Dear reader, we are approaching what our racier novelists call the ‘climax’, but not quite yet. Which means I’d better get writing, ready for next week’s spiciness…
Gaeng Panang Pla
Colours of the world!
Spice up your life!
xxxNo, no, no; not a Spice Girls earworm!
xxxEppy couldn’t read the Thai script, any more than she could the Cyrillic under it, so thank heaven for stickers which covered the other necessary bases. The sachet of paste was just what she wanted. Panang curries had a touch more sweetness and less spice than other red curries, and peanuts gave them a fullness that placed them high among her favourite Thai sauces.
xxxSo she sat by the lake, hoping that concentrating on ingredients needed might drive songs unwanted from her mind, and also stop her from asking herself why, why, why she hadn’t shared.
xxxAh, damn it.
xxxWhy hadn’t she simply joked frankly and freely about last night’s onanismus interruptus with him, ‘come clean about not coming clean’? Why had she parried his suggestive comments by insisting her breathlessness was simply due to running across the apartment to the phone?
xxxOnions, garlic, a pepper.
xxxIt’s not as if it was a taboo subject or even a source of embarrassment between them. They watched each other from time to time, and he had made a number of almost witty references to them ‘keeping their hands to themselves’ while they were apart.
xxxFinding a small tin of coconut milk had been the original inspiration. She’d manage without naam pla – fish sauce – a pinch of salt and a splash of light soy would do for that — and a squeeze of lime of course; don’t need it all for gin and tonics.
xxxBefore she left home, they agreed they probably – he certainly – would amuse themselves from time to time. Referencing Citizen Kane, he’d joked, “My dear, your only co-respondent will be toss-spot.com.” He assumed she’d be less active — that is, until he saw the reading matter her friend had pressed on her. And although she was still confident he’d be way ahead of her, she was quite happy to admit it would be likely with or without the assistance of steamy ‘literature’. She’d even said, with a completely straight face, that it was more likely to be anticipation of their passionate reunion sex that drove her to self-satisfaction, rather than any of Janey Gower’s amorous adventures.
xxxRice she had, and beer, supplied in the apartment with a printed price list in various languages, and an honesty box by the fridge. Though at home she might add a kaffir lime leaf or an inch of lemon grass, not to mention a few pea aubergines and a chili pepper, all the essential flavourings were no doubt present and correct in the paste itself.
xxxSo she sat on the terrace with her list nestling between the pages of the offending volume (if offending was the right word), contemplating the views of the 52-metre tower on the island church, the cuboid slab of calories beside her coffee cup, and the question of why she couldn’t just tell him he’d interrupted her self-gratification.
xxxOh well, she thought, as she detached a forkful of the kremšnita from the block and transported it dreamily to her mouth; maybe it was just that she feared the likely awkwardness, him trying to cajole her into resuming, and on camera too. Sometimes a woman just wants to fly solo. And the mood had been well and truly broken. Nonetheless she’d decided to postpone, until she was safely in the privacy of her apartment, reading any more about the group sex that Samantha and Janey were about to launch themselves into with the young Swedish couple and for all she knew, a few more passers-by.
xxxCakes on vacation contain no calories, she assured herself, as she took another forkful of the Chantilly- and custard-topped pastry. Nonetheless she could tell that she wouldn’t be eating her curry too early in the evening.
xxxEpifanea sat by the lake and listened to the water lapping under the terrace. She took a few photos of the view and a selfie with the last piece of ‘Schnitte‘ on its way to her cream-flecked lips. Idly she weighed up the possibility of coming clean (if that wasn’t an unfortunate turn of phrase) when she communicated with him that night. Blissfully, she wasn’t even conscious that Spice Up Your Life had ceased to loop in her brain.
The apartment was pretty basic, but clean and tidy. All the normal facilities were present and the bed wasn’t as uncomfortable as it first appeared. There were no views of the picturesque locale, which was a pity, though not surprising at the price. Most importantly for a travelling gourmet like Eppy, the kitchen was compact and functional, and even boasted a rice cooker. This was less surprising than it might have been when she noted that the owner’s name was more Chinese than Slovenian. She hadn’t met Mr Shen directly, the key being obtained from the paper shop below, but the presence of woks, chans and cleavers confirmed her suspicions, and told her she would be fine with one small wok on the two ring stove.
xxxAll this for a novel way of preparing the fish for which the lake was so famed. When she’d first googled the area and found many images of anglers beamingly cradling carp the size of small submarines, she’d been concerned. She certainly wasn’t intending to buy a whole monster weighing thirty kilos just to make one serving of fish curry, however typical of the location it (the monster, not the dish) might be. Nor was she about to invite a streetful of strangers to Mr Shen’s sleeps-three apartment to share it, even if she could find a pot big enough and a sufficient supply of coconut milk. But all was well. As she’d suspected all along, the supermarket on the edge of town had a superb fish counter, and her phone’s translation app soon located conveniently-sized portions of what she wanted.
