Thursday, 27 June 2019

Dream: crab gratin vs soba

This is quite a hyper vivid and very interesting dream, though the symbolism is not apparent.
(We stayed in an old Japanese house in suburban Osaka recently, where there was a piano belonging to the airbnb host's sister. The room in this dream is directly taken from the sitting room of that house)
In this dream the sitting room has turned into a small noodle bar, with a set of Japanese style two fold curtains at one end. It looks like the kitchen is on the other side of the curtains, but one cannot be sure.
There is a U-shaped bar table inside and I am the only customer sitting directly facing the curtains. There is a middle aged Japanese hostess with rather non-descript features. She serves me a dish with a heavy blue coloured ceramic lid. When she lifts the lid of the dish off, I am brought to another place - the crab restaurant where we had our recent crab degustation in Kobe. The aroma is exactly as it is in my memory, and I immediately know this is my favourite dish from that degustation - the crab gratin.
In this dish, the ever slightly savoury crab is set against the creaminess of the sauce and the softness of the pasta. It has a slightly bronzed crust, as if the cheese there had decidedly taken on a more delicious character. I savour the aroma of this dish, and I can barely wait to eat it again.
The hostess bows to me and I take a single bite. As my tastebuds process the bite, the intense flavours rush into my soul and I feel a wave of immense pleasure. I come to realise that M is sitting at a bar stool on my left, with nothing in front of him, watching me eat. I put my chopsticks and stare at him as if he were an apparition, but he says nothing.

Suddenly a young man enters the noodle bar, though we did not hear the rustle of any door or curtain. He is perhaps 20, a university student? He asks the hostess for the menu and peruses it with much enthusiasm. He starts asking about the dishes, but with each and every dish M deflects the attention with rejections like the spinach is not in season right now, and we have run out of this type of fish. The boy does not give up and keeps asking after various items. After a while, M says look, the restaurant is pretty much closed, come back another day.
The student looks crestfallen and leaves. M also disappears behind the blue curtains into the kitchen and it is just me and the hostess left in the restaurant. She stares at me sullenly, as if she was wishing I would go as well.
I take another bite of the gratin, and it is just as delicious as the very first bite. I am totally absorbed into the crab gratin and wish it would never end.
The curtains open and at that moment I strain to see inside, but I cannot see anything. M comes out with a large bowl of noodles, and I feel myself think in the dream - he doesn't eat noodles! It is distinctly soba, there is no other noodle it could be. The bowl is pretty much bare, with just a few green leaves floating in the clear broth.
He sits down on my left, in the position where he was. He starts to eat the noodles wordlessly and I continue to eat my gratin but it no longer tastes the same. I am looking at my dish when suddenly, he deposits a single strand of soba onto my plate. It is coiled up perfectly as if someone has drawn it. The soba is so hot that there is an impossible amount of steam pouring off the single noodle, as if it was being boiled from below.
You should eat this. he says to me.
I contemplate the soba, the contrast between my dish and his dish so apparent. Mine is so decadent, rich and succulent. His is so clean and pared back, devoid of any excess. I poke the single noodle with my chopstick and it lets off a little jet of steam.
You know, I say to him very slowly and intently, we are not so good at changing direction once we have gone somewhere.
Then I wake up.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

3 dreams in Japan

The first dream: Unresponsive ghosts 

In this dream Emily and I are the violinists in a quartet with a middle aged violist called Miriam and an older cellist whose name I cannot remember. We are staying in an old majestic house with creaky floors and tall ceilings.

The cellist says she must leave early to help with making dinner before the performance but the rest of us go to the front of the house to do some impromptu playing before the performance. We discuss what we could play with 2 violins and a viola, and in the end we decide on the Mozart Kegelstatt.

I sit down at the piano which is next to a large bay window with light streaming through it. The sunshine is bright and illuminates the room with much warmth. As I get ready to play the very first chord, I see something reflected in the window. I ask the others to look too but they see nothing. I see several people but they are going about their own business not paying any attention to us. I go up to the ghosts but they seem to be transparent.

I sit back down at the piano and we try the opening again, but we are disjointed and not together. Then Emily has this idea to take a selfie. We get together in front of the window, with the light illuminating our faces perfectly. I see in the screen of her phone that the ghosts are visible. Both Emily and Miriam see them this time and they are impressed the ghosts are there.

