Dear Zealous Fanatics,
Today I am extremely proud, weeping with pride in fact, to present a brand new feature of this website. It seems we can’t turn around these days without seeing another show or whole network devoted to cooking. Celebrity chefs lurk in every shadow. Reality shows abound and get more tedious by the hour. Can’t we just merge a few of them and save time? How about So You Think You Can Dance, Sing and Cook?
But for the time being, as I have made many many meals now, I’ve decided to also sell out and join the food fad. So throw all other cooking guides into the dustbin of history and pay attention to the only one you’ll ever need as we present the first installment of The Tiger Father’s Recipe Section!
Ever come home from a Beijing restaurant with doggy bags? Ever done it two or three nights in a row? They soon clog up the fridge, taking up valuable beer space, don’t they?
Or perhaps in your country doggy bags are not allowed any more because of some health regulation thing we don’t worry about here? Maybe instead you have a fridge full of half-eaten home made meals the kids have turned their noses up at from the nights before?
Eventually, when ideas or energy desert you, you warm them up and set little piles of everything out onto plates for a bits-and-pieces dinner.
Mmmnnnoooaaueuuurgh … Looks terrible, doesn’t it? And the succession of tastes makes your tongue think it’s battling a degustation menu planned by a lunatic, or Gordon Ramsay on a particularly angry night.
Here’s what you do. Take a blender, throw everything in, puree it to within an inch of it’s life, throw in an egg, make up little patties and fry them for – tadaaa – DAD’S LEFTOVER SURPRISE!
Two of the most important factors in this simple yet delightful meal are the egg, which helps glue it all together, and the sauce. You can choose soy, or tomato. But that’s all.
But by far the most crucial ingredient is the word ‘surprise’. It evokes words like “new”, “exciting” and “fresh”, as opposed to “old”, “depressing” or “on the turn”.
Kids of a certain age love the word. I say ‘of a certain age’, for one day, after our daughter had turned 5, she said: “Dad – why do you say ‘surprise’? We know it’s just leftovers smashed together.” Ah the loss of innocence in one so young! The surprise, I pointed out sagely, was that I added a mystery ingredient. “Now get it down you quick smart and see if you can taste it.”
Whatever the name, the kids love it. Seriously. Especially if they get to help me shovel everything into the blender and watch it smash up. (NB: You won’t find disintegration technique discussed in any “high-brow” cookbooks like Jamie Oliver’s. Only here.)
No matter what goes into it, it all comes out a kind of greeny-browny colour. OK, appearances can be a tricky area. If you’re not careful it’s quite easy for your creation to come out looking like a bit of cat-sick.
But if there’s green in it, it means your kids are getting their veges, often obliviously. You’ll also sometimes see broken up bits of rice, so carbohydrates are present. There’s meat shards for protein, and things like bamboo shoots and ginger for longevity. And with a bit of sauce on top and of course nothing remotely chewy, the kids usually tuck in like starved animals.
Sometimes I’ve done it with leftover western food – sausage and veg for example, or by stripping a roast chicken of it’s last bits of meat. Just remember, it doesn’t really matter what goes in, as long as it’s not hairy.
So Dad’s Leftover Surprise ticks every box, really, save perhaps for presentation, which, let’s face it, is over-rated. Some people have actually tried to tell me that the way food looks affects the perception of taste. I’m open-minded and tolerant, and each to their own of course. But this is simply a wrong way of thinking, like it is a wrong thing to like The Backstreet Boys.
You can’t tell me food will taste different if it is arranged on a plate differently. Similarly, even delightfully presented on a farce of trendy lettuce and surrounded by a sprinkling of glistening raspberry jus, refried dog poop still tastes awful, I’m told.
No, if you were brought up to view food as fuel in the belly with a possible occasional bonus that it might taste good – as I did under a rural mum whose favourite preparation was good old boiling-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life – it really doesn’t matter what it looks like.
So if you’re ever tired of meat and three veg – unlikely but possible in these days of 24-hour cooking channels – just remember this golden rule of food preparation: There’s nothing you can’t do with determination, ingenuity, a blender and an egg.
Remember the Tiger Mother, that woman who became famous for a parenting style seemingly drawn from such rich and varied sources as Chinese culture, A Clockwork Orange and the Gestapo? Remember? Well forget her. Because now it’s time for The Tiger Father, a stay-at-home dad who actually lives in China, so there. Follow our Australian hero’s brave fight to do his job in a world of often bizarre cultural differences – where Beijing grandmothers scorn him for feeding his daughter an uncooked lunch, leaving any skin whatsoever exposed in winter, trying to find his child a toilet when there’s a perfectly good patch of grass right here, or for making a birthday cake that looks like a zombie. All the while our house hubby imposes an iron fist of discipline – "Fifteen minutes of piano practice a week and no exceptions!" – strives gallantly to remember the proper parenting advice of his wife, a doctor and early childhood expert, while trying not to laugh when his girls whack each other like the Three Stooges. It’s a China blog. It’s a parenting blog. It’s a parenting-in-China blog, but with so much more that you won’t believe it’s just a blog. So read it. Go on. What else are you doing?