Friday, 21 June 2013

iPod playlists: a new artform? Oh and the near-perfect pad thai...

I have been ridiculously busy in the last few days, not a drop of felt making in sight. Mostly obsessing about every last detail of the school summer barbecue next Friday. Well not every last detail: I have learnt to banish all thoughts of bad weather from my brain as a way of avoiding lunacy, and similarly volunteer rotas which, for some stalls, have nothing but a tumbleweed rolling past them. As I said before, being chair of a PTA is not pleasant in many ways. But as for the summer barbecue, it will all come good. Or then again it may not. But I have spent too many days being ground down by the stress of it all. Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill has just discovered that the boulder has a little engine and the hill is getting less steep. I am not a believer but my dear friend Laura prayed for me. The weight lifted. I will take help wherever I can get it.

Anyway the mood has been much improved by a new car that is like a speeding bullet when it's allowed, and a new playlist. The new car has 8 speakers and it is very much the best place for listening to music that I have. I've never had a car before into which I could plug my beloved iPod, and certainly never before had buttons on my steering wheel for skipping tracks and controlling volume. I am haunted by James Field, whose name came up on the Bluetooth phone menu before I set up my own phone details in there and deleted his; I would love to know who he is and why he would want to get rid of such a lovely car after just 9 months of its short life. But I bet he never had so much fun with an iPod and the volume control. Apparently there is a PA system that I can use my iPod on for the school barbecue, so I have spent the last day and a half creating a playlist that will hopefully get everyone thinking summer thoughts even if it is clouded over. It is quite the happiest, freshest, most summery bunch of songs that I can imagine and it has made me realise just how much I LOVE compiling playlists. I remember making compilation tapes for friends and quite enjoying it but that was such an unwieldy, time-consuming and unforgiving business. I adore getting it together, listening to the ends and beginnings of each song to make sure they flow, moving the order around and deleting things that just don't seem to fit, and then listening to it a few times to make sure it's perfect to my ears. And this one, to me, is 2 and a half hours of pure joy. Especially in my new car. And I am wondering if making a good playlist is the new art form. It feels so creative and it is so subjective that it is a proper expression of one's personality. If you said to 100 people that they had to make a playlist entitled "Summer BBQ", they would all come up with something completely different and all very lovely to each and every one of them - OK maybe with a few elements in common (I have after all got the very obvious "Summertime" by DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince and "In the Summertime" by Mungo Jerry; and I am ashamed to admit that I have taken one or two tracks from a terrible compilation album I found on iTunes called "101 Barbecue Songs"). Mine is a mix of reggae, Motown, Northern soul, a tiny bit of Mediterranean and a few feel-good bits and pieces that will be nicely familiar to anyone over the age of about 30, plus one or two little personal treats for myself. I would love to know what other people would put in theirs...

Pad thai noodles have been on my mind for some time now. We used to get the most wonderful and addictive takeaway one from a fantastic place called Teoh's; they shut the branch nearest to us a while ago due to rent rises and their other branch is too far away to get a takeaway. It has been a sadness to us and to a lot of people I know for several months now and so I have been doing some research. I have two recipes for it in books, one by Rick Stein and one by a Thai man called Vatcharin Bhumichitr, both excellent books but both quite different recipes. Teoh's menu states that it has preserved turnip in, as well as dried shrimps, so that already was a challenge, but of course I'd forgotten that Teoh also has a shop that sells both of these ingredients, and it turns out that if you want a pad thai that tastes like Teoh's, it does need both of those items. I did some googling for recipes and it appears that everyone who is anyone has their own version, and there are a lot of very contentious issues. Bloggers everywhere have stuck their oar in and had a go and they vary enormously (I steered clear of any that included tomato ketchup). The only thing that everyone agrees on is that you need to get everything measured out and ready to go in little bowls so you can assemble it quickly in the pan. So I might as well join in, if only so that I get my amalgamation of about 15 recipes all written down so that I can repeat the delicious plateful I've just eaten. Mine had a little too much lemon in (the recipe below has less than mine did) and the noodles this time were a little underdone but apart from that, perfect...

My Pad Thai - serves 2

2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 egg
175g Thai rice noodles, soaked in lukewarm water for around 20 minutes, until you can wind them tightly around your fingers but they still have a bit of bite to them, drained
1 tablespoon lemon/lime juice
2 teaspoons tamarind paste
1 and a half tablespoons fish sauce
Half a teaspoon palm sugar (or Demerara)
2 teaspoons sweet chilli sauce
2 tablespoons dried shrimps, soaked in a little water for about 10 minutes and then drained and pounded a little in a pestle and mortar
100g large prawns
1 and a half tablespoons chopped pickled turnip
4 spring onions, chopped into 1 inch pieces
40g beansprouts
Small handful of coriander, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons dried chilli flakes
A couple of handfuls of roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped or broken up in a pestle and mortar

Put the lemon or lime juice, tamarind paste, fish sauce, sugar and sweet chilli sauce in a small bowl and stir. Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok with a highish temperature and when it's hot, add the garlic and fry for a few seconds, then break in the egg and stir very quickly to start to scramble it. Add the softened noodles, and stir again. Add the bowlful of sauce and stir again. Then add both the dried shrimps and prawns, stir again, pop in the pickled turnip and add the spring onions and beansprouts, and half the chilli flakes. Stir and cook until everything is properly heated through, then add the coriander, stir again (yes there's lots of stirring, well I suppose it is a stir-fry) and serve on two plates for you and a loved one, topped with the peanuts and the rest of the chilli flakes. Heaven. Let's hope that Sisyphus' boulder stays at the top of the hill this time. And sorry I forgot to take a photo of my pad thai for you.

Oh and on the subject of photos I could show you a little bit of felting I had forgotten about; last weekend my friend Jenny and I did some felted pebbles to take our minds off a little marital disharmony and we ended up with the most beautiful ones, and then the harmony resumed. And Jenny has an eye for a really beautiful photographic composition, so unlike me:-

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