October 25, 2010 § 1 Comment

After my last post, I still wanted to write more about eating with family and loving through food. Like I said, my mom cooks dinner every night for my family. She or my grandmother also used to cook me breakfast every morning before school. Most often, it would be steamed egg custard, 鸡蛋羹 (jīdàn gēng). Well, I guess this food is traditionally supposed to be steamed, but I would get the microwave version, since I was living in the future already, at that point. The egg custard isn’t sweet as its name seems to imply; it’s salty and savory and garnished with green onion. The way my mom made it, she would beat an egg in a ceramic bowl with a little less than equal volume of water. Then she would put it in the microwave until the custard was at this miraculous point of being just barely firm and drizzle soy sauce and sesame oil over it. Oh man! I would try to make it myself sometimes and always add the wrong amount of water, or microwave it for the wrong amount of time, or accidentally pour in way too much soy sauce. To my kid mind, this was magic every morning.

I rarely cook for my family because they always want to cook for me, and I’m afraid the food I cook is too not-Chinese for their taste. It’s a really silly fear because I know that they feel the same way about eating food with family as I do. A week ago, I cooked them a super simple meal. Just butternut squash soup with bread and salad. The bread was braided because I LOVE BRAIDING BREAD. (look at this video on a one strand braid!) And guess what! My mom came back home, looked at the bread baking in the oven and exclaimed to me, “BRAIDED BREAD IS MY FAVORITE!” She, my dad and my sister all kept commenting on how the soup tasted better than chicken broth and how my salad dressing was so much better than store bought salad dressing. And I kept thinking, hehehe.

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companionship

October 24, 2010 § 1 Comment

There is something very special about sharing food with other people.  Since we’re really into defining words here, let me define “companion” for you:

1: one that accompanies another : comradeassociatealso :one that keeps company with another obsolete : rascala : one that is closely connected with something similarb : one employed to live with and serve another 4: a celestial body that appears close to another but that may or may not be associated with it in space

Middle English compainoun, from Anglo-French cumpaing, cumpaignun, from Late Latin companion-, companio, from Latin com-panis bread, food — more at food

To me, companions are people who share food. I love cooking for other people and eating with other people. Lately, I have been excited about a new way of connecting through food: sharing cultures. While it’s new to me, people have been doing it for thousands of years. I’m not talking about cultures of people. I’m talking about the cultures of kombucha and kefir that two strangers gave to me. And today, I am bringing some of my kefir grains to another friend so he can start his own culture. As long as people keep sharing, the cycle goes on and on. These cultures are living communities of bacteria, really good bacteria. I nourish them and they nourish me. It’s a beautiful thing.
If you are interested in cultivating some kombucha, kefir, yogurt, or some other culture, the process is pretty simple. As you can probably imagine, there is a ton of information online already. This website is very informative, and I admire Dom’s passion. At first I read a lot, but then I couldn’t figure out where to find cultures in my area. Behold, upon googling phrases such as “kefir Madrid,” I found several free directories of people near me who share their cultures. I emailed a few folks, and within a few days I had kombucha, water kefir, and milk kefir. I didn’t have to pay any money, but I promised to pay it forward by sharing my cultures with more people.

 

Milk kefir, green tea kombucha, and water kefir.

 

feverfew

October 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

When I was in high school, I hosted at a Chinese restaurant in the suburbs. The owner was this middle-aged Taiwanese man who my parents had known since they came to the U.S. as grad students.  In the journal I kept at that time, I wrote that he reminded me of Mr. Krab from Spongebob Squarepants because he wore these big gold rings on his fingers and would count money with this kind of lustful look in his eyes. Plus he would constantly ask his employees, “Do you know how I run a successful Chinese restaurant?”

“I make sure that it’s really clean because people think that Chinese restaurants are dirty, so when they come to mine, they notice and want to come back.”

“I give kids free Shirley Temples so that later when they’re parents ask where they want to eat, they’ll want to come back to get those Shirley Temples.”

“I hire young Asian girls to work at the counter and make drinks.”

To him, food really wasn’t the thing that would separate his restaurant from the pack. He called himself the executive chef, but he never spent time in the kitchen and also never thought about his menu. He would just stand in the front of the house with me and the other girl who hosted there, sharing his wisdom and drinking soda. The kitchen staff was super capable; the head of the kitchen was the owner’s ‘silent partner’ and there were three other cooks who worked in the kitchen everyday. Everybody in the restaurant worked there every single day of the week except for me and the other host, who was also a high school student. They all spent more time at the restaurant than in their homes. The restaurant opened at 11:00am for lunch and closed at 10:00pm, and the cooks prepared lunch and dinner everday for everyone who worked there. Nothing they prepared was on the menu. It was always home-style Chinese food with cheap, weird cuts of meat and all kinds of Chinese vegetables. I remember eating cartilage a lot.

My mom cooks dinner every night for my family. When I was really young, my grandparents lived with us and cooked, but after they moved away, my mom began to cook for us. Until then, I didn’t even know that my mom could cook, but can she ever! Tonight she made eggplant with garlic sauce, daikon radish soup with mushrooms, tomatoes with eggs, stuffed wheat gluten packets and also a vegetable that’s called “cream cabbage” when it’s translated from Chinese. Whenever I eat dinner with my family, I stuff my face and say, “This is so good!” with my mouth full of food. It’s a really satisfying thing to do. And kind of cartoonish. My mom smiles and tells me to eat more, and puts food into my bowl with her chopsticks.

Wake up!

I’m going on a diet!

