Take it slowly

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - INDEX -

Many years ago I spent a very cold night out­side, up in the high Alti­plano of Ar­gentina. My ride had dropped me in the tiny ham­let of Humahuaca, where I dis­cov­ered three fel­low hitch-hik­ers — a Peru­vian guy and two Ar­gen­tini­ans — head­ing north on the same road. We de­cided our best chances were to band up in twos and made a pact to meet up at the next sign­posted town and stay the night there.

The Peru­vian and I scored the first ride and, about an hour up the val­ley, we came to a new road sign with a name on it. As per the plan, we hopped out. But there was no town, just the be­gin­nings of a build­ing site — foun­da­tions and the base of some rock walls, a few 44 gal­lon drums and a pile of old goat skins. We called out loud hel­los and ho­las into the gath­er­ing dark­ness, but no­body replied.

As the light fell, the cold seeped in. At 3500m, this high plateau is known in Quechua as the Puna, or the cold lands. The days are fiercely hot and the nights be­yond bit­ter. The two Ar­gen­tine boys ar­rived and, once they had got over their dis­be­lief, we set to mak­ing a fire. The four of us spent the night in the tight­est hud­dle we could make, drinking tea and tak­ing turns to be on the out­side.

I thought about home and my mother’s cook­ing a lot that night, re­mem­ber­ing all the com­fort­ing dishes she would cook us in win­ter, and the way their lip-smack­ing aro­mas cre­ated a won­der­ful sense of wel­come. In the lull of such sooth­ing rem­i­nis­cences, the night slowly inched by and the dawn fi­nally ar­rived. Nearby, the creek was cov­ered in a 20cm-thick ice crust and all around us the 44 gal­lon drums that had been filled with wa­ter on our ar­rival were rock-solid ice.

A group of work­ers ar­rived to con­tinue their build­ing project. Shak­ing their heads and laugh­ing in dis­be­lief, all they could say was: “Diecio­cho a bajo, y to­dos ust­edes es­tan vivos!” (“Mi­nus 18 and you are all alive!”)

Some things you don’t for­get. When the cold sets in, I find my­self turn­ing to the heart-warm­ing dishes my mother al­ways made. My trusty slow cooker is a life­saver as a short­cut in the prepa­ra­tion pro­cess — ev­ery­thing goes in at once be­fore I head to work. When I get home, cold, tired and of­ten late, the house smells de­li­cious and din­ner has, quite sim­ply, cooked it­self.

This week I’m shar­ing three clas­sic slow­cooked dishes to see you through the last few weeks of win­ter. They are all big recipes so you can freeze the leftovers for another day or en­joy them in a pie, lasagne or mous­saka later in the week.


Cheap Thrills (Annabel Langbein Me­dia, $24.95) is on sale now at Pa­per Plus, The Ware­house and all good book­stores. See annabel or fol­low Annabel on Face­book or In­sta­gram.

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