Saturday, April 25, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: Lamb Lule Kebabs and Beet Hummus

This was our first dinner under the string lights that we hung up in the backyard!  Hanging up the lights was something that I'd been thinking about doing for a long time, but we never got around to it.  The first weekend after everyone was mandated to stay at home, we braved a trip to Costco to get 200 feet of outdoor LED string lights.  It was totally worth it for the rotisserie chicken...haha, but you think I'm kidding.  After a full afternoon of screwing a hundred light bulbs, threading steel rope through tiny black zip ties attached to each light bulb, leaning ladders against tree trunks, and improvising with a rake, we were able to create zigzagging bistro lights throughout the front and back yards.  It was a lot of work but it actually went by quickly with us working together.  Nothing was more satisfying than sitting down to our first dinner underneath them (not on the same day)!

We happened to have a colorful array of Mediterranean food for dinner that night.  Believe it or not, we did not plan out this meal--in fact, it was made with things that we were trying to get rid of.  There were these beets that Wes smoked earlier in the week, part of a head of cauliflower, ground lamb in the freezer, and a random pack of pita.  And then we always have basmati rice, feta cheese, yogurt, and onions in the house.  So, after a little brainstorming, Wes got to work on marinating the lamb and forming it into lule kebabs, and I blended the beets and transformed them into a yummy, magenta hummus.  We were enjoying our meal quite happily when reality struck in the form of mosquitos.  Nature, we hadn't seen that one coming!  As soon as the sun went down, the skeeters appeared.  Our next purchases were quickly determined: a citronella candle and a Dynatrap.  Inside we went, but it was lovely to dine al fresco for all but thirty minutes!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: HK Cafe Chicken Steak with Mushroom Gravy

One of the places we miss going out to eat at is Garden Cafe in Arcadia, a Hong Kong style cafe that has been there for as long as Wes can remember.  While I grew up going to Denny's on Tuesdays (because kids eat free that day), Wes grew up going to these HK cafes, which I sorely wished existed in Irvine where I lived.  My first time going to an HK Cafe was a revelation--these menus were like food encyclopedias, ranging from club sandwiches to clay pots.  I wondered how one kitchen could possibly produce all of these different kinds of food from both Western and Chinese cuisines! Sometimes, we order a bunch of dishes to share, and other times we will each get our own entree.  While Wes has tried many things on these menus due to over twenty years of dining at HK cafes with his family and friends, his trusty go-to order seems to be the chicken steak.  It doesn't look particularly extravagant, especially not with its somewhat pitiful sides of limp veggies and plain rice (or severely undersauced spaghetti), but one bite of this juicy, crisp, and thick piece of meat will blow your mind.  Also, the gravy sauce is on point, no matter what flavor you opt for.  Wes always polishes his entire plate off before my fish porridge is even cool enough to handle.  

So when the stay-at-home order began, he took it into his own hands to try to imitate this dish in our kitchen.  There was no recipe to follow, so he went with his instincts.  I would say that his tasted just as good as the ones from the cafes, but of course he begs to differ that nothing can quite measure up to that nostalgic flavor combination.  I forbade him from making the nasty spaghetti, but was 100% on board with black pepper gravy with added mushrooms and the little bowls of tomato soup that he spontaneously whipped up.  At any legit HK cafe, a cup of complimentary soup with saltine crackers always comes with any order.  You can usually choose between a chowder that tastes like it came from a can, or a pork bone tomato stew, which in my opinion is much more worth it.  Again, Wes begs to differ, as sometimes he just has that hankering for the bland complimentary chowder.  By the same token, he does not understand my sentimental cravings for floppy American diner pancakes.  Anyhow, he tied up all the loose ends with the soup and the steamed veggies.  All we were missing was the gaudy chandeliers, plush booth seating, and brusque wait-service--and I say that with the most amount of endearment.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Snow, Seafood, and a Music Box - Otaru, Hokkaido

At this time last year, we were in Otaru, wrapping up our spring break trip to Hokkaido.  I've been meaning to blog about this beautiful Japanese canal city, but the months passed and before I knew it, a year has already flown by.  Between coming back from this trip and now, our lives have sharply swerved in unpredictable directions over and over.  First, we became homeowners, then we became parents twice (and lost both), and now we're stuck in a pandemic.  All of that came with many highs and lows.  We planned this trip originally on a whim--how I miss those days of going places without needing to worry about anything.  I'm glad that we did it while we could, and even though I yearn for those blissful days, I'm glad that we have come so far since then, too.

It brings me joy right now, as we shelter in place, to look back on these photos and write down what I can before the sensation of being back in Japan fades as more time goes by.  Wes recently told me that my blogging is just as important as all of the things that he does around the house--this virtual space is sacred, like our physical home.  I need to try to document as much as I can, and it's fun and rewarding for me just as it's fun and rewarding for him to complete house projects.  I have begun to affirm my role here as the keeper of memories.

We were only in Otaru for a full day plus one morning, but we packed in a ton (of seafood).  When we pulled up to the train station and stepped out of the train, the softly falling snow took our breath away.  The elegance of the stone sidewalks, the delicate taste of local seafood, the charm of the little artisanal shops, the chills that the Suitengu shrine gave us, the tranquility of endless rows of bare cherry blossom trees in Temiya Park, the enchanting sound of an antique music box... it was all very pleasant and it seemed like nothing could possibly go wrong in this town - until the day we were leaving...more on that later.  Going to this city was the perfect way to decompress from our four days of snowboarding in Niseko and take our time saying good-bye to beautiful Hokkaido!