Mom, Music, and Memory, plus a Recipe for Hong Kong Style Steamed Cod

As I have mentioned on several occasions, my memory is shit. However, by expanding my understanding of memory beyond mere recounting of facts, I have been able to embrace new forms of remembrance. For example, by making a meal I associate with comfort, I renew (or reinvent) the feeling of mom’s loving embrace. I may not recall particular conversations, but I can acknowledge that my present needs often determine the way I remember the past, making my relationship with my mother always active, real, and fulfilling. Short of believing in an afterlife, this is not bad!

I’ve been inviting sadness in for tea instead of letting it howl outside my door. With the decade anniversary of my mother’s passing coming up in February, I’ve been resisting my tendency to deny the feelings of despair, self-loathing, and loneliness that often come with my experience of sorrow. Because I’m very unseasoned at this (and much more comfortable with more seemingly active feelings, like anger), I’ve decided to engage a couple of strategies to make this process more palpable: (1) With one of the loves of my life, I am re-reading The Bridge of San Luis Rey, my mother’s favorite book and the source of inspiration for her funeral theme (“love is the only survivor); and (2) I’ve been revisiting my relationship with the piano/keyboard.

piano

Perhaps you know this about me: I’ve long conflated enjoyment with mastery, hobby with obsession, skill with worthiness. As a child entered into many a competition (piano, voice, flute, you name it) and as someone who has clearly internalized the idea that my value as a person only comes through increasing proficiency and validation, I’ve had a hard time approaching activities for “fun.” But recently, I’ve been drawn to the keyboard in my husband’s studio. Not because I want to be as good as I once was, or to impress anyone, but because I have some MAJOR feels when I do. Those emotions are both indescribable and unascribable. Though I’ve only been playing for 20 minutes at a time to relearn pieces I already know I love, I am feeling so much more moved and centered than when I used to practice for three-hours at a time in my youth. It’s possible that when I now play, I remember how my mom used to sit in during all of my lessons to take notes, not about technique, but about phrasing and feeling. Maybe I recall the ways in which my mom would help me visualize sections of Chopin nocturnes by color, to help me sort what it is I wanted to express and articulate. Perhaps I consider the ways in which my mother continues to help me figure out what I want to express and articulate. And, maybe it’s none of these things.

mama2

All I know is that when muscle memory starts to take over, my eyes close, tears arise, and I feel both closer and further from my mother than I ever have. I remember and don’t remember. I feel sad and grateful, cursed and blessed, lonely and loved, rejected and embraced. It’s weird and it’s great. I used to think sadness was simplistic, that it made me passive/useless. But through my mom, music, and memory, I’m finding that this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever thought. Sadness is both beautiful and complex, and invites an intricate interweaving of active revelations and dormant feelings.

My musician friends and boo may disagree with me here, but I think food and music hold similar possibilities of  emotional, intellectual, and visceral transformation. Nico and I recently watched Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film Youth. It was both fiercely intellectual and emotional, and I felt moved by this particular quote, stated by Michael Caine’s character:

You were right, music is all I understand. Because you don’t need words or experience to understand it. It just is.

I feel this way about food, too. What I sort of love about my new approach to re-membering is that I no longer need to keep it literal. To taste my mom’s tenderness, I don’t need to recreate a dish that she used to make. To remember the way she always supported my expression, I don’t need to play the exact pieces she helped with. Instead, I can open my eyes, ears, mouth, and heart to new things and invite her into new moments, new foods, new music.

For some reason, the meal below (steamed cod with soy/wine sauce + farro) reminds me of my mom’s tough and lecture-y love (“how are you supposed to fight with other people and communities when you can’t even be kind to yourself?”). Sometimes I need that kind of love. Maybe you do, too? 

 

The look of mama's stern and tender love

The look of mama’s stern and tender love

(For the musical rendition of this feeling, I listen to this:

And now, for the recipe.

fish

Hong Kong Style Steamed Cod w/ Soy/Wine Sauce and Fried Garlic
Recipe taken from Annielicious

Ingredients

  • 1 thick slice of Fresh Cod Fish Steak (About 1 inch thick)
  • 2 slices Ginger
  • a dash of pepper

For the Sauce

  • 1 tbsp Light Soy Sauce
  • 1 tsp Rock Sugar (You could use normal sugar if you don’t have rock sugar)
  • 1 tbsp Water
  • 1 tbsp Hsao Xing Wine

For Garnishing

  • 3 bulbs of garlic, finely chopped.
  • 1 tbsp Cooking Oil
  • some spring onions, cut into 1 inch length

Method

  1. Clean fish, pat dry. Place ginger on a steaming dish, place fish on top.
  2. Bring water in the steamer to a boil and steam fish over high heat for 6 minutes.
  3. While the fish is steaming half way, heat sauce ingredient in a pot and bring to a boil.
  4. Remove fish from the steamer, pour away the steaming liquid .
  5. Add a dash of pepper and drizzle sauce over.
  6. Fry chopped garlic with oil in another pan until golden brown. Don’t burnt it.
  7. Pour the hot garlic oil over, garnish with golden brown garlic and spring onions. Serve!

Coming Up…Announcing a 6-week “Diet” for 2016 (that I won’t hate!) and Knowing My Body

Our States, Our People, Our Food: Chinese Immigration to Mississippi and a Recipe for Salt and Pepper Shrimp

I’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about what it means to be and feel Korean/Asian American in this country. As I read about the horrific incident at Spring Valley High and responses from apologists, I can’t help but wonder about the ways in which Korean-Americans are complicit in the demonization and oppression of our black and brown brothers and sisters. How can we can tangibly understand that our own empowerment is contingent upon the empowerment of (all) Others?

The U.S. not only has a long history of systemized racism, but also an old tradition of cleverly pitting oppressed groups against one another. When low-income black students “act out” in school, or perform poorly, they are compared to their “industrious” and “obedient” yellow counterparts without consideration of the many institutionalized differences between the communities (e.g. following passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the liberalization of the U.S. national quota system, a larger number of highly educated and professional Koreans moved to the country, meaning many of the folks coming over had certain types of privilege that were decidedly unavailable to many low-income people of color already in the country or migrants from “less desirable” countries).

Today, I’m writing about Chinese immigration to Mississippi in the first installment of my new series “Our States, Our People, Our Food.” Of course, I don’t and can’t speak for Chinese communities, but I can make observations about both their incredible fortitude, and also the ways in which they benefited from social distancing from the black community.

Beginning in the mid-1800s, a number of Chinese immigrants were “shipped” to the American South from Cuba as a new source of cheap labor (though most arrived between 1910-1930). Following the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, white landowners were suddenly struck with the responsibility of paying for labor (poor them!). Many opted to hire cheap migrant laborers, likely to undermine the growing political power of freed black people. According to an article by Vivian Wu Wong called “The Chinese in Mississippi: A Race In-Between,” many southerners believed that utilization of Chinese immigrants would strengthen “white political power by displacing voting Negroes: for the Chinese…would not vote.” Good job, white people.

Historians say that initially, the Chinese were treated as poorly as black people – they were, after all, meant to displace black sharecroppers (though I think this is probably arguable). Initially, most migrants were men who came to supplement family income. They came to the U.S. not to settle, but to earn money to send to their families. This is important, because the Delta region wasn’t originally meant to be their home – therefore, economic success was more crucial than social and racial equity. After working on plantations and railroads, they turned to another activity – opening and running grocery stores. The first Chinese grocery store in Mississippi likely appeared in the early 1870s, and provided the community with some financial success.  Black businessmen could not open similar businesses because they lacked the resources to start their own businesses, and wholesalers refused to give them credit because…racism. It’s important to keep in mind that most immigrants were coming from Sze Yap, a district in south China that was more commercially sophisticated than many other parts of the country, with a history of contacts with foreign traders. Anywho, Chinese grocery stores were small, one-room shacks which carried only a few basic items, and the main clientele was mostly poor black laborers.

