Monday, October 21, 2013

Green Curry Mussels and Empty Apartments

I moved to Australia a few months ago with nothing more than the clothes on my back (and in two suitcases and a dedicated shoe-bag,) and had a mini boredom meltdown when I moved into a bland, unfurnished Melbourne apartment. Six months later I’ve just moved out, and, ironically, I’m just finally feeling like that collection of rooms was home.

I like to think I’ve been selective in the things I introduced to my first Australian abode, and that I was thrifty and frugal in my quest to create a comfortable but temporary nest. I also don’t want curious neighbors and newly made friends to think I’m weird transient with empty rooms. Assuming you have no belongings, here are a few key items that can make your bare space seem like a functioning adult actually lives there. (A bed frame is not one of them. Your mattress will be fine on the floor.)

1. A puzzle. Your Internet will probably take time to set up, and all of your books suddenly seem boring. You probably won't finish it before you reunite with the Web, so visitors will see your work in progress and think you've embraced your inner elder, in a cool way. Don't forget to dust it often.

2. A good vase. A floral arrangement always works wonders on the mood, even if you have to don black to take clippings after dark from a seasonally flowering roadside bush. 

3. A garage sale side lamp for your bedroom. Dim lighting is the only lighting you should endorse. (Unless you're doing the puzzle.)

4. A carbon monoxide alarm. Trust me, CO2 scares at 3am are not fun. Your are eyes probably still just irritated from that onion you diced earlier, but your brain will definitely consider that your shit stove is out to get you.

5. An outdoor table. You can just use your Ikea kitchen chairs with it on sunny mornings. Those birds nesting in the tree on your back patio aren't going to watch themselves.

6. Thumb tacks. The gifted calendar you lugged from overseas suits your kitchen so nicely, and you can't live your life around your landlord. 

7.  A framed art print. It should be of an important work from a renowned artist, but let's get a little more obscure than Starry Night or waterlilies. Bigger is better here, because larger size means it can make a statement, even if you just prop it up against a wall. Check your local thrift store -- a decent sized Degas goes for about $12.

8. An assortment of magazines and books for your coffee table. They make you look well read and interesting, especially if you really are well read and interesting.

9. Cardboard beer brand coasters from your local pub. Yes, your sliced geode coasters are pretty, but they just don't soak up condensation like cardboard does. These babies will last you for months, keep your tables ring free, and help channel your pad's "shabby chic" look. They're free to replace, too.

10. House plants. Duh. Watering them becomes a therapeutic ritual, and green is such a natural color to add to your home. Start with one that's easy to care for, and work your way up from there. Ask a green-thumb friend for vine clippings, or search thrift stores for succulents.
All of these items have joined me in my new Fitzroy apartment, and after a transition period of unpacking and a process of thoughtful relocation, they're chugging away at their jobs all over again. (Except the art print, which shattered all over the carpet, and has proven too large for any shelf or table in our mini abode. Maybe aim for smaller on that one. And not glass.) That home feeling should follow, in no time.

For the mussels, you'll need:

- Mussels (duh.)
- Green curry paste (homemade is best)
- Dried red chilies, chopped
- A diced onion
- Thai eggplants, quartered
- Can of coconut milk
- Fish sauce
- Thai basil
- Kaffir lime leaves
- A lime

Combine the curry paste, chopped chilies and diced onion in a large pot on medium heat. Cook until the onions sweat out a bit and the paste becomes fragrant. Add eggplants and toss with paste until coated and browned. Stir in coconut milk, shake in a bit of fish sauce, add basil, lime leaves and juice of lime and let simmer for 10 minutes for flavors to combine. Add de-bearded and cleaned mussels and cover for about 15 minutes, mixing occasionally to coat with sauce. When most to all mussels are open, place in a large bowl and pour sauce over the top. Serve with bread to mop up leftovers. Or you'll be sipping the broth out of empty mussel shells, like me.

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