In the middle of writing this, there was a small but hefty-feeling earthquake in Wellington. At first it felt like a truck backed into our flat. Then the bottles on top of our fridge started clinking together and everything shook. I dove under the table which holds up the computer that I’m typing on, clutching my phone – just like I’ve imagined doing a million times over the past week actually. I’m normally over-scared of earthquakes as it is, but hot on the heels of last week’s disaster in Christchurch a jolt like this, even though it was forty km deep and only went for about 10 seconds, had me unable to stop my hands from shaking while I tried to text mum to let her know. And then Christchurch got some aftershocks themselves. Ugh. Am looking very respectfully at the ground, at the hills in the distance (well, what I can see over the high rise apartments) and at the sky and asking them all to just…keep still.
First of March today, meaning it’s only about three weeks till Tim and I head off on our massive-for-us trip to London, Berlin, Warsaw and LA. It has also been a week since the earthquake in Christchurch, which is hard to believe – time goes fast enough as it is, but that was really a blur. And we’re not even in it.
After the fantastic time I had on Saturday baking and selling it for Christchurch at Grow From Here with Millie Mirepoix I got to thinking even more about comfort food. As I said in my last post, on Tuesday night when I got home, I made Tim and I a risotto. Since then we’ve eaten soup, curry, more soup, rice and beans…there’s something about food that’s hot and soft and bowl-confined, and I don’t want to overthink it, which administers delicious psychological aid when times are tough.
One good reason not to overthink it is that I’m lucky to be in a position to choose what is my opinion of comfort food at all in this time, when plenty in Christchurch are eating whatever’s in their rapidly warming freezer, whatever they can reach or whatever they’re given.
Nevertheless, if you need comfort food, then the zenith of yieldingly soft bowl-food is probably this coconut custard semolina, which I invented fairly successfully this evening. It’s hot, it’s fast, you eat it with a spoon. Another example of how I’m really not doing so badly is I fully struggled with what to call it. On the one hand, it’s really just custard flavoured semolina made with coconut milk, why I’ve named it thus. On the other hand I hate the word semolina but to call it coconut custard would be misleading given its ingredients. Yeah, this is how I think sometimes.
Of course the food that brings you peace might be some seriously spicy prawns or a giant steak or something (both of which appeal right now to be honest). Just in case you were considering it, don’t let me tell you what your comfort food is, or that you should buy into the concept at all. However, the very act of making what is considered comfort food can be comforting in itself, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. The stirring, the heat, the slow thickening of textures, the minimum of chewing required.
At best you’ve cooked yourself something and have the attitude of: Look at me being inevitably comforted by this so-called comfort food against my better judgement! Looook at me! Oh my, I feel a sense of calm. At the very least you’ve cooked yourself something that will stop you feeling hungry for a bit, and which costs hardly anything.
Instant Coconut Custard Semolina
2 tablespoons semolina
1 heaped tablespoon custard powder
1 can (400mls?) coconut milk or coconut cream
A little whisk is one of the best tools here but if not a wooden spoon or a silicon spatula is more than fine. In a small pan, mix together the semolina and custard powder so there’s no lumps. Mix in enough of the coconut milk to make a smooth paste, then tip in the rest. Don’t worry if it’s a grey-ish colour from the coconut milk, it goes more golden as it heats up. Stir over a low heat for about five minutes.
It thickens quickly – at first like white sauce, before stiffening up significantly, like really thick cake batter. At this point take it off the heat, spatula it into a bowl or two, and pour over as much brown sugar as you like.
Initially I would’ve said this just serves one but it probably wouldn’t be silly to divide this generous bowlful between two people. Looking back, one can of coconut milk is maybe a lot for one person. But it’s delicious, so if you want to eat the lot yourself you have my blessing and my example to follow.
Until you add the brown sugar it’s a formless, hot bowl of gently-flavoured mush. Which is more or less what I was aiming for. The grains of semolina swell and disappear, muting the coconut flavour somewhat. The milky vanilla of the custard powder is subtle in all ways except for the yellow food colouring. It’s incredibly easy to eat, a thick, smooth, coconut scented paste untroubled by any semblance of texture. And then with the sweetness of the brown sugar it all makes sense somehow, the flavours immediately enhanced. The coconut, vanilla custard and melting caramelly sugar are all gorgeous without overpowering each other, but feel free to add a shake of cinnamon, which is one of the most comforting flavours I can think of, or some vanilla extract if you like.
Back to where I started, I can’t believe we’re actually going to be going on our holiday so soon. I’m a bit nervous (as I am about all things) but I also seriously can’t wait. As I’ve said before, if anyone has been to London, Berlin or Warsaw recently and knows something good, your shared knowledge would be hugely appreciated. It’s a different world now to back in 2005 when we were there. No more sequined boho skirts (as was the style at the time) for one thing.
Title via: local maven of tunes, Sam Flynn Scott. Mostly a member of the Phoenix Foundation, but also does his own delightful solo stuff occasionally too, like this song Llewellyn from his album Straight Answer Machine. He’s also pretty fantastic on Twitter, one of those types where you nod and shout “me too” after everything you read.
I’ve been listening to the music of Michael John LaChiusa, both startling and awesome in its time signatures, pastiche of styles, and subject matters. Not much of it is on youtube, but Gloryday from See What I Wanna See, which I did track down, still gives me thrill-shivers every time I listen to it.
Next time: Again, one day at a time. Got some raw vegan chocolate truffles that I made which may end up being next in line though…