So the beef cheek arrives at the table, meat smothered in a dark sauce that looks inviting.
But I have eyes only for the mini mountain right behind it - the mashed potatoes.
I have a forkful of beef and it is great. I have a forkful of potatoes and it's better. The spuds disappear. I struggle to finish the beef and give up. There is so much of it.
Right before the plate is cleared, I take a look and am a little horrified - did I really finish all the potatoes?
And yet, the world didn't end. I ate carbs and nothing bad happened.
I should explain that for the last, maybe, 18 months, I have put protein first in my diet. Cut way down on rice, noodles, bread and potatoes.
I haven't given up on them entirely because I sometimes need to eat them for work and I love carbs too much to go cold turkey.
But on Sunday mornings, when what I really want is sourdough toast and butter, I have eggs instead.
On weeknights when a bowl of pasta loaded with anchovies, chillies and garlic calls out to me, I have steamed fish and vegetables.
I haven't had cereal for dinner in a long time.
Everybody I know is doing it - cutting out carbs. It is a fad that refuses to die.
One friend has replaced rice with fibre-rich shirataki noodles. My friend's mother tells me over dinner at their home that a bowl of rice is enough for four adults.
Another friend follows a ketogenic diet, eating mostly fat and protein to be in a constant state of ketosis. Deprived of carbs, the body is forced to burn stored fat for energy. He looks great, it must be said.
We are all doing this because we think - probably wrongly - that cutting out carbs will help us lose weight, especially around the belly; lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure; be more focused at work; and take away our aches and pains.
I say this probably because there are studies that show that low-carb diets can shorten life, especially if people are replacing the carbs with animal protein and fat instead of plant-based alternatives.
All this nonsense is enough to make a person dizzy and confused.
If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that demonising a food group is not healthy and it is perhaps time to relent a little more.
At dinner with friends in an Italian restaurant, while chowing down on cheat-meal pasta, one friend talks about foggy brain syndrome.
It happens to me too, when I don't have carbs. I cannot focus, my thoughts flit here and there, it is impossible to concentrate.
I remember, years ago, someone trying to pitch a low-carb product and kept blanking out during the conversation. I thought that person should be force-fed some bread. That blanking out has happened to me.
Earlier in the year, when I was visiting my sister in Australia, the supermarkets were full of chocolate. Easter had come early.
Normally, I ignore supermarket chocolate, but couldn't stop lusting after shiny, foil-wrapped bunnies. It was all I could think of. I caved in and bought a small one, ripped the foil off in the carpark, broke it into pieces and made my family take a piece each.
I had mine and, immediately, waves of pleasure flooded my brain.
Life is so unbearable when food is the enemy. This week's recipe is, I hope, an antidote to that.
Japanese potato salad is a cold version of mashed potatoes, with stuff added to it.
Stuff usually includes thinly shaved cucumber and carrot. Some people add onion, but the sharp flavour, even after soaking in iced water, can be a bit confronting, so I leave it out. Corn kernels give the salad a juicy crunch.
It tastes terrific with crisp bits of bacon worked into it. If you would rather not dirty a pan, snip in some ham or, like me, load the salad with tobiko or flying fish roe.
I should tell you that I ate half the spuds in the photo. Nothing bad happened.
So make this salad and enjoy it. It's time to lift the fog.
JAPANESE POTATO SALAD
- 1kg Russet potatoes
- 4 tsp salt, divided
- 1 Japanese cucumber, 120 to 150g
- 1 small carrot, 120 to 150g
- 200g whole corn kernels
- 150g Japanese mayonnaise
- Salt to taste
- 50 to 75g tobiko
- Scrub the potatoes and place in a large pot. Cover with water, add 3 tsp of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to medium and cook until a knife pierces through each potato with no resistance.
- While the potatoes are cooking, slice the cucumber thinly. A mandoline is a handy tool for this. Place in a colander with a bowl underneath. Rub the remaining 1 tsp salt into the cucumber and set aside to drain.
- Peel the carrot and slice paper-thin. Place in a colander together with the corn. Pour 2 litres of boiling water over the vegetables, drain and set aside to cool.
- When the potatoes are cooked, drain and peel them. Place in a large mixing bowl and mash with a fork, potato masher or pastry blender. Work in the mayonnaise.
- Take handfuls of the cucumber and squeeze all the water out with your hands. Add to the potato mixture, together with the carrot and corn. Toss the mixture well. Have a taste and add salt or more mayonnaise if needed.
- Refrigerate at least two hours. Just before serving, fold in the tobiko with a spatula or spoon, reserving some for garnish. Pile into a bowl, top with the reserved tobiko and serve.
Serves eight to 10 as a side dish
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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