‘I AM famished!’ thought Vivienne, her stomach echoing her thoughts with a loud and embarrassing rumble. This, she noted with despair, despite having a hearty – though unhealthy – breakfast at McDonald’s just before heading to the office.
Not that she wanted McDonald’s; she wanted lamb and macaroni stew – the one that Nigella made on TV that day. She could think of no place else to get it (unless she went banging on Miss Lawson’s kitchen door and risk getting stewed herself). Damn that woman for always turning her into a hungry monster each time she watches the show.
The more Vivienne thought about it, the more convinced she became that there was only one way to go about it: she would just have to cook the dish herself.
It didn’t seem too difficult, really. She’d go shopping that night and pick up the essentials.
“All I need are a few things,” said Vivienne over a long distance phonecall to her best friend, Joanna who lived in Singapore.
Vivienne had known Joanna since she moved in to the house next door back in the sleepy town of Ipoh 25 years ago. They warmed to each other the moment the bespectacled, bright-eyed Joanna introduced herself, and the two had been inseparable ever since.
“Viv. You haven’t cooked in a while. Are you sure you want to do this? Plus, you’re so accident-prone, what are the odds of you not setting fire to the kitchen?” her friend responded.
“Oh ye of little faith,” Vivienne retorted.
She’d show Jo. One way or another, this cookout was going to be a success; life and death depended on it!
She drove to the supermarket with her boyfriend, Caleb, in tow. Good old Caleb who always did the cooking at home, and who did not bat an eyelid when she announced her (very rare) culinary intentions.
All she needed were onions, garlic, celery, some herbs, tomato, carrots, and macaroni.
“Are you sure that’s all you need, babe?” Caleb asked doubtfully.
For a moment, she felt indignant that Caleb seemed to question her abilities. Then she realised that he was just being concerned. After all, she had decided not to tell him what exactly it was that she wanted to cook. She wanted it to be a surprise.
She recalled the phone call with her best friend.
“Does Caleb know? Do you think he’s gonna let you conjure a disaster in the kitchen?” Joanna had demanded.
“He’s not as critical as you,” she replied tartly. “Besides, he doesn’t know what I was planning to cook. I want it to be a surprise. He’ll love it.”
There was a short pause before Joanna responded.
“Just be careful in the kitchen, OK? Right, gotta run. Dinner. Later, babe.”
LATER that evening, Vivienne slaved away, chopping and blending alone in the kitchen at her apartment. Caleb had been banished to his own pad.
“This is easier than I thought,” she mumbled to herself.
She took out the largest pot she could find in the kitchen and then heated up some olive oil in a skillet to brown the meat.
And then it struck her.
She had forgotten to buy the lamb! No wonder it seemed so easy.
“Aww…shit. No, no, no…how could I forget the main ingredient?” she groaned, sinking heavily on to a stool near the stove. And knocking the skillet handle in the process, causing the pan to fall on to the floor in a loud clang.
“Fuck!” she yelled, jumping to avoid the splatter of hot oil. This was turning into a disaster. Joanna was right. And Caleb probably figured this would happen.
At that moment, the phone rang. It was Caleb.
“Babe. You OK?” His voice was a mixture of concern and mirth.
“I’m fine!” she snapped.
“No, you’re not. Open the door. I’m right outside.”
“What? How did you….” But Caleb had hung up.
There was nothing else to do but to let him in. Caleb stared at the mess in the kitchen. From behind, Vivienne studied his profile. Tall, lean and with wavy dark hair, Caleb was a nice-looking bloke with a charming grin. She saw him take a deep breath as he surveyed the carnage. Caleb could be a little anal where cooking was concerned.
She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the rebuke – except that she could only hear a deep and long chuckle. She opened her eyes tentatively and saw Caleb looking at her with amusement written all over his face.
He held out a plastic bag.
“You forgot this,” he said, trying to contain his mirth before dissolving into a fit of laughter.
She opened the bag and stared. Caleb had brought fresh lamb shoulder from the butcher’s, all nicely cubed.
“You forgot this when we went to the supermarket that day. Hey, I pay attention, you know?” he explained.
“How did you know? I didn’t tell you!” she spluttered.
He smiled and put his finger to his lips, then drew her to him. “Let’s clean up; we’ve got to get ready,” was all he said before leading her to the kitchen and ignoring her frantic protestations. Fifteen minutes later saw the kitchen back in shape.
And then the doorbell rang.
“Who’s there?” Vivienne spoke into the intercom a little edgily.
“Open up,” came a brisk – and familiar – voice.
With a little yelp of delight, Vivienne opened the door to find her best friend standing outside. There was an expression of wry amusement on Joanna’s face. Vivienne looked at Caleb and then back at her best friend.
Joanna had arrived in Kuala Lumpur early that morning. She had wanted it to be a surprise and had called to inform Caleb of her plans.
“So. You didn’t kill yourself in the process,” she said with a grin after a round of hugs. “But my money is on Caleb helping you clean up some mess or other. Looks like you didn’t manage to get round to the cooking after all.”
Vivienne smiled ruefully before giving Caleb a mock accusatory stare.
“Well, that tells me I’m right. C’mon, let’s go out. I am famished,” said Joanna.
‘Yeah, so am I,’ Vivienne thought. “Except that all I really want to eat is lamb and macaroni stew. Like the one Nigella made on TV that day.’
‘Just as well,’ thought Caleb. ‘I hate lamb anyway.’
Here’s a recipe for lamb and macaroni stew:
LAMB AND MACARONI STEW
Lamb shoulder, cubed and lightly seasoned.
2 cans tomato
Bottle of white wine
1. Brown lamb cubes (don’t fully cook), then set aside.
2. Blend chopped onion, garlic and celery, then fry mixture in lamb oil.
3. When slightly translucent, take out half the portion, throw in lamb cubes and cover with remaining mix.
4. Sprinkle in dried oregano and bay leaves, and pour in tomatoes.
5. Stir. Pour in white wine.
6. Add a jug of water. Mix, cover pot with lid and leave on low fire for two hours.
7. Later, bring the stew to boil, then pour in the macaroni.
8. Dish out.
1. Chop fresh oregano and knead with feta cheese.
2. Sprinkle on top of stew