Never hungry, always well stocked

I grew up in a humble household in the Richmond District of San Francisco. My brother and I had zero extracurricular activities growing up. Our family rarely went on vacation, and when we did, it was just to places locally around California, as far as Orange County. But one thing that we were never lacking in was food. Our fridge, freezer, and pantry were always extremely well stocked, full of ready-to-eat food like frozen dumplings or burritos, canned vegetables and fruit, as well as fresh food such as fresh vegetables, meat, and noodles. Because I grew up like this, I just thought this was normal. If my mom wanted to make something quickly for dinner with the raw ingredients on hand, she always had plenty of garlic, onions, tomatoes, or carrots already in the fridge, ready to go. If she wanted to make us a quick pasta sauce, she’d just thaw out ground turkey or beef from the freezer and make it. Chicken cutlets? No problem – she always had chicken breasts on hand that she’d quickly pound, along with bread crumbs to coat the chicken pieces in. There were never too many eggs at home. We had all the usual condiments like mustard, ketchup, maple syrup, soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, etc., to make dishes from Western cuisines or different Asian cuisines. In many ways when I look back, our kitchen was like the land of plenty.

That’s why it was strange to me when I started making friends, and I’d go to their houses and see them open the fridge, and there would barely be a bottle of ketchup or water in there. Their freezers would be empty, except for maybe a box of popsicles or a bag of Hot Pockets. When the question of “what are we going to eat for dinner?” came up, the parents would scramble and get takeout, or just have everyone eat something like Kraft macaroni and cheese. I wasn’t sure if it was a money problem or a “preparedness” issue, but either way, it seemed depressing to me even back then.

I suppose I took that with me as an adult living on my own. When I started building out my pantry and kitchen staples, I’d buy more than what I’d need immediately and get more things for future uses. If I was at a Chinese grocery store, I’d buy the fresh noodles I’d make that night and also add a few more packs to my shopping basket to store in my freezer for future noodle dishes. For spice staples like cumin or turmeric, I’d get enough so that it would last me indefinitely. For frozen vegetables, well, you can never have enough of these, so I’d always get several pounds. For canned goods like tomatoes and coconut milk, these are forever on my shelf, and I get a bit uncomfortable when there’s only one more can left. This way, on the fly, I could make what I wanted to make and not worry about having to rush out to the store just to pick up one or two things for dinner. I could have a ready made meal on the table out of “pantry staples” in just 30-60 minutes.

I realize not everyone has the ability to buy enough to have a fully stocked pantry at any one time because not everyone is as lucky as I am to have the money to do this. Some people live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to “stock up.” But for those of us who can, it definitely pays off in the long run, in terms of sanity, preparation, and your stomach, to do this. Most of my friends, as I’m learning during this pandemic, have very little “staples” at home, and instead use their freezers completely as storage for ready-to-eat things like dumplings, enchiladas, etc., that they may not want to eat every single day during the shelter-in-place orders. They get bored. They want variety. And there’s nothing wrong with that — we should be eating varied diets regardless of whether we’re in a pandemic or not. Their pantries are mostly snacks like chips, pretzels, cookies. There’s not enough raw ingredients to do any real cooking with.

We’re well stocked because that’s all I’ve ever been fortunate enough to know and experience. I’d like to think that this pandemic would force people to be smarter and more prepared in terms of ensuring household and kitchen staples are plentiful if they can afford it and have the space. It’s annoying to have to run out to the store just for one or two ingredients, and it’s especially annoying during this time when we should be limiting our time outside our homes to keep ourselves and others safe. But wouldn’t that be annoying, too, even not in a pandemic?

Another one, gone

One of my colleagues, who recently started just this past December, has resigned. It was really sad to hear this, particularly since most of the people I’ve gotten along with well and trusted have all been leaving. I can count on a single hand the number of people I genuinely care about and can trust at work now. She said she had a bad feeling from her very first day here, that there was some eerie vibe, that a toxicity was just seeping through the walls. It got to her more and more each day, and last month, it really came to a turning point where she would wake up feeling sick about going to work. It was affecting her mental and physical health. Just the mere thought of work on an evening or weekend would make her stomach churn. So she resigned and is leaving for another job effective two weeks from now.

