Monday, 3 October 2011

Think Nigella and don't panic

I'm not panicking just yet. But I do already feel the pressure. And something tells me I'd better plan this one carefully and not let my perfectionism (nor my show-offishness) get the upper hand.  

Here's the thing. The Firm has entered into a partnership with EORTC, the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer. In the next 5 years, we are to raise 5 million (GBP I think, not Euros) for cancer research and treatment. And I do mean WE as all employees are engaged and are expected to make their own contribution. Which is what I really like about this initiative. The feeling that you can actually make a difference - as an individual, and as part of a world-wide team.

And this is of course a cause that touches us all. Every one of us has been affected by cancer one way or another. Whether we've had to stand by and maybe even lose relatives or friends suffering from a form of cancer, or have had to battle it ourselves, the disease will sadly have been a factor in all our lives.

Last Friday we had a kick-off event at all locations with a charity auction. When this was first announced I had NO inspiration whatsoever. I wanted to be an active participant and not just bid on items others brought in, but things have been so ridiculously busy the past couple of weeks I just couldn't find the energy to come up with a brilliant idea. Basically I just wanted to go into early hibernation. That feeling still hasn't quite left me by the way. As much as I love autumn and its pretty colours, there is something to be said for having a nice loooong sleep and waking up tiny come spring. But I digress. Again.

At the very last moment I had a brainwave of something I could do - that something meaning I wouldn't have to show up at the auction having already produced something. Drumroll: I'm going to cook an authentic Indonesian meal at my home for a group of people. What do you mean you're not impressed??

Now I may only be 'a quarter Indonesian' (something you wouldn't be able to tell just by looking at me) but I still pride myself in being able to prepare a pretty darn good Indonesian meal. An authentic one - not catered to what some people think is the average European taste. Which in my opinion results in mostly meh but sometimes even very bleh food.
But that's the catch right there. I can already feel my perfectionism kicking in. I want to prepare the most fantastic authentic Indonesian dinner ever. Obviously I want to be a good host and make sure everyone enjoys their meal (that should be the main reason really). Another factor is that I'm pretty sure some of my guests will only have had the 'Dutchified' version of dishes and I want them to have a taste of the real thing. And then there's this part of me that feels the ridiculous need to impress. Stun them with my culinary skills as the Dutch-Indonesian Nigella (I've got the curves too).

Which is exactly where I've gone wrong in the past. Mostly, when I throw a dinner it's a relaxed event for both guests and host, with me whipping up something lovely (if I say so myself) without getting stressed or worked up. And if I feel the need to experiment then I always make sure I can go over to plan B without too much of an effort - while at the same time succeeding in making everyone believe the end result is what I planned to serve all along. Some of my signature dishes actually stem from fantastic failures. But: there have also been occasions where I let my enthusiasm run away with me completely - and it's mostly when cooking Indonesian food.

There are so many dishes to choose from. And they're all so lovely. And I want to really cook a variety of dishes to create a balance of flavours on the table. Which resulted in my last Indonesian dinner (for guests that is) consisting of 21 dishes. Yup, 21. It was supposed to have been 26 but the last 5 never made it to the table. By the time my guests arrived the kitchen looked like a warzone and I was a nervous wreck with a shiny face, limp hair and a wild look in my eyes. And I thought I had planned it all to perfection because I had cooked half of the dishes in the days before. Duh.

Of course, everyone loved the food and I managed to actually relax and enjoy myself after downing a glass of wine (or two). But I did swear I would never ever put myself through that again. Because no one had even asked me or expected me to play Wonder Woman Master Chef. So when I was re-reading one of my Nigella cook books a while back I could so relate to the anecdote she told of a friend who served her and some other friends the most fantastic array of dishes - all the while being close to tears because of the stress and the pressure she was under to perform. To which Nigella commented in her book that everyone would so have preferred a less extravagant meal and a happy hostess.

So you would guess that I learned my lesson. And I have. In a way. It's just that I've made a list of absolute must-have dishes. The dishes I think the dinner absolutely can't do without. And the list is still not complete. And I'm at 16 already.