Emily adjusts the angle of the phone to get a good picture of them and as she presses the capture button, I wake up.

The second dream: Inside a stocking 

In this dream I'm staying in a big old house run by a cranky housekeeper. There are a lot of people milling around the different parts of the house, with lots of living corners. I am wearing a long black dress with lacey sleeves, something I would not usually wear in real life.

Then two of my high school friends come in and the housekeeper tells them that the house is full. I plead with her to try and help them. I notice that my dress seems to be longer than it had been. She takes them up some side stairs to a different part of the house, one she says has only been done up recently.

I go into the kitchen and notice that my dress is a lot longer now, maybe ankle length now. Emily is in the fridge and she is very angry at a fridge magnet. I go closer and see that the fridge magnet is a cartoon scene of a few people sitting around a table. She says the person wearing a red shirt in the cartoon is her and that my friend drew her into the cartoon without her permission. I cannot see any similarity between her and the magnet at all, but nevertheless she is very upset.

My dress is longer yet again. I go into a room next to the kitchen and as the door closes, total darkness descends. It is so black that it feels like the world has stopped. I am really scared and my heart pounds. Slowly the darkness lifts a little and I can make out some light. The light seems to follow some pattern and I wonder if I am hallucinating it.

As the light arranges itself into rows, the answer is apparent. I am inside a stocking.
Then I wake up.

The third dream: Beaveroos on Darby St

In this dream I am driving down a street towards the sea. I have a distinct feeling I'm in Cooks Hill but it does not look very familiar.

The sky is blue and the sea is an incredible shade of deep dark blue. A perfect crescent of sand awaits me at the end of the street, fringed by some neat greenery. As I get closer, I see some kangaroos hopping around.

What an idyllic scene. I think to myself.

Then I see the kangaroos have beaver heads. They look really strange with round blobby heads and big buck teeth, but their bodies are sleek and muscular like kangaroos. They seem bigger than the usual kangaroo as well, their bounce comically high.

I take a video of them thinking I would send it to my friends, then turn left onto Darby St. Soon I come to a pedestrian section which does not exist in real life. The road gets narrower and narrower till I am stuck in front of a Greek Taverna. Where I am stuck is so close to the end of the pedestrian zone that I can see my building, but I cannot get to it.

I try to turn around but after many direction changes I am still stuck. In my rear view mirror I see a green bin and I wonder if I could get out if I knock it over. I contemplate this for a while but I don't want to ruin the dinners of those eating on the footpath nearby. But I am stuck.. what to do? Before I reach any resolution, I wake up.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

In my kitchen: June 2019

It hasn’t been so hectic this last month with a lot more time for leisure and music. I went away for a few days with the Australian Doctors Orchestra and on the preceding chamber day fulfilled a long time wish of playing the Brahms piano quintet – an amazing effort on everyone’s part to come together en spec and pull it off!

With the cold weather, the garden is really winding up. Whatever vegetables are left are really for entertainment value, like this peanut sized bitter melon. 

On the baking front I have been making a few plain loaves for my quartet.

A beautiful olive loaf that was eaten with the Mozart String quintet in C minor, Mendelssohn String quintet Op. 12 and the Beethoven Gassenhauer piano trio. I love the text for the lively last movement of the Beethoven, which goes something like..

I’m going to work!
But first,
I must have a little something
To eat!

Here is another walnutty loaf we ate with an interesting assortment of music. I’ve been playing the viola recently, and we struggled through the Mozart Kegelstatt trio with me mashing up all the notes. We also played some Bach 3 part inventions arranged for string trio and finally the Debussy Piano trio – a lovely early impressionist work.

On this occasion, it was sourdough naan that we had with a feast of curries and veggies. Softened by Greek yoghurt, this dough is a pillowy delight to knead and puffs up nicely in the pan. They were all gone in a flash! 

We ate this with the Bach Goldberg variations for string trio and the Beethoven String trio Op 3.

My friend was also visiting from China for a week and she brought me some goodies.

The best instant noodles from her city Wuhan. They are called “Hot dry noodles”, and after cooking the liquid is discarded before mixing with three sauces (soy, chilli and peanut). 

