One Perfect Day


(Rose Bakery’s Red Bean Slice)

Today my Optometrist asked me two questions that I inevitably get asked all the time :

1) Why did you decide to cook

and

2) What is your all-time favourite thing to cook

A few days before, I had what I would consider a pretty perfect kind of day. It was mostly spent with a good friend who I don’t really see much of, ever since she pulled up stumps and moved overseas to work and live. Now that she is back briefly for a visit, we caught up over a movie, a piece of cake and a spot of Japanese grocery shopping, then inexplicably found ourselves motoring deeper into the city, towards more cake (though I somehow managed to not buy anything there). When we finally parted company, she left me with the latest issue of her craft zine, Sharp and Pointy.


(Pineapple Tarts)

Sharp and Pointy, it must be said, is like a tiny chocolate cake : a perfect sampling, that hints at just enough to leave you wanting more. In it, was a quote by Ivan Illich that has been reverberating in my head ever since I set eyes on it :

I believe a desirable future depends on our deliberately choosing a life of action over a life of consumption, of our engendering a lifestyle which will enable us to be spontaneous, independent, yet related to each other, rather than maintaining a lifestyle which only allows us to produce and consume.

–Tools for Conviviality by Ivan Illich.

That quote, my dear, is going straight to the poolroom, Kerrigan-style. Or rather, I want to have it laminated and strung around my neck so that I can always be reminded of it.

Which brings us back to the first question. I cook because I like to eat. My dad says that a common Asian greeting is to ask someone if they have eaten, as opposed to saying Hello. Being able to say you’ve had enough to eat, is considered very important, especially in Chinese culture. This could partly explain my obsession with food. The other part I think, has to do with my fractured childhood, and why I often look to things that have great nostalgic value. True to form, I still remember one of the first things I ever made, standing precariously on a wooden stool in order to reach the stove : flapjacks. Singed and overly crispy, yet strangely so tasty.

I also cook because I want to create and share. I am fearful of falling into the trap of needing to maintain a lifestyle (or a blog), or of becoming a “weapon of massive consumption”, as Lily Allen would say. It worries me that I can’t tell whether I’m succeeding or failing, because I have to consume to create, but I feel (and hope) the balance is tipped in favour of the former.

So please know, when you ask me this, that you’re hearing from someone who wants nothing more than to be doing (cooking, blogging and living (with a fair share of perfect days)) something that retains an element of integrity, passion and creativity. She will never be the prettiest or the most popular, and god help her, her eyesight is pretty bad (or ‘interesting’ as the Optometrist puts it), but hopefully she is managing to live a relevant, uncalculated life, doing something she loves. When she finally disappears, may people not walk right through her, but allow her to own for a brief second that space she once quietly occupied.

As to the second question and a recipe for the pineapple tarts, I will leave that for another day.


(Chamomile Custard Tart)

Red Bean Slices :
(makes 15-20 squares; from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini)

200g adzuki beans, soaked overnight in 3 times their volume of water
180g caster sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
150g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
100g plain flour
100g ground almonds
100g rice flour
pinch of salt

Darin the beans, put them into a saucepan, cover with fresh water and bring to the boil.

Drain them again, put them back in the saucepan with the same amount of fresh water, then turn the heat down and simmer the beans for about 1 1/2 hours till they are very soft. Keep adding water if they start to dry out and skim the surface carefully.

When the beans are completely soft, drain them and put them back in the saucepan.

Add 100g of the sugar, and the honey and vanilla extract. Stir over a low heat for about 5 minutes until the sugar has dissolved.

Put into a food processor and process till smooth, or put through a siece until the beans are paste-like in texture. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180′C.

Butter a 20 x 28cm baking tin and line it with parchment paper.

If you are using a food processor, process the flour, ground almonds, rice flour, butter, the remaining sugar and the salt until the mixture is quite crumbly. Otherwise, cut the butter into small pieces, mix the dry ingredients together and rub the butter into them with your fingers. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more butter.

Press half the mixture into the prepared tin.

Spread the adzuki paste evenly over the top and sprinkle with the remaining flour-and-almond mixture (like a crumble). Bake for 25 – 30 minutes till the topping is golden and crisp.

Cool in the tin.

When cold, cut into squares. Take the slices out of the tin very carefully as the topping tends to crumble (because of the rice flour).

[Note : Rose says you can use tinned, ready-cooked adzuki beans instead of cooking your own (which is what I did, because I had some tinned beans to use up). It is also possible to convert this slice into a vegan recipe by replacing the butter with a vegan margarine and using golden syrup (or light corn syrup) instead of honey.]

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39 Comments »

  1. Manggy said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 11:09 pm

    I don’t know what you look like, Y, but I’m sure happiness is attractive :) I’m adopting a new thing, probably Asian too– that being a little hungry from time to time is never a bad thing. It’s something to think about when your extended family is trying to stuff your face silly! ;P
    I don’t think I’d be able to stop if you presented me with any of those gorgeous desserts, though. Nosireebob.

  2. Y said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 11:12 pm

    I like your ‘new thing’, Manggy. I might have to remember that one as it could come in useful. Maybe I’ll start a word-of-the-day necklace and string it next to the Illich quote.

