Tragedy happens every day in the lives of ordinary, normal people. It doesn’t all make it onto the news, but this week we’ve heard several devastating stories of lives being cut short unnecessarily. The Florida shootings and the murder of the MP Jo Cox have led me to reflect on the particular circumstances of death being foisted onto families suddenly and unexpectedly. Where someone is here one second, healthy and well and going about their life, and gone the next.
I don’t know what it’s like to lose someone through a slow decline due to illness or age. To watch the person you love slowly fade away as memories are clouded and personality changed, to see their capacity deteriorate and their independence compromised, to know that their pain is increasing or simply knowing that their days are numbered; this is unimaginably terrible. So my description here is not a comparison (and I realise a lot of what I say will apply to other circumstances too), it is just an attempt to outline something different which I have experienced.
To live our lives, it’s necessary for us to hold onto some assumptions. We need to believe the world is predictable, that certain events lead to certain outcomes and that in knowing this we can prepare and predict and so avoid unwanted eventualities. We also need to believe that we have a level of control over our lives. We can work hard and be kind and make the right decisions and things will turn out okay. We know, rationally, that these assumptions are untrue – we see proof of this all the time on the news. But we still need to believe them. How would you leave the house in the morning, if any number of terrible things could happen when you turn the corner? But when someone you love dies suddenly the world shatters those beliefs. Alongside the loss of your loved one you are faced with a world that is menacing and dark, unpredictable and unknowable. Anything could happen to anyone at any time. You always knew this, of course, but you never truly felt it.
An unexpected death is, unsurprisingly, met with shock and disbelief. Your shock is physical, it takes over your body and leaves your skin cold and clammy. You can’t eat or sleep. Your disbelief endures despite the trappings of death that are slowly surrounding you – the flowers, cards and letters. You visit the body, have the funeral, receive the ashes, but still you don’t believe. Not really. It was always unthinkable that your loved one would die in this manner, at this time, and it will probably take a very long time to thoroughly absorb the entirety of your loss.
My heart goes out to the families of Jo Cox and the Florida victims, as they experience their own personal tragedy on the world stage.
The Cooking – Chicken Satay and Noodle Salad
I’m alternating my dishes between sweet and savoury, to try to gain a breadth of culinary experience. This week I opted for a Jamie Oliver recipe, from his 30 minute meals book. I’m a fan of Jamie Oliver, particularly this series. I like that each recipe is a whole meal; it prevents me from having to make those difficult decisions, like whether to serve with rice or potatoes. It also means the sides are just as jazzy and exciting as the main, and my carefully spiced chicken isn’t let down by stodgy, bland rice. Every recipe comes with a photo, and these are pretty enough that spending an hour or so idly flicking through the book is time well spent.
However, if there is one way to make me feel woefully inadequate in the kitchen it is watching Jamie breeze through an easy and relaxed 30 minutes competently throwing together a delicious plate of food, and then trying to replicate. This particular recipe took me an hour and a half, set the smoke alarm off twice, created a chaotic mess on every kitchen surface and left me distinctly frazzled. I made several ill-judged decisions which contributed time and energy to the process, so if you’re planning to do this one yourselves (if you have the book) listen and learn.
Pretty much the only cooking you do in this recipe is creating the satay sauce, which you then use both to marinate the chicken and as a side. It really shouldn’t have taken me so long. Jamie wants you to whack all the ingredients for the satay in a food processor and blitz it (no surprise there). This was my first mistake; I decided to chop things up myself, then use my trusty hand blender to mix it into the desired ‘spoonable paste’. There was no real reasoning behind that decision, I just like my hand blender. But my container was far too full to utilise the blender safely, and all the chopped bits were underneath mountains of peanut butter which clogged everything up. So I had to separate the mixture into different containers and blitz it in several stages. Then I had to mix together all the different blended sections to prevent an uneven spread of ingredients. This all took quite a long time and got peanut butter everywhere. Lesson: just use the processor.
Next you want to make your chicken skewers. Jamie wants you to line up your chicken breasts and poke skewers through them, cutting the chicken up after. I would recommend chopping the chicken into even sizes, then popping them onto the skewers after. It might take a few more minutes but will mean that your chicken is going to cook more evenly. Marinate the chicken in half of the satay mix and cook under the grill.
The noodle salad is pretty simple – chopped onion, chilli and coriander mixed with some soy sauce, fish sauce and lime juice is tossed together with cold noodles in a large bowl. The recipe calls for crushed, warmed cashews to dress. I actually forgot to crush my cashews, and I’ve never ‘warmed’ them either so didn’t really know what I was doing. I just let them sit in a dry frying pan for a while until they seemed warm. They were alright but pretty unessential.
The recipe includes a whole other dish, a ‘fruit and mint sugar’, which I completely disregarded. This would be my biggest piece of advice to anyone planning to do a Jamie Oliver 30 minute meal – don’t do it all! God knows how long that would take.
Although it was all a bit of a palaver the finished article went down very well. I’ve never had anything like the noodle salad before; it was fresh and zingy – a brilliant side for a summer meal. The satay was gorgeous – it had a real kick to it from the ginger and the chilli, which was balanced by the citrus of the lime and the stickiness of the peanut butter. Taster quote: ‘the satay is subtle and complex, not like that brown muck you get with supermarket chicken satays.’ I think we’ll call it a success. Thank you Jamie.