Thursday, 10 April 2014

In which I actually cook something

I seem to have lost all impetus to write.  I blame the heat.  It is SO HOT here.  Which is hardly unexpected, given that we’re 80 miles from the equator, but the heat seems to build up, until it is utterly unbearable and our muscles refuse to move.  We waft about, panting and sweating involuntarily.  (Watching children sweating is quite amusing – particularly the Baby.  She’s suffering the most, I suppose, given that she’s permanently wearing a fat suit.)

So anyway, it got so hot, and we’d been languishing at home every afternoon, that I decided Right!  We’re going to Do Something.  (Something other than the Pool, that is, which is our usual post-school activity go-to.  Alas, it has recently become a mosquito Go-To, and after 97 mosquito bites in one afternoon (I exaggerate – but only slightly) we’d all had enough.)  So once the Boy got off his school bus, I scooped us all up and we headed to the Botanic Gardens.

Singapore’s Botanic Gardens are legendary.  A huge big  tropical oasis right in the heart of the city.  Free! Which is unheard of in Singapore (don’t get me started on the price of classes here.  In London I’d pay £1 for two hours Mummy & Toddler time, including snack.  Here I’m looking at $50, and am expected to bring my own fucking snack.  Bastards. ) So anyway, everyone spends at least some portion of their week at the Botanic Gardens.  There are restaurants and mazes and concerts and ponds and hilarious outdoor Tai Chi classes, where you can watch in amazement as people who in Europe would be parked to slowly die in an old folks home tie themselves up in knots.  

In fact it was precisely because of the Botanic Gardens that we chose our apartment  - which is a stroll away, through some back streets (if you live in a country where you can stroll without expiring from heat exhaustion).   Needless to say, since we’ve been in the apartment – seven weeks?  eight?  - we have not strolled, or even driven, cycled or made our way there by any other means of transport.    Which is bonkers, because in addition to all the wonders mentioned above, there is also an incredible children’s area – in fact a whole section of the Gardens dedicated to children, adults allowed only if they are invited in by children (or some such nonsense, which must NEVER reach my children’s ears) – with water fountains and giant lily pads and a huge treehouse and a rope bridge, and basically endless fun. 

It was clearly time to right this wrong.  The Boy gets home from school at 4pm (no lollygagging for 5 year olds here, thank you very much) and so I figured we’d be there by 415, have an hour or so of frolics, then home for Friday night pizza and movie.  Off we went at 358pm, to collect the Boy.  I slammed the door, simultaneously asking our helper if she had keys.  “No Ma’am” (God I love being called Ma’am.  Just sayin’.)    Not to worry, we’d just have to spend a bit more time at the park and order The Man home early for the weekend.   Off we set, and once we’d gotten through the usual bitching and moaning and complaining from the Boy, who does NOT like any alterations to his routine, we were there.  7 minutes’ drive! Parking right outside!  (And 50p an hour parking at that. God bless this country.)  We got out of the car and walked to the entrance.  I felt a rain drop on my head.  I ignored it.  In the three months we’ve been here (holy crap!), it has rained three times.  It was NOT going to start now.

Except it was.  And it did.  Considerately, it waited until we were all in the heart of the children’s gardens, just as far from the car as we could be,  before it started to truly pelt down.  We dashed to a leaky lean-to,  and danced about avoiding fat raindrops for about 10 minutes before we gave up and just let ourselves get wet, one drop at a time. We also got devoured by mosquitos, and all started to flag with more heat exhaustion, because the rain here is HOT RAIN, and does nothing for your temper, or your crappy old-lady hair.  Eventually, as the lean-to started to sag under the weight of the rain, we dashed again to another shelter, this time a more permanent one, and stood watching sheets of water obscure the view of the vegetation, which was growing in front of our eyes half a metre away.  The Baby found a nest of red ants, which is always nice, the Girl ran away with a towel on her head, no knickers , and a see-through dress, and the Boy stripped down to his pants and disappeared off into the undergrowth.  They all eventually came back, and we stopped the ants from getting into the Baby’s mouth, both of which are parenting pluses as far as I’m concerned, but the fucking rain fell on us for AN HOUR AND A HALF.  It was like being inside a waterfall.  If the waterfall is halfway up a mountain and you’ve climbed up and now can’t get down again. At 535pm I gave up, and marched our sodden selves, bitching and moaning about it being THE WORST DAY EVER, back to the car.  Nine million mosquitoes rose to greet me, and my flip flop broke.  We went home, and just as I’d got everyone out and all our belongings into the lift I remembered we couldn’t go home, and we so turned around  and went and collected the Man – only getting lost twice - by which stage the car smelt like wet dog, I had dislocated my shoulder from trying to slap the fighting children behind me, and the Baby had passed out from hunger.

