SINGAPORE - In a world where everything happens at warp speed, declaring that you want to take things slow is, at best, a ridiculous fantasy and, at worst, career annihilation.
While there is no slowing down at work, I am trying to pace myself in other parts of my life. I do have a life outside of work, believe it or not.
Whether it is unplugging and going off the grid for a week while on leave or just doing nothing on a Sunday, I find these little breaks invaluable. They allow me to recharge and come back more energetic, more focused and feeling much less like a robot.
Slowing down when eating is an unexpected pleasure I am enjoying too.
Last week, I had dinner at a private kitchen, a mind-blowing meal in a home somewhere in the eastern part of Singapore, prepared by a passionate cook who also grows many of the ingredients he uses.
Our unhurried meal at Lucky House Cantonese Private Kitchen, around an old wooden table in the kitchen, was filled with laughter, witty repartee and digs at one of us, who was celebrating a birthday.
After a work day that had just whizzed by in frantic fashion, it was good to sit down and enjoy food cooked with love. With each mouthful, I also tasted the complex flavours that time had wrought on the dishes.
Take one of the courses, roast duck.
I had two slices of breast meat, not usually my favourite because it tends to dry out. That was not the case with this duck, however. Aside from being juicy, I noticed how crisp the burnished skin was and how the marinade had penetrated right through the breast meat.
Well, the answer was time. The duck had been marinated for 48 hours, plenty of time for the spices, wine and soya sauce to work their magic on the meat.
Another dish took time to prepare too. I was awestruck by the old-fashioned claypot of soup sitting on a charcoal brazier I had seen in the outdoor kitchen. It had been simmering away since 10.45 that morning. By the time we had it, some 10 hours later, the soup had become thoroughly infused with the flavour of dried seafood, dried mushrooms and bones.
It was powerful stuff. I enjoyed every last drop.
A dish of steamed prawns topped with chye poh, or preserved radish, stood out too. The radish had been aged for months and the flavour had mellowed out so it was sweet, but not cloying.
It was soulful, next level cooking.
I took my time with dinner, taking small bites, savouring every mouthful.
This is much more difficult than anyone can possibly imagine. I am used to chowing down, to taking big bites, to inhaling food. These days, I try to slow way down. Sometimes I do not succeed, but I try and try again.
The rewards: I taste many more nuances in the food and I enjoy what I eat much, much more.
So to celebrate this discovery, this week's recipe is easy, but it will require patience.
No-cook tomato sauce is perfect for hot weather, and lazy people who want to eat well.
Simply slice cherry tomatoes, toss with garlic, anchovies, basil, salt and olive oil and let it sit for a couple of hours. At the end, you get a huge payoff for very little effort.
The flavours meld together beautifully: the tomatoes soften, the basil infuses the sauce, the anchovies add umami, the garlic provides edge.
I serve it with (cooked) pasta, but this is a versatile sauce.
Toast some bread, rub with a cut piece of garlic and pile the tomatoes and juices on the slices and there is an instant bruschetta starter.
Or toss little balls of mozzarella, called bocconcini, with the tomatoes for a salad and serve that as part of brunch. If you can get good quality burrata, mozzarella with a creamy centre, plop it on a plate and spoon the tomatoes around it. When it comes time to eat, cut into the ball, watch the cream spill out, take a photo, mix it all up, eat and experience bliss.
Good things happen when I slow down, so I guess I am going to keep at it.
NO-COOK TOMATO SAUCE
750g cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
5 to 6 canned anchovies in oil (above)
50g Italian basil
1 tsp fine grained sea salt
125ml extra virgin olive oil
300g dried pasta
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1. Rinse the tomatoes under running water and pat very dry with paper towels. Halve and place them in a glass mixing bowl.
2. Peel and finely chop the garlic; finely chop the anchovies; remove the leaves from two-thirds of the basil stems and slice thinly. Add the garlic, anchovies and basil to the mixing bowl. Add the salt and olive oil. Toss the ingredients together with a spoon. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 2 to 21/2 hours (above).
3. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water. Drain the pasta and add to the bowl. Toss well with the tomatoes. Add more salt if needed.
4. Divide the pasta among four plates or bowls. Grate Parmigiano Reggiano and tear the remaining basil leaves over the pasta. Serve immediately.