Many, many years ago, before I moved out to Cambodia, when cooking was a still a delight, I half-jokingly set myself a target. When I could master not burning onions and garlic whilst cooking, I would apply for the TV show Masterchef.
Well, I still burn onions. A couple of weeks ago, I cooked Bon Appetit’s mushroom carbonara for my mum. It was my third time making this recipe. When I asked her what she thought of it, she, ever truthful, asked me, “Was it burnt?” I related this story to some friends last night and they were taken aback. “How can you still be burning onions?” And not only them. My Cambodian friends couldn’t understand how I could cook onions and garlic to an acrid black. To them it was elementary: it’s about heat control. Clearly I’m still a novice at it. In my 6 years in Cambodia, I may have learned how to pound Cambodian curry pastes, bake the softest Texan cinnamon rolls, work with pastry at 32°c but I still burn onions.
When I recently moved back to the UK from Cambodia, there was only one thing really that I wanted to do. That was to learn how to cook again.
I write recent but I moved back mid October and now its mid March, so it’s been 5 months. Still, it feels recent to me. Committing to living back in the UK again has been hard. It’s not because I don’t like being in the UK: I’ve written about how I welcomed its bracing winds when I’ve escaped hot season in Cambodia and how I missed my family. Rather, it’s because I thoroughly loved living my life in ‘the Penh’, as we, expats, affectionately nicknamed Phnom Penh. I miss my friends, my apartment, my teaching job, my baking business, my running group, my CrossFit gym… Notice how I preface them all with ‘my’. I owned it. They were pieces of a bigger jigsaw that was ME in Cambodia. Now in the midst of transition, walking on this unsteady bridge of one life left and the other yet to start, I miss the security of it. However, I’ve gone off on a tangent and I won’t write about why I left just yet. I’d rather share with you the reason why I’m back blogging again.
So back to burning onions and the only thing I really wanted to do when I came back was to learn to cook again. A friend of mine, Caralyn, suggested that I start writing on my blog again. I had been rewatching BBC’s Sherlock and in that first episode, John Watson is encouraged by his therapist to write a blog. She promises that it will help. I read elsewhere that it can indeed help for reflecting and thinking about what happened, and what lies ahead. So the plan is that I’ll tell you about bits of life and recipes that I didn’t have time to share with you when I lived in Cambodia. Because, as it turns out, teaching full-time, volunteering at a local Cambodian church and running a little baking business on the side clocks a lot of hours! As I do so, I’m hoping that this exercise in remembering will help me to record snapshots of life in Cambodia, but also the transition to being back in the UK. Besides, I know I enjoy this kind of writing – posts about food and poetry about everyday life, like mosquitoes!