With the news coming out of Japan and Libya so vividly immediate in its horror and heartbreak, I’ve felt constrained from posting anything at all — it seems so impertinent, in both senses. But of course, things go on, life rolls by. Indeed, there is much to think about concerning the abundance of excellent works of art made in times of distress by the distressed — the writing often bites deeper, the art cuts at us, the music wails and we cannot ignore it. Culture is a byproduct of being human, and that fully includes wartime and dark times and bleak houses. But, and so, anyway, in the meanwhile I feel only able to post this most trifling and weightless of anecdotes …

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Famous blue ricecake

On a recent visit to my lovely Aunt June, one of the nicest people I know, she said she’d make a favourite thing, her famous blue rice. She dyes glutinous rice by cooking it in the juice of flowers and serves it with kaya (coconut jam), and sometimes, curry.

No, no, I said, please don’t go to any trouble. No, no trouble at all, she responded. See, I have already made it. Sure enough when we got to her place, having just been thoroughly lunched by her at a nearby restaurant, Aunt June brought out a platter of blue rice slices dabbed with kaya. Now, how do you make this again?, we asked, after years and years of scoffing this treat.

I just use this flower that grows on the fence, she said. What is it?, we asked. It’s got a name like a bad word, she said, flapping a hand.

Instantly I was put in mind of a strong if distant memory of a joke in Reader’s Digest, of a woman saying that her doctor had given her some medicine, but she was reluctant to say what it was. It sounded like a “bad woman” … courtesan. It was, of course, ha ha ha, cortisone.

My aunt continued, the flower is called clitoria. No way!, we cried. Yes, but yes, she said with some vigour, it really is. Several riffs of being sent up later, she dug up a paper dictionary and showed us the entry … which wasn’t there. But the clitoria is there, hanging off her fence with their blue, ruched faces, guarded by the local spirit goanna. The intensity of the hue is somewhere towards lapis lazuli, and cooked, imparts a sweetish floral note. We didn’t have a smartphone amongst us — but let me now quote Wikipedia:

These plants are native to tropical and temperate areas of the Old and New World including southeast Asia, where the flowers are often used as a food dye or dipped in batter and deep-fried.

The shape of the Clitoria flowers has inspired the name of the genus … named after the human female clitoris … There were controversies in the past among botanists regarding the good taste of the naming of the genus.

Clitoria cake recipe

If you want to serve clitoria cake, plant the clitoria along your fence line, harvest and dry them and store in the fridge. (Clitoria is also commonly known as Butterfly pea — you can buy seeds online. Australian farmers use it as a legume inoculant to improve nitrogen levels in soil: along with lucerne, mung bean, chickpea et al, these rhizobia hosting plants have proven to be one of the soil success stories of recent times.) When ready, soak to extract colour: you’ll need a heaped handful of the dried blooms — water ratio is trial and error, but start with less — discard blooms and use the blue liquid to cook the glutinous rice (or substitute short grain). Buy kaya from asian groceries, or make it yourself, and lay the jam on thick.

With love to Aunt.