It’s sad to see how things have evolved where I am where people can “feel” hostility, tension, and toxicity on their very first day in the office. Is this what work life should be in the corporate world, in the year 2020? Why does it have to be so hard?

Secrets of the best mango lassi

Years ago, I attempted mango lassi a number of times, and I always grew frustrated when it never came out quite right. I used ripe mangoes, frozen mangoes. I used whole milk yogurt and low fat yogurt. I added more sugar. Nothing seemed to do the trick. Then, I realized the error of my ways and came to these conclusions:

  1. Use the ripest, orangest flesh mangoes you can find. The riper, sweeter, and juicier they are, the more ideal they will be for mango lassi.
  2. Whole milk yogurt – Indian/Pakistani/desi-style if you can find it. The thicker and creamier, the better. DO NOT USE LOWFAT OR NONFAT. JUST DON’T DO IT.
  3. Whole milk – cow’s milk is best, but macadamia or soy work, too, as long as they are very creamy in texture.
  4. Sugar – this is really only necessary if your mangoes are not at ultimate sweetness. Golden syrup works amazingly well, too!
  5. Proportions are key here: 1 part ripe cut up mango to 1 part full-fat/full cream desi yogurt. Just a splash of milk, a handful of ice, and enough sugar/golden syrup to taste. The mistake I used to make was doing equal parts mango to milk, then adding yogurt. DO NOT DO THIS. The creamy, thick texture is key, and that’s where the yogurt comes in.

Baking tofu (?)

The idea of baking tofu seemed like a very weird western adaptation of making tofu when I first heard of it. Tofu is meant to be fried, steamed, braised, or stir-fried. Who in the continent of Asia BAKES tofu? That just seemed quite blasphemous to me.

In the last year, I warmed up to it given I do not love deep frying anything, but I do love the crispiness that results from a good deep-fry. Deep frying oftentimes results in a lot of mess, lots to clean up (no one likes cleaning, even anal retentive cleaners such as myself), and the amount of oil required always seem so wasteful. So I thought I’d try baking tofu to get a “like fried” result to see how it turned out.

I took two blocks of tofu today and cut them into thin slabs, then took two cutting boards wrapped in tea towels and sandwiched the tofu between. Then, I placed my Dutch oven as a heavy weight on top of the sandwich to press out the excess liquid from the tofu. A couple hours later, I removed the tofu, cut them into small rectangles, tossed them with a little olive oil, cornstarch, salt and pepper, and laid them all out flat on a baking sheet and baked them for 15 minutes at 300 F. I removed them from the oven, flipped them all over, and baked them again for 20 minutes. The result was golden, crispy little rectangles that would easily soak in any stir-fry sauce, without the need for a ton of oil that I’d eventually throw out. I used only a tablespoon of oil for 1.5 pounds of tofu with the same result as deep frying.

I was pretty happy with myself, and after I posted it on Instagram, I realized others were impressed by this, too, and wanted to try this out. Baking tofu could be the next thing we all do to keep tofu tasty *and* healthy.

Sunrise Market

The highlight of our Saturday yesterday was going out for a long walk… and going to Sunrise Market, the nearest Japanese market to us on 41st street between 5th and Madison. We lucked out, as we read earlier in the week that almost every Asian grocery store was facing a shortage of kimchi. We got a 1-lb jar of kimchi from Sunrise, among fresh shiitake and enoki mushrooms, Japanese egg noodles, and bok choy. I could get bok choy from Whole Foods, but refuse to out of principle. Why would I want to pay that much for bok choy, the most basic Asian green vegetable that white people have come to understand and like, and as such, is jacked up in price at places like Whole Foods? Although I would have loved to get water spinach/kong Xin cai or gai lan (Chinese broccoli), those don’t seem to show up in Japanese cuisine (not to my knowledge, anyway), so Sunrise does not carry them.

