Taking care

“I was telling my guys at work that it feels sooooo nice to have someone else cook for me,” my friend gushed while we took a walk outside this afternoon. “It’s nice to feel taken care of for once. It’s also nice to not have to think about what I have in the fridge or what I need to cook to get a meal on the table.”

She has been buying a lot of our raw ingredients for my cooking, and a couple days ago she brought back Persian cucumbers, so I asked if she was planning to use them for something. She said no, so I made a quick Sichuanese-style spicy garlicky cucumber salad — my go-to dish when I have a lot of cucumbers but I don’t really have any creativity to think about something new to do with them. We had them as a side for dinner this evening, and she totally obsessed over them. “What’s in the cucumber salad?” she asked. This is my first hint that she really likes something. Then, she said, “I’m ALL about this salad. I’m definitely having another serving.” She finished her plate, got another serving of the cucumber salad, and inhaled it all. I’ve never seen anyone get so excited about cucumber salad, ever.

I love the feeling of taking care of other people. That’s why I hope this transfer works out so I can have a little one to watch grow and nurture and feed endless delicious things. Hopefully, it will have a good appetite and love a variety of foods.

Pandan butterscotch mochi

Since getting more involved in the food vlogging/blogging community last summer, I’ve made a number of social media friends who are trying to do the exact same thing I am: share their love of food, culture, and travel. I’ve had a lot of conversations with a number of them over Instagram, YouTube, and even in person/text. It’s been a great experience for me to build a network of like-minded food lovers who want to do something bigger than themselves.

What has also happened, which is not a surprise, is that my bookmarked list of dishes “to make” has only grown exponentially because of this network. Because as we are all wannabe “influencers,” these individuals have also influenced me to want to try to make new dishes or experiment with ingredients I’m not super familiar with. I’ve expanded my knowledge of different regions of India (my latest area of interest is Gujarat), had my interest piqued more in Palestinian and Lebanese dishes, and have started discovering new ingredients I didn’t know much about from Southeast Asia.

One baked good I was recently enamored with was pandan butterscotch mochi. It was posted by a woman who is originally from Taiwan but is living in the United Kingdom now. It’s basically a play on Hawaiian coconut butter mochi, but instead of butter, its fat is coconut oil, and it’s flavored with pandan paste and swirled with a delicious butterscotch made from melted down butter, heavy cream, and the most magical ingredient: gula Melaka, which is a rich, toasty, smokey caramelly sugar made from the coconut trees of Malaysia. Alas, I was not able to find gula Melaka, but I was able to source its next door neighbor from my favorite Vietnamese grocery store, which is gula Jawa from Indonesia. And I know for sure that the product I got is pretty pure because not only was it pricey, but the label said that it’s 95% coconut sugar with only 5% cane sugar. I shaved off some of the gula Jawa from the block I got and put it in my mouth; it was heavenly and incredible. And once made into a butterscotchy caramel, it just sang. I could eat spoonfuls of this and call it a day.

Bolognese for dinner on a weeknight

One thing I don’t mind about working from home full-time is the ability to cook food on the weekdays. Pre pandemic, I mostly did most of our cooking on Sundays, but given the flexibility of work, time between meetings, and a lack of commute, now I have more time to cook on the weekdays. Oftentimes, with just a little prep work, I can toss things into my Instant Pot or oven, and food will be ready for dinner time. One thing you never think you can make on a weeknight would be bolognese, a rich, meaty, Italian sauce that usually takes hours and hours to braise over a low flame on the stove. I tried finding recipes to allow it to be made in the Instant Pot, but they seemed too tomato forward. My favorite Bolognese has always been the ones that use tomato paste vs. several cups of canned whole tomatoes. In that sense, it’s more of a hearty meaty sauce with tomato flavor rather than a tomato sauce with meat in it.

So I decided to use a bolognese recipe that uses white wine, two small cans of tomato paste, and for the beef, I used the remaining two pounds of wagyu minced beef I picked up from Costco. During lunch time at around noon yesterday, I got the base of the sauce made while eating lunch (with all the mirepoix prep the night before). Then, between meetings and work tasks, I would take a little time to stir the mixture occasionally and replenish the water when needed. By the time 5:15 rolled around, the bolognese had already been stewing for over four hours, and all that was needed was the pasta to get cooked.

