Caterpillar

The circle of life. (Hint: Not a pleasant one.)

The baristas at our neighbourhood café have discovered the secret behind the mystery of their disappearing leaves: a caterpillar.

No surprise there: pots of juicy plants and flowering shrubs in their sun-soaked balcony. What’s not to like? Instead of disposing of the caterpillar, they’ve decided to adopt it. No name has been picked out yet.

Devil screws up his face in disgust. Creepy-crawlies are not his favourite things. Yet he tells me he too kept a caterpillar once, when he was a boy.

“It took several weeks, a month maybe, before the caterpillar went into its pupal stage and when it emerged, it wasn’t a butterfly; it was an ugly moth!”

We can’t all be pretty, can we? At least you had a moth, I said.

“Not really. Seconds after its wings dried and it started flying, a sparrow swooped down and ate it.”

Well, I said. I hope it was tastier than it looked.

Soup from scratch

Savour life slowly like a homemade meal

There are days when you just don’t want to go anywhere. The rain is pouring outside, the winds are wrenching branches off the trees; really, it’s simply safer to stay at home. Fast food delivery is out of the question (the poor delivery guy may drown in this deluge); instant noodles smack of desperation.

Oh dear, do we really have to cook a meal from scratch?

Why are we so afraid of cooking unhurriedly and leisurely these days? Are our nerves that frazzled from chasing one deadline after another that we can’t slow down and take stock? (Or make stock, from real animal bones, even.)

It’s about taking the time.

This is why I believe thunderstorms can be a blessing in disguise. It forces us to check our pantry and figure out how to create a meal from raw ingredients. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate five-course menu; a one-pot dish would do. But what works best for a rainy day?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is a steaming hot bowl of soup. I’m Cantonese so I grew up enjoying a bowl of lovingly home-cooked soup with every meal. From watercress with spareribs to kampong chicken with whole cracked peppercorns and garlic cloves still in their skins, soup is an incredibly versatile dish for both amateur and professional cooks to play with all manner of ingredients.

Soup is what our mothers and grandmothers made for us when we were unwell as kids, or to nourish us in the weeks of cramming before final examinations. Soup tastes of simple, unconditional love.

Now that I’m an adult (or as grown-up as the ripe age of 35 ought to make me), soup is still a regular feature at our dining able, albeit an easy version that involves nothing more than placing a whole chicken into a slow cooker, adding water, some root vegetables and various aromatics, covering the lid and waiting.

Convenient and fuss-free, certainly, yet on a day when one is sequestered at home thanks to inclement weather, one is up for more of a challenge. Instead of Cantonese soups, as nutritious and healing as they are, why not attempt something more Western?

When we dine outside, one of our favourite soups is pumpkin soup, if the restaurant has it. I remember having an excellent bowl of this in Milan many years ago: creamy, naturally sweet with a robust heat that must come from ginger. I chatted with the English-speaking chef and he told me the secret was to roast the pumpkins before making the soup.

These days, I prefer my food slightly less sweet, even if the flavour is from the caramelisation during the roasting, and not from added sugar. One way around this, I find, is to add some potatoes; this lightens the sweetness somewhat while its natural starchiness means I can use less cream. (My waistline approves.)

We cook a big pot, so the hearty soup will serve as a simple brunch for two with enough for dinner too. Simply grill some vegetables to accompany the soup (it reheats beautifully) for the evening meal.

Time-staking? Not really, if you prepare ahead and have all the ingredients at hand. Besides, the slow cooking process can be quite meditative, especially on a rainy day with nowhere to go. So, no; it’s not really time-staking. Try timeless.

If there’s one thing I’ve realised over the years, it’s this: good cooking, just like living and loving well, takes time. And it’s worth it.

Sleepless beauty

Getting enough rest can be quite the test

You tell me you have trouble getting to sleep. You’ve been flying too much these past few months. Different time zones mean jetlag; frequent flights mean it’s all but impossible to adapt before you are off again.

I tell you not to try so hard to sleep. Let go and breathe easy. Read a novel. Play Scrabble on Facebook; there’s bound to be some players awake somewhere in the world at the same time.

You worry about the lack of sleep appearing as eye bags and dark circles and early wrinkles. I tell you it doesn’t matter; you can be my sleepless beauty, especially if you don’t snore.