After Chinese men established their grocery stores, they would often send back home for a young male from their family to come and help the business succeed. This made for a strong thread of familial migration to Mississippi, and helped the community gain some economic success. According to an article entitled “Chinese in Mississippi: An Ethnic People in a Biracial Society” in Mississippi History Now, “For generations, grocery stores would be passed down from father to son, and as of the late 1970s, six family names accounted for 80 percent of the Delta Chinese population.”

The relationship between the Chinese grocers and the black members of the local community grew over the years. Not only did the Chinese run businesses in black neighborhoods, but also lived there. It could be argued that these stores were successful largely because they provided an alternative for black consumers – they no longer had to go to white stores (if they even could) only to be disparaged and disrespected. Additionally, some Chinese men married black women, and were integrated into the black community in a way they were not with whites. However, once these immigrants decided to make Mississippi their long-term home, they were no longer satisfied with their racial in-betweenness, and demanded more (especially access to quality, white education).

Students of the only all-Chinese school in Bolivar County, Mississippi, 1938. Courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History (photo taken from http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/86/mississippi-chinese-an-ethnic-people-in-a-biracial-society)

Students of the only all-Chinese school in Bolivar County, Mississippi, 1938. Courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History (photo taken from http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/86/mississippi-chinese-an-ethnic-people-in-a-biracial-society)

By law, Chinese people were considered a “colored race,” and were legally excluded from attending schools that were meant for only white people. Chinese parents refused to accept this, and had some financial means for leverage. Vivian Wu Wong explains that the white community was probably not as concerned about admitting Chinese children to the schools as they were about admitting black children, and since there were some Chinese/black interracial children, whites decided to emphasize the importance of Chinese racial purity. Thus began Chinese community’s practice of socially distancing itself from black people. Vivian Wu Wong argues, “To respond to this fear which they saw as the main obstacle in their struggle for quality education for their children, leaders in the Chinese community made a choice. Rather than challenge racism, they distanced themselves from the black community.” They believed that as soon as they could prove their separateness from black people, whites would be willing to accept them and invite them into their superior educational institutions.

Following this sad and tragic rejection of the black community, the image of the Chinese in Mississippi slowly changed. In the 1940s, new laws were passed to allow Chinese children to attend white schools (keep in mind that the Brown v. Board of Education ruling didn’t come until 1954). By “accepting” Chinese people into their communities and institutions (“accepting” seems to be a very generous word…), whites could justify continued exclusion of black people, and use their supposed biological or cultural deficiencies to explain away their poverty. Sound familiar?

To be clear, I’m not criticizing early Chinese immigrants for wanting more for their children. In fact, I’m inspired by the ways in which they were able to carve an identity beyond “coolies” in an era that was deeply rooted in systemic racism of all “colored” folk. However, I think it’s important, so important, to acknowledge the ways in which whites with social, cultural, and actual capital created a conflict between Chinese and black communities from the very beginning in order to further the notion and practice that black lives don’t matter. Depressingly, many of these tensions continue to exist between our communities.

Korean-Americans are also often pitted against our black brothers and sisters to further prove some inaccurate cultural deficiency of blackness. But how can we as Korean-Americans, as Asian-Americans, try to understand that we are also responsible for the oppression of Others? How can we concede to the logic of, “look, we made it, why can’t you?” when we do not personally understand the long-lasting impact of slavery, or know what it feels like to be policed as a teen, or have to acutely comprehend that society would rather jail us than educate us? How can we utilize our identities and privileges to not only find our power, but also the power of other people of color? Perhaps, this is what I need to do to be a good Korean-American: to locate my identities, powers, and privileges, and to strategically use them in service of collective empowerment. I don’t exactly know what this means, yet. As of now, I only have my feelings and food. But I’m working on it.

And now, a recipe for salt & pepper shrimp, a relatively classic Cantonese dish:

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Salt and Pepper Shrimp Recipe
Recipe taken from The Woks of Life
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

For the salt and pepper mixture:
2 parts whole peppercorns
1 part sea salt

For the rest of the dish:
1 pound large shrimp, shells on and deveined (with or without heads)
3 tablespoons potato starch or cornstarch
1/3 cup oil for shallow frying
salt and pepper mixture, to taste
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 long hot green or red pepper, thinly sliced
1 scallion, chopped

Instructions

To make the salt and pepper mixture:

  1. In a small pot over medium low heat, dry roast the whole peppercorns of your choice for 15 minutes, until very fragrant. Take care not to burn them, adjusting the heat as needed. Cool completely and use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind the peppercorns down to a powder.
  2. In the same pot over medium heat, dry roast the salt until it turns slightly yellow in color. Let it cool and combine it with the ground pepper. You now have your own authentic salt and pepper powder, which you can use in whatever “salt and pepper” dish you like. The rest of the recipe is really easy.

To prepare the dish:

  1. Rinse the shrimp and pat them thoroughly dry with a paper towel. Dredge them in potato starch or cornstarch––whatever you’re using.
  2. Heat the oil in a small cast iron skillet to 375 degrees. Quickly lay the shrimp in the oil with about an inch of space in between each shrimp, and fry the shrimp in batches, cooking each side for 30 seconds. Set aside on a paper towel-lined plate, and sprinkle with salt and pepper powder to taste.
  3. In the wok, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Fry the garlic until just golden brown (careful not to burn it!), and set aside to drain on a paper towel lined plate.
  4. Remove any excess oil from the wok, so there’s only a tablespoon or so left (you don’t want to use too much oil at this stage, as this is a “dry” dish). Add the peppers to the wok. Turn off the heat, and add the garlic back to the wok, stir-frying everything together for a minute. Add the shrimp to the wok, and gently toss everything for 10 seconds, sprinkling over a bit more of your salt and pepper mixture. Serve!

Coming up…Meal Planning 101: On Cooking with Limited Time and Energy

My Body as a Site of Failure / Self- Love, and a Recipe for Korean Chicken Soup

Disclaimer: this entry is pretty whiny.

My body is hell, and I hate it. I’m not talking about my self-image (at least, not today), but more about its functioning. As you may know, when I started my job as director of development in May, I was eager to use the opportunity to grow and learn and absorb in all aspects of my life. With what I thought was a healthier approach to my career (not having it consume every waking moment of my life), I ventured into the territory of newness, of actually doing shit I had always talked about: leading a team in a full time job, joining a board or advisory committee, taking Italian tutoring lessons, volunteering with the students at my school, exercising, making lots of new dishes (and cooking for 1-3 hours/day), committing to this blog (with a goal of posting at least three entries/month), taking advantage of all that NYC has to offer (the most adult-feeling thing I did in the last few months is become a member at the Brooklyn Academy of Music), and spending lots more time loving and supporting my friends and family. Well, I’m doing all that, and my body is revolting.

My stupid body responds to stress by shutting itself down. I get migraines. My immune system says “NOPE NO MO” and becomes defenseless against the silliest colds. I am prone to ulcers and GERD. The muscles in my neck turn into steel rods. This is really annoying. Have I told you how annoying this is? How it makes me feel like an epic failure?

I have this chronic fear that I’m lazy, and that if I stagnate, my soul will die.  I know it’s a problem that I only value myself when I have something to show for my efforts, but it’s not something I can change easily. So until I can transform that manic energy and anxiety into something healthier, I’m trying to figure out how to not feel like my body is sabotaging my desire to live a happy and successful life.

