Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Rojak, French style (aka 101 ways with leftovers, #22)

A little roast chicken goes a long way, especially if you're lucky enough to have your pick of European summer produce. Until an hour ago, the most I had ever done to put together a salad was whisk up a simple vinagrette and drizzle it over a bagful of store-packed salad leaves. Faced with half a leftover roast chicken and a fridgeful of random supermarket purchases, however, today seemed like a good day to experiment.

I am happy to report that the result was extremely encouraging. The salad itself consisted of cold chicken breast, roughly shredded; morsels of gorgonzola cheese, creamy with a blue-veined bite; wedges of juicy allongee tomatoes, crimson with a summer blush; mixed salad leaves, grassy with the occassional kick of bitter rocket; grapefruit pulp, little sacs of citrus tartness; and a scattering of raisins, sweetness concentrated in bursts of textural contrast. Over this went a homemade dressing of red wine shallot vinegar mixed with honey, seeded Dijon mustard and olive oil.

Like a serious sandwich, a good salad strikes me as a contrast of strong flavours, smoothened over by a central theme - in this case, sweet summer fruitiness kept interesting with peekaboo notes of tart and savoury. With flavourful ingredients, a salad needs no more complicated a dressing than a variation on a basic vinagrette. Adhering to these principles, the chicken and gorgonzola salad would make a good base for further experimentation. Fresh grapes insteed of raisins, perhaps, and the additional salty crunch of roasted pinenuts. Springy mozzarella to replace the gorgonzola, or even creamy avocado. The possibilities seem endless.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Reunited and it feels so good

Anybody who does not believe that absence makes the heart grow fonder has never lost his luggage. Ditto the person who thinks that man can live on bread alone.

If I trace events back far enough, one could make the case that I triggered the tragicomedy myself, on the fateful day I purchased a flight departing from London Stansted instead of Gatwick or Luton. Fastforward 2 weeks to Friday, and B is urging me to buy travel insurance that will cover my check-in luggage. London's airports are on terrorist alert, and hand luggage is restricted to passports, wallets and enough infant formula to feed accompanying babies for the duration of the flight.

Travel insurance for over 10 quid? It takes me all of a second to decide against it. A little nagging voice - let's call it Murphy - reminds me that this could be the break my lucky luggage streak has been waiting for. In the light of student austerity, however, this doesn't seem all that important compared to the grand equivalent of 30 Singapore dollars.

Fastforward another 18 hours, I'm in line at the Easyjet counter with my flight scheduled to leave in 15 minutes, and I'm thinking to myself - wouldn't it be funny if my bags don't make it onto the plane? Just as it's my turn to check-in, the luggage conveyor belt breaks down, and I'm still thinking 'funny' with the naivete of someone who is too used to flying Singapore Airlines.

When I arrive in Nice, airport-approved clear plastic bag in hand, I can barely hear Murphy screaming 'I told you so' amidst the hubbub of fellow passengers complaining about their mishandled luggage. 60 bags do not make it onto Easyjet flight 3107 that night, 2 of which contain my laptop, mobile phones and clean underwear. I remain surprisingly calm, if very testy, possibly because the nice lady at the Easyjet baggage service counter has assured me that my bags should arrive sometime the next day, and given me a telephone number to call and check on their status.

My veneer of calmness lasts through my second trip to the airport the next morning, but unfortunately not my third. Frustrated by the lack of information and the fact that nobody ever answers the aforementioned number, my temper is kept in check only after the English gentleman in front of me is threatened with being hauled off by a policewoman for his outburst. ("Je ne pas comprend! Comprend this! I WANT MY F***ING BAGS!") Instead, I resort to tears, which are duly rewarded with the reassurance that I am not alone as many, many bags have been lost. The downside to this (for there is always a downside) is that the Easyjet staff in Nice are too busy to answer the ringing phone to explain where the bags are. Which is a lucky coincidence for them, as they are also too busy to find out where the bags are.

By the time I make my fourth trip to the airport the following day, I am prepared for the continued absence of my luggage and have (figuratively) packed my bags for Italy. Predictably, my luggage arrives on the first flight to Nice after I leave for Tuscany, which must have caused the Easyjet staff no end of excitement for they take 12 hours to collect their senses before calling on Tuesday morning to inform me. After some discussion, the Easyjet guy agrees to fly my bags to Pisa - am I able to wait until Wednesday afternoon to pick them up, as he has to arrange another delivery to Paris Orly first? The conversation ends with him promising to call me again with details of the flight that my bags will be on.

With the benefit of improved judgment, I make a few more futile attempts to contact Easyjet in Nice, then wait until Thursday afternoon to call at Pisa's Galileo Galilei airport, whereupon I am informed that my bags should be coming in on that evening's flight from Paris Orly - and oh, here's a number to call and check whether they have arrived. After a few more unanswered calls, I trudge out to the airport again, fingers tightly crossed.

A quick discussion at the baggage counter. I push my luggage tags over to the lady. She goes into a backroom, I engage in nervous conversation with a woman in the queue who has chased her bags to Milan and back. I catch a fleeting glimpse of the lady moving around in the backroom, holding something in her hands. My breath catches. The door swings upon. For a second, all I see is blue. Samsonite blue, Nike blue - glorious, glorious blue. I clap my hands, jump on the spot, and suddenly I'm on my knees, hugging my bags, grateful that my camera is still intact, grateful that my phones are undamaged, grateful that my laptop is still working.

Most of all, I'm just grateful that my days of handwashing underwear everyday are over.