Since young, I was never into cooking. I was the kind of student that all Home Economics teachers would turn their noses up at (upon seeing my end-products). And I don’t blame them one bit. My passion for cooking was non-existent (not even the tiniest flame!) and I had no intention of changing the status quo…UNTIL I learnt that Agent D had to take up post in Jakarta and he wasn’t keen on hiring domestic help. *cries*
What complicates matters is that Agent D LOVES HOMECOOKED food (he’s more health conscious than I am. I seriously wouldn’t mind eating out like everyday or something). Who is going to cook for him and put food on the table every night? Not me, right?
“Yes, it’s going to be you,” Agent D gave me a wry grin. If not, who else? IF NOT WHO ELSE rang in my head for quite a while. Could anyone save me out of this predicament? Sadly no. It was going to be just the two of us in Jakarta. No mommy or daddy there. A proverb came to mind – the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – which I remember many friends testifying to be true. After mulling over the issue (whether I should put my foot down and insist on domestic help OR pick up a few SOS cooking skills), I decided to go with the latter option.
Two weeks before our move, I picked up some essential kitchen knowledge/skills from my helper back home. I can still remember a few things off-hand now:
- Never add water to an oil fire. Water and oil do not mix. (I took chemistry up till A-levels but hey this never occurred to me!)
- Crush garlic before peeling them (That doesn’t even make sense! But ok I’ll just do it if it makes peeling garlic easier.)
- If there is not enough water in the stainless steel pot, the pot will burn. (seriously?! Hmm never knew that either.)
Many of the things would seem like common sense to you but they weren’t to me at all. When I was doing my Masters in the UK, I alternated between eating out and eating microwavable food from Marks and Spencer (I only remember packing 1 fork, 1 spoon, and 1 butter knife from home. NO POTS. NO PANS.) When I was doing my exchange in the States for 6 months, I survived by cooking with a group of friends. I was often relegated to doing the cutting/washing of vegetables whilst my peers did the real cooking. That was how I survived overseas.
But now it’s a totally different ball game altogether. I have to feed a HUNRGY GROWING MAN everyday. It wasn’t about me anymore.
8 months on, I’m proud to say I AM STILL SURVIVING. 🙂 Of course, there were times when I got frustrated (for example, burning a pot for the third time in a week) and would cry out to Agent D to just get a helper for me. But most times I gritted my teeth and learned through my failures. If you ask me whether I like cooking any much better now – I’d still say no. I do it because it’s a necessity, with us being on a long-term overseas posting.
I’d like to share some pictures documenting my small progresses in the kitchen (and also for me to remember how I’ve grown on this culinary journey):
As you can see from the pictures above (of my first few weeks of cooking in Jakarta), my food wasn’t all that enticing. Well, they were edible I guess. But more often than not, the veggies were undercooked/ meat was overcooked and too tough/ fish was overly salty/ etc. Kudos to Agent D who did not complain one bit and managed to even finish everything up! (I’m not quite sure how he did it. Even I could not bring myself to do so.)
As the weeks passed, my cooking skills got slightly better. I learnt how to add spices and sauces in moderation and how to control the fire. I must say learning on the job really helps. No choice what!
Edamame pork fried rice (a tad too bland).
Improved fried rice verison with an assortment of veggies.
Here are some pictures of what I cook for our weekend brunches/ lunches. They’re mostly one-dish meals. Throw everything in and BAAAAM READY TO EAT. EASY. I LIKE.
Spaghetti aglio olio with steamed greens and baby corn.
Tomato mushroom penne (sauce was made from scratch!).
Organic buckwheat mee sua with beans, carrots and lean pork.
Eggs with tomatoes on toast, with baked beans on the side. (This one was a hit with Agent D!)
Improved spaghetti aglio olio with mushrooms and roasted pumpkin soup.
As Agent D is pro-organic and likes anything healthy, I don’t fry food at home. Almost everything I cook is stir-fried, steamed, or cooked in soup. Here are some dishes that I’ve mastered after a while. They’re easily prepared in 20+ minutes or cooked on a slow fire which I don’t have to bother about.
Steamed fish with ginger, chilli, and spring onion.
Stir-fried pork with chinese cabbage and tofu.
Bak kut teh.
White fungus chicken soup with herbs.
Baked salmon with vegetable herbs (pardon the over-sized vegetables, erm cutting skills are still work in progress).
Winter melon soup with pork ribs, pumpkin, and egg.
These dishes are the same few I put on the table every week. Thank goodness Agent D doesnt grumble HUH why same thing again or can you please try something else. Whatever I cook, he eats (which is really helpful). Sometimes, he compliments me by saying “my wife’s cooking is really improving” and gives me a big hug — AWW how to stop cooking for him like that. Must persevere in my kitchen.
These are what our regular dinner meals look like:
You can see that they’re actually the same few dishes rotated around. I haven’t been too motivated/ adventurous to check out new recipes but I shall do so SOON. Agent D likes to have variety for dinner (2 veg + 1 meat + 1 fish) which comes up to a little too much when shared just between the two of us. As I don’t like to waste food, I always end up over-eating beyond my maximum stomach capacity. SIGH which explains my 2 kg weight gain since coming to Jakarta.
Will update again if any of the new recipes turn out particularly well! 😉
Today is a Public Holiday in Jakarta (Hari Raya Nyepi a.k.a. Balinese New Year). Agent D and I spent some time preparing a simple lunch together (which was really nice because he’s often so busy).
Agent D helping to wash the veggies.
Stirring the egg for our chawanmushi.
Ingredients for pork curry.
Our simple lunch – pork curry with lady fingers, sweet potato leaves, chawanmushi-went-wrong, and garlic chicken.
At night, we met a lovely Singaporean couple for dinner at Unacho (a Japanese restaurant that specializes in unagi dishes), which I’ll blog about another day. The food there was SO GOOD – especially on days when you have a major unagi craving.
Homemade oats from Sarah.
Thanks for your yummy homemade oats, Sarah! Totally made my night. ❤
Happy Thursday everyone! Good night, world. YAWNS.