Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

homecooking   Food writer and critic Ruth Reichl calls her “the anti-Martha Stewart”.

And perhaps it is because of that that Colwin’s Home Cooking is such an enjoyable read.

In the introduction, Colwin tells the reader that she is a homebody. She loves to stay at home, loves to eat in, and enjoys cooking, but adds that “while I like a nice meal, I do not want to be made a nervous wreck in the process of producing one. I like dishes that are easy, savory, and frequently cook themselves (or cook quickly)”.

“I am probably not much fun as a traveler, either. My idea of a good time abroad is to visit someone’s house and hang out, poking into their cupboards if they will let me. One summer I spent some time in a farmhouse on the island of Minorca. This was my idea of bliss: a vacation at home (even if it wasn’t my home). I could wake up in the morning, make the coffee and wander outside to pick apricots for break- fast. I could wander around the markets figuring out that night’s dinner. In foreign countries I am drawn into grocery shops, supermarkets and kitchen supply houses.”

She’s my kind of cook!

I adore reading food book, and I’ve read more than a few by chefs, restaurant critics and other foodie celebs, but Laurie Colwin’s writing is refreshing in its candour and her ability to connect with the reader, whose domain is more likely to be a home kitchen than a professional one.

Ruth Reichl, the writer, editor and former New York Times restaurant critic, told the New York Times: “You want to be in the kitchen with her — that is her secret. She is the best friend we all want. She never talks down to you.” Colwin is always encouraging:

“Of course there is a motto here: always try everything even if it turns out to be a dud. We learn by doing. If you never stuff a chicken with pâté, you will never know that it is an unwise thing to do, and if you never buy zucchini flowers you will never know that you are missing one of the glories of life.”

She willingly shares her kitchen mistakes:

“This was in my younger days when that sort of thing seemed like a good idea. Triple bypass surgery on the vice-presidents of a medium-sized corporation could have been performed in the time it took me to bone this chicken because the trick was to bone it without cutting into it. You sort of wiggled the knife inside the cavity and got the bones from underneath. When I had finished, I was exhausted and the poor little chicken looked like a dead basketball. But nevertheless, I was determined to stuff that creature with a fancy mixture of ham, chicken, pistachio nuts, cream, cognac and so forth. It makes me shudder to think of it.”

And muses on parties and other people’s cooking:

A party by its nature is free-floating. People are free to float about your rooms grinding cake crumbs into your rugs, scattering cigarette ash on your wood floors, scaring your cat and leaving their glasses to make rings on your furni- ture. This sort of thing is enthralling to some potential hosts and hostesses, horrific to others. Most people feel a combination of these things: the idea of a party fills them half with horror, half with excitement.

The old-fashioned fish bake was a terrifying production. Someone in the family had gone fishing and had pulled up a number of smallish fish – no one was sure what kind. These were partially cleaned and not thoroughly scaled and then flung into a roasting pan. Perhaps to muffle their last screams, they were smothered in a thick blanket of sour cream and then pelted with raw chopped onion. As the coup de grace, they were stuck in a hot oven for a brief period of time until their few juices ran out and the sour cream had a chance to become grainy. With this we were served boiled frozen peas and a salad with iceberg lettuce.

And writes her recipes without too much of a fuss. Sure it’s nice to have a fancy meal on occasion, but with a busy lifestyle, sometimes you just need an idea for a simple meal, like this one for ‘Last-Minute Soup’ in which you steal your kids’ pasta shapes:

“one cup jellied stock, two asparagus chopped up, some little pasta, one egg, juice of half a lime, and black pepper Let the stock come to a simmer and add the asparagus and pasta: you can steal your child’s pastina, or pasta stars. When the pasta has cooked, stir in a beaten egg and the lime juice. Add fresh black pepper and eat at once.”

Here’s when you should read Laurie Colwin

– when you’ve had your own kitchen disaster

– when you’re planning a dinner party

– when you’ve stuck your head in the fridge wondering what to cook for dinner and your kids are demanding “where’s my dinner??”

– when you’ve had a horrendous meal out and everything else is closed and you’re still starving

– when you’re despairing at the size of your home and kitchen (“I did the dishes in a plastic pan in the bathtub and set the dish drainer over the toilet”, says Colwin)

– when you need to feed the fussy and want to disguise vegetables

Or you could just read Colwin anytime and every time. And then reread.

