Husband and I had a minor dispute last week. I made tacos, which means an Old Del Paso mix for the meat and for the guacamole. The mixes make it easy and quick for me, and to be honest, I love the flavour it gives the guacamole in particular and fantasize about it’s taste in my spare time. This probably makes me pathetic or an addict to MSG, which brings me to our disagreement. He said that there was MSG in it, and I said no way, that’s only in Chinese food.

Marriage advice for women everywhere: Listen to your husband.

I brought him the packet of guacamole mix, and he read the ingredients in German first (everything here is in French, German and Italian). Mononatriumglutamaat. That could be anything, I retorted. Then he went on to French. Glutamate monosodique. Or mono sodium glutamate in English. I don’t need a translator for that one.

No one needs to do research to find out that MSG is not good for our bodies, so I decided to find a way to do tacos – my Mexican preference because it’s so easy – sans mixes – after I finish the leftover guacamole seasoning, of course. Waste not, want not.

Last night I made my first tacos without taco seasoning for the meat. It didn’t taste the same, but both of us liked it, so that’s a good start.

  • Taco meat sautee a whole chopped onion in olive oil, add mince and brown. Once it’s quite well-cooked add cumin powder, garam masala and chili powder (I used a Sri Lankan curry/chili powder) and a bit of Worcester sauce. The last one is the one I’m iffy about – it didn’t alter the taste too much because I didn’t put a lot. Add salt to taste.
  • Guacamole (granted this was with the mix) two avocados roughly mashed, half a small onion chopped, two garlic cloves crushed, generous quantity of coriander chopped,  a few squeezes of lime, lots of salt. Mix together. If you want it spicy, chop a red chili into it.
  • Tomatoes making my own salsa is one of my culinary goals for the next little while, but I do like the basic chopped tomato pico de gallo thing. Chop two tomatoes, half an onion chopped, two garlic cloves crushed, chopped coriander, lime juice and salt.

Next week – homemade guacamole. Maybe.

There isn’t much I miss about Melbourne. Friends were the obvious highlight of my time there, but I don’t know if I could find a culture more opposite to mine than Australian culture. Functioning in Melbourne involved giving up many aspects of life that I loved and valued, and I felt like I was constantly having to adapt to be able to fit in. But adaptation has its benefits. I picked up many new skills in Australia for which I am thankful – driving, camping and beach-ing to name a few.

My favourite gift from Melbourne though was its food. I have done my share of world travel, and I think I have been to the majority of significant world cities, so I don’t take it lightly when I make the following statement – Melbourne has some of the best food in the whole world. It’s probably because the whole world, almost, is in Melbourne. It doesn’t hurt that the cost of eating out is also reasonable.

That city nourished and taught my taste buds and gave my hands confidence in the kitchen. It’s only now that I enjoy the benefits of the years of eating out at Vietnamese, Thai, Greek, Turkish, Indian, Afghan, and so many other restaurants.

One of the vegetables I learned to love in Melbourne is the pumpkin. I grew up eating it in Sri Lankan pumpkin curries, and in the US it is only a dessert, of course. But in Australia (and the U.K., I found out later) pumpkin is roasted regularly for dinner. It is now a favourite vegetable of mine, but sadly it is rarely, if ever, available in the supermarket here. I gave up on ever eating it until a few weeks ago when there was a bin of autumnal gourds in Coop. Apparently pumpkins and squashes only come out in the fall here. I bought a pre-cut and wrapped C-shaped piece of pumpkin, but it was tasteless and disappointing. My second attempt was much better.

This one is technically a butternut squash (based on what it looked like), but tasted like a pumpkin after it was cooked. The Penang curried beef was spicy, salty and a bit sweet, and the pumpkin was predominantly sweet (naturally) and a bit spicy. The broccoli is for good health (just boil it for a few minutes with salt).

