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Whenever I want to cook a special meal for my children, or close friends, or even my lover, deciding what to cook is easy. I know from years of observation, gentle questioning and a little trial and error, what each of my loved ones enjoys the most. This is how every birthday meal I have ever cooked for my daughter includes a chocolate cake. Even now, after all these years.

At the beginning of any new relationship, uncovering my new love’s favourite meals is part of the journey of discovery. Just as others would ask about the books one has read, I will always enquire about food. Tell me about your hidden desires – check. Your past mistakes – check. What about your favourite foods? Oh, you don’t like dessert? Well, challenge accepted.

If cooking for others is a love language of service and action, then my capacity to show how much I love others holds no bounds. I have delivered food parcels to hospitalised friends at a moment’s notice. I routinely make hampers of food gifts at Christmas, in the fervent belief that the earlier I start, the more I will be able to share. I don’t visit my mother without a jar of home-made lemon butter in hand. She returns the love by gifting me lemons from her tree.

But if someone asks me what my favourite meal is, I struggle for days to reply. Even worse, I would never make it just for myself. It was this realisation that led me to this simple sad truth – if cooking is an act of love, then I have not treated myself as kindly as I have others. Oh sure, I cook for myself, but for too long I have gone through the motions. At the end of a long day, defeated by tiredness and yearning for quiet, my preference is for something simple. What I’ll cook is the meal that will offer the path of least resistance, that will be easy to cook, produce a reliable outcome, and will nourish me. All of which are very noble reasons for cooking, but would I recognise it as an act of love for myself? Not likely.

I’ll admit, coming up with a recipe for a simple expression of self-love was much harder than I thought it would be. It showed me how neglectful I have been of my own desires, of my own pleasure and at a time when I live on my own, it highlighted my focus on others. Others who, let’s just say, don’t deserve to eat this magnificent dish.

Let’s put the world to rights, shall we?

This recipe for crispy-skinned duck, eaten in fluffy bao, fills the brief. It looks incredibly complex however it can be done ahead and frozen for those tiring days when a simple re-heat is all you can manage. While this recipe is enough for two, I’ve included instructions for freezing some of it if you want to just feed yourself two luscious meals instead. Better still, some of the key components – plum sauce and bao buns – can be bought  pre-made, ready for whenever you need reminding that self-love has always mattered and should never be forgotten again.


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