Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Living it up in Lima

Lima, Peru.  It wasn't love at first sight, but the city definitely grew on me.  When we planned our trip to Peru, we decided to go to Cusco and the Sacred Valley first, and then end in Lima, the capital of Peru.  I figured that being in a metropolitan area would be a nice treat after all of our hiking and wandering in the parts of the country with less modern conveniences, but we found ourselves nostalgic for those places when we arrived in bustling Lima on a grey, smoggy afternoon.  We were sort of in denial that we had just been in pleasant, quiet old Urubamba just that morning and here we were, suddenly wrapped up in fumes, pedestrians, honking cars, and skyscrapers.  Lima is the third-largest city in the Americas.  At first, it was funny to be sarcastic about it all (Why's that dog on a leash? Why are they advertising bottled chicha?  Why are they selling sweaters in storefronts?), but soon it got to be sapping and I found myself regretful of our decision to leave Urubamba.  Wes reminded me that I didn't really know what to think of Urubamba at first either, but ended up loving it.  He also reminded me to think back to that first night when we laid over in Lima briefly before flying to Cusco.  It truly was all so fresh and exciting at that time, and we had been looking forward to coming back to check out what else this big city had to offer.

As I am sitting here in front of my computer a couple of years later, I look back on these photos and think about how wonderful the days we spent here were.  All things considered, Lima treated us so well, and I would be super happy to relive any one of those days there.  No, we weren't amongst ancient ruins or hiking in the jungle, but we got to eat food that was unique to Lima, we got to explore a UNESCO World Heritage site, we got to meet Chinese immigrants living here, we got to see what urban street art looked like, and we got to see sharply contrasting parts of the same country.  For example, our only choice of transportation in Urubamba was a rickety moto-taxi (or simply walking), whereas we were able to whip out our Smartphones and call an Uber in Lima.  I really value ending our trip in Lima now, and getting the chance to reflect on these things, and to think about how our lives in Los Angeles differed from what is considered modern in Lima.  We also unexpectedly glimpsed the striking similarities between the Peruvians of Chinese descent and our parents' generation in the United States, as first-generation immigrants.  These experiences in Lima, no matter how fleeting they seemed when they were happening, widened my world view.  Essentially, no travel experience can be taken for granted or underestimated, no matter how unglamorous.

Now, let me stop being all serious and get into all of the wonderful things about Lima that we loved and still remember well!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

First Thing He Smoked: Chinese Spiced St. Louis-style Ribs

Hurray, Wes is now the proud owner of his very own, fancy schmancy smoker.  He has long felt like he grew out of his cheap cabinet style smoker, which he had been using when we were living at our apartment.  Apparently, having a yard meant that he could grow out of the cabinet smoker and get something legit.  Ever since we got this house, Wes has been casually talking about adding a smoker to the back.  Yeah, like the black cylindrical kind with that burns those little wood pellets.  It reminds me of Wes musing about getting a grill when we first toured our apartment and discovered that there was a patio.  Oh, how times have changed.

As per usual with Wes, a deal can be found as soon as he receives the green light from me to purchase.  He bargained with someone on OfferUp (why have we never used this app before?!) for a brand new Traeger Timberline 850.  Stolen, perhaps.  But that's aside from the point.  After he assembled it, everything and anything edible went into that smoker.  From a piece of mozzarella in our caprese salad, to whole sea bass, to peaches.  Then, my uncle invited us to his place for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival for dinner and even though Wes usually will make crispy pork (my uncle’s favorite), this time I suggested making something in the new smoker. We already had some St. Louis style ribs in the fridge, so we decided to give them a Chinese flare.  We ditched the paprika and black pepper and opted for Szechuan peppercorn, five spice, ginger, white pepper, and cumin. Then, we topped them with Szechuan-flavored garlic chips that Wes toasted in the oven, sprigs of cilantro, and green onion. When I took my first bite, I knew that this would be a hit with my family. All of the Chinese flavors were complemented by the aroma of hickory and applewood.

Here is the recipe that we made up for the rub.  

3 tablespoons salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorn
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder

Wes cooked these particular racks more than he normally would because he knows that my family really likes fall-off-the-bone barbecue, but he personally prefers the meat to have more of a pull.  After cooking the ribs in the smoker for about three hours with some intermittent sprays of cider vinegar, he took them out and wrapped them in foil with a little honey and brown sugar.  Then, back into the smoker they went for another two hours or so.  They were indeed mouthwateringly tender!  For the record, Wes would really cook it for about two hours for the first stage (unwrapped) and then about an hour and a half for the second stage (wrapped) to achieve the firmer texture that he likes.

So far we are getting a lot of use out of this 2-day-old smoker and we hope that it will see many more pounds of meat and wood pellets. And whatever else Wes decides to randomly throw in there.