A hotpot base from the Chongqing area, where hotpot is very famous. The label reads “Medium heat, 45 degrees” - wonder how many degrees it is out of?

I’ve been rather obsessed with turning leftover milk into a soft ricotta just by heating and curdling it with lemon juice or white vinegar. The whey I use instead of water in my sourdough, and the cheese I scoff down on bread or in this particular case in a simple pasta with kale and cherry tomatoes. 

I’m sending this to Sherry, who hosts the In My Kitchen series. Thanks Sherry!

Saturday, 4 May 2019

In my kitchen: May 2019

It has been an absolutely hectic month of work for me, interspersed with lots of baking.

Barney had a mild near death experience just after Easter, where he went to sleep for 4 days and refused to bubble. Looking at his lifeless body twice a day made me terribly depressed, but I kept feeding him stubbornly. Fortunately he came back just in time for the celebration of the first anniversary of my string quartet on Anzac day.

He made a very fine Turkish style pide stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and cheese. We also made some little Turkish breads with Barry, Barney's son who lives with our cellist. We ate these in the intermission between our anniversary program of the Schubert string quintet in C and the Dohnanyi piano quintet Op. 1.

We are yet unnamed but since 3 of us now have Barney in some variation (and we always have some type of bread when we play), I suggested we call ourselves the Barney quartet. However I don't think the others are so chuffed with the name!

Here he is in hot cross bun form. The ones on the right are from Barney the original and the ones on the left from Barry his son. Glazed and warm out of the oven, we scoffed a bunch of these lovely fruity buns to accompany Schubert's Death and the Maiden.

I had some spectacular loaves this month, but I particularly loved this one which seemed to be smiling.

Sourdough bagels also worked quite well, dense and chewy with a crisp crust. I made some cream cheese to go with it too - amazingly simple, just milk boiled, lemon juice added then strained and the curds pureed till smooth with a sprinkle of salt. We ate these with Mendelssohn's string quartet Op. 13 and Brahms' piano quartet Op. 25.

Last weekend my lovely violinist mathematician friend Tanja was visiting from Canberra. These sourdough croissants were a great weekend project for us, and in between laminations of dough we played Bach's Double violin concerto.

Before I started making bread, I never even dreamed I would one day make croissants. It seemed as about far away as going to the moon. The fact that we managed to pull it off is pretty incredible! Though we didn't have a scale to weigh the ingredients (or a ruler to measure the length of the dough), which drove Tanja crazy.

Words cannot describe the aroma that filled the house as this baked in the oven. Wonderfully flaky and crispy, yet buttery and soft on the inside with all those layers. Pengy and Barney really outdid themselves!

To finish, a few snaps from my dad's garden where the summer veg season is coming to an end.   

The mint has had a few near death experiences but recently started growing well again.

We have had so many chokos we don't know what to do with them! Mostly we eat them thinly julienned in a Chinese style salad with rice vinegar and chilli.

A baby pumpkin - there are a few more on the vine now waiting to be eaten.

A few chillies that we don't know the species of, but boy the green ones were hot!

And the last of the tomatoes, best eaten straight from the vine.

I'm sending this to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings, who hosts the monthly In My Kitchen event.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

A super vivid dream: the lagoon and the sea

In this dream, I am with a man that does not look familiar to me. We are standing on the edge of a lagoon. Looking into the distance, there are different shades of turqouise and green that indicate the varying depths of the lagoon. Mountains surround us on all sides and we cannot see the edge of the lagoon.

We wade into the lagoon, laughing and chatting. He tells me that if we keep going across the lagoon, the sea is on the other side. This seems improbable to me because of how far it looks, but we wade in deeper until the water is up to our chests.

He reaches out to me and tells me gently we must swim now. He says we don’t have to swim very fast, and that we will get there in good time. We continue to chat as we paddle leisurely into the distance. I cannot see any end to the lagoon, and at several moments feel slightly panicky that I will not be able to last the distance.

My arms and legs start to burn and I feel like I’m running out of energy. I look down and the lagoon seems impossibly deep at that point – no bottom is visible and there is no chance of stopping. The man is somewhat ahead of me now, calling out encouragements for me to keep going.