  3. Laura said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 12:29 am

    I love red bean paste! Once I had it in a macha sponge cake, it was to die for!

    I loved your post, lots of food for thoughts, pun intended.

    I am glad I found your blog, keep up the great work.

  4. Marysol said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 2:58 am

    Y, I just had to bepraise your wonderful writing; and your baking and photography skills go hand in hand.

  5. helen said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 3:27 am

    Well said, Y. You sound a lot closer to happiness and contentment than most people I know. Rest assured, you’re creating a beautiful thing.

  6. sugar chef said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 3:33 am

    Love the quote. I can relate. Love those perfect days with time to spare, a few minutes in the sun and living with passion. Great post!!

  7. retno said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 4:45 am

    Yummy!. You have so many great recipes and photos. Thanks for stopping by my site :)

  8. cakebrain said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 5:48 am

    Y,
    I so totally enjoy reading your thoughts. Your pics are inspirational too!

  9. Steph said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 7:07 am

    Aren’t those perfect days wonderful? What a beautiful post, inspiring. And those pineapple tarts look to die for

  10. Zoë Fançois said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 7:23 am

    Your desserts are always stop dead in my tracks gorgeous!!! i just love the flavors too! Wonderful.

  11. Caitlin said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 7:55 am

    I love seeing all these red bean desserts – definitely need to try it out sometime. As for why people cook, I think a lot of people have the same reason you do. I know I do :)

  12. erin @ dessert girl said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 8:15 am

    I love bean desserts! And I LOVE the first photo!

  13. Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 8:53 am

    “Interesting” is a cryptic way of describing someone’s eyesight! I really ought to get a hold of some pineapple tarts. The red bean dessert looks interesting, like an old fashioned English slice with an Asian ingredient like red bean.

  14. Y said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 9:08 am

    Thanks everyone, for reading.. and commenting..

    Lorraine, I really liked the red bean thing. Rose calls it her take on ‘rice and beans’. It’s quick to make as well, especially if you already have the red beans at hand. Nice to have with some whipped cream or ice-cream. Those pineapple tarts were so good, they have been completely demolished. I’m planning on making some more – would you like me to set some aside for you to try?

    Oh, and I queried him on that too. Apparently what I have, really is considered genuinely interesting…?!

  15. lili - pikelet & pie said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 10:51 am

    I am always being asking: “What is your speciality?” as though there is one item that i can cook well and always fall back on, or “what is your favourite kind of food?”. I fear that these people just don’t understand. In the past I prepared canned responses (like to the other question I regularly get “Why are you learning Chinese”, my answer: “I like Chinese food”).
    I was in Malaysia for the last Chinese New Year, and we bought some really interesting pineapple tarts in Malacca. There were many varieties, but the woman in the shop told us to buy this particular kind as the pastry was made with butter, not margarine. I like her, and the tarts – can’t wait for the recipe :)

  16. Y said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 10:58 am

    Lili, thank you so much for sharing. I thought I was the only one who unnaturally enough, did not have a ‘speciality’ or a favourite thing to cook.

    I have been to Malacca, too many years ago. A family friend who used to make my favourite version of pineapple tart, came from there too.

  17. Sophie said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

    I love your reasons for liking to cook because those are my same reasons! :)

    I love the ingredients you used here, I’m curious to try those beans.

    Have a great weekend!

  18. elainelaine888 said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

    Yeah man Asians and food, enough said! I’m so glad you’re my cousin. Your blog makes me miss you!!! (Not just for dessert either, though that is a small part of it.. lol)

  19. Louise said,

    April 18, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

    What a touching post. I’m so glad I dropped in for dessert:) I hope you don’t mind me telling you this but I just thought you had to know. There’s an event going on over at Coco Cooks until April 30th. called my My Legume Love Affair. The theme is Starters & Desserts. Y I think this recipe would be a welcomed addition. It sounds so good! I don’t know much about events like these, I never enter but they sure sound like fun:)

    Thanks so much for sharing…Have a “perfect” day!

  20. Amanda said,

    April 19, 2009 @ 5:31 am

    Your post was so thoughtful and relevant to many. I hope that your clear and calm outlook on your kitchen adventures never ends. Lord knows I could do for some more rational thinking as well.

  21. Julia @ Mélanger said,

    April 19, 2009 @ 8:22 am

    Y, your story, and the quote by Ivan Illich, really hit a nerve with me. I have always liked baking, and I think it stemmed from the fact I liked to eat, too. But the baking journey for me keeps evolving. First I wanted to learn. Then share. Then give. And now discover … {pause} … even more (insert “infinite possibilities here”!) But at the end of the day, this baking thing is intertwined in my life. And pretty much defines who I am. That definition does not come from my job, or where I live, or who my friends are, or what sort of things I have. Baking is it. Funny little thing….

  22. Marc @ NoRecipes said,

    April 19, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

    Love the first photo of the “exploding” red bean slice! I get asked the second question all the time and I find it kind of annoying. Mainly because i never have an answer for it, and then at the inquisitor for making me choose a favourite.

