Kitchen-related items were dangerous, unknown territory for me until a few years ago. Cooking didn’t come naturally to me, and my lack of co-ordination led to several kitchen disasters in the past. I tended to avoid it for easy meals of ramen with frozen veggies when I was a college student. Or lots and lots of hard-boiled eggs. Two years ago I decided to conquer my fear of the kitchen. I started cooking one meal a week for my family. Thai meatballs, watermelon and feta salad, moroccan lamb soup and others were hits not just with my family but with my self confidence.

My culinary friends told me that it gets easier, and it’s true. I still love a good recipe, but now I know that certain kinds of fish sauce, lime and coriander are all you need to spice up a Thai dish. Cinnamon, honey and cumin make Moroccan.

I love Moroccan food, and one day I want to visit this exotic, colourful country. I made this recipe last week and loved it. Like most of my favourite meals, it didn’t take a long time to prepare. A moist roast chicken is always welcome in my home, but the real star of this meal is the cous cous.

This grain should be every cooks delight. A cup of it to a cup of boiling water plus five minutes – you are finished. If you want to spice it up, add whatever textures or flavours you want. The dates and the pistachios makes the cous cous salty and sweet, crunchy and soft. I would make this dish with any Middle Eastern or Moroccan main course. I could even eat it on its own.

  • Moroccan Roast Chicken roast the chicken for at least an hour. Mine took about an hour-and-a-half before it was fully cooked. Salt it thoroughly and put more spices than the recipe requires so that the whole chicken is well flavoured.

Cooking serves multiple purposes for me – a creative outlet, an injection of variety into my life and a self-esteem booster, but it’s most surprisingly enjoyable purpose at the moment is putting a big smile on Husband’s face.  It helps that he enjoys eating and meal time; he also has a love for new dishes, flavours and foods. The dishes I create are as much a result of his love for me as they are my own handiwork.

The following statements sound dramatic, but they are true. My journey in the kitchen represents the core issues I struggled (and struggle) with for most of my life. Acute doubts about my capabilities, fear of what others think of me, paralysis from the previous two that lead to inaction (and chocolate chip pancakes for dinner). Anyone who has a history of debilitating fears know that there is no magic bullet, but there is always a way forward. Being loved through it and out of it both by God and by people – my husband being the main one now – is the the deepest way I found of dealing with the painful places in the heart and mind.

My daily offerings in the kitchen are a small picture of that process. With every tomato sliced, salad made, chicken cooked through and seasoned well, I tell myself that I’m going to make it even as I hear in my heart God telling me that I can do all things because of Jesus. Love changes us in a way that nothing else does because true love shows us the truth about who God is, who we are and what our lives can be.

A long preamble to say that I am generally confident in the kitchen now except for one kind of food – Sri Lankan. This is also the only kind of food special requested by Husband in the past eight weeks of marriage. Most meals I make stand alone in my mind. Not Sri Lankan food. In my mind, it is compared to my grandmothers, my mothers, aunties, cousins, second cousins, etc. I forget that Husband compares it to no one else’s curry. One day I will do the same.

This is one of the few recipes so far that contains more specialized ingredients, so it is a tiny bit trickier. Cooking it is not complicated, but the right ingredients are important.

  • Chicken curry  sautee in oil onions, garlic, curry leaves*, pandan**,  ground cumin and mustard seeds. Add the chicken pieces (I used drumsticks and thighs – I prefer chicken with bones in a curry than chopped up chicken breast). Mix together thoroughly. Add curry powder***. Add coconut milk and a bit of water. Squeeze a bit of lime juice in as well. Let it simmer on a low to medium flame for a little while for the flavour to soak through and for the chicken to cook. I kept an eye on it and kept adding water or coconut milk as the liquid dried up. Check the taste periodically to see if it needs more curry powder and also salt.

* I bought the curry leaves in a local Asian store.

** I have no idea what this is in English – Pandan is the Filipino word for it (we had a plant growing in our yard when we lived there). In Tamil – or Sinhala, really, I have no idea – it’s rampe.

*** I bought a Jaffna curry powder at the Asian store, and there was plenty of spice in it that I didn’t put any chili powder in. The curry powder you use will significantly influence the kind of curry flavour the dish has. Curry powder is NOT the yellow stuff you can buy in most grocery stores. That’s not a real curry – not to me anyway. If you want to make your own, roast cumin and coriander seeds together and then grind it in a food processor.