Just when I feel like I cannot swim anymore, I see the green lighten up and a sandy bottom comes into view. I step down and feel the soft firmness of the ground with much relief. When I look up, it is indeed as he promised – the ocean is not far, the waves lapping at a sandy beach.

Along the beach is a small and quiet road, on which there are no vehicles. He leads me into a shack, which serves as a restaurant. A few tables and chairs are scattered around, but there is no one else there except us.

A lady comes out from the kitchen and greets the man warmly. He seems to have been here before. We sit dripping on the chairs, watching the waves crash onto the beach right in front of us. Soon the lady brings a platter of fried fish and two big schooners of beer. I bite into the fish and the batter is extremely thin and crisp. With the shattering of batter in my mouth, I taste the freshest fish I have ever tasted. It is something utterly indescribable. The white flesh simply melts onto my tongue and I am filled with an overwhelming sensation of bliss.

We finish our platter, gobbling down the fillets hungrily and drinking the extra refreshing beer. The lady comes out again and smiles at us. Without a word, we stand up and walk across the road to the beach. Standing on the sand, the man tells me that we must swim across the ocean to the next lagoon.

Trust me, he says, the ocean ends in a lagoon.

I ask him if it is the same lagoon we came from, and he says no. At that moment I realise that the man has aged, perhaps by about a decade from his 40s into his 50s.

I ask him if there is another option, whether we could stay on this beach for a while. He looks extremely solemn for a moment, then says gently that there is no option but to continue.

People are following us now, he says.

We step into the ocean and it feels totally different to the lagoon. Where the water had been still and warm, the waves of the ocean are cold and moving. The water laps at us constantly, almost violent in its saltiness.

We are no longer chatting as we swim against the current. I feel my lungs burn as I struggle. I cannot keep up with the man as he swims further ahead. When I look back briefly, the shore is no longer in view – how could we have swum so far already?

I almost lose sight of the man, but somehow always manage to keep track of his back, bobbing up and down in the waves.

Don’t waves get more gentle as you get away from the sand? I think to myself, but I am struggling too much to even contemplate the answer to this question.

Then, as suddenly as the ocean had come into view, the water changes all around us and we are in a lagoon again. The waves vanish abruptly and the world is completely silent. Even the sound of our arms and legs moving in water disappears. All is still.

I am absolutely exhausted, but again just as I feel like I am taking my last stroke, the water lightens and I recognise it as the edge of the lagoon approaching. I stand up in the shallow water, barely able to walk.

I stumble across the last few dozen metres till I am standing on land again. The man is waiting, facing me as I take those steps. As I get closer I realise he is older again, perhaps in his 60s now.

If he has aged like this across the water, what age am I now? I think to myself.

He takes my hand and lets me lean on him a little as we walk down a dirt path, till we come to an identical shack to the one on the beach. Is it actually the same shack? I wonder to myself.

We sit down again, the tables and chairs arranged in a different fashion in this shack. The same lady comes out and serves us fish and beer. This fish tastes different to the phenomenal fish we ate at the beach though. The wonders of the crisp batter and the soft flesh fail to strike me as strongly as the previous time. 

It is as if, the glitz has been lost.

The man is silent now, and all that fills the shack is the sound of our eating. I suddenly see something out of the corner of my eye, and it is a musical phrase written on the placemat.

It goes something like, 2 quavers (slurred), 2 quavers, minim, 2 quavers (slurred). I realise that this is a significant motif, but I cannot figure it out. The minim must be where we are now, I decide.

Then I wake up.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Two dreams: Home invaders, and marble steps to another world

Home invaders

(I had this dream whilst staying in my childhood home in Shanghai)

Two of my Canadian friends came to visit on our street, getting off at a bus stop that does not exist in real life. I am puzzled in the dream because our street is so narrow it doesn’t really accommodate buses, but nevertheless there they are.

They are excited by the old colonial style buildings in the French concession and snap pics of roofs and walls, doors and windows. Actually in real life many tourists do come to the neighbourhood for exactly this reason. They are so engrossed in this exploration that we almost miss the entrance to our place.

We walk inside and I know immediately that something is wrong. The door is slightly ajar, definitely not the way I would have left it when I was locking up. The hallway is dark and I push it open. Inside it looks completely still, and my friends follow me inside still happily chattering away.

