing we can do is to love our children without abuse? The film became for me, a plea for childhood.

It also became for me a film about the way we judge people…usually by superficial appearances, almost always arbitrary societal or ethnocentric standards. Often wrongly or unfairly… Bubby has only met one other person in his life, on whom he is completely dependent. He has a very narrow value system, but one that is uncorrupted by TV, radio, books, pictures. He is uncorrupted by the pressure to conform, by aspiration. He has no real basis for comparison, therefore no real basis for making judgments about people. In that sense he is a complete innocent.

Using Bubby’s non judgmental view of the world I was then able to begin to explore parts of it. The film is a mere perambulation through random aspects of people and society and in so doing begins to form some pictures of the whole.

The world is funny and tragic, ugly and beautiful, spiteful and forgiving, loving and hateful, honest and hypocritical. That’s also how Bubby finds it, and how it deals with him. The world or rather the people within it teach Bubby how to be…he learns from them how to behave. It is much the same in the real world…how each of us deal with another helps determine how that other will be.

It became a film about appearances, What is beautiful? What is ugly? To whom? In what circumstances? What is Innocence? What is Guilt?

It also became a film about belief systems…spiritual, religious, scientific, interpersonal…and how by clinging to them in order to try to make sense of the world, we are actually prevented from making sense of it.

But mostly it became a film about questions rather than answers. It is a film that asks questions about the way we perceive the world and those in it, and how we lead the viewer to ask those same questions themselves.

Much of the preceding may sound somewhat serious and of high purpose. Perhaps it is, but forgiveness is sought in the form of entertainment. In a mass medium such as cinema high mindedness can be unforgiveable if it is not also entertaining. That’s what I attempted to do with ‘Bad Boy Bubby’… ask some questions that ought to be asked occasionally but ask them in a way that might give real pleasure to at least some in the audience. In that I think I’ve succeeded……….

Bad Boy Bubby is the first feature film in the world to be recorded in binaural sound. A pair of minituarised radio microphones and transmitters were built into the wig worn by Nicholas Hope. This way each scene was recorded in stereo, all from the perspective of the main character.

On set this forced a completely different approach to sound. Instead of trying to eradicate the usual exterior – to – the – scene sound we encouraged them, even supplemented them by doing things such as opening doors and turning machines on. The result is a beautiful, true stereo soundtrack, which sounding unlike any conventional soundtrack serves the film well.

Another innovation on Bad Boy Bubby was the use of different directors of photography to shoot different scenes. Once the character of Bubby reaches ‘outside’ we had a different DOP for every location until the last third of the film – allowing a fresh slant on everything Bubby sees for the first time.

The final result is surprisingly coherent (no DOP was able to refer to the work of the other DOP’s) and speaks volumes for both the expressiveness of the script and the abilities of the 31 DOP’s.

Rolf de Heer is the only director I know of working now, who does exactly has he pleases in his movies. He gets the funding he wants – partly because he never wants much – and is  in no way obliged to that money. Coincidentally we are watching a Cassavetes retrospective in Geneva at the moment and Cassavetes is another who did exactly as he pleased as a director. He funded his movies himself and was beholden to nobody financially.

Cinema Papers’ October 1994 edition pp.74-5 had interviews with both de Heer and the movie’s star, Nicholas Hope. Interviewer is Andrew L. Urban.

The power and veracity of Bad Boy Bubby may incline audiences to imagine its creator, Rolf De Heer to be a weedy, bitter, introverted misfit with a hideous childhood. This is not so. He is a tall, good looking, long haired and bearded young man with a happy family background and a childhood in Indonesia that he describes as “revolutions and tigers in the jungle”: …”My childhood was interesting and varied”, he says. “It was a supportive family”…

Neither autobiographical nor born out of observing a particular person, Bad Boy Bubby is all the more surprising for its searing vision. Where did it come from? What were the influences that shaped it?.
There were lots of little influences that made the film what it is. One influence was an actor I saw in his 30’s playing a man in his 70’s at NIDA. We decided to make a film together-but it didn’t happen so I think he’d rather remain anonymous. Anyway the idea of him playing an old man in a room occasionally venturing out appealed. But it wasn’t cinematic, which is why I abandoned it, and moved beyond it…to me observing and feeling things

How did it progress?
The idea was to make a very low budget film, in which I could say and do anything: complete creative freedom, really trying to be bold and brave. I toyed with that for a few years, and it became the sort of script I never thought I’d make. But it was very liberating to do. I built a set of cards on which I’d write the ideas. Then I got to the point where I needed some money, so I needed to do a script quickly. By then I was in South Australia and I thought I’d apply to what was then Film South to develop the script.

