Monday 27 August 2018

Lots of cats and a snake

A few months ago I wrote about the wilder, more dangerous aspects of black and white living and owned up to my fear of snakes. It turned out my fear of snakes was completely warranted. This summer our cat Mitzi disappeared and guess who our number one suspect is?

Traffic is slow in our area which means there are few road kills. And since she has been micro-chipped but not found anywhere we can only fear the worst. Pythons are known cat killers and who did we see slithering on our drive not long before she disappeared?

We did not plan on getting a new cat. Sure, the increased amount of rats scuttling across the terrace had me tempted. But we still miss Mitzi. And I felt a bit guilty about not heeding the advice of the charity where we picked up Mitzi to keep her inside – which would have been sheer impossible anyhow since we basically live outside. And I feel that keeping a cat inside is akin to animal abuse - better enjoy life to the fullest and die happy than wile away being safe. Still, no charity in their right mind would give us a cat now.

Of course fate intervened. One day my ears pricked up when zonked on the sofa in front of Netflix. Did I hear Mitzi? I rushed outside and found Indah with a bowl of cat food and a little black feline. We’d seen the cat around – there are many strays in our area – but usually Mitzi chased her off. The next morning Blackie came back and played with the kids all morning. They got very excited and begged to keep her. After checking with all the neighbours she was in fact a stray I gave in. But we never saw her again after that week.

So we went on with our happy cat and stress-free existence until Indah’s friend kept WhatsApping us photos of two little ones in need of a home. Their mother was a local stray that had given birth in her garden to a litter of six. They spayed the mother and released her back into the wild. One of the babies died, one ran way, two got rehomed. There were two left. They had been vaccinated, taken care of lovingly but the employer did not want to keep them. What else could I do but take our cat carrier and drive over?

So now we have to seven-month-old kittens. Two sisters that immediately got diarrhoea – either from stress, new food or poisonous plants – and were locked in a very smelly side room for the last week. Since they seem to have finally remembered what potty training is all about I just let them out and as I write they are frolicking around and creating havoc in the house (they won’t go out for at least a few weeks, until they are not only settled but spayed – two cats is more than enough, thank you very much). They dig up houseplants, jump on every available surface, practice their piano skills, run full speed and fight endlessly. Since they are also the most sociable, cuddly and affectionate cats I have ever seen and unlike Mitzi are up to being manhandled by the steady stream of playdates coming to admire them, we forgive them. They have been here for only a week but already we can not imagine our life without them. So I am proud to introduce what Roel so elegantly calls our new python food: Pepper and Snowy. 

All that is left now is to keep our fingers crossed and hope they will outrun the enemy.


Sunday 12 August 2018

Beef Rendang

My sister was visiting and having seen most of Singapore’s sights, decided she wanted to do something special: a cooking course. Beef rendang was top of the list of favourites. I felt it was not worth spending hundreds of dollars on a class though. Indah’s rendang is the best I have ever eaten. I had wanted to get her recipe off her for some time, and thankfully she agreed to teach us of the finer points of rendang making in our own kitchen. 

When Indah first started working for us, I asked her if she knew how to cook rendang. I don’t eat much meat, but make an exception or this fragrant delicacy. As an Indonesian, of course Indah knew the dish, but no, she had never cooked it. She had worked eight years for a Chinese employer, perfecting her Chinese cooking skills, but neither them nor the western employers she worked for after had ever asked her to cook any Indonesian food. Indonesian happens to be one of my favourite cuisines – for the Dutch it is as familiar as Indian is for the British, we consider nasi goreng with satay one of our national foods.

‘And when you were little,’ I asked, ‘would your mother not cook curry’s like that?’ Indah looked at me with shy eyes. ‘No ma’am. We could never afford beef.’

In the years that followed Indah, who has a natural talent for spices, perfected her rendang recipe until she finally has one she is happy to share, with us as well as her family back home. So I proudly present: Indah’s beef rendang recipe.

Beef Rendang (Indonesian sweet beef curry) 

1 kg stewing beef, in cubes
600 ml coconut milk
~ 4 tbs oil
3 stalks lemongrass (sereh)
10 kaffir lime leaves (jeruk perut)
2 turmeric leaves (kunjit)
1 tbs tamarind pulp
1 cinnamon stick
4 tbs fried ground coconut (kerisek) (or dried grated coconut)
2 asian bay leaves (salam)

2 cm fresh galangal, in slices 
4 cardamon pods
7 cloves
2 star anise
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt

For the spice mix (bumbu)
5-20 large red chili’s
20 small shallots
8 cloves of garlic
2 cm fresh ginger
2 cm fresh galangal
2 cm fresh turmeric
1 ½ tsp ground dried coriander (ketumbar)
1 tsp ground dried cumin (djinten)
½ tsp ground dried nutmeg
½ stalk lemongrass
8 candlenuts (kemiri)

Outside of Asia, some of the ingredients might be hard to get. Don’t worry, your rendang will still be tasty. Fresh ginger is fairly ubiquitous these days, it’s nephews galangal and turmeric less so, so you can use the dried, ground variety instead. Candlenuts give a nutty, creamy texture to your spice paste, they can be substituted with other nuts like almonds or macadamia. Turmeric leaves can be left out. Don’t replace the salam leaves with Western bay leaves, they are very different in flavour. Better to leave them out altogether if you can’t get them.

First, make the bumbu:

For curry, always start by making the spice paste. Traditionally this is done in a mortal and pestle, but these days we use a modern blender. You can use as many or as little chili as you like, depending on taste. Add all the bumbu ingredients, coarsely chopped, to the blender. Blitz until it is a fine paste, adding a few tablespoons of oil if needed to make it smooth. Don’t add water!

Then, start cooking:
Then we need to fry the bumbu, for this heat a little oil in a big pot and stir well after added the paste. Fry until fragrant, 5-10 minutes should do it. Then we start adding the other ingredients. First, the herbs. 

The lemongrass, chopped into pieces of a few cm, and slightly crushed to release flavour. The kaffir lime and salam leaf slightly torn. The turmeric leaves, if you can get them, are very large, so roll them and tie into a knot. Add the cinnamon stick, sliced galangal, aniseed, cloves, cardamon and fry all for a few more minutes before adding the beef. After the beef is slightly browning, add the dry coconut and coconut milk. Let the tamarind paste soak in a few tablespoons water and add the juice but leave out the seeds and hard bits. 

Stir well, and let the curry simmer for at least 1 ½ hours. The longer you let it simmer, the darker your rendang will become in colour. It will be even tastier the next day! Taste the sauce, and finally add salt and sugar to taste. Adding a bit of sugar will help combat spiciness. 

Serve with rice and vegetables. Green vegetables like beans, sugarsnaps, kangkong, or spinach work well. 

Don't eat meat? You can make this rendang with tempeh instead!

Interested to see more of Indah’s recipes? Check out my personal favourites: her fried tempeh and sambal eggs.