But!  Earlier, at about 347pm, as I was running through the kitchen, I had thought to prepare some pizza dough, which I knocked up in ten minutes and left to rise.  And,  thanks to the heat and the humidity, rise it did, puffing up like a big poisonous blow fish.  And so dinner was on the table, brown and crisp and even, in fifteen minutes. 

Homemade pizza.  Nothing beats it.  (Apart from air conditioning, insect cream, and a six-pack of ice-cold Corona.)

Home-Made Pizza:
I’ve actually attempted home-made pizza once before, also on the back of a particularly awful outing with the children, and it was fine, but not terribly authentic.  This one is much better.  AND you get to knead the heck out of an innocent piece of dough, which is fantastically therapeutic.  I’m usually put off by any recipe which calls for waiting, or patience, or yeast, but I’d had enough of paying $12 for largely inedible frozen supermarket pizza, which tastes of nothing and has a shelf-life which is so long that it would be more accurate to call it a half-life.  And this dough honestly takes 12 minutes, from start to finish (or less if you can’t be bothered to knead it for 10 minutes).  You just weigh everything out, pour in water, mix, knead, and leave. Preferably to do something other than stand in falling water for hours.

For enough dough for 3 super-market sized pizzas you need:  
  • 500g white flour (the nicest you can be bothered to buy.  The quality of the flour really makes a difference to the taste of the dough.  Ha! This coming from me, who used Hong Kong flour...)
  • A heaped teaspoon of table salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • A large splash of olive oil
  • 325ml warm water

Put the dry ingredients in a large bowl, mix the oil and the water, and stir in.  Mix madly, then roll of your sleeves and squish it all together with your hands.  When it’s all come together  - it’ll be fairly sticky – start kneading it on a lightly-floured surface. (There’s so much crap written about how to properly knead.  It’s all bollox.  Just massage the hell out of the dough for as long as you want, tho more than 10 minutes might be over-doing it.)

Roll the dough into a ball, drizzle some olive oil on it and smooth it all over, then put in a clean bowl, cover, and leave somewhere warm for at least an hour.  (If you live in Singapore, you can leave it anywhere in your airless apartment for about 4 minutes, and get the same result.)

When you return from your fun-filled family excursion, you’ll be greeted by something which is threatening to take over the kitchen.  Punch it down, cut into three, and then roll one piece out as thinly as you can.    Fit it onto the largest baking tray you have. (The other pieces can kept for a day in the fridge, or covered and put in the freezer.  Once defrosted you just roll out and cook.)

Tomato sauce (while the oven was heating, I dumped a jar of pasatta into a pan with a crushed garlic clove, some olive oil, and a couple of basil leaves.  Bring to the boil, then leave to simmer, lid off,  until  you need to use it . You can, of course use a jar of ready-made sauce. [But honestly, if you're going to the bother of making the dough, make the sauce too.])

Whatever you have in your fridge (I had some cooked broccoli, smoked salmon, and cheddar.  Once it was out of the oven I grated some parmesan on top), tho obviously cheese is a must. If you’re using fresh mozarrella, it’s an idea to add it either at the end, or half-way through cooking, so it doesn’t get overcooked and end up like a puddle of any-old-cheese.  Especially here, where fresh mozzarella costs more than gold.

Put your oven at its hottest setting. I have no idea how pizza stones work, so let’s assume that, like me, you don’t have one.  Put a baking tray upside down in the top half of the oven, while it heats.  When the oven is ready, slide the tray with the dough on it on top of this, so the base of the dough-pan gets hot quickly, and cooks the pizza from below.  Clever, no?  

Quickly, and with beer.  And earplugs.  Because if you hear another complaint about the day, you might just throw yourself off the (flooded) balcony. 


  1. Brilliant lady. So wish I could post you some cheese.

  2. We've had several very wet days like that at the Botanic Gardens - they are lovely, but tbh wet vegetation is wet vegetation wherever you are!

  3. Perfect timing for this one, I was puttering about the kitchen thinking about making pizza for the wee ones tonight, to avoid any actual real cooking. Hope you enjoyed a good bottle (or two) of wine with it!

  4. 'And then my flip flop broke.' Hilarious (not for you, obviously). Loving your expat tales.