  • Penang curry let the beef cook in the liquidy sauce for a while until the sauce thickens. I didn’t have the thick coconut cream, but the regular coconut milk worked just fine. As always, pay attention to the proportions of curry paste, coconut milk, fish sauce and sugar.
  • Butternut/pumpkin chop it into similar-sized pieces so that it roasts evenly. Heat your oven to a medium temperature (I would give an exact one here, except that our oven doesn’t have temperatures, only 1-8, and I have yet to figure out what that means except that I cannot bake). Toss the chopped pumpkin in olive oil, salt and whatever spices you want. For this pan I sprinkled paprika and chili flakes. I personally find that savoury flavours work well with pumpkin because it is so naturally sweet. Bake for however long it takes to cook (usually between 20 and 40 minutes).

My sister was with us last week and did most of the cooking for me, which was amazing. Marriage surprises me in several ways, here are two: I love to cook, and cooking every day is hard work. I’m easily bored with old recipes and enjoy trying new things, but I’m also getting a sense for what kinds of flavours and foods we like to eat. So I don’t try any old thing.

Thai food is one of our favourites, and I find that it is a much simpler kind of food to make. The flavours are always fresh and sharp. This recipe for pad thai rice was simple and delicious. It can be eaten alone as a vegetarian meal, as we did, or with a meat dish like a curry.

  • Pad Thai Rice I dramatically increase garlic and ginger in most recipes I cook. This one calls for one clove of garlic; I think I put in six. I skipped the shrimp because I can be a bit allergic to it, and I forgot to buy lime juice, but the taste was still beautiful. I put in loads of spring onions as well because it gives a wonderful crunch along with the peanuts (I also roasted the peanuts a bit on the stove).

Food and friends. Is there a better combination? Louise and I had lunch several weeks ago and discovered we both have a love for food, cooking and regular events. Convinced that there were many others like us in Geneva, we decided to start an informal foodie club. Our first dinner was last night, and our theme was Tapas.

There was so much food – paella, patatas bravas, caramelised onion and feta tarts, a frittata and beautiful salads. My contribution was a pot of chorizo meatballs. We laughed together, ate a good quantity of food and got to know each other better. Hopefully there will be many more of these meal meetings in the future.

As for the meatballs, the recipe is easy enough to follow, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There was so much work involved in assembling and frying each one, and chopping the chorizo alone drove me crazy. If I’m going to spend a few hours on a recipe, it needs to be something spectacular, and this wasn’t.

A small cooking note for those who choose to try it – fry a small meatball before making the whole lot just to check for salt. I found that this definitely needed more salt (the recipe didn’t call for any – I thought the chorizo would add salt, so I didn’t add much more of my own, but the chorizo wasn’t enough).

Alora is a filler word in Italian. Our waitresses came to the table, and usually the first word out of their mouth was, “Alora…” It sounds like a magical faraway place or the most radiant of princesses, but it means well, anyway or so. The word rings in my head now, and I want to use it as part of my conversations. Or give it to my first daughter as a name.

Alora…

Husband and I took a four-day road trip through parts of Italy and Switzerland. We ate out a lot, which should mean lots of yummy food photos. However.

We are not into photographing our food in restaurants. Even though we have never had a conversation about this – although we might now – my sense is that we both enjoy sitting down to eat our meals in peace and harmony. Food is enjoyable to see, but even more enjoyable to…enjoy.

Alora, there are no food photographs to accompany this short note. I only have one piece of advice that will seem so glaringly obvious to most except for me. But here it is.

When in Italy, eat pasta.

I’m not a pasta person and try to avoid it for many reasons unless I need to make something for a large group of people (in which case spaghetti is the only answer). I told myself, though, that I’m in Italy. Pasta must go on the “Try” list. From my first mushroom tagliatelle to the last seafood spaghetti, it was amazing, amazing, amazing. I could have eaten pasta forever. Cooked to firm perfection, salted beautifully and popping with taste, it was probably some of my favourite European eating to date.