  1. Sorry Sacha, I am no help what-so-ever in this department. I CAN cook (although others may think not as they've probably never seen me do it)... I just don't like it (gasp, shock, horror).

    I LOVE food (Thai would have to be my fave, but I admit I've never tried Indonesian), I just like it better when someone else serves it to me after they've cooked it!

    So, I don't do it much unless it's really simple. A nice salmon fillet/steak and salad or vegies usually does me for tea. :)

    I'm sure you will be utterly brilliant and the meal will be a huge success. Try not to get stuck on every little detail. Unless they're all Indonesian food experts they won't have a clue if it's perfect or not!

    I think the whole 'less extravagant meal/happy hostess' is a far more enjoyable way to go.

    Congrats for doing something (your firm and yourself) to help raise money for cancer research etc. My dad passed from Leukemia, and it was an utterly horrible and drawn out death in the end. A friend also recently lost her husband to pancreatic cancer, and my best friend has 4 people at her place of work who've recently been through or are still having cancer treatment.

    My mum volunteers on the cancer ward at our large hospital (even though she's 81 she still gets out there and helps), and I can't imagine what she sees sometimes. It's very sad.

    But, there are many great outcomes too, and more and more ways being found of treating different types of cancer.

    I hope it all goes well.... I'm sure it will!

    Linda. xox

  2. You don't like to cook??

    ... (shocked silence)

    Hehehe - I know plenty of people who love food and don't like to cook. One friend says she doesn't like the 'mess' of cooking - but she loves a good plate of food shoved in front of her (no Fab, I don't mean you)!

    For me, cooking is almost like a meditative moment (unless I'm under time pressure or pressure to perform!). It takes my mind off everyday things and when I'm cooking with certain herbs or spices it can really change my mood. When I've had a busy day at work and I'm grating a lemon for instance, it just in a way helps me to unwind!

    I do also LOVE it when people cook for me. I had a boyfriend once who made the most fantastic stews and it was such a treat to have to do nothing whatsoever but wait with a glass of wine until dinner was ready. And I love visiting my parents and be spoiled with my childhood favourites. And going out to dinner with mates.

    Yes, I do really feel this is a fantastic initiative. And we had great fun at the auction, people really came up with great ideas and offerings.

    The very first post of your's that I ever read was your 'thing for butterflies' and I did wonder at the time what your father died of... I'm so sorry you've had to go through that - that must have been so heartbreaking.

    Sadly cancer does indeed affect us all. I never knew my paternal grandmother as she died of breast cancer age 47 (dad was only 16) and my maternal grandmother died of cancer of the esophagus. And I've had several friends diagnosed with breast cancer (one in the last couple of weeks even) and some who fortunately 'only' had a cancer scare. How fantastic that your mother still volunteers at her age - she must be a very special lady! Wish I could meet her - and you!


  3. Haha, your opening few lines gave me a good chuckle!!

    I've been fortunate in that most of my boyfriends/partners/husbands have been people who've loved to cook and who've cooked well! I did have one partnership were I was the one who had to put a good meal on the table every night and it drove me nuts - lol.

    Your cooking sounds like my singing or designing. If I need the meditative state I've only to start singing or to start designing something or re-arranging the furniture/artwork/cushions and I'm 'in the zone' of feeling calmer and better.

    Thank you for your lovely thoughts about my dad... he was much loved by us all, and it was hardest on my mum of course. She was at the hospital every day, most of the day. I just went after work, visited, had tea at the hospital cafeteria with mum, and took her home once visiting hours were over. He was in and out of hospital for very long stints over more than 3 years... so it was hard for us all. He was truly a magnificent and honourable human being who's dreadfully missed.

    So sorry about your grandmothers. 47 is just way too young, and cancer of the esophagus sounds very nasty. I hope your friend who's just been diagnosed is coping well and getting the help and treatment she needs pronto.

    Do you know, they now have a treatment for the type of blood cancer that took my dad that's mostly effective all the time (he passed 13 years ago). The money and effort people put into raising funds really does make a difference.

    I wish I could meet you too! :)

    Linda. xox


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