And made him burst into coffee-spraying laughter at the label, for which the linguistic technology was all but redundant.
Thought it might amuse
So we both have a krap supper to look forward to
That’s your choice, mate.
You’re not a bad cook when you put
your mind to it
xxxUnlike the meat curries she most often made at home, with a fishy version the flesh went in last. Chicken or pork would be added as soon as the curry paste had been mixed into the coconut milk in the warming wok. For pla she added the chopped garlic, onion and green pepper first, and ensured the rice was ready too, as the whole thing would take only about ten minutes.
xxxThat limesqueeze, soysplash and saltsprinkle would do the umami job of fish sauce. That it was a fish curry anyway meant the imposters would not bring dissatisfaction to the table; and European basil and coriander would stand in nicely for their Asian cousins too.
xxxWith seafood, she reminded herself, she would usually use Thai ‘holy basil’. So she made the sign of the cross over the mixture and intoned introibo ad altare Dei. “Little things …” would doubtless be his response, and she could hardly demur.
xxxAs the stew simmered and the flavours infused, she checked again on the rice in the steamer. Another compromise, the basic long grain for the fragrant jasmine, but, as he would say in his refined way, ‘add enough chili and who gives a shit?’
xxxAll else being in readiness, she turned up the heat beneath the curry and added the fish fillets, cut into the usual bite-size pieces. After five minutes in the fragrant mixture she declared them cooked to perfection. She placed the rice in a bowl, spooned the velvety concoction over the top and ate it with sensuous pleasure, washing it down with a light local lager. Spicy food anticipating spicy reading. She laughed at the realisation that she was now looking forward to her next poorly-crafted picnic of passion, the chapter that promised group gropings, if not a mass orgy, and the heroine’s first experience of lesbian sex.
xxxBut this was bedtime reading. A pleasure deferred is a pleasure heightened, as one of Janey’s earlier sexual mentors helpfully informed her. First, a late evening stroll by the lake, breathing the fresh air, looking at the moonlight on the water and smiling at the couples walking and talking lightly, hand in hand, served to heighten the romantic mood and lessen the feeling that the events to unfold were somehow all rather sordid.
xxxWell, if not sordid, a bit naff. Sordid in itself wasn’t all bad.
xxxBack in the apartment, she stripped, she showered, she sat back in the bed and began to read. And as Janey Gower started to lose her clothes and some more of her remaining inhibitions with the enticing Swedish chef and masseur, the phone rang.
xxx“Oh, hello, Mum.”
xxxShe laid the book aside with a sigh.
xxx“Yes, that’s right — It’s beautiful here — A Thai curry I made with some of the lake carp — Delicious — Ha ha, well, you know me: when in Rome, do as the Vietnamese do — Oh, nothing; having an early night, reading — Er, Thomas Hardy — That is light holiday reading, to me — Escapism? I’m sitting by a lake in amazing scenery, with great food and no one to hassle me; what do I need to escape from? — Oh, he’s fine, I think — Yes, we both miss each other, we text or skype most nights — No, not at all tempted; really Mother! — No, I don’t think so; anyway he knows I’d find out if he had and cut his goolies off — No, I can do that on my own, thank you — Look, if you just give him a chance, you’d find he really is a nice guy – as men go. Better than the men that already went, at least — no, I don’t think I could ‘do better’ – and no, I don’t mean that how it sounds; I mean he’s a damn good catch for anyone. Or he will be, with a bit more training — Don’t worry about it, I know it’s because you care, but I’m not a little girl anymore, OK? — Yeah, good night, Mum. Miss you too — Yeah, won’t be long now. Kiss, kiss.”
xxxWell, that’s killed that mood. Quick text home …
Turning off phone, turning off light
Going to sleep, my love, good night
xxxAnd good night, children, everywhere.