An open invitation

I’ve been dreaming about dinner parties lately; how it would transpire and what we would eat. So here is a prediction of one of many dinners, serving as a reminder for when the time comes – to share the joys of eating with you.

My day would begin in meditation, as I set an intention to make this celebratory meal. I would be highly distracted in my morning practice, as I inhale thoughts of my menu and exhale thoughts of what that evening’s playlist would entail. The breeze and smell of burning incense reminds me to be present … as the sudden alarm from the oven awakens my awareness of baked sourdough!

I make my way to Tiong Bahru market and speak to David, for some pork loins. After a gentle inquire as to what they are for, he proceeds to prepare the meat in a way that is beneficial for my cooking. With a trusting smile, I move on to our vegetable store. There, I observe the family of 4 as they welcome and hurry customers, chanting rhythms of mental calculations tumbling from their mouths. Aunty comments “how early you are today,” as I pick and pay for my produce. As I leave, uncle nods to the miniature tree that is the broccoli, signaling “have you forgotten your dear husband’s favorite?”. With my already heavy bag, I take the broccoli and thank him for saving my marriage.

The afternoon passes quickly – Paul’s “healthy” brunch (with famed broccoli) is eaten, a discussion on mis en place and a loving prediction of how Paul might be bossed around in the kitchen ensues. He orders me to my afternoon nap with the offer that a stiff glass of negroni will be ready for when we begin the process of cooking.

I look out the window and immerse myself in the scene of birds and trees fluttering to the golden hour. The kitchen fills with a shade of amber, as I dry the prunes that had been soaking in hot water. Admiring the orchids on my window grills, I deseed the prunes as FIP radio serendipitously transitions a classical piece to an energetic beat as I move swiftly to subjecting the prunes to a mild heat, teasing out the sweetness and shocking it with a blast of red wine at the last minute to get to a reduction. I look over at Paul slicing salad and side dish ingredients as per instructions; I sip on my negroni and everything in the world is in order.

Hearing a knock on the door, I frantically take off the laundry of socks and underwear hanging above our heads in the kitchen, as Paul hurries to put on his white shirt and a big smile like a true maître de. We hug our guests tightly as yellow, dim lighting and tunes from a curated playlist obviously called “Dinner party” welcome them in.

We invite them to the kitchen as Paul makes an enticing invitation for an aperitif. The lychee martini lying dormant in the deepest corner of the fridge for X weeks also makes an appearance. We toast to the night as “Anonymous club” (by Courtney Barett) plays in the background and we pick on chilled melons wrapped carelessly in parma ham and dip pretzels in a beetroot hummus. Paul strategically moves the party to the sitting room so that I may panic about concentrate on the main event. Whistling to “La Vie En Rose”, I proceed with this delicate task.

Porc aux pruneaux, a delightful Loire classic inspired by my sabbatical travels to France where we sipped on wine with my friends’ families and grandparents as they bestowed upon me the art of French cooking. 3 months later, I would come home from my travels 5kg heavier having lived off butter, wine and at least 2 helpings of everything. Instead, the Coronavirus would keep me in Singapore as Renee tortures us with her YouTube HIIT exercises whilst I keep my French cooking “dreams alive” by reading “The Food of France” – so descriptive as to be insomnia inducing from hunger pangs. This would be further supplemented by the French recipe book gifted by our friends Fanny and Matthieu, as I hone my interpretation of the French language through keen application in the kitchen.

Back to my kitchen, I coat the pork loins in seasoned flour and sear this in salted browned butter until golden brown, setting it aside. On that same pan that is already glistening with pork fat and butter, garlic and shallots are sautéed. I splash the hot pan with a touch of white wine, gently stirring in the prunes, cloves, star anise, cinnamon sticks and a helping of heavy cream. As it simmers, I make a brief appearance to the sitting room with an ETA to dinner, winking to Paul to get the masses moving. I return to the kitchen, place the pork in the bubbling sauce and smile with contentment at the present sights and smells.

We sit down to dinner with warm sourdough accompanied by cold salted butter and a tomato confit in balsamic vinegar and oilve oil. A bottle of red wine is opened as the main events make their entrance. The Porc aux pruneaux, dressed with browned oyster mushrooms and garnished with fresh finely chopped parsley. Roasted butternut squash with goat cheese, rocket and sunflower seeds with a lemon/olive oil dressing. Roasted cauliflower, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Brussel sprouts in wok hei (the lingering taste and smell you get from a high heat flash fry). Side salads of tabbouleh and watercress for acidity and balance. We toast yet again to the ties that bind us together. We gossip, laugh, argue, cry tears of joy – this tug and pull that is the celebration of the human spirit.

Guests would be very welcome to lie cleopatra style in the sitting room to recover from the heavy meal or request a glass of espresso martini as “You enjoy myself” by Phish entertains. Knowing my circle of competency in the kitchen, we would be eating a guest’s dessert for this party – and I can only wish it would be Marion’s chocolate pear tart. Paul puts on “Zorba the Greek” and the night ensues in a wondrous blur of music, dancing and chatter.

Once we’ve had enough, we will send everyone packing home but not without some chicken broth paired with a hushed but enthusiastic chatter of the next dinner. And just before we enter into a deep slumber, I lay my head on Paul’s arm, turning to him to say “That was fun, but you’re washing the dishes tomorrow. Oh, and honey, please also get me a smoothie”

“For the place, that is history, tradition and culture
For the produce, if quality and sustainable, to cook simply
For the process, that is creative, dynamic but meditative
For the people, harvesting, cooking and sharing the joys of eating
Where conversations begin, relationships deepen, the ties that bind
All, with a plate full of wonde

-Yours truly

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