(I read this on Scribd)\

lauriecolwin

Laurie Colwin is the author of five novels: Happy All the TimeFamily HappinessGoodbye Without LeavingShine On, Bright and Dangerous Object; and A Big Storm Knocked It Over; three collections of short stories: Passion and AffectAnother Marvelous Thing, and The Lone Pilgrim; and two collections of essays: Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. She died in 1992, aged just 48.

(Maureen Corrigan of NPR recommends starting with Colwin’s 1982 novel Family Happiness, if you haven’t read Colwin’s work before.)

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This is my fourth read for Foodies Read 2015

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Come in, we’re closed: An invitation to staff meals at the world’s best restaurants

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A longstanding custom in France as well as in Japan, staff meals are gaining popularity as an insider perk for restaurant workers around the globe. The finest examples are meals made daily by passionate cooks using great (though often leftover) ingredients shared by everyone, free of charge, around one big table. At their most poetic, these meals highlight the raw beauty of people from all walks of life breaking bread together. In stark contrast, the not-so-great meals are chosen from an uninspired menu of bland, poorly executed, pre-processed options that are eaten in a hurry, or standing, or both. At worst, it is simply not served at all.

 

While I loved reading about the staff meals in various restaurants in North America and Europe, I wondered why there weren’t more restaurants from other parts of the world. This book should perhaps be retitled “western world”. Plenty of North America for sure, also quite a few in Europe like France and Spain, even as far away as Iceland. But no Asia. I mention Asia as the writers themselves had talked about family meals in Japanese restaurants. they do feature Morimoto but that is a Philadelphia restaurant. So I remain curious as to what a Japanese restaurant in Japan serves as its family meal. If we look at the (controversial) list of World’s Best restaurants, there are a decent number located in Asia such as in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Japan. There’s also South Africa, India, Brazil and Peru.

I don’t expect the writers to travel the world for a book (nor did I expect them to pick off that list that I linked to) but my beef is that if you’re going to subtitle it “world’s best” then it shouldn’t be just about restaurants in North America and Europe.

(See below for a list of the restaurants featured)

Perhaps the answer lay in the interview with Charles Phan of The Slanted Door, a San Francisco restaurant, who said that Chinese and Vietnamese family meals tend to be very basic:

Usually there’s always a vegetable, there’s usually a broth, some sort of soup, a little meat stir-fried with the vegetables. Those are always the three components: protein, vegetable, and soup. And also starch, usually rice. But one day a Caucasian woman on staff just lost it; she said all we eat is “rice and bones” and noth-ing else. It’s pretty cultural. Some people would go crazy if there was too much cheese and pasta.

I’m probably never going to cook most of the recipes in the book, like the crispy octopus suckers, the beef heart and watermelon salad, Pine-Infused Langoustines. But there were plenty of ideas that any home cook could use. I really am tempted to try the toasted coriander basmati rice from Craigie on Main, potatoes braised in vegetable stock (kind of like a gratin-style thinly sliced potatoes covered with vegetable broth and baked) from Michel et Sébastien Bras.

What I took away from this book: to be more aware about food wastage. I try to save ends and bits of vegetables like the tops and tails of celery or carrots, the stems of mushrooms, use the carcass of a rotisserie chicken to make chicken stock that kind of thing. But these restaurants really make use of the scraps and bits. One restaurant serves fried bones. Another uses the whey left over from making ricotta. And yet another makes a pie of kidneys and root vegetables to use up their glut of kidneys as they butcher in-house.

Other things:

Grinding bacon into ground beef for burgers at McCrady’s, to add smokiness and grill flavour. Genius.

A recipe for peanut butter and curry cookies has me intrigued.

Crosshatching potatoes before baking them. I love hasselback potatoes and will have to try crosshatching them next time.

 

The restaurants featured:
Ad Hoc – Yountville, California
Annisa – New York, New York
Arzak – San Sebastián, Spain
Au Pied de Cochon – Montreal, Canada
The Bristol – Chicago,Illinois
City Grocery – Oxford Mississippi
Cochon – New Orleans, Louisiana
Craigie on Main – Cambridge, Massachusetts
Dill – Reykjavik, Iceland
The Fat Duck – Bray, England
Frasca – Boulder, Colorado
Grace – Portland, Maine
The Herbfarm – Woodinville, Washington
McCrady’s – Charleston, Sourh Carolina
Michel et Sebastien Bras – Laguiole, France
Morimoto – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mugaritz – Errenteria, Spain
Orleana – Cambridge, Massachusetts
Piccolo – Minneapolis, Minnesota
The Slanted Door – San Francisco, USA
St John – London, England
Ubuntu – Napa, California
Uchi – Austin, Texas
Villa9trois – Montreuil, France
WD-50 – New York, USA

 

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This is my third read for Foodies Read 2015

Soy Sauce for Beginners

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These are some of my favourite smells: toasting bagel, freshly cut figs, the bergamot in good Earl grey tea, a jar of whole soybeans slowly turning beneath a tropical sun.

