Saturday, October 20, 2012

Spotless or Business as usual?

My Hippo and I have different opinions regarding how much efforts we should put into cleaning before inviting friends over.  I like to try my very best and make our place spotless (or as close as we can), Mr Hippo, on the other hand, thinks there is no need to try that hard and some improvement over the business as usual is enough. 

Obviously we are not the only couple who disagree on such a matter.  According to Mr Hippo, his parents argued about it too when he was rather small.

It seems to me that the difference is more of a cultural origin.  In general, I am a messier person than Mr Hippo, so it is not because I had a higher standard to start with.  More likely, it is because I am from a culture where people will give their best to guests.   In the case of my parent-in-law, Papa Hippo was from Germany, and Mama Hippo is from Australia--now you see my point?

At least we agree on when to invite friends over--rightly after our house inspection.  We are still (happily) renting, and once in a while (six months?), our landlord will send an agent to check us out, which means we will have to clean the house,  whether we will like it or not.  Over the course of five years, we have formed the habit of turning the lemon into lemonade and inviting friends over rightly after the inspection.  This way our friends will enjoy a cleaner and more orderly environment (at the condition halfway between spotless and business as usual?).

We invited four people over today, two visiting from Sweden and two of our American friends from ANU.  The top picture shows how neat we set the table for a change (um, minus Mr Hippo's glasses).  Someday when we buy a house with a proper-sized kitchen, I will buy a set of serving plates with more than four.  For now, Mr Hippo and I get to use our special Moomin set to disguise our identities (you have to know the Moomin story to get the joke). 

What kind of food did I serve?  That is always a bit challenging to summarize...OK, how about "Hybrid Swedish food with an Australian theme?"

I prepared Swedish main course because our Swedish friends had been away from home for a while and they were going to have dinner with a Chinese colleague tomorrow night.  The main course was grilled ocean trout with asparagus, tomato, pine nut and potato salad in home-made pesto sauce.  I used this recipe from Curtis to prepare ocean trout (minus Buk Choy part) and it turned out pretty good (it would have been more Swedish, if I had added dill to the herbs though).  Gordon Reamsay's video also helped but it was more about how to intensify tomato's sweetness by roasting it first.

My cooking is always hybrid because I enjoy mixing things together and creating a symphony of flavors.  For Hors d'oeuvre we had home-made guacamole and hummus.   I was happy when one of the American food commented how great the guacamole was.  I was even happier when Mr Hippo, who lived in Israel for years told me the texture of the hummus was about right; I had worried it was a bit too dense.  The only Chinese touch of the meal was the Chrysanghdmum and Goji berry tea as shown in the middle picture.  It is not tasty but supposed to be good for tonight's crowd, who sit in front of computers most of our days.

Last, the dinner was of Australian theme because I tried to stick to Australian ingredients as much as I can.  I also bought a beautiful bunch of native flowers (the last picture).  For dessert, I served three OZ cheeses (Mr Hippo's favorite triple-creamed brie, my favorite goat cheese, and an aged Cheddar from Margaret River that was appreciated very much by our Swedish friends), along with three types of fresh fruits (strawberry, kiwi, and mango), three dry fruits (date, fig and prune) and three nuts (macadamia, pistachio, and walnuts).  In theory, there were 81 combinations of flavors and the idea was people might found another crazily fantastic combination such as bacon and milk chocolate (dark chocolate is a no-no, according to one of the American friends) .  Not sure that was accomplished, but people were certainly quite into the three of a genre thing, because they were very disappointed when I told them there were only two kinds crackers to choose from! 

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