On spontaneity and avocados

Grilled cheese & guacamole bagel
I have always considered myself a rather adventurous and spontaneous person. I’m game for new discoveries. I keep an open mind to new possibilities. I live my life with a passion for new foods and flavours. I’ve spent my life moving from place to place, with an open arm to welcoming new experiences. However post birthday celebration, the slight anxiety of leaving my lovely twenties even further behind, and multiple comments of “you always go for the same, exact thing all the time” on my lunch choices have led me to take a closer look at how carefree I really am.

The actual truth is that I may have an audacious ‘go-with-the-flow’ spirit, however in practice I pretty much tend to sick to a familiar comfort zone. And you know what, I do love my predictable routines. I get cranky when I fall short of my required number of runs per weeks and generally try to plan nights out based on whether I am going running the following day. At one point weekends were religiously dedicated to yoga but hey when you fall in love your priorities sometimes change. I still try to be strict about Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoon yoga sessions. When I do miss these classes, I become the most whiney un-zenlike person to be around. 

The biggest of all ironies is that my attitude towards food is engrained on the familiar. Having my own food blog and experimenting with new recipes on a weekly basis, you would think that I love trying new dishes and new restaurants. Wrong. I only enjoy the latter IF I can have a pretty certain guarantee that it will be a good experience. I try out new recipes when I cook at home as the elements are within my control (I know my kitchen, I know the ingredients, I know the flavours that I like). On the other hand when it comes to dining out, I tend to stick to places/dishes that are familiar and that I know for certain I will enjoy. To me, a meal time is sacred and one of the worst things that can happen is to have this special time be ruined with average, crappy food. So I will stick to the same restaurants or the same rice with sweet sour fish and tofu veg for my work lunch (when I’m not bringing food from home) day in and day out because it feels familiar and will minimize my chances of a negative experience. To add to the food neurosis, I spend the weekend planning out my meals for the following week to make sure I buy all the necessary groceries required to prepare dishes on my ‘menu-for-the-week’ list, which I obsessively refer to on my moleskin as the days go along.  

Recent inspirations though have taught me to breakaway from routine, to really go out and embrace things that may seem scarily unfamiliar. Try go-karting instead of that usual weekend yoga class or a spontaneous night out during the week to let-go of stress (‘run extra over the weekend’ I’ve been told). Best of all, be open to trying a new restaurant that I have not obsessively studied through various food blogs. If you have a crappy meal, at least you’ll have something to laugh about and your next meal will only seem more magnificent. Don’t plan meals or grocery shopping, buy what you feel inspired by at the supermarket rather than being led by a predetermined list. 

So today, in my first attempt to be more spontaneous, I crossed out my ‘meals list’ and decided to entertain my sudden craving for avocados. Genius that I am forgot that in Malaysia, spontaneity and avocados do not go hand-in-hand. You need to plan your enjoyment of avocados in advance since the majority of supermarkets DO NOT for some strange reason sell ripe avocados. Cold storage, Jaya Grocer, Jusco, or Carrefour all require you to let the avocados ripen for at least 3-4 days. As I stood in front of the stack of hard avocados at a chaotically busy Jaya Grocer in Empire cursing myself for not having a list to fall back on (‘what do I cook now that there are no avocados?!’), I remembered my little secret (well after this no longer a secret) of only ever finding ripe avocados at Village Grocer in Bangsar Village. And in the name of spontaneity, me and EP got in the car, drove through traffic just to buy some lovely ripe avocados to satisfy a craving. And trust me, ripe avocados are perfection, worth the half an hour standstill along Federal Highway. If following an act of randomness can lead to the blissful moment of enjoying a creamy ripe avocado, then it is worth letting go of the comfortable routine once in a while. I started off the year trusting in the magic of the unexpected, so I’m embracing this philosophy to take me through what will hopefully be an exciting few years enjoying the 30s. 

Grilled cheese & guacamole bagel

The Ingredients
1 ripe avocado, a handful of cherry tomatoes, a quarter onion, 1 clove of garlic, 1 lime, chopped coriander, bagel, a slice of mozzarella cheese, bagel, salt & pepper, salad/rocket leaves to serve on the side. 

The Preparation
1. To make the guacamole, mash avocado, cherry tomatoes, chopped onion, chopped garlic, coriander, and lime juice. Season with salt & pepper.
2. Spread guacamole  on bagel and top with sliced cheese.
3. Grill in pan until cheese has melted.
4. Serve with a side salad.  

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Scandi Kitchen

Pea & mint soup and Smoked salmon & avocado open sandwich
After a full-on weekend (actually more like a week!) of excessive celebratory eating like no tomorrow, it was time to practice some restraint for lunch today. Though I had to remind myself it is still technically the festive season and any proper detoxes are only allowed to start in the new year. Wanting something light but still self-rewarding, I turned to some of my favorite Scandinavian dishes for inspiration. 

