Friday, June 30, 2017

Salmon Fried Rice - The Greenest You've Ever Seen

There isn't anything super innovative about this recipe, but I will say that it is one of my originals.  I don't really remember how I came up with it, but I remember that Wes was thoroughly enamored with this rather homely fried rice, in a way that I have never seen him with anything else that I've cooked before.  He even mentioned this dish in his wedding vows, in front of all of our guests.  A recipe that sprouted out of nowhere has now become one of my go-to comfort food recipes.  Being the veg-head that I am,  this fried rice is almost more green than it is white (and a great jaw workout with all those Chinese broccoli stalks).  I guess this is one way to get a boy to eat his greens.  Sometimes I also sneak in brown rice, which is barely noticeable when there are so many other textures going on.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

ZOMG We Made Zong Zi! (Shanghai Style)

粽子, or "zongzi" - green leafy packages tied up with string (definitely one of our favorite things).  There's just something about the plump, familiar pyramidal shape, the comfortable weight of it in your hand, the distinct aroma of those leaf wrappers emanating from the stove, the way it playfully tumbles out when unwrapped.  Wes and I both have very fond childhood memories revolving around these traditional Chinese sticky rice tamales.  Much like the custom of making Christmas cookies in American households, preparing zongzi was a treat that generations of Chinese children looked forward to on the fifth day of the fifth month of each lunar year, "Duanwu Jie," also known as the Dragon Boat Festival.  But, as we were both raised in second-generation Chinese-American families, we never got to experience (the torture of) making them ourselves.  All we did was eat them...until last weekend.

Wes tells me that he used to always look forward to receiving zongzi as a child; he remembers coming home to see a bag of them hanging from the doorknob with newspapers and tangerines.  His mom would get lots of hand-wrapped zongzi from her family of ten, so multiple people made them and you never knew what you were gonna get inside, though he always hoped for the fatty pork bits and peanuts, and avoided the egg yolks.  Nowadays, Wes's aunts have ensured that we always have an ongoing zongzi inventory in our freezer, unloading sacks of them every year during the Dragon Boat Festival around this time, during Chinese New Year sometimes, and even on Thanksgiving if they felt like it.  Many a zongzi has come to the rescue when we didn't have time to cook dinner after work.

For me, I remember getting to eat them every once in a while when my mom special-orders them from a lady who makes them at home (pretty much the zongzi blackmarket of Irvine)...but they never seemed to compare to the ones in Taiwan.  Even if it wasn't necessarily around the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, zongzi was one of those things that we had to buy and eat when we went to my grandma's place in Taipei.  We would walk over to the Nanmen Market and pick some out from one of those stalls where they handmake them.  I've always favored the ones with the shiitake mushrooms inside, and the browner the rice, the better (because it would have been drenched in soy sauce!).  I, unlike Wes, avoided the peanuts.  My family also likes the sweet ones, with rice and red bean paste inside, while Wes never grew up with those and doesn't particularly enjoy them as an adult.  My mom has successfully smuggled the red bean ones back to the United States a few times - she says that since there isn't meat inside it's okay...but really, how can you tell what's in it until you open it?  She takes the risk anyway.

While neither Wes nor I grew up watching our mothers and aunts squatting around crafting these tamales, it's easy to romanticize the idea based on our parents' stories.  How nice it must be, to gather around big bowls of ingredients and a stack of soaked leaves, filling and folding the afternoon away, chatting and bonding.  My mom must have wanted to recreate that experience, so she actually brought back some of these leaves from Taiwan (legal, right?), and invited us kids over to try our hand at this age-old tradition.  Boy, were we all in for a rude awakening.  Wrapping your own zongzi is maybe one of our most confusing and excruciating kitchen experiments to date (making pizza dough is another one).  Even my mom had no recollection of how to properly get them squared away, so rather than gathering around the ingredients, we found ourselves in a knot around the computer, watching blurry videos of old ladies deftly assembling them as if they were schoolboys folding paper airplanes.  Practice makes almost-perfect though... after a few hapless incidents (like, exploding zongzi all over the floor), we were able to scrounge up a few that actually looked somewhat triangular.  The most relieving part was that they all tasted exactly like zongzi.  Thanks, Mom!!  Now, I gotta write down the recipe before we all forget next year.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Scenic Route to Mammoth: U.S. Route 395

Mammoth is one of the most amazing snowboarding destinations, but we're never in a hurry to get there.  The compelling 300-mile roadtrip itself offers so much to see that it's worth pulling over often to soak in the many sights.  Every time we make this drive, we find new places to explore, or we make it a point to visit the same places to see how they have changed with the seasons. Also, it's fun to eat at those family-run diners, cafes, and barbecue places--dining in what feels like the "middle of nowhere" is a refreshing change of pace.  Our favorite stops so far--from South to North--are the Alabama Hills (and the cafe/diner there), Fossil Falls (and the surrounding lava fields), Coppertop Barbecue (well-deserved #1 restaurant on Yelp in 2015), Manzanar (very moving experience), Mahogany Smoked Meats (their huge, meaty sandwiches!), Convict Lake, and the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve (well, this is already within Mammoth but a worthy addition to the end of the roadtrip).  Still got stuff left on the bucket list though, and always on the lookout for more ideas.

Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm

Alabama Hills

Somewhere near Bishop

Mahogany Smoked Meats sandwiches

The Eastern Sierras

Fossil Falls

Arriving in Mammoth during one of the snowiest seasons in Mammoth history!