Monday, July 27, 2020

Revisiting My Roots in Taiwan

Even though I was not born there, I almost automatically use the word hui 回, "return to," when referring to traveling to Taiwan because that is how my parents have always phrased it.  I have only had the privilege of making that trip a handful of times in my life, and each time has been different and special in its own way, with memories that I can still recall clearly.  However, Taiwan was becoming more and more of a distant "home" to me as the years went by, and even my dad had not been back in almost 20 years.  It was this thought of losing that part of me that urged me to ask my mom if I could join her when she returned for Chinese New Year in 2017.  She had been going back almost every year after us kids went to college, so she was at first confused about my sudden desire to come along.  Surprisingly, my dad also tacked on, and before we knew it, he and I were on a plane bound for Taipei!

This was my first time experiencing the Lunar New Year at my grandma Po-Po's place , and though I didn't know it then, it was also my last chance to spend quality time with her.  Wes did not come on this trip, and insisted that I take advantage of this rare opportunity to be 100% immersed within this side of my family.  I totally indulged in being a Chiang grandchild again, sleeping with my aunts and mom in Po-Po's bedroom, eating everything they put in front of me, and tagging along everywhere they went.  My complete lack of control was a refreshing and nostalgic way of experiencing Taiwan.  I brought my honkin' DSLR camera and took some pictures, mainly focusing on Chinese New Year traditions around the house and capturing my Po-Po at some of her favorite local spots.  I am so glad to be able to look back on these more recent memories of her and to have been able to feel close to my Taiwanese roots again.  My mother was worried that I would get bored, but everything we did felt significant in some way, whether it was something as mundane as picking up the dry cleaning with my aunt or as unique as sharing in Po-Po's delicious cooking on New Year's Eve.  

Po-Po and my mom

Katie, Aunt Nancy, and me

Aunt Kathy and my mom

Rachel, Katie, and me

Aunt Nancy, Aunt Kathy, and Aunt Karen

And how could I ever be bored around so many talkative, opinionated, and spunky women?  Aunt Nancy is the eldest, Aunt Kathy is next, and then my mom is the youngest of the four Chiang children.  We call their brother Jiu-Jiu, and he is possibly the most gentle and compassionate of them all.  My cousins who were there were Rachel (Jiu-Jiu's daughter) and Katie (one of Aunt Kathy's daughters)--many others like my sister were in America and unable to join.  So basically, the men were outnumbered and I appreciated that the Chiang house seemed to be perpetually dominated by women's voices.  My grandpa, Gong-Gong, passed away ten years ago, but even when he was alive, he sweetly catered to his wife, daughters, and son with grace and wisdom.  I wish that I had known him better.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Five Years Married

It's our five-year anniversary today.  Looking back at these photos has never made me feel so emotional before.  It could be from feeling socially distant from all of these loving friends and family members.  But I think that it's mainly because it hits me how much we have changed in the last year.  We are no longer as carefree as we were when we said our vows and danced the night away.  Everything that day looked so predictable and fun, so perfect and happy.

It was on this day last year that I surprised Wes by announcing our first pregnancy, under the same tree where we had our "first look" on our wedding day.  We were celebrating our fourth anniversary by returning to Descanso Gardens, our wedding venue, after a long day of unpacking boxes and working with the electrician.  Moving into our newly-bought home was hard work, but we were so full of hope for the future.  Wes never shed a tear (not even at our wedding), but he had to wipe tears from his eyes when I told him that we were expecting a baby.  I had no idea that the ensuing twelve months after this day would bring so many more tears.  But the hard year ahead also brought a deeper level of empathy and trust into our marriage.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Chinese New Year: A Celebration of Togetherness

Chinese New Year was the last time that we had a family gathering at our place.  Little did we know that it would be impossible to do this again... indefinitely.  We traditionally host Fourth of July, but who knows if the coronavirus stay-at-home order will be lifted by then?

It was around Chinese New Year that the virus first gained attention in the media.  At the time, it was largely dismissed as a virus no more harmful than the flu.  My sister was handing out wedding invitations for her May wedding still.  We were exchanging everything from food, to hugs, to lucky money (cash, the germiest form of currency!).   I remember going to three different markets to get groceries for our Chinese New Year feast, and how "crazy" we thought the Asian markets were around this big holiday.  The definition of a chaotic supermarket has now been blown out the window.  Thinking back, our world has shifted so much since then.

I wanted to go back and relive that fun day.  It was our first family gathering since officially moving in.  The house was full and bursting with laughter and our oven was jam-packed with the many dishes that we had cooked ahead and were keeping warm.  People drove for miles to get together, bringing more goodies to share.  It was hectic getting everything onto the table while taking photos and entertaining, but I remember it being a good kind of hectic.  I miss having guests come by.  Sometimes when we cook great meals for ourselves during these days, I wish that we could have shared them with loved ones.  For now, all we can do is to share virtually.