It’s always the little wins each weekend going out now: being able to get kimchi and not wait in line too long. Asian vegetables – YAY! Fresh enoki mushrooms, which cannot easily be found outside of Asian markets. This is our evolving reality now.

Pancake or carb Saturday breakfasts

Since I was young, I’ve always loved pancakes. We didn’t have them that often growing up, but when we did, they were always on the weekend, and they were such a fun treat. Most of the time, we had the crappy fake syrup, but in high school, my dad started buying real maple syrup (from Costco, because where else are you going to get a “good deal” on that liquid gold, which is priced as such since it’s so extremely laborious to make?!), and that was a true dream in the mouth.

As an adult, I’ve experimented with all kinds of different pancake recipes, whether it’s with separating the egg whites from the yolks and whipping the whites to stiff peaks, buttermilk vs. milk, vegan “milks” vs. cow milk, brown rice flour/whole wheat flour/all purpose flour/cake flour combinations, corn meal for extra texture, banana or pumpkin bases — you name it, and I’ve probably tried it out. This morning, I used my dormant sourdough starter to make sourdough whole wheat buttermilk pancakes, and the amount of tang from the buttermilk plus the sourdough starter was truly delicious. When using whole grains like brown rice or whole wheat, I usually do a ratio of 50/50 all-purpose to the whole grain, but this time, I thought, what the heck — we need to be eating more whole grains than processed grains, and I figured that the buttermilk and all-purpose flour-based starter would mellow it out. And they really did.

But I had one pancake failure, though. I used Smitten Kitchen’s fluffy buttermilk pancake recipe and replaced all the all-purpose flour with brown rice flour after the brown rice flour did well with the 50/50 ratio the week before. The texture and taste…. left something to be desired. It was gritty, almost bitter, and I couldn’t figure out why. It was essentially a whole grain rice pancake. Maybe the brown rice didn’t interact well with the buttermilk. It was the very first time I made something when Chris took one bite, grimaced, and immediately said, “this is disgusting.”


Togetherness in these times

Tonight, I had a Zoom video chat with some friends in California, Georgia, and Kansas. It was a fun night, bantering about politics, COVID-19, our respective at-home situations, and life in general, and it was so comical because it wasn’t like we were talking about anything particularly significant or meaningful, but it was still enjoyable nonetheless. These are the types of conversations and interactions you get when you hang out with friends in person or stop by a colleague’s desk at the office that we can’t really get anymore since we’re all sheltering in place.

The definition of “togetherness” has changed in these times. Once upon a time, it was normal to hug or kiss a friend in greeting, Now, we’re not supposed to see any of our friends unless we live with them. After the sheltering in place has ended, will we still greet each other with hugs or kisses? Will that be considered acceptable? What will weddings and funerals look like shortly after shelter in place ends? Will the banquet tables need to be spaced out so that there’s six feet of space between each guest, or will the funeral rows require that every two seats, people could sit? Weddings have been cancelled and postponed, but when setting a new date, how do we know all this will be over by then? It’s never really going to be “over,” right, since we have so little tangible data about who has been infected, how possible it is to get reinfected, or how long the virus can stay dormant in our bodies without us even knowing it?

The only togetherness we can have now is via video and phone. Everything else is just distant.

Family video hangouts every two weeks

Since the COVID-19 quarantine has begun, Chris and I have been participating in a family hangout with his parents and brother every two weeks on Thursday night. It’s been fun to see them and to hear all the usual Jacob family banter about travel (or lack thereof), airline status, wine, and food, and this time around, we played and of course, inevitably experienced the Jacob brother competitiveness. It made me think about my own family and how a) we’d never want to do a video chat unless it was to focus on my cousins’ children, and b) no one would ever be up for playing a game of anything other than passive aggression.

The one time a cousin called me during this period, it was his wife who rang me for FaceTime so that I could chat with his young son, who wanted to see my bedroom and the view from our kitchen. Sadly, the call just made me feel odd and out of place, as I realize that I have very little functional relationship with any of my cousins, other than my dad’s younger sister’s son.

