kitchen rituals

Home becomes the word

at the end of a pen,

You have to lick

to coax the ink out.’

– undated journal entry, 2021

Ok you get it, I write about the idea of home a lot. I can confidently pun(ish) anyone reading this with the completely unnecessary use of the word homage because of all the content I have spat out into the universe on this (but I won’t).

The irony is of course, that the prolificity makes me no expert and I suspect if I had a firm, applicable grasp on the word – I wouldn’t write about it so much. 

Just like growing up can feel like a slackening of the self from societal coils –  my definition of home gets more fluid with time, and each wave rinses more sand from the accumulation of hermit crab shells.

my definition of home gets more fluid with time, and each wave rinses more sand from the accumulation of hermit crab shells.

There are obvious ways to recall a feeling of home – many of them are nouns; the people and places and things that ground us. A long Phone call, a Movie. Sights. Smells. Photos. Then there are the rituals, inherited or otherwise, the things that we do that fine-tune that feeling of home but also lay breadcrumbs back to yourself.

I recently upgraded my home coffee situation. It requires an apparatus that puts me uncomfortably close to ‘coffee bro’ territory. One of the said items is a coffee bean grinder which I have also been using to make my own spice blends. Sri Lankan curries often require a base spice mix made up of roasted curry powder or unroasted curry powder. Roasted curry powder is a mix of several spices dry-roasted in a pan until fragrant and then blitzed into a potent, rich curry powder which marinates the life back into meat. I made a Sri lankan beef curry last night that took me to several of my aunty’s tables which will have to for now as long-haul travel remains off my table. 

Sri Lankan roasted curry powder in the making

Unroasted curry powder is a lot simpler – four ingredients instead of 13, blended and used in a range of dishes. I have most often used this on vegetarian side dishes, like in the carrot and green bean veggie accompaniment to yesterday’s meal. Raw curry powder lent its flavour recently to a Sri lankan jackfruit curry on the advice of the virtual diaspora i.e I asked on Insta stories. I have not spent much time in Sri Lanka as an adult and so chasing dishes and flavours – some that I didn’t even appreciate as a child, has relied on a hell of a lot of reading, watching and tapping into the collective knowledge of other third-culture kids like myself. 

Sri Lankan raw curry powder

The Jackfruit charmed my childhood memories long before it was declared a superfood. These hunking beasts would hang like alien skin tags on trees in many domestic gardens in Sri Lanka. They are terrifying from the perspective of an 8 year old not keen on getting bopped on the head by one.

 My mother was raised by her aunt and the families were close so that I was lucky enough to have two maternal grandmothers. I did not realise until I made jackfruit curry for the first time in my kitchen in Zürich, how much this dish linked to my memories of them. In order to get the best use out of jackfruit – they are picked whilst still green and made into savoury curries. Those that are left to ripen on the ground are kept out of the way – these are massive, boulderlike and aggressively tropical fruit. When ripe, the fruit is a bright mustard yellow and incredibly sweet. Jackfruit seeds are also edible  – these would be boiled to remove the outer husk, sun-dried and roasted, then finally sprinkled with chili and salt. 

Jackfruit curry, Pol (coconut) sambol, and Leek and potato curry, served with rice

The turmeric has already stained the see-through plastic of the coffee grinder. It makes me happy to look at it. It feels like a small victory for all the times I tried to hide the curry stains on my plastic containers growing up in Hong Kong. Now my pantry is a colour swatch for decolonization. If I start making my own cold brew coffee though, please send for help. 

Cooking connects me to the places I call home, but my true kitchen-love is baking. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that this was an accumulated skill. This is not to say this was also not demonstrated by my legions of aunts and cousins in the kitchen. Having a butter cake or ‘short eat’ savouries that could be sliced or fried at a moments’ notice whilst a visitor parks their car (who really would drop in unannounced at any time –  the actual stuff of nightmares for me) is a non-negotiable in many Sri Lankan households.

I suppose you could say that whilst cooking feels like a celebration of where I have been, baking is an open road.

Baking relies on chemical principles that over time, become second nature and leaves a lot of room for creativity and experimentation. It gives me the same satisfaction as picking up a pen and writing what happens next. I suppose you could say that whilst cooking feels like a celebration of where I have been, baking is an open road.

The rituals that feel like home when it comes to specifically baking are numerous (licking bowls, anyone?) but what I find most gratifying is making any kind of dough – breads, pie crust, quiche, pizza, roti, dessert – actually, the yeastier the better. Making dough by itself is satisfying, but after a few years developing a feel for – adapting to a preference, being able to read it and adjust based on how it feels that day. There’s a sort of muscle memory that comes with the repetition that makes it feel ritualistic. 