I was a pretty sickly child growing up. With chronic asthma, a slew of stomach issues, and a sadly underachieving immune system, I was a mess. My father recently told me that I would frequently become painfully ill before piano competitions (high fevers), but that I would force myself to go. One time, I made myself play at a recital with a 102 fever, bowed, and then collapsed. Though mama was one of the reasons I pushed myself so hard, she realized what was happening and once told me something interesting: “Isn’t it nice that your body will tell you when it’s just too much?”

WHAT. How on earth is it nice that my weak constitution and seemingly fragile body get to determine what I can and cannot do? Why should my illness-prone body that I inherited from my mother (why couldn’t I get her brain or looks, instead?) get to set limits on my future? I look around at my family, my peers, my friends, who do so much with their lives, who work endless hours, and still manage to find time to be the dopest people of all time. Why can’t my body let me do more of that? Sure, these questions may make me sound petulant and bratty. But I can’t help but be appalled by my body’s inability to match my desires and ambition.

I spent the last few days trying to tend to my ailing body and spirit. And I thought a lot about my mother’s gentle, powerful, and irritatingly leading question. If I take away the whole “my life only has value if I’m doing a shit ton of stuff” element, perhaps it truly is a blessing that something can tell me, “hey, slow down for a second.” Maybe my body provides me with a visceral litmus test. Perhaps my physical health is an indicator of my mental/emotional health. Maybe, instead of being a site of failure, my body is actually trying to love me into submission.

Of course, all of this is purely conceptual. I still feel like a big fool for not being able to do everything I want to do without getting sick. I don’t know what to do about it, but I know how I should try to feel. Perhaps some other time, I can think about how to actually chill out.

And now, a recipe for a Korean chicken soup that made me feel less like a disaster zone!

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Yeong Gye Baeksuk (Korean Chicken Soup) Recipe
Recipe adapted from Kimchimari.com
6 Servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

2 cornish game hen
1 whole head of garlic, peeled (8-12 cloves of garlic)
1 whole onion, peeled and left whole
4 green onion stalks
5 slices of fresh ginger
10 cups of cold water
salt and pepper to taste
sauce for chicken – 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce + 1 teaspoon of white vinegar
2 cups of jasmine rice, cooked per instructions

Directions

  1. Discard the giblets inside the Cornish hen’s cavity. If there’s a lot of fat near the breast area or the bottom, trim the fat as much as you can. Wash the chicken under running water and pat it dry with paper towels.
  2. Add chicken, garlic, onion, three stalks of green onions, and ginger to pot and add 8 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil.
  3. Once it’s boiling, simmer at medium low or low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. Check if the chicken is fully cooked by piercing the area between the thigh and the belly to see if any blood comes out. Cook for a few minutes longer if you see any redness.
  4. Take the chicken out onto a plate and let it cool for a few minutes. Chop up the green onions.
  5. Serve the soup with rice, pieces of the chicken, and green onions in a bowl. Serve with salt and pepper so it can be seasoned at the table. If you so desire, make some vinegar-soy sauce for dipping the chicken meat.

Coming up (I promise)…Our States, Our People, Our Food: Chinese Immigration to Mississippi and a Recipe for Salt and Pepper Shrimp

On Value and Self-Worth, and a Porchetta Recipe

As you all know, I’ve been “working on myself” a lot, this year. What this means, tangibly, is that I’ve been trying to identify the sources of my self-deprecating/loathing tendencies. For example, I mentioned in a previous blog post on cooking for one, I have historically never cooked just for myself essentially because I don’t believe I’m worth the trouble or that I deserve my own love. Therapy has helped me to both be a little kinder to myself, and to hold myself accountable for some of my own unhappiness. But, I still have lots of work to do. My self-reflective question for the fall is this: who determines my value and worth, and why?

I work hard. I do lots of things for people I love. And I do this partially because I personally want to excel at what I do, and I desperately want to be a good and kind person. But, let’s be real. I also need lots and lots of external validation in order to feel fulfilled – without it, I slide down that slip-and-slide of self-doubt and confusion. I hate this about myself. I have incredible admiration for people who seemingly don’t rely on validation from others. My husband is really high achieving, super smart, and is good at tons of stuff. But unlike me, his strength appears to come from within, not from other people. How does that even work? How do I get that? Can I buy it? Please?

It's entirely possible that my soul is nourished only by external validation because my life as a child was consumed by piano, flute, singing, and dance competitions. Or maybe not.

It’s entirely possible that my soul is nourished only by external validation because my life as a child was consumed by piano, flute, singing, and dance competitions. Yikes.

In any case, I’m working on it. In fact, I have experienced one major improvement in the last 6 months: I am actually sometimes capable of being proud of myself. Sometimes. At this time last year, even if I had exceeded a fundraising goal for work, I became unnecessarily angry at myself for not exceeding the goal by even more. But now that I have the ability to feel proud, I’ve noticed that I still need other people to be proud of me, too. Annoying. I know. So I’m trying going to try a new thing where I allow myself to feel happy about achievements, but won’t share it with others until it feels real to me.  Wish me luck? (read: please tell me I’m doing a good job at not relying on others to validate my life.)

How does this relate to food and cooking? You know by now that I show my love for people by cooking for them. I need them to know, very concretely, that I care about them. I think this is quite nice. But, I have also found that I attribute my value as a friend, as a wife, as a daughter-in-law, as a human, to what concrete things I can offer, and whether those things are of high-quality. I’m afraid if I offer a bad meal that I’m actually very accurately depicting my poor value as a person. Dramatic? Yes. Unnecessary? Yes. Easy to change? No.

But change can come in itty bitty baby steps. About ten days ago, I made a pretty fucking inedible meal. I had a long day at work, had several other meetings/events to attend, and got home late. Feeling uninspired and tired, I refused to look for recipes and ended up lightly fried some chicken breasts, throwing in some white wine and broth, and braising it for about thirty minutes. I ended up putting some lemons in there, too. Mistake. The chicken ended up being incredibly bitter, like the rind of a lemon. And…I laughed. I laughed! I didn’t get angry, or lock myself in the bedroom to berate myself. Progress!

All this to say: I have a lot of work to do, and I’m excited that I can use cooking and eating to help me measure my improvement. Yea, yea, yea…maybe I should stop trying to quantify and measure everything, but that’s a goal for another season/year.

And now, here’s a recipe for a considerably more edible porchetta.

Porchetta, slow roasted for 5 hours

Porchetta Recipe
Recipe taken from I am a food blog
Serves 8-10
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 5 hours

INGREDIENTS

Salt Rub
1 tablespoon of kosher salt
2 teaspoons of toasted fresh rosemary, chopped
2 teaspoons of toasted fennel seed, crushed
2 teaspoons of chili flakes
2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper
Zest of 1 lemon

Herb Rub
2 tablespoons of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary

Porchetta
12 inch slab of skin-on pork belly, skin lightly scored
Pork tenderloin, around 2-3 inches in diameter, 12 inches in length

Oil
String

INSTRUCTIONS

Combine the ingredients for the salt rub in a small bowl. Lightly sprinkle the inside of the pork belly with half of the salt rub. Sprinkle the herb rub on top and place the tenderloin in the center of the belly. Tightly roll up the belly around the tenderloin and tie together with kitchen twine. Rub the skin generously with oil and the rest with the salt rub. Place your porchetta in a dish, cover and place in the fridge for at least 12 hours.

