Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Five spice stir fried chicken with cashews: A riff on a Nigel Slater recipe

It started as a Nigel Slater recipe for stir fried chicken with cashews and broccoli. But I hadn't any broccoli. I did have an enormous jar of unsalted cashews that my parents left behind when they came to visit though, so I decided to make the dish anyway.

Along the way, I added and tweaked quite a number of things and I'm afraid that it no longer resembles Slater's original recipe. But the important thing is, it tasted very good. Good enough for Mr Grey to express a hope that I would remember what I'd done.

Very roughly, here it is.

You need about 400g of chicken - the chicken I had today was taken from 3 rather large chicken drumsticks. Marinate with a tablespoon of light soy sauce, a minced garlic clove and a tablespoon of Chinese five spice powder.*

Chop a thumb size piece of ginger into smallish pieces. Heat about two tablespoons of oil in a wok or a deep pan, then add the ginger. Stir fry the ginger until golden brown and fragrant, then add the chicken. Stir fry the chicken for about 2 minutes then add:

1 more tablespoon of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of Chinese cooking wine
1 teaspoon of cornstarch mixed with water
1/4 cup of chicken stock
A bit of salt - 1/4 tsp perhaps?
1/3 cup of cashews

Stir fry for a bit longer then add the cashews. Finally add a little extra water and cover with a lid. Allow the chicken to cook for about 5 more minutes. During this time, chop a spring onion into 2 inch lengths. When the chicken is nearly done, stir through the spring onion until wilted.

Serve with steamed rice.

*Slater's original didn't have soy sauce. In fact his original recipe did not call for any seasoning at all  but the cashews he used were salted ones. But as I said earlier, all I had were unsalted cashews. The above is the result of just adding whatever I happened to have in my kitchen.

* In general though, I find that ginger goes well with 5 spice and spring onions go well with ginger so there you have it. As for the seasoning, it's hard to go wrong with the classic chinese trifecta of soy sauce, sesame oil and Chinese cooking wine. The corn starch was just to thicken the sauce - it may be omitted if one prefers the gravy to be thinner. The chicken stock was habit. I have, at all times, a bag of frozen cubes of home made chicken stock in my freezer. I find that it adds an umami-ness and depth of flavour to sauces and gravies.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Starting young

About 6 years ago, I went to the hospital to visit a friend who'd just given birth. Another friend L, who I hadn't seen since high school was there too. I don't remember how it happened but L, who was also married with children, wound up giving me unwanted advice in a wagging finger tone about how I should think about having kids young "because it's better".  I was single at the time and was smarting from a recent breakup so...well, I immediately lost my cool. Ahem.

(I'm mildly horrified thinking about it now, but I think the friend who'd just given birth had to intervene and calm me down.*)

That was 6 years ago. Now that I'm married with a baby myself, I look back and realised that it's true. It is better to start young. But I would never say that to any of my single friends. I'd say it to married friends wanting to put off having children. But I would never ever say it to my single friends. I've been there and it really hurts to hear it.

But back to starting young. People may not like to hear this but parenthood is a young person's game, it really is. It takes energy, actual physical flexibility and a strong back. Plus, okay even if you argue that "it will keep you young" and "you feel fit and young", chances are, your eggs and sperm aren't actually young. Lots of very young looking people wind up having trouble conceiving because even if they look 25, their ovaries and eggs are still 40. There are lots of things you can run away from, but I've learnt that it's really hard to run away from your own biology.

Now I look at my friends who married in their twenties and had kids with a certain amount of envy. They have older children to help with the younger ones, plus they're done with childbearing whereas I'm only just getting started (I hope!).

*I have really wonderful and understanding friends.

Monday, February 2, 2015


I've been meaning and meaning to write. But the last few months have been spent moving the contents of my entire apartment into storage, looking after a small baby, looking for a tenant, getting said baby his vaccination, and preparing to move to another country with said baby.

But I stopped by because last night, lying under the covers, I began itching to write something - anything - about this time. Because you see, Baby is now 6 months old and oh, I do not want to forget this time. I want to hang on to it even as it dribbles through my grasping fingers. I now understand why people take time away from work to "be with their children". I used to think this was an excuse. Now I see that when you have a little growing human being, time is a finite and infinitely precious resource.

Baby is 6 months old now and he will never be 6 months old again. He will never again be on the cusp of sitting and crawling. One day - quite soon - he will sit up and not topple over as he does now. Soon, instead of getting on all fours and lunging inexpertly forward or motoring backwards, he will crawl towards his toys.

At 6 months,  he has plump cheeks, firm plump arms and legs and fat little dimpled hands. He is squidgy and squashy and altogether delicious. He has dimples at his elbows and skin like cream.

