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What's cooking?

Lunch with a food lover

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 15/00) - Lunch at a restaurant with Bev Matthews was a silly idea.

Talk of her favourite foods -- Matthews is an amateur gourmet cook -- cause taste buds to crave the spice of distant lands and the lettuces on the plates were looking ever so dull.

Asian curries and Middle Eastern fare are her specialties.

"We entertain an awful lot. I don't bake, but I love everything else," says Matthews.

A feast for friends, six or more, can be concocted in one day.

"The foods I tend to cook with are not foods that are good for you, like coconut milk, but that's where the flavours come from," she says.

(Though some herbalists maintain many of the spices used in Asian countries have medicinal properties.)

Matthews collects recipes when she and her husband travel. Destinations include India, Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal, Greece, Turkey, Cambodia, Vietnam, Jamaica, Brazil, Guatemala, Jordan and Egypt, just to name a few.

"India ... I love India. The foods are incredible."

Trips are food-centred: "We wake up, we think of where to have breakfast. We take a little break and then it's, 'Where will we go for lunch?'"

"It a treat to go and try different stuff," she adds.

But not always delicious, evidently. Matthews tells the story of being served up a special delicacy in Malaysia. She recognized the sea cucumbers from an underwater exploration.

"It was like art gum erasers. It was quite disgusting. We did manage to swallow them, to be polite. But you basically eat anything you can."

And then there's the deep-fried cricket story.

"Crunchy, with salt, like French fries."

Often, Matthews must recreate dishes from memory -- barring those she didn't enjoy -- when she returns home. Cookbooks written in English are rare finds.

"You can tell from the taste, or from the look, if you've got it. And colour is a big indicator," she says.

As for finding ingredients in Yellowknife, that can get tough -- and so whipping up a Thai or Indian feast can be quite a challenge. Since the demise of Zen Asian Foods and Edgson's Market, curry pastes are especially awkward to find in the city now, as are fresh herbs.

On their trips, the Matthews lug around an extra duffel bag in which to bring back supplies.

"I have two and a half cupboards full of spices. When I see people and their spice racks...I don't know what I'd do with a spice rack," she exclaims, indicating with her hands the restrictive limits of such a rack.

Matthews has tried growing herbs, but the season is so short, she ended up having to dry then anyway.

"It's just not the same," she laments.

And don't get Matthews started on the lemongrass situation!

But, she says, you can talk to the people at the grocery stores.

"They can be very helpful. I think it's a challenge for them too, to see if they can find it and get it for you."

In some cases, an ingredient can be ordered in. Matthews says that there's quite an underground of food lovers in the city, people who take turns thinking up a feast.

"Personally, I think it's a winter thing. It keeps you nice and warm. The flavours, the scents stay in the house," she says as her eyes follow her imaginary nose off into the distance.

"It's fun to share with people who have never been to those places. You remember where you ate the dish, the circumstances. You start talking about it. You get misty eyed..."