Sun 15 Jan 2012
Took this during my shed time yesterday, which involved a long walk on the beach with my friend Ela.
When I first moved to Ireland, I observed a noticeable divide between men and women when it came to socalising. Every time I’d go to the pub with my friends (back when I used to live in Drogheda), the men would separate from the women seconds after walking into the bar. For the first hour or so, it was guy talk on one side of the room and girl talk on the other. Once all the catching-up was done, everyone mingled.
On the surface, I suppose this scene would seem a bit antiquated. And if I’m honest, I found it slightly jarring at first. But lately I’m beginning to appreciate this understanding that guys need their designated guy time and girls need theirs – I’m not sure why but the Irish seem to get this better than most Americans I know. There’s no offence taken or need to make excuses or apologise, which is refreshing.
Mountaineering Man’s dad meets up with a couple of his buddies at a café every weekday morning. He explains it as a time to just talk shop with the fellas. MM’s mother has a regular weekly card game with the ladies. My dad has lunch twice a week with a couple of his friends, and my mother has dinner with her Zumba class friends after a workout once or twice a week. I like that they don’t feel the need to make their plans opposite each other’s; there’s none of this “Well since you’re having a guys’ night I’ll go out with my friends” tit-for-tat style competitiveness; they understand that each person having his/her own time makes them better as a couple.
MM and I have our own “me” time that we spend separately – MM calls it his “shed time.” For him, this is often a relaxing hour on the sofa, head buried in an Updike novel with his latest Secret Book & Record Store CD purchase playing in the background. Or the occasional afternoon with a couple of whiskeys and a newspaper at the Long Hall or Neary’s, a rare and treasured treat. And while he sometimes has a guys’ night out with his buddies, a typical bonding activity with his friends usually involves mountain climbing or hill walking on a Saturday.
My “girly” time is spent in a variety of ways: sometimes it’s an afternoon browsing the shops followed by a nice espresso and sweet at a café and sometimes there’s a night out or a walk with my friends. But more often than not, my favourite me time activity is cooking. Every Sunday while MM is reading, I’m tinkering around the kitchen cooking a few things for the week. I always make a loaf of this spelt bread, two slices of which I take for breakfast every day; then there’s a batch of baked blueberry oatmeal for MM’s daily breakfasts. I usually make a batch of spelt muffins as well, either banana or apple & raisin – it’s nice to have a healthy on-the-go snack for us during our busy week. And for my lunch I’ll make a pot of either veggie chili or curried lentils or something legume-y and satisfying, mainly because I’m staying away from wheat and it’s difficult to find wheat-free options near work. The bonus of course is that I go all week and basically spend no money besides my 1.75 toll for the East-Link.
It might sound hectic to some, but I find these few hours of cooking very relaxing and satisfying. We have a little bar with stools in the kitchen, so I’ll sit there with my laptop and peruse Pinterest or read the news while I’m waiting for things to bake or even chat on the telephone with friends back home. It’s not a day at the spa but I thoroughly enjoy this time every week.
Last week I spent a good few me hours in the kitchen preparing the broth for this Prawn Pho. I’d never made pho before, but my research discovered that the most important part of this Vietnamese noodle soup is the broth. As we’d had prawns the week prior, I boiled the prawn shells and heads to make a stock and stored it in the freezer. After defrosting a week later, I used that stock to boil even more prawn heads/shells in to make the stock as rich as possible. Of course you can buy fish stock but it won’t be the same – it’s completely worth the effort.
Prawn Stock (see instructions below on how to make)
20 whole raw prawns, in their shells with the heads on (I get mine at Oriental Emporium in Dublin)
2 star anise
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
2 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods, crushed
1 whole onion, peeled and cut in half
1 three-inch chunk of fresh ginger
Cooked rice pho noodles – how much is really up to how hungry you are; cook according to package directions
To top pho:
Handful of fresh bean sprouts
Handful of fresh coriander
1 red chili, sliced thinly
1 green chili, sliced thinly
Sriracha sauce (you can also get this at Oriental Emporium or Asia Market on Drury Street)
Thinly sliced red onion
Several fresh lime wedges
Salt to season
I’ll start with a warning: This recipe is not for the squeamish! Basically to get really rich prawn broth, you will need to boil shells and heads, which means you will be de-shelling and beheading the prawns…or you could ask your kind fishmonger to save you some and he/she might just!
To make my stock, I got 20 whole raw prawns a week before I was making this pho (remember the prawn tostada? I got it for those). I peeled and took the heads off, then threw the shells/heads into cold water and brought it up to a boil. I then turned the heat down and let it simmer for an hour, covered. I strained the stock and then let it simmer, uncovered, until it was reduced by half. I then poured it into a container and put it in the freezer.
On pho eating day: I thawed the aforementioned stock in a large soup pot. I then took my new 20 whole prawns and took the shells and heads off (and also deveined them, but you throws those out do not keep the veins!). I put those shells/heads into the thawed stock, added another couple of heaping cups of water and brought to a boil. Then, I turned the heat down and let simmer for an hour, covered.
While the stock is simmering: Heat a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, put the star anise, cloves, coriander seeds and cardamom pods into the pan – this is to toast the spices. Keep shaking the pan because these will burn very easily. Once you smell the fragrance of the spices – about 3 minutes – remove from heat and set aside.
Once your stock has been simmering for an hour, strain out all the shells/heads – you should pass it first through a sieve and then again through a muslin or cheesecloth-lined sieve. Pour it back into the soup pot. Now add in the toasted whole spices, the onion and the ginger and simmer for another 35 minutes over medium-low heat. Taste it at this point and add salt if it needs more seasoning. Now put the peeled prawns in, and let cook only for five minutes; the soup is very hot at this point and it won’t take long to cook the prawns. Once they are cooked, you’re ready to assemble the pho.
Divide the cooked rice pho noodles between two large bowls. Pour the hot soup and prawns over each, dividing evenly (you’ll likely have some stock left). Once at the table, garnish with the bean sprouts, fresh coriander, chilies, Sriracha, red onion slices and squeeze in a few lime wedges. Enjoy!