Then I cast my eyes to the right and see the television has been smashed face down on the ground with little bits of glass everywhere. My friends fall silent and the general silence in the apartment is suffocatingly overwhelming.

Suddenly two guys dash out of the room to our left and run across the living room. The three of us are blocking the front door so they dash into the kitchen (on our right). I run after them and slam the door shut. There is an external lock on the door that does not exist in real life, but I lock it with some relief. They bang on the door to no avail. By then the neighbours have arrived and said they called the police.

We sit down on the couch, feeling shaken up but temporarily safe. The invaders have stopped banging on the door and it is all quiet again. The police arrive and we explain what has happened. They step gingerly around all the broken glass and one of them says, you girls really know how to enjoy life, drinking tea while the invaders are just a few metres away?

I look down at the tea, a deep murky brown, and wake up.

Marble steps to another world

This is a really strange dream, because I never confirm who the other person is.

I am standing on a street in front of a large window. The shutters are wooden and look sort of European. It is dark inside and impossible to see from the street level what is inside. I open the window and the shutter clang clumsily. I climb onto the windowsill and dangle my legs over the other side, just barely touching the ground.

The ground feels totally cool and smooth, perhaps some sort of marble. I jump off the windowsill and both my feet are on the ground now – I’m not wearing socks or shoes. My eyes adjust to the room slightly and the dark feels less dark, but it is still quite overwhelming. The air feels still and musty.

I take a step forward and realise that there is a step there. I hold instinctively onto the windowsill, not wanting to lose touch with it. I take the step down and it is extremely steep. My feet reach the bottom of the step and I realise there are even more steps. I reluctantly let go of the windowsill, keeping the pale wedge of light within sight, my connection with the outside world. Then I take a few more steps down.

The window is so small now that it looks like a comical moon. I feel afraid, but then I am aware that someone is ahead of me in the stairwell. I cannot see them or feel them, but I know they are there. The steps curve to the left, and with this curve I lose sight of the window.

My heart races and I go back up one step, to the exact point where the curve is. I can still see the outside world and I calm down a little. Descending further into the darkness feels scary, and I cannot will myself to do it.

Eventually I catch my breath and ascend the smooth marble steps again, till I am gripping the wooden windowsill. I open the window and step out. Outside it’s Belmore Rd, Randwick, something that occurred to me only as I emerged (not as I went into the window). I re-arrange the shutters so that they are slightly ajar, just in case the other person actually wants to come out as well?

I have a strong sense that some time has been lost, but I am not sure how much.

I walk down Belmore Rd and realise all the shops are in Chinese. It must be a Shanghai version of Belmore Rd, I think to myself. I go into a shop and ask for sticky rice cakes with deep fried pork chop and sweet sauce, something I ate in Shanghai recently. The lady says that they are all sold out and the door is closed. I am indeed unable to get out of the shop until a security guard lets me out.

Back in the sunshine, I have another wave of feeling that some time has been lost. I feel lost now, in this strange world that I do not recognise, and then I wake up.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

In my kitchen: March 2019

My father's garden is a treasure trove and we all look forward to the harvest every year. Last spring he was away and planting was delayed, but his Green thumbs more than made up for it.

When we moved to our family home over 20 years ago

my dad took a cactus cutting from our neighbours and finally this year it yielded an incredible amount of fruit. These purplish wonders are sweet tender and juicy! 

I have been making quite lovely loaves recently. Discovering the fridge proof method has really made it even easier to whip up bread in the morning. There's nothing like dawn with a softly awakening dough, gathering one's thoughts while the aroma of fresh bread fills the house.

I took Barney to China where he struggled with the terrible Chinese flour (perhaps not real flour..) One loaf was a total flop.

These steamed buns were soft and fluffy though.

We had a lot of fun making these sourdough BBQ pork buns! No idea till this wintery miserable day that my dad is an expert bun maker

And last but not least, a rice cooker cake because we have no oven in Shanghai but I wanted to make my grandma a cake. It looks more like an overgrown egg tart but it was fluffy and delicious! Who knew one can make a cake in the rice cooker?!

I'm sending this to In My Kitchen hosted by Sherry. How 2019 is flying by!