All three of my cousins seem deficit to me in some way. That sounds pretty arrogant and judgmental of me, but it’s how I feel about them, which has evolved over the last 34+ years. My oldest cousin is a mama’s boy, void of understanding anything that has any real depth. As my mother so crassly put it, “when he has sex with his wife, he reports back to his mother on it.” She partly said that out of jealousy because she’s mad I don’t share details about anything with her, but that’s another story. He loves to show off money and status, and the second you try to question his family’s decisions on anything, he becomes extremely defensive instead of receptive to feedback in the slightest. Thus, we can’t have any real conversation about anything that isn’t superficial.

My second cousin and I have never had much of a relationship. Since I was young, he was constantly condescending and flippant with Ed and me. He had no personality, no interests, nothing that made him even remotely interesting. It would have been more interesting to have a conversation with a rock. He’s also one of the cheapest people I know. When he started dating his now wife, he tried to be more personable around me when she was around, but I knew it was all an act to make it seem like he was a family kind of guy. When they married and had kids, he predictably dropped off the face of the earth, rarely acknowledging any of our family members, even his own brothers and mom, because his wife controls every aspect of his life, even when he wants to take a call from his own brother. He has no say, no opinion, and lives to obey his wife. That’s exactly the kind of man I’m sure many women would love to be with, but holy crap, grow some balls and speak up for yourself.

My third cousin on my dad’s side is probably the most childish, the most like a child in a nearly 47-year-old body. He is awkward, cowardly, and cannot speak up for himself or stand up for anything he really believes in. He lacks a voice and any strong will for anything. He hates the world, hates the U.S., hates all white people, especially white men, and says they are the reason he hasn’t been as successful as he could have been in life. He constantly complains, refuses to take any responsibility for what he could have done differently, and says he and his “kind” (as in, Asian American men in the U.S.) have it harder than any other group other than black women. He used to call me so often during my college years that my friends would say he was like a jealous boyfriend. Now that we live in a world where texting is the primary form of communication, he texts me randomly, “white trash,” “I hate white people,” “all white people should die,” among other hateful things (I mute his texts). Because I’m sure that doing all this makes him feel so much better about himself and his life circumstances.

The more I have thought about it, while there is something to respect about everyone in my family, overall, I don’t find any of them particularly good or likable people. My aunt is likely the one who truly means the best, but she’s so blinded by her beliefs and also, her lack of depth, that she’s impossible to have a real conversation with. All of this sounds horrible and maybe exposes my own arrogance, but I can’t really help it. Once, my therapist from years ago asked me, “Do you like your parents as people? Like, if they were not your parents and you just met them and interacted with them, would you genuinely believe they are good people?” I didn’t hesitate for a second. No, I responded. I would not want to be friends with them or have anything to do with them. We don’t have the same interests, the same values. We definitely do NOT have the same way of looking at the world.

That’s why you have friends and other families that become yours. You can find those other people you can bond with, can see eye to eye with, and genuinely respect all around.

Kopi Luwak

When we were in Indonesia in December-January, we got to try Luwak coffee, or Kopi Luwak/civet coffee, twice, once in Jakarta and once in Bali. The concept seemed a bit strange around what is reputed to be the most expensive coffee in the world. The concept behind it is that many years ago, Indonesians noticed that a native cat called the Luwak (or civet in English) loved eating coffee berries, but would not be able to fully digest it. As a result, they pooped the berries out whole, but in that process, the coffee berries were fermented going through their digestive track. Always the resourceful ones, the Indonesians took the berries, disinfected and treated them, and attempted to make coffee out of them. Lo and behold, the coffee ended up being smoother, more robust, and fruitier as a result of going through the civet’s digestive track. They found a new industry: Luwak coffee!

While the coffee was quite good, it wasn’t good enough for us to want to buy it (and pay the very high price for it), so we ended up not buying any of the beans to take home. This week, I finished editing a YouTube video showcasing my first experience drinking this prized coffee. “CAT POOP COFFEE,” we called it.