October 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

di·et
a : food and drink regularly provided or consumed
b : habitual nourishment
c : the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason
d : a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight <going on a diet>
I recently met this person who put himself on a restrictive diet to gain muscle mass and lose weight. His optimal diet is ultra-low-fat, low-carb and high-protein, so he eats primarily tuna fish, green beans and mustard. He said that there are more things that he could eat, but these were things that he could get pre-packaged and most cheaply. We met at a pub one night when we went with mutual friends to get drinks and snacks. He ordered an enormous salad and substituted turkey and fat-free dressing for the chicken, cheese, bacon, egg and ranch that came with it. He also ordered a Diet Pepsi because he quit drinking alcohol when he began his diet. So in all, the composition of his meal was iceberg lettuce, turkey breast, fat-free dressing and diet soda.

The ingredients of Diet Pepsi: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Aspartame, Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Benzoate, Caffeine, Citric Acid, Natural Flavors.

The ingredients of Kraft Fat-Free Creamy Italian Dressing: Water, Corn Syrup, Vinegar, Sugar, Dijon Mustard, Vinegar, Mustard Seed, Salt, Water, White Wine, Spice, Whey, Honey, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Modified Food Starch, Dried Sour Cream, Cultured Cream, Skim Milk, Onion Juice, Garlic Juice, Prepared Mustard, Water, Vinegar, Mustard Seed, Salt, Dried Onions, Salt, Potato Maltodextrin, Xanthan Gum, Phosphoric Acid, Artificial Color, Mustard Flour, With Potassium Sorbate and Calcium Disodium Edta As Preservatives, Vitamin E Acetate, Sulfiting Agents.

I got sweet potato fries and an Anchor Steam.

It’s always hard for me to judge healthiness because for myself, I just define eating healthily as eating without regrets, and the items on my list of guilt-foods are placed there with a sort of arbitrary set of guidelines. I don’t usually buy juice because I imagine that I’m drinking the essence of ten times the fruit that I could eat, and I don’t want to take more essence than I deserve. I feel good drinking fresh-squeezed orange juice from my neighbors trees, though, because the juiced oranges go into the compost and nobody can eat that many oranges except for little micro-organisms and then I would have to smell fermenting orange juice in the yard every time I pass by on my bike. Plus, I don’t feel regret for micro-organisms that could have been. I feel bad when I eat a cookie from a package because I am sad that the cookie was baked with nobody in particular in mind. But I could happily eat a thousand cookies that my friends bake. My mom is Chinese so she doesn’t bake. I feel bad when I drink any kind of soda because it gives me a million cavities. I really like any vegetable, and I like it even more when they are fresh and I like it the most when I know who grew it. Sometimes I like to eat fruit, but most often I don’t. I don’t really know why. Plus, I will eat almost anything that somebody else cooks for me. My friend Genie said that my rules for healthiness work for my own eating habits because I already like to eat healthy foods, but other people need more rigid structures because they like to eat only processed foods.

I just started a job at a food co-op. The woman I trained with today, Michelle, is about 40 years old. Her daughter is my age, and they are both unemployed right now because they both lost their jobs in the last couple years because of lay-offs and hard economic times. She likes to dance, watch football games and loves chocolate. Michelle is going to be a cashier, and I’m going to be a barista. We were talking while we were waiting for the orientation began, she told me that she was diagnosed with diabetes, but was on a diet and exercise regime to lose weight and get her blood sugar under control. I kind of expected her diet to be a trendy one that included a lot of fake sugar and low-calorie processed food, but she said that since she moved to the neighborhood a few years ago and joined the co-op, her idea of a healthy diet changed from that to one that was more based on whole, unprocessed foods and natural supplements. Michelle said that she started to get into buying things at the co-op instead of at Giant Eagle because everybody at the co-op said hi to her and remembered her and cared about her. She said that she figured since all of these people were so caring and happy and friendly, they must be “on to something good” with organic food.

I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here except that I hope that people find love in their food.

paella

October 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

I just moved to Madrid last week. I’d been wanting to try the paella here since my arrival but didn’t since it usually includes meat. On Saturday I finally tried some! There was a party at La Tabacalera (a self-managed social center) in support of an agri-eco co-op, and they served vegan paella and pinchos (kebabs) made with homegrown organic veggies. It was delicious! So delicious that this evening I decided to make some of my own. It turned out really well! I’m going to continue to try out different ingredients and techniques; I’ll keep you posted.

mmm...

Vegan Paella

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable broth (I didn’t have any so I added salt, pepper, and a few spices to water)
2 cups rice
4 tomatoes, diced (I only had two, but I definitely would use more next time)
3 peppers, diced (again, I only had one, but the more, the merrier)
mushrooms, diced
1 lemon, juice of
fresh parsley, chopped, to taste
seasoning–salt, pepper, paprika, and cumin, to taste
5 strands of saffron

Directions:
Heat the oil in a paella pan and cook the onions and garlic for about 3 minutes, until translucent (careful not to burn the garlic). Add some of the seasoning. Put the broth in another pot to simmer. Add rice to paella pan and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for another 3 minutes. Then pour the simmering broth and saffron into the paella pan and cook for about 20 minutes on medium heat. When the liquid is almost completely absorbed and the rice is just a little firm, add the lemon juice and parsley. Continue to add the seasoning to taste until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. Garnish with lemon wedges, tomato slices, and/or fresh parsley.

Disclaimer: I modified this recipe–I’m sure it’s not traditional. (Can vegan paella be traditional? Don’t think so.) But it is good!

close-up

¡Buen provecho!

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