You’d expect the latter to smell salty, meaty, flaccid – like what you’d smell if you unscrewed the red cap of the bottle on a table in your neighborhood Chinese restaurant and stuck your nose in as far as it would go. But real, fermenting soybeans smell nothing like sauce in a plastic bottle. Tangy and pungent, like rising bread or wet earth, these soybeans smell of history, of life, of tiny, patient movements, unseen by the naked eye.

For a foodie, Soy Sauce for Beginners starts out so tantalizingly good. I like a book that starts with smells. It hints of wonderful things to come. But perhaps I was expecting too much. Or perhaps I was expecting something else altogether. Soy Sauce for Beginners turned out not to be the foodie read I was hoping for.

“Real soy sauce is as complex as a fine wine – fruity, earthy, floral also can, lah.”

There are moments that make me wish that this book could have turned out the way I wanted it to. Such as when they do a soy sauce taste test, dipping crackers in it, and even pouring a dash of soy sauce into Sprite.

The mixture, Ahkong’s creation, was sweet and tangy and savoury – a comforting, full-bodied flavour like burnt sugar, or brown butter that contrasted sharply with the dancing bubbles on my tongue.

But really this isn’t a book about food or soy sauce, it is a family business drama, a search for belonging and identity. Ultimately it’s the story of a rich kid, Gretchen, whose marriage has failed (I use the word ‘kid’ although she’s 30) and she has returned from San Francisco back to Singapore, home to her alcoholic mother and her hardworking father and the major mishap that has the family’s soy sauce business teetering on the brink of failure.

This is a Singapore seen from the point of view of District 10 mansions, popular nightclubs, expensive restaurants and Mercedes Benzes. But sometimes Chen slips in an insightful quip like this one:

On the dance floor, the crowd sang and moved in unison, like the chorus line of a Broadway musical – a peculiar Zouk trademark that seemed to embody the mindset of an entire nation: even inebriated, at our most free, we all chose to mimic each other.

As we climbed the stairs to the VIP balcony, Frankie shouted over her shoulder, “How the hell does everyone know the same dance?”

“Repeat clientele,” James shouted back.

“Empowered conformity,” my mother would have said in her postcolonial-scholar voice.

(Ok maybe you have to be from Singapore to understand that one)

Soy Sauce for Beginners is a light and breezy read. Chen deftly ties up all her plot lines at the end although Gretchen makes predictable choices and her story doesn’t strike a chord with me. But Chen does casts an observing eye over the culture and lifestyles of Singapore which she clearly loves. And her book has made me intrigued about artisanal soy sauce – how different is it from the usual Kikkoman that is in my kitchen?

So part of me is hesitant to recommend this book. If you’re looking for a light and easy read set in Asia that won’t blow you away, well, maybe? It’s kind of like Sprite, that sweet bubbly forgettable soft drink. t don’t know about you but I want to come out of a book breathless, weeping, emotional, heartbroken even.

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This is my second read for Foodies Read 2015

Mama’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan

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There are more than just a handful of foodie memoirs out there and I’ve read a good number of them. This one stands out a little bit more as Bijan might be an odd egg in this world of foodie memoirs. She comes from a well-off Iranian family. Her father was a doctor and her mother a nurse. They built their own hospital and the family lived in the penthouse of the hospital building.  The whole family was spending a month in Majorca in 1978 when the revolution occurred and they weren’t able to return home to Iran.

But what is different is that after she graduates from the UC system – starting at Santa Barbara and then Berkeley, she heads out to France to study at the Cordon Bleu under Madame Brassart, “the same five-foot lady who had made Julia Child miserable in 1949”. She determinedly gets herself a job at Fauchon then works her way through hotel kitchens and top restaurants in San Francisco, eventually opening her own restaurant in Palo Alto.

This is a woman devoted to her food. Her love of food stems from her parents. Her father, for instance, had an interesting way of holidaying.

“Soon after, he would scour the neighborhood for delis, charcuteries, bakeries, stocking up on local groceries. This foraging was as essential as sightseeing. The cathedrals and museums were impressive, but he was curious about what the locals ate, their markets, their shopping carts.”

To her food-loving father, savouring food is one thing, working as a cook is another. It’s a rather strained relationship after she decides on her culinary future.

