When I walk to work in the morning I pass a stand of big, old Oak Trees. Two weeks ago, before we went away, they were bare – a beautiful piece of fractal lacework against the gray winter sky. As I passed them last week on my first day back at work they were vibrant with new growth, lime green on a blue sky. The air was heavy with the smell of freesias and sunshine. The birds sounded different. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, spring had indeed sprung. I love winter. I love big, wild weather and dramatic skies and sleeping under the goose down listening to the rain on the roof. But nothing quite brings such a sense of exhilaration to the soul as the coming of spring.
For me, one of the main problems with winter is the food. I like a bit of comfort food: a slow cooked shank, or a great casserole or a steaming bowl of miscellaneous carbohydrates. These things are all OK, but only OK. Winter foods for me are ultimately spiritually (and of course physically) heavy and a little monotonous. I always feel like my cooking goes into creative hibernation during these months and I really struggle for inspiration. With the coming of spring I re-emerge into the culinary light to rediscover my favourite things: galangal, lemongrass, coconut milk, lime & fish sauce dressings, crunchy sweet and sour salads, little things char grilled on sticks to be cooked on the deck on a hazy evening with a drink in hand. Lovely.
And of course, spring has a launch event: Father’s Day. The first weekend of the new season, traditionally celebrated with the giving of home-made presents and eating of home cooked food. Typically, the eating starts with the early morning force-feeding of luridly decorated biscuits brought home from kinder several days earlier, before moving on to some sort of curry – based breakfast doused in yoghurt, coriander and mango chutney (we had to skip this this year because Pete had to go to work). Pete lies on the couch for an hour as the kids incessantly wish him happy father’s day and then we drive around to mum and dad’s place, make some variety of intoxicating drink (this year it was mojitos) and I cook lunch for the four generations of my family that live in this little town.
The Father’s Day lunch is particularly fun. It’s for my dad and my children’s dad so I can cook South East Asian food with impunity because that’s what they (and I) both like. And it’s spring, wonderful spring, so food like this just seems right again. I marinated lovely green prawns in all the delicate fragrances of Thai food, and barbecued them to be eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves with mint and coriander. A pungent pineapple salad dressed in shrimp paste and toasted coconut pounded into an oily paste was served on the side. And when you’re standing on the deck in the Otway spring sunshine listening to the ocean with a mojito under your belt cooking prawns, it sure as hell is a happy Father’s Day.
- 1kg green prawns, shelled
- 2 pieces of finely chopped lemongrass
- 2 tablespoons of finely minced fresh galangal (I buy fresh pieces at the Asian Grocer when I’m in Melbourne and keep them in the freezer – they grate up beautifully and you can just return the unused portions to the freezer)
- 4 shallots, roughly chopped
- 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons palm sugar
- Zest and juice of 1 lime
- 4 kaffir lime leaves, very finely sliced
- 4 coriander roots, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
Blend all ingredients (other than the prawns) together to form a wet paste. It doesn’t need to be too smooth. Toss the prawns through the marinade and leave for at least 2 hours. Thread the prawns onto skewers and cook on the BBQ. I imagine these prawns would be just fine tossed in the wok, also. You can eat them as they are, but they are lovely wrapped in crunchy lettuce with mint, coriander and finely sliced red chillies.