Quiche dough

So, in short, to add to my many definitions of home – it is true that home is where the heart is, and this is especially true when coupled with the adage that the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. 

Chunky Triple Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies

This is my ultimate bake. Simple, satisfying and has at times functioned in place of an emotional support animal. Get right down to the recipe below + a mobile friendly version, and keep scrolling for tips and more.

All you really need to know is that my love for the humble chocolate chip cookie is a borderline obsession. If that’s enough to convince you to make this recipe – here you go:

…..Or save this quick reference image on your phone.

This recipe began its life fifteen years ago (!) as the Best, Big, Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe on allrecipies.com. I’ve spent the last decade and a half tweaking it to taste. A note on some of the ingredients:

CHEWINESS There are several components to this recipe to maximise on chewiness. Using two kinds of sugar, an additional egg yolk and softer butter all help with this. Using white sugar as well as brown sugar keeps it crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Win/Win.

BUTTER You may notice that I’ve specified a weird half-melted state for the butter. This is because I live in the tropics and melting the butter completely leads to a greasier cookie and doesn’t hold shape as well as I’d like, even after refrigeration. I have a 700watt microwave, so a quick 15-20 second blast helps achieve the below. It’s definitely liquid in places, but has a thicker consistency than completely melted butter.

SUGARS Any packed (fine-grain) brown sugar works. I’ve used Light Brown, Dark Brown or Muscovado with success. The darker the sugar the deeper the flavour, so if you don’t want a deep molasses after-tase, opt for a lighter brown sugar.

CHOCOLATE I’m not a fan of ready-made chocolate chips as they vary greatly in flavour and quality. Chocolate is the star of this cookie so you want to use something that will help it shine. My go-to is Lindt 100g bars of milk, dark and white.

REFRIGERATION Do not skip this step! Once you’ve beaten the everlasting life out of your softened butter, you’ve got to help it solidify in order to hold all the ingredients together when it goes into a hot oven. Don’t risk a goopy sad cookie after all that effort. Refrigerating cookie dough helps control spread. Keeping it in the fridge for at least an hour ensures that you won’t end up with a thin, inconsistent batch. This is especially true for this recipe as it calls for the butter to have such a soft consistency. I also keep my ‘dough snake’ it in the fridge between batches for consistency.

I’ve even made the batter a day or two in advance and baked cookies fresh as needed! (But I stopped doing this because we quickly found out that ‘as needed’ was all the time in this household…)

VANILLA is also sort of optional. I cannot believe I’m saying this, because I put vanilla essence in every bake, whether or not it’s called for, but a recent shortage at the shops has led to this discovery. I still recommend it because of the nostalgic pull of the scent and flavour but yes – not actually essential for this recipe if you’ve run out!

WALNUTS are optional, but texturally required in my opinion to add some crunch to an otherwise heavenly-soft cookie. You could also try any other kind of nut, or oats.

BAKE TIME varies based on your oven, cookie size and chewiness preference. A longer bake yields a crispier cookie. Play around and see what works for you. For my oven, 9-10 minutes is the sweet spot. For years, I used a smaller table-top oven, with an optimal bake time of 7 minutes. I know the cookies are done when they look like they are about to get crisp edges. They don’t look wet, but are still a little puffy.

When they first come out of the oven they will be pale and fragile so it’s important to leave it untouched on the tray to harden before transferring to a wire rack.

This cookie is a family staple and has doled out the yum for friends, family and neighbours over the years. If you make it, I’d love to know how it turned out for you.

Banana Blueberry Bread 


A not-too-sweet recipe which makes the fruit the star of this fluffy and moreish tea-time loaf.

Ingredients

  • 185g plain flour
  • 2.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 60g butter, melted
  • 50g packed brown sugar
  • 50g coconut sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 mashed bananas
  • A couple of handfuls of fresh blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees celcius
  2. Grease and flour a loaf tin.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Stir in the melted butter and sugars until combined.
  5. Add the milk, egg, vanilla and fruit and mix until just combined.
  6. Finish with a quick stir-in of the maple syrup
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.*

*Cooking time varies. I have a small oven which generally means quicker bake time. My loaf cooks in about 35-40 minutes with some tin foil introduced half way to ensure the top doesn’t burn. I would estimate a cook time closer to an hour for conventional sized ovens.