One of the things on my bucket list before turning 35 is to spend six months to a year traveling through the Nordic region, soaking up the culture, food, languages, and yes the freezing cold winds. I was lucky enough to work on a Danish/Swedish dairy brand at my last agency and was delightfully introduced into a world that has the right attitude towards work, life, family, and food. Not only do offices shut for a period of two to three months during the summer to allow everyone a proper holiday, on a daily basis my clients start work promptly at 8am and leave the office by 5pm so they can spend the evenings with their families. I once called a client, panicking about artworks that needed sign off, only to be told “Tasha, I’m swimming in the lakes with my children. No one is dying, this can wait until tomorrow.” When I was ill and working from home, I used to get messages FROM CLIENTS telling me to stop checking my emails and rest.  Quite a contrast to the “I wanted that due yesterday, sort that for me now or all hell will break loose” attitude that I have the joy of dealing with now in Asia. Intrigued by this balanced approach to life, I made sure to absorb as much as I could during my client/market visits to the region. When my sister wanted to escape to Europe for a holiday, Stockholm was our immediate choice. We even embarked on an adventure to hunt down the Northern Lights in Kiruna, Sweden’s northern most town. It was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, despite trying not to freeze our tropical Malaysian butts off when temperatures plummeted to -38 degrees Celsius while we snowmobiled across magical Hans Christian Andersen fairytale-like forests and frozen lakes.  

And not forgetting the lovely food! I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Swedish/Scandinavian cooking but I absolutely love what I know of it. Most people think Scandi food and automatically blue/yellow images of Ikea canteens and meatballs come to mind. However, it’s so much more than plastic trays and balls of meat. Scandi food is a world that celebrates local produce, exotic fruits, seasonal vegetables (the absolute joy of Autumn and chanterelles), wholegrain/rye everything (you’re not a freak if you like wholegrain pasta!), healthy snacking, light open sandwiches, smorgasbords of flavors that are perfect for entertaining, and fresh gloriously to-die-for seafood. Visiting the various Saluhallen (food halls), I was like a kid in a candy store – wide-eyed, salivating, and aww-ing at everything in plain sight, much to my sister’s embarrassment as she yelled out ‘get a grip, it’s just food you fatty!’ On a not-so healthy but still along the self-rewarding theme, the Swedes make the best kanelbullar (cinnamon buns). Unlike the sickly sweet American/English counterparts, one whiff of the spicy cinnamon is enough to transport you to images of a rustic, homely kitchen with a roaring fireplace and the kettle brewing. Now that’s what I call the ideal life. 

For today’s lunch, I decided on a classic open sandwich of smoked salmon and avocados, served with my mom’s recipe for pea soup. I like the concept of open sandwiches as it allows the filling combination of your favorite sarnie ingredients without being too heavy. The base tends to be made from rye bread, a Scandi staple. Rye bread has a large fibre content, with only little fat and has the added bonus of not creating spikes in blood sugar in the way that other breads (especially white!!) do.  

Assembling the sandwich took about 3 minutes but was an enjoyable process (the soup I made beforehand and froze). I was quite excited about the fact that the rocket leaves used were organic and grown from my very own garden! My dad has a green thumb and has been experimenting with growing different vegetables and herbs as a slight acceptance to his daughter’s neurotic approach to healthy eating. If only we could grow avocados since ripe, ready-to-eat ones require a bit of hunting in KL. Village Grocer in Bangsar Village I seems to be the only supermarket in town that has individual ripe avocados that you can buy to eat on the day itself. Smoked salmon also tends to be an extravagance here, at a wallet burning RM 20 for a pack that will get you just through two servings.  But hey, it’s still the festive season and I’ve had a long year that has kicked my ass slightly so when it comes to healthy food indulgences, some things are absolutely worth it. 

Pea & Mint Soup

Smoked Salmon & Avocado Open Sandwich

Basic Ingredients
For the pea soup: 1 cup frozen peas, 2 leeks, 1 stalk of celery, onions, garlic, 1.5 – 2L chicken stock, mint leaves, creme fraiche

For the open sandwich: Smoked salmon, rye bread (my favourite brand is Biona but I can’t seem to find this in KL. Village Grocer does stock some German brand options), cream cheese, 1 avocado, rocket leaves, pepper, lemon wedges to serve.

The Prep
For the soup
1) Saute onions and garlic with olive oil. Add chopped leeks and celery and continue sautéing until translucent. Add frozen peas and mint leaves.
2) Add chicken broth, season, and leave to simmer for about 20 minutes. Take off heat and allow to cool.
3) Blitz soup and return to heat.
4) Stir in 1 – 2 tablespoons of creme fraiche and take off heat once soup starts to bubble. You can use single cream but I find creme fraiche less calorific.
5) Garnish with mint leaves.

For the open sandwich
1) Toast rye bread and spread cream cheese.
2) Top with sliced avocado, rocket, smoked salmon, black pepper
3) Serve with cherry tomatoes and lemon wedges on the side.