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Heat the oven to 275F. Place the porchetta on a rack in a deep roasting pan. Lots of fat will be rendered out of the porchetta, so make sure your roasting pan is deep enough. Roast on the center rack of the oven for 4 hours. Use a meat thermometer to check that the internal termperature is 160F. Blast the heat up to 450 and continue to roast for 35 minutes, keeping an eye on the skin. You want the crackling golden brown and crispy, not burnt.

Remove from the oven, let it rest for 15-20 minutes, slice and enjoy!

Porchetta, ready to be eaten

Salsa Verde Recipe

INGREDIENTS
1 bunch of parsley
1 cup of olive oil
2 teaspoons of toasted fennel seeds, ground
2 teaspoons of toasted coriander, ground
2 teaspoons of chili flakes
salt (to taste)
2 cloves of garlic
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice from 2 lemons

INSTRUCTIONS

Puree all salsa verde ingredients until smooth. Put on top of sliced porchetta, and enjoy! The porchetta can also be sliced for sandwiches and topped with the sauce. Delish!

Coming Up…Our States, Our People, Our Food: Chinese Immigration to Mississippi and a Recipe for Salt and Pepper Shrimp

Meal Planning 101: On Creating a Menu for Dinner Guests, Plus Recipes Abound!

Disclaimer: I am back to my verbose ways, and this entry is long. My promises mean nothing, but I’m pretty sure the next post will be short. Bear with me!

Psst. Want to know a secret? I’m an effusive person.

Gasp! It’s probably painfully obvious that I lack restraint when demonstrating and articulating my love for people (and food and TV). Why? Enter the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. Though I don’t fully buy into it, I’ve found the test and its analysis helpful in understanding what motivates me. And, true to obsessive form, I’ve taken the Myers –Briggs Personality Test at least 10 times in my life, all with the same result. I am solidly an ENFJ. According to 16personalities.com:

ENFJs are natural-born leaders, full of passion and charisma. Forming around two percent of the population, they are oftentimes our politicians, our coaches and our teachers, reaching out and inspiring others to achieve and to do good in the world. With a natural confidence that begets influence, ENFJs take a great deal of pride and joy in guiding others to work together to improve themselves and their community.”

There’s the good. Here’s the rub:

“While ENFJs enjoy lending this helping hand, other personality types may simply not have the energy or drive to keep up with it – creating further strain, people with the ENFJ personality type can become offended if their efforts aren’t reciprocated when the opportunity arises. Ultimately, ENFJs’ give and take can become stifling to types who are more interested in the moment than the future, or who simply have Identities that rest firmly on the Assertive side, making them content with who they are and uninterested in the sort of self-improvement and goal-setting that ENFJs hold so dear.”

Stifling. I’m stifling! Oh god. Oh yikes.

So, in the last year I’ve been trying to redirect my somewhat manic desire to demonstrate (and receive) love in my ideal form* towards something more palatable and enjoyable for all parties. I do this by cooking for people.

*ideal form: I hold your face in my hands, you hold my face in your hands, we look deep into each other’s eyes and talk about the ins and outs of everything we hold dear until our souls are exhausted by satiation.

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This is generally what it looks like when I love someone.

Though I’m still a bit intense whilst coming up with a menu for dinner guests, at least my friends won’t feel suffocated from my effort – they’ll just eat something that is hopefully tasty and comforting. For some reason, I kind of liken this situation to the phrase, “A tired dog is a happy dog.” You know, take your dog on a goddamn run so s/he won’t eat your couch. It’s as if I need to use up all my energy preparing something in order to be a less hyperactive and demanding person.

Before I expose too much of my nuttiness, here are the things I consider when coming up with a dinner menu for guests:

  1. How many people am I serving?
    This matters. While I may do something more complex and intricate for one guest, it may not be feasible or practical to do that on a larger scale for 5+ friends. When serving more than four total people, I will likely do something that involves fewer steps or one pot, like seared skirt steak, bibim guksu, braised pork ribs and cabbage, crab fried rice, or a risotto. On the other side of this, sometimes a bigger audience provides the best opportunity to try something more labor intensive that would be “wasted” on just me and my husband. For instance, we might want to one day host a Homemade Porchetta + Ciabatta + Beer party, and that would definitely work better for a larger group of guests.
  2. Do any of my guests have dietary restrictions?
    I always ask my dinner guests if they have any dietary restrictions or major dislikes. There is nothing more disappointing than watching loved ones try to eat something they hate, especially if it’s something I’ve made. If I have several guests, and only one of them is vegetarian or vegan, I will usually make a “family style” meal so that everyone has something to eat, and the vegetarian/vegan doesn’t have to be singled out. This serves as a nice parameter, because some dishes are better than others served in this fashion.
  3. What is my budget?
    For me, it’s important to determine the budget for dinner with guests so that I’m keeping track of all expenses. I never want to tip way over my usual spending, so this will often help me to figure out items for a delicious meal that won’t rob my wallet. For more on organizing around a budget, click here.
  4. What is the weather/temperature like?
    I think about this not because I don’t think one should eat stews in summer or salads in winter, but because I don’t want my guests to be uncomfortably hot or cold while they’re eating. If it’s hot in the apartment (either beacuse it’s a balmy 98 degrees outside, or it’s cold, but the heater is on a rampage), I’ll likely do something that doesn’t require much oven/stove use. Or, I’ll make something that can be roasted/cooked in advance, so the apartment doesn’t feel like an aroma sauna. If it’s cold in the apartment, I’ll make the warmest darn stew of all time. In mild and dry weather, anything is game.
  5. How much time do I have to prepare the meal?
    If given the choice, I would want to spend loads and loads of time preparing a meal for friends. But, people often come over on weekdays, which means that I have a short window between getting home from work and dinnertime to get shit ready. Of course, if I’m being particularly clever, I can prep some elements the night before, but I’m often not very smart. Even though this can seem like a bummer, time serves as helpful constraint. What dishes can I make in 1-2 hours that won’t exhaust me (who wants to dine with a grumpy and tired Yejin? NO ONE) but will still be tasty and well rounded? For last night’s guest, I made an appetizer, entree, side dish, and dessert in the span of 2 hours.
  6. Is there one thing in particular I want my guests to try?
    Based on all these other questions, which generally gives me a sense of what NOT to prepare, I will start planning my meal by selecting one element/dish I know I want to feed my guest. This is extremely helpful, and makes the process less stressful or overwhelming. Based on that one thing, you can then form the rest of your menu with complementary (or contradictory) items. Recently, I made Hainanese Chicken and Rice, and it was the best thing I had made all month. So, I wanted to share the joy with a friend who came over for dinner on Tuesday. Since the poulet served as an entrée, I started to think of other elements that would complement the light but earthy flavor of the dish. I thought it would be nice to start the meal with a simple and delicious kimchi pancake appetizer, since there is very little tang in the chicken. To accompany the entrée, I wanted a flavorful vegetable, but one that wouldn’t drown out the subtle taste and aromas of the entree. So I chose roasted brussel sprouts and shallots topped with a touch of fish sauce vinaigrette. Since the appetizer and main dish are both quite light, I wanted to end the evening with a deeply flavored and rich dessert. Enter Nigella Lawson’s dense chocolate loaf cake with bourbon and coffee, topped with homemade whipped cream and raspberries.