Four-hour-plus braised homemade tagliatelle bolognese on a weeknight. That is definitely a pandemic-era meal.

On the market for new knives

So, I’m on the market for a new everyday knife. While washing dishes the other day, I dropped the santoku style knife I usually use for everyday cutting/chopping, and the blade detached from the handle. Clearly, this was a glue issue, and while I’m sure there is a way to fix it, Chris reminded me that he’s had these knives for nearly 11 years now. He got a crazy good deal on Amazon for them (A 4-knife set plus a block.. for $25???????!!!!!), and so maybe it is finally time to invest in a new knife set or at least one new all-purpose knife. I don’t have any love, attachment, or hate for any of these knives; they have served their purpose, and I use them because I am practical and will use what we have. I don’t consider them remarkable or incredible in any sense. But if I am going to buy a new knife, I want to make sure it’s a really, really good knife.

Since maybe five years ago, I started reading about different Japanese knives, and I knew I wanted Global knives since they would be light weight (hollow handled), super sharp, relatively easy to maintain (some Japanese knives are impossible to maintain without constant professional sharpening), and they weren’t insanely expensive. As an added bonus, I read an article where Anthony Bourdain lamented how insanely expensive (and thus stupid) so many knife brands on the market are, and that that’s why he appreciated and loved Global knives so much because the price point was just right, and they were excellent quality. I was sold.

So now, the debate is… do we invest in a whole new set of 4-5, or just get a Global santoku? But apparently, the debate has been made even more colorful because Chris doesn’t understand why I am stuck on Global brand knives and insists I should consider the Amazon basics line of knives or other Japanese knife brands he quickly glanced at on Amazon. My whole thing is… I am rarely, rarely brand-devoted to ANYTHING outside of airlines and hotels (and that’s because I benefit from loyalty). I even gave up my obsession with Le Creuset and Staub dutch ovens and enameled cast iron because I appreciate and get so much use out of my Amazon Basics dutch oven, which only cost $30 courtesy of his aunt and uncle. Can’t I just be allowed one thing to have brand love for, and if that one thing is KNIVES, then that seems pretty damn practical, right?

Year of the Ox

Lunar New Year is right around the corner. This Friday will officially mark the new year on the Lunar calendar, and this year, it’s Year of the Ox we’re welcoming in. Year of the Ox is actually my year. It may not initially appear that way because based on my birth year on the Gregorian calendar, it looks like I am a Tiger. But because Lunar New Year tends to fall in late January/early February, in reality, I’m actually an Ox. So, it’s MY year this year, so hoping for some good things to happen in my life to shake things up in a positive way!

In previous years, we’d hosted lunar new year dinner parties, and I always made a whole fish to welcome the new year. Given it’s COVID and we’re still supposed to be socially distancing, this actually made me a little sad. I’m still making some traditional dishes ranging from the radish cake to Buddha’s Delight to steaming up some Vietnamese banh chung I purchased, but it’s not really going to be that festive. And it made me wistful of the times when I was young at home with my grandma, where she ALWAYS made a big fuss and pulled out all the stops for Chinese New Year, from the foods to the decorations to the superstitions that were followed (ummm, yeah, I will still be washing my hair if I feel like it before the new year begins). I will likely never have that level of awareness or celebrate in a traditional way like that unless one day, we end up living somewhere in Asia.

TikTok food trends

In a day and age of TikTok, many food/cooking trends have come about, including the famous one-pan feta pasta (seems too indulgent, and I rarely would have feta at home) as well as the single cut tortilla quesadilla hack. With the quesadilla, my interest was definitely piqued, as I do enjoy having wheat flour or corn tortillas at home occasionally, and a new way to use them was definitely welcome. The idea is that you take a tortilla and cut it halfway down the center. Then, on each of the “quarter” sections, you place a different topping: avocado, cheese, tomatoes, vegetables, etc., along with something to “stick” them together (cheese to melt!), then you fold each quarter on top of each other, then put it on a hot pan, flatten it with a spatula to press it down and heat it through. And TADA! Quick and easy, packed, neat little quesadilla!

