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Betsy Block

Make Mama Look Good

Careful What You Wish For

Careful What You Wish For
10-year-old E had been home sick for three days and my big birthday bash was fast approaching. I haven't had a party in about two decades, and I had guests coming from hundreds of miles away, and I was more than a little worried we'd all be felled by his malaise before the festivities began if I let him out of lockdown.  So despite his fervent, fevered wishes to be released from jail so he could hang with the family, I cruelly ordered him to stay in bed, "because if I get sick, who will take care of you?" And four-year-old P had been what we fondly call a "nonstop eater" all afternoon, so by mealtime, she wasn't hungry either.

This is all just to say that by the time I dished out dinner, it was just for my husband BD and me. If memory serves me, which it often doesn't these days, but if it does, this was the first time in a decade that we'd sat at our dining room table alone. ("Alone" meaning just the two of us.)

Of course I adore my kids; otherwise, why would I have given up free time, sleep and my career for them? (Though they would argue that I work all the time, they have no idea.) Still, love them as I do, one of my major life goals remains getting breaks from them. And thanks to the happy confluence of both a high fever and too much snacking, that's just what I was getting. Here we were, the two of us on an otherwise average weekday night, enjoying a quiet, romantic dinner via chef Neil Perry of Rockpool in Sydney, Australia.

What a score! The chicken was spicy, exotic, complex - it was everything that my life these days is not. The meal, the peace and quiet - it all bordered on the miraculous. In fact, you could even say I was feeling smug - that is, until BD decided to shoot me in the heart by raising his glass of wine and saying, "This will be us someday: without the kids, eating and staring at each other."

The kids won't always be here, fighting and laughing and interrupting each other to tell us stories at dinner? Of course I've always known this, but I hadn't really known it until that moment. Suddenly I wasn't hungry anymore. Time stopped - or at least, I wished it would.

Maybe once the kids are grown and out of the house we'll go visit Rockpool in person. In fact, BD and I have dozens (maybe even hundreds) of places we want to visit. I imagine us traveling the globe! But for now, we'll have to make do with exciting recipes from afar, because we're not going anywhere until our kids leave. And as BD reminded me over delicious garam masala chicken right before I turned 40, leave us they will - and all too soon.

The prep for this dish was so easy that I did it while on the phone catching up with an old friend. I couldn't find palm sugar, so instead I used a touch of brown sugar along with a tablespoon or so of the date sugar that BD had bought while I was home with a sick E. Otherwise, this was truly simple and great.

by Neil Perry of Rockpool in Sydney

1 large organic chicken, cut into saut pieces

2 small red onions, sliced

6 cloves garlic, sliced

1 large knob ginger, finely sliced

6 small hot chillies, finely chopped

Sea salt, to taste

6 tablespoons garam masala

1 tablespoons turmeric powder

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

Fish sauce, to taste

Palm sugar, to taste

1 x 14fl oz tin coconut milk

14 fl oz water

2 lemons, juiced

Vegetable oil, for cooking

Cilantro leaves, to serve

Heat a large copper pot with vegetable oil and pan fry the chicken pieces until the skin is well browned. (Of course I don't have a copper pot. Such is life.) Remove from the pot and set aside.

Heat some fresh vegetable oil in the same large copper pot and fry the onion, garlic, ginger and chili with a good pinch of salt, till fragrant.

Add the garam masala, turmeric and sweet paprika and fry a further minute.

Season with fish sauce and palm sugar to taste, then add the coconut milk and water.
Return the chicken pieces to the pot and simmer, covered, at a very low temperature until just cooked, about 1  hours. The broth should be just simmering.

To serve
Finish with lemon juice to taste and cilantro leaves. Serve with steamed basmati rice.
Serves 4.