And, because I thought it’d be nice (and maybe a bit stifling and overwhelming), here are recipes for Tuesday’s meal:

  • Kimchi pancake
  • Hainanese Chicken and Rice
  • Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Shallots with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
  • Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Loaf Cake with Bourbon and Coffee

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Kimchi Pancake Recipe
Recipe modified from Maangchi.com
Servings: 2-3
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup of chopped kimchi
2 tablespoons of kimchi juice
3 chopped scallions
½ teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of sugar
½ cup of flour
¼ cup of water

Instructions

  1. Place kimchi, kimchi juice, scallions, salt, sugar, flour, and water into a medium sized bowl. Mix well with a spoon.
  2. Heat up a 12 inch non-stick pan over medium high heat and drizzle about two tablespoons of oil (canola or grapeseed is fine).
  3. Place the mixture of kimchi pancake batter on the pan and spread it thinly and evenly with a spoon.
  4. Cook it for 1 ½ minutes until the bottom becomes golden brown and crispy
  5. Turn it over with a spatula or flip it. Lower the heat to medium and cook for another 1 ½ minutes.
  6. Turn it over one more time and cook for 30 seconds before transferring it to a serving plate.

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Hainanese Chicken and Rice
Recipe taken from The Woks of Life
Servings: 4-5
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour

Chicken Ingredients

1 whole fresh chicken, about 3-3 ½ pounds
1 tablespoon of salt
12-14 cups of water
4-5 slices of ginger
2 whole scallions
Ice 

Chicken Instructions

  1. Wash the chicken clean and remember to set aside the piece of chicken fat at the back cavity for the rice. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pat dry with a paper towel. Lightly rub the chicken with the salt. This will give the chicken skin a nice sheen. Set it aside.
  2. Bring the water, along with the ginger and scallions, to a boil in a large stockpot. Before adding the chicken to the pot, rinse the chicken under running water to wash away the salt. Carefully lower the chicken into the boiling water, positioning the chicken breast-side up. Now is a good time to adjust the water level so the chicken breast just pokes above the water (so you aren’t left with dry white meat).
  3. Once the water boils, carefully lift the chicken out of the water to pour out the colder water that is trapped in the cavity. Carefully lower the chicken back into the pot. Bring the water to boil again, and cover the lid. Turn off the heat, and leave the pot, covered, on the stove for 45-50 minutes (set a timer). To check if the chicken is done, stick a toothpick into the thickest part of the drumstick; if the juices run clear, it’s cooked through.
  4. When the 45-minute timer (for the chicken) is almost up, prepare a large ice bath. Once the chicken is cooked, carefully lift the chicken out of the pot, drain the water from the cavity and lower it into the ice bath. Take care not to break the skin. After 15 minutes in the ice bath, the chicken should be cooled, drain completely and cover with clear plastic until ready to cut and serve. The ice bath stops the cooking process, locks in the juices, and gives the chicken skin better texture.

Rice Ingredients

Chicken fat, taken from the back cavity of the chicken
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cups of white rice, preferably jasmine, washed and drained
Chicken stock, from cooking the chicken
2 teaspoons of salt

Rice Instructions

  1. While the chicken is cooling, make the rice. Heat a wok over medium heat. Add the chicken fat and render for about a minute. Stir in the minced garlic and fry briefly, making sure it doesn’t burn.
  2. Add the uncooked rice. Stir continuously for about two minutes.
  3. Turn off the heat. Scoop the rice into your rice cooker and add the appropriate amount of chicken stock (instead of the usual water. This amount may vary depending on your rice cooker) and salt. Close the lid and press START.
  4. If you don’t have a rice cooker, you can follow these steps. When you wash your rice, let it soak for an additional 20 minutes. Then drain the rice and follow the same steps above, but instead of transferring the rice mixture to your rice cooker, transfer it to a medium/large pot. Add 3 cups of chicken stock and the salt, giving it a quick stir. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once it boils,immediately turn down the heat to the lowest setting. Let the rice simmer and cook (covered) for 10-15 minutes until the rice is done. It’s not quite as foolproof as the rice cooker, but you should get a very similar result. Just be sure to keep an eye on it; burnt rice is no fun.

Sweet Dark Soy Sauce Ingredients

1/3 cup of water
3 tablespoons of rock sugar
1/3 cup of dark soy sauce

Sweet Dark Soy Sauce Instructions

Heat the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves and the liquid thickens into a simple syrup. Add the dark soy sauce, stirring to combine. Transfer to a sauce dish.


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Brussel Sprouts Oven Roasted And Fish Sauced
Recipe taken from iamafoodblog.com
Servings: 2-4 as a side
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 clove of garlic, minced|
1 bird’s eye chili
1 tablespoon of sugar
Juice of ¼ a lime
½ cup of water
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
1 pound of Brussel sprouts
2 shallots, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons of oil
Salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Crush the garlic, chili and sugar together in a mortar. Transfer to liquid measuring cup and dissolve the sugar, garlic and chili mixture with the water. Add the lime juice then fish sauce. Set aside.
  3. Trim the ends of the sprouts and remove any outer leaves that are loose or discoloured. Cut sprouts in half. Toss the cut sprouts and quartered shallots with oil and salt and pepper. Place in an oven-proof dish and roast, stirring every so often, until deeply browned, 35-40 minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven, toss with the fish sauce vinaigrette and enjoy immediately.

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Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake

Recipe taken from Alexandra’s Kitchen
Source: Nigella Lawson’s 
How to Be a Domestic Goddess
Servings: 2 loaves
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup soft unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup (316 g | 11 1/8 oz) dark brown sugar
1 1/3 cup (170 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt, such as Maldon or Fleur de sel (or use 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 ounces best bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted (I did this in the microwave at 30 second intervals, but don’t walk away — it will burn quickly)
2 tablespoons brandy or bourbon
1 cup freshly brewed coffee

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Line a 9×5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper — just shove a whole sheet in there (versus cutting to make it fit — this way no batter will seep through the cracks). Also, prepare a smaller loaf pan (or some other vessel such as a muffin tin) in a similar manner — I butter the smaller loaf pan well, and I never have issues getting the cake out.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar, either with a wooden spoon or with an electric hand-held mixer.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  4. Add the eggs and vanilla to the butter-sugar mixture and beat until combined.
  5. Next, fold in the melted and now slightly cooled chocolate, taking care to blend well but being careful not to overbeat. You want the ingredients combined: You don’t want a light, airy mass. Add the brandy and mix to combine.
  6. Next, gently add the flour mixture alternately spoon by spoon with the coffee until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter.
  7. Pour into the lined loaf pan, being sure the batter does not come closer than 1 inch from the rim of the cake pan or it risks overflowing. Pour the excess into the smaller prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. (I remove the smaller pan after the first 30 minutes.) The cake will still be a bit squidgy inside, so an inserted cake tester or skewer won’t come out completely clean. Place the loaf pan on a rack, and leave to get completely cold before turning it out. (Leave it for a whole day if you can resist.) Don’t worry if it sinks in the middle — it will do so because it’s such a dense and damp cake.

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Coming Up…Introducing a New Series Honoring the Diverse Communities and Histories of the U.S. 

Meal Planning 101: Organizing around a Budget, plus a Pickled Egg Salad Recipe

In my first installment of the Meal Planning 101 series, I wrote about reusing versatile ingredients, which helps to tighten parameters, develop one’s palate, and save time and money. Truth be told, in response to my recent week-long “funk,” I went all out and spent way too much money on groceries for last week’s menu. I tend to function like a pendulum –either I’m on one side of an extreme or the other, and if I’m not, I’ve stopped moving and am probably dead. In any case, I thought it would be helpful to talk about budgeting. As you likely know by now, I like to impose limits and parameters on everything that I do, because the burden of choice can be too much for an anxious person like me. A budget is one of the most important frameworks, and can be really annoying to navigate when you’re a cravings-centric person like I am (lobster all the time, dammit!).

