Simple pleasures

Tom Kha and Harry

I bought a bird feeder from the hardware superstore the other day. Along with a new huge barbecue and quite a few other things you’re allowed when you graduate from Dad school.

Except it seems to be badly calibrated. In this part of South east London it seems the only birds it attracts are squirrels. And three very shifty looking pigeons. And while I may proudly wear a ‘For the many’ lapel badge on my jacket, in this situation I am taking a hardline stance on scroungers and layabout animals wanting something for nothing. I threw a tennis ball in their general direction earlier and they retreated to a safe distance, eyeing me with beady contempt.

But while the level of seeds and nuts dimishes quicker than my enthusiasm for the new season’s hot weather after two days of sneezing my face off, my excitement at the garden grows daily as new things pop out here and there, seemingly overnight. Violets and forget-me-nots appeared from the garden’s edge like a very slow jack-in-the-box and the tulips opened wider than I thought possible to soak up the strong, bright sunlight shining constantly on the borders.

We cooked outside for the first time this year. In April. Which surely is unheard of. I over-catered in my excitement. Chicken, slender sausages, langoustines with garlic butter, burgers, lamb chops marinated in harissa, za’atar, cumin and rosemary, flatbreads, charring in parts until the edges shatter when you tap them. I roasted aubergines on the coals until soft and blackened then mashed them with olive oil, plenty of garlic and some more cumin and we sat outside stuffing our faces in the late afternoon warmth.

After a weekend of overeating and behaving as if we were battery chickens busted out into the freedom of the garden, Monday night called for a calmer supper.
I made this tom kha, trying to recreate the one from our local Thai restaurant. And while not quite the same as theirs — I have a feeling they may lace it with sugar — it was fresh tasting, spicy (but with a nice heat that sort of punched you in the face then left you alone, rather than one that slowly builds like a kind of gaslighting) and ready in about 20 minutes. Halve the amount of chillies if you like, but I do rather enjoy the rush you get from something that is almost too much.

I put prawns in this one, but chicken is equally delicious. As is pigeon or squirrel. Possibly.

A thumb sized piece of galangal, finely sliced
3-4 red chillies (birdseye or finger)
2 sticks of lemongrass, bruised and sliced into 3cm pieces
1 tin of coconut milk (400ml)
6 or so kaffir lime leaves
1 shallot, finely sliced
2 medium-small tomatoes, chopped
About six meaty mushrooms (I used chestnut, but would have preferred oyster)
300g raw tiger prawns
Juice and zest of a lime
A dash of fish sauce and a little pinch of salt to taste
A bunch of coriander, chopped

Throw the galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shallot and chillies into a saucepan with the coconut milk and slowly heat, stirring gently and occasionally.
Cook for about five minutes then add the mushrooms and prawns and bring to just below the boil. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the prawns are cooked through then season with the lime juice and fish sauce to taste. Try to get the balance between salty, sour, sweet and sharp.
Add the chopped coriander and lime zest and serve straight away with more lime wedges and chilli slices on the side.

This week
: Swan Lake ballet for children at the theatre. About my level really. I still found the whole thing preposterous though. I mean really…
Read: The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Sicily, a prince in the 1860s. I mean, it’s perfectly readable, but I had no great desire to rush home and pick it up.
Eat: Neil from Eugene cooked us great steaks the other night, before he and Linda returned home. Delicious food and great company.
Listened: Some new English jazz, would you believe. Ivo Neame featuring Shabaka Hutchings. Good stuff, interesting, and wide-ranging.

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