I am getting a bit low on kitchen china. I have no idea where it goes. Plates and coffee cups just seem to dissolve in this house, rather like Biros and £5 notes. Scribbling down a list of replacements, it occurred to me just how many of my meals I now eat from a bowl rather than a plate. Stinging-hot tangles of noodles; soupy, wine-rich stews; sloppy cream'n'herb pasta recipes and, of course, hot puddings with cream or custard - all sit more happily in a wide-mouthed bowl than on the flat surface of a plate.
Even though most of my meals are cooked from scratch rather than taken out of a box and zapped in the microwave, supper in our house has steadily evolved into something more informal. We now eat more Asian-orientated food and more meals are likely to be scoffed slouching in the kitchen, china bowl in one hand, chopsticks or spoon in the other.
There is much comfort in holding a dish of hot food in your hands, cradling it in your left whilst tucking in with a spoon in your right. Not being much of a meat-and-two-veg household, much of what we eat - risotto, pasta, pilau, dhal, broths, stew and stir fries - looks more at ease in the cosy depths of a china dish.
I must add at this point the word 'appropriate'. I dislike the habit pretentious restaurants have of putting every main dish in vast, shallow bowls regardless, as if we were all hungry Labradors. A steak in a bowl is almost impossible to cut without the knife handle clanging on the rim.
The mother of all of the meals in a bowl is the laksa, that thick noodle soup with the smooth, velvet texture of coconut milk and the kick of chilli, lemon grass and ginger. A whip-and-kiss sort of supper. Poised between cream soup and noodle food, a Malaysian laksa exudes aromatic luxury. Imagine a bowl of soup that manages to be hot, sour, sweet, soothing and uplifting all at once. That's laksa.
Constrained by the high sides of a bowl, your meat, vegetables or noodles get to bathe in their own spicy, seedy sauce or gravy a bit longer, staying hot and better looking for longer. Deep down there is, perhaps unsurprisingly, an element of greed here. Food that will end up being eaten from the depths of a bowl inevitably needs more broth, sauce or gravy than a chop on a plate. Hardly surprising then that I need more bowls.
Aubergine and broccoli Laksa
A scary list of ingredients here, but nothing you can't pick up at a major supermarket or a decent Chinese grocers. Once you have made the spice paste,(less than a minute in the food processor) the rest is a doddle. Serves 2, with seconds.
2 or 3 small, hot red chillies
2 cloves of garlic
a lump of ginger the size of your thumb
2 plump stalks of lemon grass
6 lime leaves
5 or 6 roots of coriander, their leaves and stalks
1 lightly heaped tsp of turmeric
a little vegetable oil
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
400ml coconut milk
3 very small aubergines, or 1 medium one
2 tbsp nam pla (thai fish sauce)
100g thin, dried noodles
a small handful of mint leaves
Chop the chillies, peel the garlic, peel and roughly chop the ginger and put them all into the bowl of a food processor. Peel away and discard any tough outer leaves from the lemon grass and roughly chop the inner leaves. Roll up the lime leaves and shred very, very finely. Add them and the lemon grass to the chillies.
Scrub the coriander roots and cut them off, putting them with the chillies along with half the coriander leaves and stems. Blitz them with the chillies and the turmeric. Add a drop of oil if the mixture needs it to go round.
Place a fairly deep pan over a moderate heat, add half the spice paste (keep the other half in the fridge for tomorrow, covered tightly with clingfilm), and fry it, moving it round the pan so that it does not scorch. Do this for a minute or two, then pour in the stock and coconut milk and bring to the boil.
Wipe the aubergine and cut it into thick, bite-size pieces and add it to the pan together with the nam pla, turning the heat down to a simmer. It will take about 7-10 minutes to cook to tenderness.
Bring a deep pan of water to the boil, then simmer the broccoli briefly, lift out and add to the laksa once the aubergine is soft and tender. Bring the water back to the boil, salt it lightly and add the noodles. Let them boil for 2-3 minutes. Chop the remaining coriander leaves and the mint and stir them into the laksa together with the drained noodles.
Lentil soup with lemon, pancetta and mint
One of those soups that doubles as a main course: earthy, filling and beefy. Serves 4.
2 small or 1 large onion
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
a good handful of unsmoked bacon or pancetta
a small bunch of flat-leafed parsley
250g le Puy or Castelluccio lentils
1 litre of stock or, at a push, water
2 or 3 big handfuls of spinach
a small bunch of mint
Peel the onions and chop finely, then let them cook over a moderate to low heat with a little olive oil, the peeled and sliced garlic and diced bacon. You want it all to be golden and fragrant. Chop the parsley and stir it in.
Wash the lentils thoroughly, then stir them into the onions and bacon. Pour over the stock or water and bring to the boil, skimming off any froth that comes to the surface. You can add a bay leaf or two if you like. Turn the heat down so that the lentils simmer merrily, then almost cover the pot with a lid and leave till they are tender, but far from collapse. About 30 minutes, depending on your lentils.
Wash the spinach thoroughly and tear it up a bit. While it is still wet and dripping, put it into a shallow pan over a high heat and shut the lid tightly - you want to cook it in its own steam. After a minute or two it will be limp and bright, emerald green. Lift it out, squeeze it dry then divide it between four warm bowls.
Season the soup with salt, black pepper, lemon juice and the torn mint leaves, tasting as you go. Ladle the hot soup on top of the spinach and serve with more lemon and mint for those who want it.
Correction: A couple of weeks ago, when I was less than 100 per cent, I gave a recipe for Orange and Elderflower Jelly to soothe a (my) sore throat. Somehow 150ml of still mineral water fell off the ingredient list. Apologies to everyone who was confused by this or who carried on regardless and ended up with a jelly you could play soccer with.