So, I’m not going to go through exactly how to budget one’s meal, because I think that the process, amount, and priorities are different for everyone depending on circumstances and preferences. What I’ll do, instead, is walk you through my general approach to choosing ingredients and meals based on a budget. To be clear, this post is not primarily about creating a menu based on a small/tight budget. I’ll do that another time.

Typically, I’m okay with spending an average of $14/day per person on groceries, and maybe a tad more when we host dinners with friends. Keep in mind that my husband and I rarely eat out or get delivery, even for lunch. This will cover breakfast, lunch, dinner, and when I’m feeling especially naughty, desserts and snacks. And, for the most part, my husband and I eat really, really well. There are definitely occasions when I need to spend less on groceries, whether it’s because I’ve just made a big purchase, and really need to replenish my piggy bank, or, those fleeting moments when I realize that I should have a LOT more dough stashed in a retirement fund, or when things are just generally tight. When that happens, here’s what I consider:

What can I spend?

The easiest and most important parameter is the actual budget. What can you/are you willing to spend on groceries, this week? This week, I gave myself a $120 budget.

What essential ingredients should I have in stock?

You may want to consider joining a place like Costco or Sam’s Club to stock up on essentials. Canned tomatoes and beans are always good to have on hand and are probably cheaper when buying in bulk. You can also grab important items like olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and other condiments when they’re on mega-sale somewhere, so you don’t have to constantly add these things to your grocery list.

What are some cheap go-to meals?

It’s always good to have some inexpensive meals in your pocket. I always make sure to have a pile of canned goods (tomatoes, beans), a variety of pastas, and rice. Also, I always have in stock essential items like onions, garlic, crushed red peppers, and anchovies. With these in place, I’m poised to make a cheap (and usually, quick) meal. Some of my go-to meals are: spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and oil), pasta all’amatriciana, rice and beans, and pasta al pomodoro. This week, these dishes include a pasta al pomodoro, and a pickled egg salad.

What are cheaper ingredients?

When thinking about your meal for the week, it’s good to already have a sense of what foods are generally less expensive. For example, if you’re a meat-eater, chicken and pork are usually the cheaper options. Within the poultry category, dark meat is usually more affordable (and delicious), and bone-in cuts are generally even more forgiving on your wallet. I bought boneless/skinless chicken thighs for a katsu, and didn’t have to spend much dough for what will be a super filling and hearty meal. Consider the same thing with vegetables/produce, which are sadly often even more expensive than meat (thank the government’s insane subsidization of the meat industry) – generally, potatoes, cabbages, onions, carrots, and cauliflower are on the cheaper side of town. This may seem like a bummer, but there are so many wonderful things you can do with each of these ingredients. Cabbage was a good bet, and I’ve been enjoying a simple summer salad with raw red cabbage, carrots, and edamame.

What’s on sale?

Sales. Duh. Look at what’s on sale, see if anything is calling to you, and try to use those items as the basis for your menu. I saw that mussels were on sale, this week, and bought 2 pounds for a nice Moules Marinieres dish, that I’ll have with bread and a cabbage salad. Also, I got some beautiful branzino for roasting, which was only a whopping $5.99/lb.

Are there any foods/meals I MUST have, no question?

Admittedly, this isn’t always something we can ask ourselves when meal planning. I could say “I’m on a budget, but I must have caviar for breakfast every morning,” but that would be insane. However, if you are very in tune with what your body, heart, and soul crave, it can be helpful in setting more parameters for the rest of your meals. For example, this week’s menu is cheaper on the grocery-front, but I made sure I could still eat seafood, because that is what I’ve been craving. After purchasing crab meat, branzino, and mussels, it became clear that I had to be very mindful about the cost of ingredients for side dishes and the other meals. Though quinoa isn’t the most affordable grain out there, it was on sale, and I could combine some cheap canned goods (artichoke hearts and chickpeas) and some fresh vegetables for a hearty, filling, and relatively inexpensive meal/side dish.

Using these questions as a guide, here’s the menu I’ve come up with for the week (items in italics were on sale)

Monday, August 17

  • L: Salade Nicoise
  • D: Moules Marinieres (mussels cooked with garlic, shallots, white wine, and broth) + red cabbage, carrot and edamame salad + toasted bread

Tuesday, August 18

  • L: Quinoa salad w/ edamame, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, yellow peppers, and chick peas
  • D: Roasted branzino + quinoa salad + asparagus

Wednesday, August 19

  • L: Leftover branzino w/ jasmine rice
  • D: Kimchi pancake + chicken thigh katsu + jasmine rice + red cabbage, carrot and edamame salad
  • Dessert: Homemade oreo ice cream sandwiches

Thursday, August 20

  • L: Chicken katsu sandwiches
  • D: Crab-fried rice + red cabbage, carrot and edamame salad

Friday, August 21

  • L: Pickled egg salad sandwiches
  • D: Spaghetti all’amatriciana

Saturday, August 22

  • L: Leftover pasta
  • D: Visiting family in NJ

Including breakfasts, which usually include toast, or granola + yogurt (not worthy of listing above), my husband and I spent a total of $24/day for what’s still a relatively happening menu. This also factors in extra groceries for certain meals since we will be hosting guests. I totally acknowledge that what I’ve spent is certainly not nothing, and that it may not be a reasonable budget for many. But, the questions I posed above can help someone navigate a budget of any size.

And now, for my favorite egg salad recipe.

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Pickled Egg Salad
Recipe taken and modified from Bon Appetit
Servings: 6
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cooking Time: 10

Ingredients

  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh chives
  • ¼ of finely chopped fresh parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Bread for serving
  • Serrano ham or prosciutto for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Bring vinegars, sugar, 1½ tsp. salt, and ½ cup water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Let cool.
  2. Meanwhile, place eggs in a medium saucepan and add water to cover by 2”. Bring to a boil, cover, and remove from heat. Let sit 10 minutes. Transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water to cool. Drain, peel, and return to bowl. Add pickling liquid; cover and chill at least 12 hours. Remove eggs from pickling liquid. Coarsely chop; mix with mayonnaise, scallions or chives, and parsley in a medium bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and some pickling liquid, if desired. (I used about 2 teaspoons.)
  3. Top bread with pickled egg salad, some chervil (if using), and a slice of ham or prosciutto (if using).
  4. Do Ahead: Eggs can be pickled 1 week ahead. Keep chilled.

Coming up on the Meal Planning 101 Series: On Navigating Time Constraints

On Baking and Learning to Embrace Failure, plus a Recipe for Almond-Buttermilk Scones

I used to hate baking. It felt like such a chore, especially since I would, as a novice, accidentally get flour and butter all over the kitchen and my face, like a hyperactive child. With cooking, I feel like I can always make adjustments, add in different/new ingredients – I can be somewhat creative. Many say that cooking is like an art, while baking is a science.

Well, to those who believe in the “model minority” archetype, I was/am a bad Asian-American and did/do not excel in the sciences. (I used to drive my biology teacher insane by asking “how does __________ know to do that? Does it have its own brain?”)

So, the process of baking used to feel akin to the dread I’d experience whilst doing the physics homework that I barely understood (I have nightmares about taking a physics test at least once a month). I didn’t grasp the purpose of baking powder or soda. I didn’t know why I was doing what I was doing, which is a crucial step before becoming a bit more inventive. And, without this knowledge, I felt doomed to fail.

As a high-strung, anxiety-ridden, productivity-oriented individual, there was nothing worse than dry-ass cake, unevenly baked brownies, hard-as-fuck pastry dough.

