Friday, March 23, 2007

Cooking with Shona – as described by Anitra

Shona asked me to write a few words about the first day we spent cooking at her place. I say here and now that there are no few words to describe it; one could use a multitude of words and still not be precise. But having to render it down to a few words, I would pick would be spice, smell, taste. There is no such thing as brevity when cooking with Shona.

Most of us are doing good to have a spice rack, our Chef Wannabe, has Cabinets (yes that is plural), chock-full of spices. I am not talking about the powdered cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika… canned varieties that I grew up on; I'm talking about jar after jar of stuff like star anise, black cardamom, Japan chili peppers. Even commonplace seasonings, come an extraordinary forms: not cinnamon, but cinnamon bark; nutmeg shows up as the whole nuts; salt is sea salt. If you've ever seen one of these old movies of a witch's reagent shelves then picture that's our Shona spice pantry. And she knows how to use them all!

Just you try asking her for a recipe; she will comply oh so nicely, saying it's just a cup of this, teaspoon of that, a pinch of the other. However, when she puts it together in the precise measurements she first gave you she will add a handful more this, just a half cup extra of that, a few additional shakes of the other and something so far out in left-field, that wasn't in the original recipe, it leaves you wondering just what were we making. For example:
a cilantro mint sauce for Shona’s illustrious “Katti Rolls”, we start off with a bunch of fresh cilantro from the Asian market, a bundle of mint, a lemon and sour cream. When we started cooking Shona remembered she had some cilantro in the fridge to finish off, so we added it in; we blended it in with the mint and added the lemon juice (you got to see how Shona squeezes a lemon); I digress. She decides not to use the sour cream, but instead, yogurt; I can’t remember why. The yogurt isn't put in by any precise measurement, but by gosh and by golly. “It needs a little more lemon and a pinch of sugar” AND PREST-O CHANGE-O AND ALEC-KA-ZAM! Cilantro mint sauce, that was so delicious I was sampling it out of the container on the drive home with my bare finger.
But I tried making it at home on my own, and it just didn't have the same pizzazz.


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