How much of the central elements were in your head at that stage?
Well I had a beginning well formed and the rest was less so. But the ideas had been with me for ten years, so when I sat down to write it it was quick, easy and the most pleasureable writing experience I’ve ever had.

What sort of film were you aiming to make?
I still wanted to make a film about music and perceptions and judging people too easily. Hypocrisy goes hand in hand with judging people too easily. The central character was well formed and I drove IT, more than it drove me. Also my views on television are not complimentary, so the film intends to be subversive about television.

Through Bubby’s eyes we can see how ridiculous television can be.
The way we’re getting visually educated by the 30 second grab is unfortunate. Something goes out of our culture.
There are tough things in the film, ’cause it’s a film, not television……OK, a few people will walk out in the first half hour. It was a question of how far we could go without alienating the audience.

Yes it’s tough at times and there are things you don’t want to see, but that gives way to something special. How would you describe Bad Boy Bubby as a film to someone who knew nothing about it, who hadn’t seen it?
What I wanted to come out of it was compassion, to move people in every possible way, with humour, shock, appreciation of beauty.

There is certainly compassion in the scenes between Bubby and Rachel, the girl suffering from cerebral palsy, when they are falling in love. It’s quite an extraordinary part of the film.
I wanted to show that he has no references to the world; his view of what is beautiful is different, so he can find someone beautiful who we would not normally call beautiful.
You know there are cycles of abuse which generate more abuse… abused children, for example, often become abusive parents. I wanted to say that with enough love and attention the cycles can be broken. He loves her for what she is, not what she looks like.

Certainly what Bubby endured for 35 years was abuse of a unique kind. what sort of childhood did you have?
My parents are Dutch, and they have a great love of children in different ways. I have strong memories of my father, who is not very sociable, yet spending hours winning over the confidence of a small child. So I have a deep appreciation of children and childhood – that’s one of the reasons why Bubby was made. It’s about letting people have a childhood.

Where do you think this film fits into Australian cinema?
It’s neither consciously or unconsciously Australian. It began to come to me when I was living in places like Pyrmont and Ultimo in Sydney – and several of the scenes were conceived for Sydney locations. So it grew like that. But you have to remember, the process was distilled for ten years and then was very intense for eight weeks while I actually wrote the script.

It is certainly unlike any other Australian film, and it is a film that I imagine would lose something if viewed on the small screen of television
Well, the words “IS IT CINEMA?” were written on one of the main cards that I stuck to the wall.

And what is cinema? What is your answer to the card?
My answer to it is: partly instinct, and it goes into art and circus. Circus is about passion and larger ideas and philosophy and exploring society in a direct way. In fact, it’s as commercial as a film with a bigger budget. I insisted on a low budget to make it more commercial.

And here is Nicholas Hope, talking about, amongst other things, a scene I had my eyes closed for.

Like De Heer, Hope was seven when his family migrated to a new land, in Hopes case from Manchester, England to Whyalla, South Australia. The youngest of four children Hope “had a wonderful time” growing up in a working class family that eschewed the sports field for the library every weekend. “We were limited to half an hour of TV a day”, he says, “and I remember getting into trouble at school for reading too much. It was considered a sign of weakness”. He had read Dostoyevsky by the age of twelve, but it was not until he became an adult that he recognised the benefits of “having a literary base”.
Ironically Hope was on the dole by the time we met to talk about the film…

The first thing I have to ask is what does a cockroach taste like?
I actually had my mouth full of chocolate…a slight peanuty taste, though. Rolf ate one to convince me to do it.

Is that what convinced you? 
Um, probably not, actually. But it showed me he wasn’t asking me to do something he wouldn’t do himself… When we got to do it, it was under controlled circumstances. First, there would be only one take. Second the cockroach came from a lab of some kind so it was clean and healthy. Third, it made sense in the context of the film, so I suffered a minor discomfort though it was more mental than physical.