Lucky for me, my husband is super into sweets. Like, I have to hide Nutella in a secret location in order to get any for myself. Because I tend to absorb and reflect the things people love, I started to enjoy desserts, too. And, importantly, I slowly and painstakingly started to learn that a dry cake wasn’t some kind of signifier of how awful I am as a human being.

As my love for desserts increased, so did my enjoyment of the baking process. I began to understand more of the “science” behind the process, and can now identify why something doesn’t taste quite right. Strangely enough, I think that this has been important to my growth as a person. It’s almost impossible to fix a baked good, the way one can sometimes can with a stew, soup, roasted dish, etc. Baking (and in particular, failed baking) is teaching me how to embrace my unsuccessful endeavors. Once something is out of the oven, that shit is finished. If it’s not good, I have to sit with it. And rather than ask, “Yejin, why are you the worst and the biggest failure who has ever walked the face of this planet?” I can (sometimes) laugh, feel slightly bad that I’ve wasted a little bit of money, but feel glad that I’ve learned something from the process.

When drama comes from external forces, I tend to stay away. When it comes to judging myself, I’m as dramatic as they come. I’ve realized that sometimes I’m hardest on myself when I don’t actually want to hold myself accountable. This way, I don’t have to listen to someone else’s criticism, because my own judgement is already the harshest and meanest. There is some weird sort of selfishness and self-indulgence that comes with my specific brand of self-loathing. And if I can help solve for this oddly masochistic practice of running away from my own agency by baking and eating sweet things, then I guess I have no choice but to continue getting rounder and rounder. So, I’m publicly committing myself to baking and eating a lot more cakes, muffins, pies, and scones. For the sake of humanity, obviously.

And now, here’s one of my favorite scone recipes:

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Almond-Buttermilk Scones with Jam
Recipe taken from Alexandra’s Kitchen
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 8

Ingredients
2 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon of sugar
1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder
¼ teaspoon of baking soda
½ teaspoon of kosher salt
1 cup of sliced almonds
2/3 cup of buttermilk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 stick of cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 cm cubes

2 tablespoons of milk
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. While the oven is heating, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the almonds, and stir to combine.
  3. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and vanilla.
  4. Cut the cold butter into the flour mixture. You have two options for this step: (1) use a food processor and pulse the mixture until you have a crumb-like mixture, or (2) use two knives or a pastry cutter to literally cut the butter into the flour (on a cutting board) until you have tiny pieces of butter.
  5. Place the mixture into a large bowl. Add the buttermilk/vanilla mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Once the ingredients are just mixed, pour the mixture onto your cutting board and gently knead the dough together until it us just combined. Do not knead too much – this will alter the consistency of the scones.
  6. Pack the mixture into a ball, and place down onto a floured surface. Gently pat the ball down until it is about ¾ of an inch thick. With a knife, cut the circular shaped dough into eight pieces.
  7. Place the pieces onto a parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Brush the scones with milk and sprinkle with sugar.
  8. Place the scones into the oven, and bake for about 18 minutes. You want them to be a little golden brown, so check on your scones after about 15 minutes.
  9. Take your scones out of the oven, and let them cool for about five minutes on a cookie sheet. Cut the scones horizontally and fill with your favorite jam! I’ve personally been rather fond of blueberry jam, as of late.
  10. Enjoy!

Coming Up: Menu Series: Forcing Myself Out of a Funk

Cooking for One: A Bummer, or an Act of Self-Love? Plus, a Recipe for Fish in a Bag

Even though I’m an anxious person, cooking for a crowd is one of my most favorite things to do. Sharing a meal with others has always been a significant pleasure in my life, and to be the person to prepare that meal, well, that’s just the goddamn best thing ever. Perhaps, this makes me feel a little closer to my mother, who played a similar(ly gendered) role in our family. Maybe it satiates my ever-present need to be nurturing (admittedly, this is likely a problematic need). Maybe it offers an easy way to receive external validation (ugh, I’m working on that). Whatever the reason, there’s nothing quite like loving my friends and family by cooking for and feeding them.

Cooking for one? Now, there’s a fucking bummer.

A couple of months ago, I was recounting my incredibly competitive and self-deprecating nature to my therapist. These go-to behaviors have served as the pinnacle of my essence for years, where concepts like “productivity” and “proactivity” and “achievement” were the only goals that mattered. I would frequently go through periods of loathing myself for not performing at my highest potential (it’s a mystery how I make that assessment of my potential – it is always suspiciously juuuuuust out of reach), which would motivate me to do better. To be better. For a long time, I believed that this rather extreme strategy of self-betterment was an act of tough love. But, really, it’s not. It makes me internalize and project anger, and provides me with a roundabout way of letting myself off the hook. If I’m my own worst critic, then I can never be hurt or impacted/bettered by the criticisms of others. This is stagnating and isolating.

In any case, this way-of-being has impacted my ability to experience pleasure in activities and hobbies. Though it seems rather obvious that I enjoy cooking, I only take pleasure in it when other people are involved. My therapist asked me whether I ever cook for myself, not just out of necessity, but for the sake of pleasure. I responded by telling him the story of how last time my husband was on tour, I ordered a large, everything pizza, and consumed the whole thing in 30 minutes. Two nights in a row. So,  no. I have never really cooked for the audience of me, and I have never been able to enjoy the fruits of my labor without someone to love beside me.

It makes sense that I am less motivated to cook when I feel a little lonely. But, in my estimation, the biggest problem is that I feel like I don’t deserve my own time and energy. If cooking is an act of love (for me, it most definitely is), then to cook for myself is to love myself. And, blech, who wants to do that? It feels so uncomfortable.

So, in an act of defiance against my own norms, and despite my instinct to shotgun an 18-inch pizza every night of the week, I’m cooking for myself while my husband is gone. Sure, none of the meals so far have reached my self-imposed standards. Obviously, my brain cannot properly adjust to cooking food in smaller quantities, so I have been making way too much of each meal, even factoring in leftovers for lunch. I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m a grandmother, at heart, and therefore feel the need to make too much food in order to feed impromptu guests/loved ones, just in case. Maybe my acute vertigo has left me a little lazy or hazy.

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For example, this bibimguksu w/ chopped ddak bulgogi and a picked egg was not as tangy and delicious as it could have been. It was pretty great, but not amazing.

I could go on and on about everything that has gone wrong, so far. But, I won’t.  I’ll focus on the fact that this has been a strangely and slowly empowering process. I will probably always be hard on myself, but for the first time in my cooking tenure, I’m listening for and to my own joy, my own criticisms.

I cooked and ate a dish new to my repertoire, the other day: Fish in a Bag, with lemon, fennel, olives and white wine sauce. It was nice in appearance, smelled great, tasted good, and taught me about a technique that I hadn’t yet utilized. I decided that I deserved a plate that was pretty, so I worked on the presentation, a little. And, I critiqued it. Perhaps, I was a little hard on myself. I could have seasoned the fish a little more. I probably should have pre-cooked the potatoes, a little less. I accidentally forgot to buy pitted olives, so that element of the dish was annoying to eat. But, I formed my own opinions, and listened to them. To me, this is a small act of self-love, because I often won’t listen to my own thoughts when I am in the presence of brilliant and wonderful people. And, I often am surrounded by brilliant and wonderful people.

In any case, I’m pleased. Small wins are always big. And Audre Lorde reminds me why self-care is so important.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde

Finally, here is Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Fish in a Bag.