He is amiable and lovable and smiles readily at anyone, at everyone. When he smiles, he smiles broadly in a way that lights up the room and breaks my heart.

His favourite thing to do in the world is when you pull him to his feet and support him under his arms. Then he looks around the room with wild undisguised delight. He looks exultant, like a king surveying his kingdom. Then  he starts jumping up and down as if to say, 'oh look at this great big exciting world!'

He has turned me into a sap. I now smile at babies, children on the street. I know why strangers stopped me when I was pregnant to smile at me and congratulate me. It's because they knew this time of exhausted sweetness was coming.

A few days ago, I stopped by his cot on my way to work. He was sleeping and I stroked his hair. He opened his eyes sleepily, smiled at me and went back to sleep. It was just devastating. I wanted to put my bag down, sit beside him and not ever leave.

Monday, December 8, 2014

It takes one to know one

Scene: Mr Grey and I are watching baby squawk and kick his legs furiously.

Me: You know dear, I think baby is going to grow up to be such a naughty boy.

Mr Grey: No he's already naughty! He just doesn't have the ability to carry out his naughty schemes yet.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Kittens and cubs

On 23 July 2014, Mr Grey and I became parents to a tiny howling red faced boy. Four months on, he is no longer so tiny but he does still turn red when he howls for food.

He is a real game changer, this little boy. The last four months have been filled with exhaustion, panic, crazy love, happiness, worry and poop. So much poop.

At 4 months, he's a milk drinking, crazy pooping machine. He can't sit up yet but he's nearly there I think. He loves his baths but isn't the greatest napper. He isn't sleeping through the night yet but on good nights, he only wakes me up for one feed around midnight. I wish he had more good nights - but babies be babies and we'll just have to see how things go.

I read an Annie Lamott book on the first year of her son's life and she described his newborn state as "larval and incompetent". When I read that line, I grinned crazily to myself. It's true. New born babies are so helpless, it's scary.

But now! At the relatively advanced age of four months, there is so much he can do. He loves looking at patterns and can lie in his cot staring at random colourful objects while babbling and giggling to himself. Oh and recently he has been able to bat at his toys and grab them too.

Motherhood is this oxymoronic state of sleep deprived happiness.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

grandfather stories

Here in haste to link to this blog post because it evoked memories of my grandparents.

I was very fortunate to have moved into my apartment with Mr Grey at the same time one of my aunts was moving into a smaller flat. She offloaded much of her crockery and some other odd bits and pieces on us. Most of the plates and bowls she gave me turned out to have been the remnants of my grandparents' collection. Because I eat of their plates and bowls, I am reminded - almost daily - of the breakfasts I used to have with my grandparents.

I don't think about my grandfather as often as I used to but he's always at the back of my mind. He has a kind of confidence and presence and I miss the sense of security he always gave me. He wasn't perfect but he was there.

Life is uncertain and strange at turns and sometimes, you really want to run home to someone who will make everything all better.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


I never thought I'd turn into the kind of person who doesn't know what to do with herself once she stops work. Growing up, I excelled in doing nothing. I spent my school holidays sprawled on my bed reading ... everything, drinking milo and taking the occasional bike ride. I didn't learn an instrument (something I regret now) so I never had to practice anything. On the last day of school, I'd always make this trip to a bookshop or library (sometimes both) and come home staggering under a bag load of books. I'd make milo and settle in for a good long read.

I used to think that having lots of free time was a good thing. But you know something I have learned? I've learned that it's better to spend your time doing and learning things and having some free time in between. That having just endless free time to daydream and read isn't always such a good thing. Or to put it another way, you can really have too much of a good thing.

When I started work, life got so full and I was surprised at how alive I felt. Sometimes, I think I've only been really alive for the last 5-6 years. I worked and after work, there was stuff like dance, dive lessons and church. Then there was meeting Mr Grey and getting married....  It's been a busy and happy set of years.

It's only in the last month or so that I've started having actual free time and while I didn't know what to do with myself at first, I'm now grateful for this time. Mr Grey and I.. well, we're about to embark on several things that will make us insanely, incredibly tired and busy.

I don't know if I'll keep writing here. I know that I'll probably keep posting recipes because it's just easier to have all my recipes in one place online but I don't know if there will be the wherewithal to write.

So much of life is about finding balance. If I had anything I would want to give my kids, it would be this gift of balance. To have free time to explore things and read and daydream. But to also embark on projects and learning things so that when they're old enough, they have skills and interests aplenty.

It's difficult to put into words where I am at the moment; there is the still and silence but at the same time, there are powerful changes taking place as well. It's funny because I want to grasp this time with both hands, hold it close to my heart and treasure it but at the same time, I  fully embrace what comes next because it is so necessary - for me, for Mr Grey and our marriage.

I wanted to write a little bit of it down because I know that I will never be in this place again.