So… in theory this was a great idea. In practice? I failed miserably. I attempted to make this today, and my quesadilla was overly packed (this is a very ME thing to do) and completely fell apart. Welp… I still have six more tortillas, so I have six more tries to go!

Two 4-day work weeks and lost time off.

My company, in an effort to be equitable to all, is giving “Wellness Days” throughout the year as days off for everyone, likely to support us and acknowledge that “life is not normal” in a time of a global pandemic. This Friday is a Wellness Day, and given that Monday is President’s Day here in the US, that means everyone who works in the U.S. for my company will have a 4-day weekend, which will be much welcomed. It’s a really nice gesture, but it’s one that makes me realize that to date, I have not taken a single vacation in the last year, AT ALL. At most, I’ve taken only one day off here or there outside of national holidays or these Wellness Days. And that was just a really depressing thought in my head. Outside of COVID, I always only took time off to travel, and now we cannot really safely (or unselfishly) travel anywhere. It made me further wonder when the heck I’d ever be able to travel for leisure at all… this year or in 2022. That thought is just so sad. We all have so many lost experiences, lost time, lost adventures to mourn. Even if you take out global travel for fun, there’s lost time with our loved ones around the globe, whether that’s in Melbourne or in San Francisco. Each day that passes is another day we could not spend together at all.

Korean mung bean pancakes

I was looking up some recipes to make for another episode of Tastes of Asia, and I decided that Korean kimchi mung bean pancakes would be a relatively easy and straightforward recipe to film, as I already had all the ingredients available at home. What I actually did not realize, though, as I was researching mung bean pancakes, is that this dish is a very common dish that is served during Korean New Year during the Lunar New Year period in Korea, as it’s considered auspicious to eat mung beans to welcome in the new year. I had no idea about this, as while mung beans are certainly eaten in China and in Vietnam, they’ve never really been on a “list” of things that you “must” eat during the new year period in either of my native cultures. But that actually makes it even more timely to film and upload because this can be considered a new year’s dish to make!

Grandma’s recipes

I filmed part of another video for my channel today that will be part of the Grandma’s Recipes series. In this episode, we’re making Chinese turnip cake, or Luo bai gao in Mandarin. It’s a common dim sum dish in dim sum/yum cha houses around the globe, and it’s a dish my grandma used to make for us around Chinese New Year growing up. I haven’t really been in the mood to do any videos until today. Lunar New Year is in just two weeks, and I wanted to post a video for the Year of the Ox ahead of schedule.

I think part of the reason I was excited and eager to film this video today is because somehow, even to this day, even when I feel upset or annoyed or just not in the mood to do anything, thinking about the comfort food of my childhood still uplifts me. It’s remembering a simpler, more naive time when my worries about the world were far fewer and less significant, and I somehow was sheltered from most of the ill in the world by family. Those were the days when I could just be excited about food and that was really it. And that was totally fine.

Striped bass meatiness

Because I’ve mostly been buying barramundi from Australis via Whole Foods and Costco when on sale during the pandemic, I realize that this is pretty much the only white fish I’ve been eating this whole time. Australis likes to market barramundi here in the U.S. as “sustainable seabass” since barramundi are not in the waters around this country, yet somehow.. I seem to have forgotten what any type of bass tastes like. Well, another sustainable fish option came up on the sale list at Whole Foods a few weeks ago, and it was actually striped bass. So I picked up two packets of it and prepared it in a Thai green curry tonight.

I was really shocked at the texture; it was extremely meaty, way, way more meaty than the barramundi, which tended to be more tender and flaky. When I dug my fork into it tonight, it almost felt like I was tugging at meat skin.

“What is this?” Chris asked, as he ate the fish curry. I told him it was the striped bass from Whole Foods, and he expressed surprise, also saying that he thought it was meat because of the texture.

Well… I guess fish IS meat, right? Just meat of the sea?