  23. Arwen from Hoglet K said,

    April 19, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

    This is a beautiful, thoughtful post Y. I particularly liked the Illich quote (enough to read it aloud). I once went to a poetry night where this guy read a poem about how things can be “made from love” or “made from f…”. It would be good to live life producing and consuming the “made from love” variety.

  24. Howard said,

    April 19, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

    This is a great post Y, I’m very happy for you as it seems you have found your ‘niche’ for lack of a better term. Doing something you love is so important, I think it’s fair to say cooking / baking or whatever is almost second nature to you!

    And I’m glad you gave a bit of insight into the ” Have you eaten yet ? ” question. I’ve never really thought about what the true meaning of it meant (my Parents say it all the time) even though now it seems so obvious!

    Oh and I love the second photo, depth of focus is really interesting.

  25. Christy said,

    April 19, 2009 @ 8:22 pm

    A very thought-provoking post. I too wanted to do something that would not compromise my integrity, birdle my passion or inhibit my creativity. But this path is always the harder one, I think. For the longest time, I’ve always found conspicuous consumption and the brand-as-status society that I live in to be nauseating at best. I chose this path, although I know that it is the more difficult way to success, precisely because I want what I do to mean something to me, and be known for what I manage to achieve on my own.

    Can’t wait for the recipe for the pineapple tarts! I made it once, but I think your version is different from mine.

  26. Anita said,

    April 19, 2009 @ 10:28 pm

    Great post, love your style of writing. The tarts and slice look fantastic, never heard of a red bean slice, but the ingredients make it sound lovely indeed.

  27. Kevin said,

    April 20, 2009 @ 12:47 am

    These slices sound like a great way to enjoy some red bean paste!

  28. Hannah said,

    April 20, 2009 @ 3:24 am

    You’ve given me so many things to think about… Least of all, these incredible bars! I adore adzuki bean desserts, so I feel compelled to make these asap.

  29. shez said,

    April 20, 2009 @ 9:40 am

    the first words i learnt in hokkien were “have you eaten yet?” – and it’s still the first thing i ask my grandparents every time i speak to them. i’m very feelin you here with the food and the love and the strange sense of satisfaction.

    (and oh! and the cuteness of the pineapple tarts… they look just right!)

  30. Y said,

    April 20, 2009 @ 9:53 am

    Louise : I wasn’t aware about the event. Thanks for letting me know.

    Amanda : I’ve always thought of you as a level-headed person, even if you might disagree.

    Julia : Being defined by baking seems so trite, but I feel the same way too. Glad to have met someone so like-minded.

    Marc @ NoRecipes : Maybe favourite dishes are a fallacy afterall!

    Arwen : The flower child in me would like to see as many things as possible created from love.

    Howard : There are probably so many nuances about the culture that we don’t really give much thought to. My dad loves talking about such things – it’s like having a mini cultural/history lesson every time we get together. Food for the stomach and the mind :)

    Christy : I think you’re well on your way to achieving something to call your own that you can be very proud of :) What is your version like? I’m always interested in comparing recipes. You never know.. might learn something new.

    Anita : I hadn’t heard of a red bean slice until now either. It’s a kind of East meets West type of pastry treat, that works very well.

  31. mir said,

    April 20, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

    I’m glad you picked up on that quote, remembering the same sense of rightness when I first read it and thinking that this is what I would like to work towards; collaboration and creation…

    I am loving your composition for both shots, and I can’t wait to see what else you will be making from the other ingredients!

  32. Piggy said,

    April 20, 2009 @ 5:00 pm

    Great post as always! Just like you, I cook because I like to eat too. ;-)

  33. prettytastycakes said,

    April 21, 2009 @ 5:20 am

    Beautiful photos and post…I just picked up adzuki beans the other day for whatever reason and may have to try your recipe…Funny, my Korean dentist always asks me if I’ve had lunch, admitting that he doesn’t know why he always asks that (I assume it’s because I won’t be able to eat for a while after the visit)!

  34. Cakelaw said,

    April 21, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

    I am very curious about red beans in baked goods – I have seen them at the Asian grocers, but never ttied them myself. The chamomile custard tarts are so cute – they look just like baked apples!

  35. Zita said,

    April 23, 2009 @ 1:40 am

    I like this question & answer thing of yours… btw have you eat yet ? :)

  36. Tartelette said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 12:45 am

    Your plating skills are through the roof! I love it!
    You are just brilliant my dear!

  37. practically done | A soft chew said,

    April 29, 2009 @ 10:54 am

    [...] (also called azuki beans) at some Japanese and Asian grocery stores. Y of lemonpi recently posted a recipe (follow the steps up to the point of pureeing the beans) if you wish to make your own. For the [...]

  38. colleen said,

    April 26, 2011 @ 11:46 am

    hi, i’m hoping to try the recipe for red bean slice. but don’t have a food processor, can i use a blender instead?

  39. Y said,

    April 26, 2011 @ 11:50 am

    Hi colleen, I’m sure you can, though it might require a tiny bit more effort to blend than to process. Let me know how it turns out for you :)

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