Out of curiosity, after I posted the video, I did a quick Google search on civet coffee and was a bit appalled at what I found. Many articles have been written about how civet coffee/Kopi Luwak is basically like olive oil, in that over 90 percent of the “Kopi Luwak” on the market is actually fake; no cats pooped these coffee berries out. And what is arguably worse, the civets that actually do eat these coffee berries are oftentimes mistreated and force fed coffee berries, similar to what is debated to be done with ducks in order to make fois gras. So the warning of the articles was all the same: when going to Indonesia, stay away from Kopi Luwak.

Maybe I should have researched that more deeply prior to going. But hey, live and learn, right?

The thing about issues like this is that in countries like the U.S., meat eaters get all crazy about eating animals they deem cute and cuddly, like rabbits or whatever arbitrary animal they refuse to eat, but they don’t think about the entire meat processing industry and how poorly animals are treated, given very little space, no room to exercise and live natural lives, forced to eat food that is not normal, and then killed after just a few weeks of life. I’ve seen photos and read quite a bit about how terrible the meat industry is here in the U.S. Do I still eat meat? Yeah. But I don’t turn a blind eye to the practices and pretend that these animals are given glorious short lives whereas animals like civet cats or ducks making fois gras are tortured. It’s all really the same thing. You can take it for what it is and eat what you want, or just remove meat completely from your diet.

A little part of me does try to be a better consumer, though. I try to buy meat, dairy, and eggs that are organic, as I’ve read that it’s more likely these animals will be fed and treated better, not to mention given space to move around outside. It’s hard, though, living in this country where the “laws” are so loosely interpreted, and food companies can just choose bullshit labels like “free range” when they don’t actually mean anything in the real world. The USDA’s definition of “free range,” for example, is that birds must have “outdoor access” or “access to the outdoors.” Well, that doesn’t mean much at all because that could easily mean that the animal have fresh air coming out of a “pop hole,” with zero full body access to the outdoors and no real space requirement. That is like if I said, as a human, “I have access to the outdoors” when what that really meant is that I had to stay in a dark, windowless room all day and all night, but I had a 6-by-6-inch square that was carved into the room to allow me THAT MUCH light and air from the outside. Pretty “free-range,” huh?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie fan girl

I’m almost done reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book Americanah, and I’m completely in love with her writing, her prose, and her insightful perspectives on race, color, and gender in today’s world. With many books, it takes at least the first 50-200 pages to really get interesting, especially with fiction, but with this book, I was taken immediately from the first page. I also watched both of her TED talks, The Danger of a Single Story, and We Should All Be Feminists. She is clearly a very talented story teller, as both are talks told with personal and heard/learned stories extremely seamlessly and thoughtfully. The Danger of a Single story had me tearing up throughout it. The idea behind it is that if we only ever hear one story of a person, place, or thing, that will fully shape our understanding of it, resulting in ignorance, lack of complete understanding and the full picture of that person/place/thing. The second talk around why we should all be feminists — it seems very straightforward, as “feminist” merely is a person who believes that women and men are equal. Unfortunately, we still live in a society today where people shy away from that label, and even worse, where people, consciously and subconsciously, do not genuinely believe in the equality of the sexes. But as she is a writer, she asks thought-provoking questions and adds different perspectives to really force us to think.

I started doing more research on Chimamanda and reading interviews that she’s given. I’m definitely a true fan girl of hers now. These are some of the things she’s said that I really love:

“I want to say what I think, and it’s lovely to be liked. And I like being liked, but I don’t need to be liked. I think that also sort of has been a thing for me where because of that, I say what I think, for good or bad.”

“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black, and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive. And we don’t want them to say, Look how far we’ve come, just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to even be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that? We’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway? But we don’t say any of this stuff. We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable. It’s true. I speak from experience.” 

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.” 
― We Should All Be Feminists

“Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.” 
― We Should All Be Feminists

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” 

“Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in.” 

“If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.” 

“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.” 
― We Should All Be Feminists

“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.” 
We Should All Be Feminists

“Race doesn’t really exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Black folks don’t have that choice.” 
― Americanah

“A woman at a certain age who is unmarried, our society teaches her to see it as a deep personal failure. And a man, after a certain age isn’t married, we just think he hasn’t come around to making his pick.” 
― We Should All Be Feminists