What about Bubby? How did you create his character?
First, I read the script a lot of times. Then for me physicality is a key thing. That starts to inform the character, while he’s not autistic, I felt that elements of autism would help create him, so I watched videos and read about autism. It’s a way of walking mostly.
I also read case histories of a couple of children who were brought up in the wild – wolf children, as it were, with no experience of civilisation. There are similarities, but they are more animalistic. I also decided that the cat was new in his life, and, as he tends to mimic everything, he’d be influenced by that. So I went to Claire’s (co star-Claire Benito) and watched her cats – she has about 20 of them. I also discovered that people left to themselves tend to become introspective.Then I worked out what his function is – he’s a conduit for the audience – and that really informs how you play each scene. To build and sustain that proved intense and exhausting, but less difficult than I anticipated.

What were your first reactions to the script?
The script was fantastic: non-compromising, passionate and compassionate, I was really scared and really excited. But I accepted the idea that I was another risk in a low budget movie. Then it grew more scary when we got the money to do it ‘for real’.

How did De Heer find you ?
I did a 20 minute short called Confessor Caressor by Tim Nicholls, which Rolf saw.
Now this! It’s a bit of a worry. Where do I go from here? I’ve already had my Nirvana!!

How would you describe Bad Boy Bubby in shorthand?
I’d say it’s a modern Frankenstein. Bubby is the outsider. But it’s also a celebration of humanity.

Was the process of making it strenuous?
It was the most supportive environment I’ve ever worked in – like a curtain of air. It allowed us all to make choices, and it allowed us all to fail – safely.

You work mostly in theatre. Has working on this film turned you on to cinema?
I love working in theatre immensely, but film is an incredibly exciting medium. Part of it is that as an actor there is a point where you have to just let go and trust the director. This has been a good experience for me. I trusted Rolf implicitly – and it was exhilarating.

I’m surprised this has an ‘R’ rating. There is far more explicit sex and violence on TV now, let alone the cinema. Maybe you have to be an adult to see it in order to understand the lines that are, and aren’t, drawn. What was okay to do and what wasn’t. That’s not so easy, maybe, when the main character is so engaging.

“Bubby been left to die, me Pop now.” I don’t think so, Bubby. Hard to see you ever dying.

PS: Anybody wondering why Hope does such a good job of being in a band, take note that he was in The Accountants, an early punk rock band in Adelaide. You can still find the odd clip around on youtube.

orange and carrot soup

Another cold soup we have quite often in summer. Shopping around for ideas for carrot, I came upon Linda Peek’s recipe. Unlike the cucumber and yoghurt soup this one has some cooking involved.

Ingredients

  • 500g or so carrots, peeled and diced
  • one large onion, peeled and chopped
  • ghee (or oil/butter)
  • 3 cups or so of chicken stock (or something to make it vegetarian)
  • around 2 cups of freshly squeezed orange juice
  • salt and pepper

Method

Fry the onion  in the ghee and when soft, add the carrots and stock. Bring to boil and then simmer until the carrot is cooked. Cool, puree and add the juice. Season. Chill in the fridge.

Serve cold.

Linda Peek has been attending to her food blog for seven years and it’s well worth a visit. She’s eaten her way around the world and tells this hilarious story of finding herself in Canberra:

In 1975 I married Matthew, an Australian diplomat, resigned from the Foreign Office and moved to Australia.  We arrived in Canberra on a cold, blustery morning in early June in a Fokker Friendship.  As I walked up to the prefabricated building which served as an airport lounge in those days I couldn’t believe I was in a capital city.  From a culinary point of view Canberra was nothing to write home about either.  I will never forget one of our first meals in a restaurant where we both ordered steak.  “Wouldn’t you like to know how we’d like them cooked?” Matthew enquired.  “You can tell me if you like” replied the bored waitress, “but it won’t make any difference”.  And she was right.  Fortunately Canberra has come a long way since then.

Indeed it has.

cucumber and yoghurt soup

Cold soups in summer. Mmmmm. There are any number of variations of this online. I would generally use lemon because it’s more likely to be in my kitchen and if I had it about, I’d add fresh coriander to the herb mix.

Ingredients

  • cucumber, washed, unpeeled, cut into chunks
  • plain natural Greek yoghurt
  • parsley
  • mint
  • chives
  • salt
  • fresh chilli
  • garlic
  • finely peel the lime and very finely dice. The juice is for the soup, the peel to decorate the top.
  • ground roasted cumin
  • a little olive oil

Method

Puree all ingredients except the lime peel, cumin and olive oil. Leave in the fridge for a while, let the flavours mingle.

Mix the olive oil in, put soup in bowls, sprinkle the lime peel and cumin on top.

Next

Eat.

cucumber soup (2)