IMG_1874

Fish in a bag with lemon, fennel, olives, and white wine sauce 
Recipe from Jamie Oliver (slightly modified)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 20-25 minutes
Servings: 1

Ingredients

Instructions 

  1. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. While that’s getting ready, create a “bag” out of foil. To do this, take a large piece of aluminum foil (about 14×18 inches), and fold it half. Tightly fold the two sides adjacent to the original folded edge, and leave one side open. Jamie Oliver recommends you brush the edges with egg before you fold them in, to help with sealing, but I found that I didn’t need to do that.
  2. Drop the potatoes into the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. While they are boiling, place the prepared fennel, lemon, and cherry tomatoes into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to your liking, add a drizzle of olive oil, and mix gently but thoroughly. Separately, season the halibut fillet to your liking.
  3. Once the potatoes are done, drain them, and add them to the bowl of mixed vegetables. Once everything is mixed, carefully place the contents into the foil bag, place the fillet on top, and sprinkle with some fennel fronds.  Add a splash of white wine, and seal the remaining edge.
  4. In an oven preheated at 400ºF, place the foil bag onto a baking tray and cook for 20-25 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillet. Once cooked, place the bag on a serving plate and gently pierce to release the steam. Serve to self on a plate.

Coming Up
The Problematization of Authenticity Series: Musings on White Chefs and “Ethnic” Restaurants

Meal Planning 101: On Reusing Versatile Ingredients, plus a “Nourish Bowl” Recipe

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my initial motivation to schedule all my meals came from anxiety – anxiety that I would be wasteful with ingredients (and therefore money), that I wouldn’t enjoy my food. It’s become much more than that, more than a pressure valve for my neurosis. It’s a way for me to think creatively, to exercise a kind of freedom that only exists in the presence of strict parameters.

I’ve tried to outline a Meal Planning 101 entry, but found that a singular post would be far too long and verbose, and probably super boring. So, I’ve decided to start a series, highlighting different elements of my planning process. This first one is going to be about thinking ahead and reusing ingredients, and I’ll go through my thought process behind this week’s menu.

The process of reusing ingredients is important to me for a number of reasons:

  1. It tightens parameters. I don’t know if you know this, but there are like a gazillion food blogs (read: food porn sites) and a bajillion recipes for everything. Diving into the endless abyss of books and blogs to find that perfect dish is probably a gigantic time suck, and this helps. And, even though I like planning stuff out (clearly), sometimes I find it exhausting to make completely new things, everyday, and to find delectable recipes for each. Choosing versatile ingredients that I can reuse gives me a weird sort of peace of mind.
  2. It helps me to develop my palate. I learn more about the ingredient when I cook it in a number of different styles. Also, by focusing on one or more reusable ingredients for a week’s meal, I have the opportunity to actually taste different ingredient pairings and formulate my own opinions.
  3. It can save time. For example, I can prepare the ingredient for the whole week in one fell swoop (e.g. trimming or blanching vegetables), or cook the ingredient(s) in one batch and use them throughout the week.
  4. It can save money. I am often on the prowl for what’s on sale or in season. If I’m okay with reusing an ingredient or two throughout the week, it means that I can spend less money. Also, if I find that I’m reusing a great deal of something (an example for me would be jasmine rice), then I can save some money by purchasing in bulk.

There are obviously other elements to meal-planning. Often, I’ll start with what kind of stuff I’m craving, or what I think my body needs. But the focus on ingredients and how I can make them versatile is a key element to my planning process, one that I use every week.

This Week’s Meals

This week, because my husband is on tour (I’m lonely!), I’m making a lot of one-pot meals, reusing loads of ingredients/elements, and cooking things that are easy to bring to work. Additionally, because it’s been getting warmer, I want to cook and eat things that don’t make me feel like a sweaty slimeball. Here were some of my thoughts in coming up with the menu:

  • I wanted a versatile grain that would be good either hot or cold. I chose farro, because it’s not one of the foods that just tastes really healthy (read: boring or icky), it is healthy but has a relatively complex character. I can cook all of my farro at the same time, and use it for different meals to save on time.
  • Honestly, after a week of eating very little meat (since we binged in Maine), I am craving some animal. I decided to go the chicken route, since it’s kind of on the lighter side. And I’m not afraid to admit this to the world: I like eating chicken. Like, I like it a lot. So, I bought enough chicken for roasting, and for ddak bulgogi (Korean chicken BBQ). The latter will be its own meal (with rice or farro), and then serve as toppers for farro bibimbap and bibimguksu.
  • Roasted vegetables are amazing on or with everything. I’m going to roast a bunch of vegetables on a cool morning (w/ my new spice mix obsession for vegetables: salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, cayenne, and paprika). Then, I’ll use them as a side for rice & beans, cheese omelette and fish in a bag. And, they will serve as integral elements to my farro nourish bowl.
  • Eggs. I love them so much. This week, I’ll pickle some soft-boiled eggs as part of all the rice or farro dishes. Also, since I’m allowed to be “lazy” while Nico is on tour, I’m going to make myself a delicious and easy omelette, one night.

I should also add that I needed all the meals to be relatively simple, since I had my first trip to the Emergency Room (as an adult) on Wednesday. Apparently, I have pretty severe vertigo, so lots of movement, or movement at all, is pretty disorienting and disconcerting. WOMP.

Now, with all the context, here is the weeks’ menu:

FRIDAY

  • D: Fish in a bag, w/ lemon, fennel, olives, and white wine sauce

SATURDAY

  • L: Farro nourish bowl w/ roasted vegetables and a pickled egg, topped w/ lime dressing
  • D: Bibim guksu w/ chicken bulgogi

SUNDAY

  • L: Leftover bibimguksu
  • D: Chicken bulgogi w/ jasmine rice and roasted vegetables

MONDAY

  • L: Leftover bulgogi, rice, and vegetables
  • D: Farro bibimbap w/ chicken bulgogi topping and a pickled egg, and an arugula salad

TUESDAY

  • L: Leftover farro bibimbap
  • D: Brie omelette, baguette, and an arugula salad

WEDNESDAY

  • L: Leftovers (of anything)
  • D: Roasted chicken thigh w. cherry tomatoes & asparagus, baguette, and an arugula salad

THURSDAY

  • L: Leftover chicken
  • D: Rice & beans and roasted vegetables

FRIDAY

  • L: Leftover rice & beans
  • D: ORDER DELIVERY (woohoooo)

And, here’s a recipe for an amazingly simple farro nourish bowl that has swept me off my feet. By the way, I think the term “nourish bowl” is the worst, like it’s the top selling (and only) food item at a CA smoothie store. But, it’s easier to say that, than to say “healthy but delicious bowl of grain with other hearty and mostly vegetarian toppings.”

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Farro “Nourish Bowl” with Roasted Vegetables and Lime/Maple Dressing
Adapted from Cookie Monster Cooking’s Blog
Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients
Roasted Vegetables:
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced
  • 2 small or 1 large yukon gold potato, peeled and chopped into ½ inch chunks
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into ½ inch chunks
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 heads of broccoli, chopped
  • 2 ears of corn kernels (cut right off the cob)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon salt
For the dressing:
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • pinch of pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil
For serving:
  • Farro, cooked per instructions
  • Avocado, sliced on top
  • Pickled egg

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
  2. Chop up all the vegetables, and place them into a large bowl. add the cumin, paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt, olive oil, and canola oil. Mix well, and place the vegetables onto a baking sheet (use two if necessary – you don’t want to crowd the pan).
  3. Bake for 40 minutes, and stir halfway through. The vegetables should be beautifully browned and aromatic.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing.
  5. To serve, place some farro in a bowl, and add the roasted veggies, sliced avocado, and pickled egg on top. Dress with the lime/maple syrup mixture, and enjoy!