During my university days, the following foods filled my cupboards: pancake mix, frozen vegetables (rarely), ramen noodles, ham, chocolate chips (for the pancakes), frozen chicken (every few months) and eggs. I still indulge in the breakfast-for-dinner idea, but it’s no longer chocolate chip pancakes smothered in syrup. Usually it’s muesli and yogurt.

Eggs are still a staple in my refrigerator. I love them. Any time of day, cooked any way. Eggs are also one of the ingredients with which I do a lot of experimenting, which is what happened with this asian scrambled egg. It’s a basic scrambled egg but cooked with typically South Asian spices and a bit of coconut milk – smooth, full of spices, the coriander adds a bit of bite at the finish. I love eating avocado with eggs for breakfast; it’s like a bland, silky and creamy complement to the flavourful eggs.

  • Asian eggs beat four eggs with some coconut milk (the more you put, it will make it quite sweet, so start with only a bit). In a pan with butter, sautee some onions and garlic, add ground coriander and cumin seeds. Once there there is a fragrant, spicy aroma coming out of the pan, add the egg. Cook it slowly on a low flame – this is the key to a good consistency – and don’t push it too much. Use a wooden spatula to gently move it around every now and then. After you’ve cooked it to your preferred consistency – I don’t like mine well done – turn off the flame. Add salt and pepper and a few coriander leaves. Cut avocado and put salt and pepper on that as well.

Traveling seems like an adventurous, exotic thing to do, and there are many moments when that is true. But the part about traveling that becomes a weight is the lack of stability, fleeting relationships (unless of course you marry one of those initially fleeting relationships) and living out of a suitcase. Normal becomes keeping track of boarding passes, learning how to read Russian and using a squatting toilet. This time last year I was spending my final days in Sri Lanka before getting ready for one final adventure – spending 24 hours in the Kuala Lumpur budget airline airport (including sleeping on a bench outside with my luggage).

Today going to the grocery store is normal. Cooking, planting herbs, looking for recipes are the tasks that fill my time. All parts of me missed these basic tasks, the simple ways in which they enrich my life and encourage me for the future.

This salad is a European summer staple that I first tasted in Northwest Arkansas in the home of my history professor. It takes less than five minutes to prepare. Just as I don’t have many words for how much I appreciate the simplicity of my new life in Geneva, I don’t have much to say for how much I love this salad and for the joy it brings to my taste buds, stomach and heart.

  • Salad slice a ripe tomato, slice fresh mozzarella slices, stack on top of each other. Typically the mozzarella is on top, but the tomato was smaller than the cheese yesterday, so I reversed it. Put a basil leaf on top of each stack, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Salt and pepper.

The basil in this photo is from our “garden,” and it has been alive for more than five weeks, the longest plant I have ever kept alive.

Saturday is our work day. It’s been five weeks since we returned to Geneva, and we spend a good portion of the day sorting, packing, building and taking down in the hope of turning this flat into our home. One marriage surprise for me was how enjoyable it would be to work on projects with my husband, and we are discovering new skills all the time. He is strategic, creative and excellent at putting things together. The other marriage surprise is that we have not had any major decorating arguments.

Lunch on Saturday isn’t planned, so I just go through the fridge and hope that ingredients will work together. A stir fry works beautifully in these situations – we love veggies, soy sauce, garlic and onion. The hardest thing for me about cooking a stir fry is getting the flavour evenly throughout while making sure that nothing gets undercooked or overcooked. Here’s my asian invention, using the contents of our pantry and refrigerator.

  • Stir Fry chop chicken, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, onion and garlic. In one pan sautee onions and garlic in olive oil, add chicken and cook on low to medium heat. In a wok, sautee onions and garlic, add broccoli and carrots and cook on medium heat. Add soy sauce and sweet chili sauce to both pans (I used strong Tamari soy sauce and a Thai sweet chili sauce). Add the mushrooms when the broccoli and carrots are starting to look done because it doesn’t take mushrooms long to cook. When the chicken is done, add the contents in that pan to the wok and cook together for a few minutes. Taste and add more flavour depending on your preference. When it’s finished and the fire’s off, I cut spring onions and corriander (cilantro) over the top.