I hope that we will get to see everyone again soon.  Thankfully, we've got technology to video-chat and my family already has a group text, but to share a physical space (without having to be six feet apart) is still an irreplaceable experience.  Also, food is our mutual love language.  On the final days before the stay at home order, we visited my parents and my mom insisted on cooking dinner for everyone to eat.  On Wes's birthday, about two weeks into the lockdown, his mom dropped off a box of homecooked food on our front doorstep.  We are really looking forward to bringing everybody together for a hearty feast to celebrate when it is safe again!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: Chinese Chive Pockets

One of my mom's favorite foods is chive pockets (韭菜盒子).  It's basically a large, flat, pan-fried dumpling shaped like an empanada, stuffed with chopped chives, scrambled eggs, dried shrimp, and vermicelli noodles.  Sometimes woodear mushrooms are incorporated as well, but Wes vetoed that ingredient.  I love ordering these at restaurants, but never dared try to make my own because it just seemed too labor-intensive.  Well, now with all restaurants off limits, there is no better time to try my hand at these.  I attempted these later into the quarantine because I kept chickening out, but finally close to the end of summer school, I decided that I could focus my energies on making these!

I must say that we've gotten the Kitchen Aid out more times in the last two months than over the entire life span of the machine in our dominion.  Whether it was for French baguettes or naan, we were making good use out of it!  Most recipes tell you to knead the dough by hand, but it turned out fine with the Kitchen Aid.  Call us lazy, but we also got out the tortilla press to initially form each wrapper after dividing up the dough.  Wes joked that our ancestors would be rolling in their graves seeing us be so untraditional.  Not to worry, there was still plenty to roll with the wooden rolling pin...we were just trying to be resourceful.

In the end, we realized that it was really not hard to make, but just involves many steps that can be time-consuming.  As if chopping the chives, scrambling and chopping the eggs, soaking and chopping the vermicelli, and stir frying the dried shrimp for the filling wasn't enough work, there also was the rolling and crimping of the dough wrappers.  We did it assembly-line style, Wes was in charge of rolling and I was in charge of crimping.  However, just like the recipe says, it is just not the same at all with store-bought dumpling wrappers because first of all, they would be puny, and second of all, the texture would not be chewy enough.  I really loved how these turned out, and they held up really well to a nice pan sear.  Wes was in charge of that part, since he's the king of making perfectly golden brown potstickers!  After I posted my pictures of the cross section on Instagram, friends and family were all over us.  I guess that means that we'll be making more in the near future!  I posted the adapted recipe here for safekeeping, but please refer to the linked blog for all of the details.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Tennesseeing with the Wongs

It was our first time in what you could consider the "deep South," and even though it was a short trip, we really enjoyed our little taste of Nashville, Knoxville, Harrogate, and Middlesboro.  We survived Prince's hot chicken, ate barbecue almost every day, listened to singers in a honky-tonk, milked a goat, wandered through historic Civil War sites and a graveyard, walked among centuries-old buildings, hiked in the footsteps of Native Americans and pioneers, and most importantly, watched Dr. Stacy Wong walk across the Lincoln Memorial University stage to receive her Veterinary Medicine diploma.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: Ikea Meatballs

Everybody's favorite part about going to Ikea is the delicious and economical Swedish meatball plate, right??  Wes found the recipe online somehow (and yes, it actually looks like their signature furniture building instructions) and we knew that this was something we needed to attempt.  These delicious balls are a mixture of ground beef and pork, and the surprising cream sauce ingredient was soy sauce.  We modified it just a touch by adding chopped parsley.  We also crumbled the lonely chunk of white bread stashed in the back of the fridge that Wes made last week for the bread crumbs.  While we had no lingonberry jam, we found that it was not necessary to creating the authentic Ikea experience.  The balls themselves were 100% just as awesome as the Ikea ones, if not better because they were freshly made at home.  So, this recipe is not a knockoff--it's the real deal!

(Click to enlarge)

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: Osso Buco with Polenta

This pandemic has forced us to get really creative with our virtual hangouts.  My sister had the fantastic idea of cooking a recipe together on Mother's Day.  It was the perfect activity for the family to do together remotely--everyone was able to participate, my brother on the East Coast could join, and my mom got a much-needed taste of non-Chinese food.  Also, we gifted her a brand new Dutch oven, so she was able to make use of it right away!

Aerial view of our stovetop from the portable webcam

My brother is teaching my dad how to open a bottle of wine, lol

A photo of us from my mom's perspective, in her kitchen.

We knew that my mom was sick and tired of her Chinese cooking with all of the restaurants being closed, so we had to think of something to make that was not Asian.  Wes and I often make osso buco in our Dutch oven, so it was the first idea that came to mind for me to suggest.  Everyone was on board, so we each grabbed our own ingredients and clicked into Google Meets on Sunday.  We had everything prepped and spread out, a laptop on the kitchen counter, and a webcam mounted to the top of the stove.  It was definitely the first time we've ever done this.  It was super fun to do this together, and then we all shared photos of our completed dishes when we were done!  We opted to make polenta to go with it this time, but pasta and crusty bread are two other great accompaniments to this dish.