Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Saffy's Congee

There are, in this world, two kinds of women: those who can cook and those who can’t. Even then, the line between the two categories tends to blur a little. My flatmate Saffy, for instance, will tell you that she can cook, but upon further questioning, it will become perfectly clear that she can’t. Not unless one considers making congee – and nothing else – knowing how to cook.

“That is cooking! I wish you’d stop defaming me to people!” Saffy cried the other day over the roaring sound of water as she labouriously washed the rice. Our friend Rachel was dropping off her five year old daughter for Saffy to baby-sit while she picked up her in-laws from the airport. True to form, Saffy quickly worked herself up into a state as she suddenly realized that she didn’t know whether she was up to entertaining a child for a period of time slightly longer than The Lord of the Rings.

“Well, you’re the one who’s been begging Rachel for a chance to babysit Sharn,” my other flatmate Amanda said unsympathetically. “Here’s your chance to get clucky!”

“My biological clock is ticking!” Saffy insisted, her bosom trembling with doubt. “I need contact with children!”

Later, she complained to me that Amanda was so unbearably bossy. “Who is she to say that I’m clucky? She’s the one who’s got an Anne Geddes baby on her screensaver! Oh, God, what have I gotten myself into?” Saffy asked suddenly. “What do five year old girls eat, d’you know?”

I told her that I was not getting involved. This was one hare-brained project that she was going to have to do by herself. But by this time, Saffy had turned her considerably short attention span to scanning the recipes in Martha Stewart’s Kids magazine, mumbling, “Cookies, no, too much work! How about tortillas? This looks simple enough, oh maybe not, I have to slice lettuce?”

In the end, Saffy decided to make chicken congee, reasoning that no one could possibly stuff up something so simple.

“She’s cooking?” my friend Karl asked me doubtfully over the phone. “Saffy can cook?” He was thinking of the time Saffy brought spaghetti alio oglio to his pot luck and all of us wound up in the emergency room on account of the severe gastric pains induced by the raw red chillis Saffy had so proudly and lovingly tossed through the pasta.

“Of course, she can’t cook!” I snorted. “I’ve got the ambulance on standby to whisk Sharn to the hospital!” Of course, Saffy somehow overheard this comment over the rush of water as she cleaned the rice.

“I can cook!” she shouted over the roar, her face flushed with the effort of rinsing and draining rice. “My congee is famous! Ask anyone!” she added vaguely.

Half an hour later, Saffy emerged from the kitchen holding up a measuring mug. “I’ve got four cups of rice here. How many cups of water should I use?”

I looked up from my magazine and blanched. “Four cups? Who’s coming to lunch? I’m not eating!”

“Me, neither!” Amanda’s voice sailed out from her room.

Saffy’s brow crinkled with worry. “Is that too much?”

Out of curiosity, I wandered into the kitchen to watch Saffy prepare her ‘famous’ chicken congee. She tore chunks of meat off a roast chicken she’d bought from Cold Storage and threw it into the pot with the washed rice and tossed in a handful of salt while muttering, “Is that too much salt?” She then carefully poured in three cups of water, plugged in the rice cooker and stepped back expectantly.

“How long is this supposed to take?” she asked me worriedly. Within fifteen minutes, a smell of burning filled our kitchen. “Is that supposed to happen?” Saffy screamed, as she hurriedly turned off the cooker.

Attracted by the commotion and smell, Amanda came running out from her room, passing on the way, my dog Pooch who, sensibly, was dashing the other way for the safety of my bedroom.

“What are you doing?” Amanda shrieked when she arrived in the kitchen.

“I’m making congee!” Saffy shouted back.

“Then why does it smell like burnt bak kua in here?” Amanda yelled.

By the time everyone had calmed down a little, Amanda had pieced together Saffy’s recipe. “Three cups of water?” she asked, her eyes wide. “I thought you’d done this before! Four cups of rice needs about eight or nine cups of water to make congee!”

“Are you mad?” Saffy cried. “I’m making congee, not soup!”

We managed to salvage some of the congee for Sharn’s lunch, though later that night, the child told her mother that she didn’t ever want to eat at Auntie Saffy’s again.

“That ungrateful brat!” Saffy yelled when she found out. “I’m never having children!”

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