The thought of his daughter’s not becoming a doctor remained unbearable for my father, who refused to give up hope that I would come to my senses once this kitchen fever subsided. He remained obtuse about the necessity of a respectable profession. I could not have pulled off this cookery scheme, as he came to call it, if we had returned to Iran. We would have been the laughing stock of our community: Ha, ha! Dr. Bi-jan sent his daughter to America to study medicine and she decided to become a cook instead! He could not contain his outrage at my pending return to France to work without pay. We have raised a fool!

I’ve always wondered about working in a restaurant kitchen. I did come close to applying to a professional cooking school once, but I had the feeling that the kind of intense life of a kitchen would probably not be for me. It is what Bijan calls ‘addictive’:

“I never tired of the pattern of assembling a dish, falling in love with it, sending it away. You shrug and start all over, but each time it feels different—you and your dish in perpetual courtship. The intensity of working in a kitchen was addictive. I thrived on the fever and the pace. I survived on cookies and torn heels of baguettes. When I had a day off, life on the outside was jarring and I had trouble switching gears. I hadn’t the slightest clue what new movies were out, what people were listening to or dancing to, what exhibits were at the museums. I managed only to watch reruns of Taxi or read every night before collapsing into uninter- rupted sleep, unless I had nightmares. As if the daytime drama were not enough, kitchen night- mares would haunt me in my sleep, dreams where everything unraveled in an irreparable mess— tickets handed to me were written in a code I could not decipher, tidal waves rose inches away from where I stood facing the stove, empty walk-in refrigerators formed a treacherous maze. Increasingly I lost touch with friends, living an insular kitchen life, working longer hours, and advancing through the ranks of medieval kitchen hierarchies.”

There is plenty that Bijan doesn’t tell us. This isn’t a memoir that delves deeply into the heart of conflict – whether it is the politics of Iran or her relationship with her own father. This is a book about food, and it has recipes too. So maybe it’s more like a cookbook with a story behind it. But it is a light, easy book that shouldn’t be read while hungry.

Like this enjoyable passage about childhood treats in Iran:

“Recently, while gnawing on the end of a Twizzler, a friend asked me, What kind of candies did you grow up with? I paused before I said, Roasted beets, sour green plums, furry green almonds, and salt- roasted corn on the cob. Our snacks often came from street vendors we passed on our way home from school. In winter you could get a wedge of red beet that had been slowly roasting under coals and had caramelized. The vendor handed it to you warm, wrapped in newspaper, and you peeled away the charred skin, which left hennalike stains on your fingertips. In spring we looked for green almonds, which cost us a nickel for a dozen or so. They, too, came in newspaper cones with coarse salt, and a dozen was never enough. We ate the gojeh, sour green plums, by the pound and suffered the consequences. In the summer you found vendors with little charcoal grills on the side of the road, where they fanned their coals and yelled, Balali, while yellow ears of corn blackened on their grills. It may have been the only time I saw my father eat from the outside, fearful as he was of any food prepared outside the jurisdiction of a trustworthy home kitchen. Nevertheless, street food was our treat. My only candy was the lollipop I learned to make at home by caramelizing sugar in a pot and letting it harden on a spoon.”

 

And those recipes! Persimmon parfait. Saffron yoghurt rice with chicken and eggplant. Pistachio brittle. Cardamom honey madeleines. Can’t wait to give it a try.

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This is my first read for Foodies Read 2015

#AMonthofFaves – #Reading Challenges for 2015

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A Month of Favorites is hosted by GirlxoxoTraveling with T, and Andi at Estella’s Revenge

Today’s topic is a review or discussion of your choice, so I’m turning my attention to READING CHALLENGES!

So last year I didn’t commit to many reading challenges, just a few short ones like Diversiverse, Nonfiction November, RIP and Once Upon a Time – I fully intend to rejoin these shorter challenges in 2015 too! These shorter ones tend to work better for me as I never can remember to stick to my challenge lists! But one thing that challenges make me do is sit down and write about the books I read. And that is something I really need to do more of! I’m hoping these challenges will add to my reading experience in 2015!

It’s going to be 2015!! And we are still not living on the moon! My younger self would be so disappointed.

Foodies Read 2013

Foodies Read 2015

Food and books. What better than that??!

I’m going for Pastry Chef: 4 to 8 books

The Reach of a Chef – Michael Ruhlman
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks – Kathleen Flinn
Eat To Live: Healthy Asian Recipes – Sylvia Tan
Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America – Chen Yong
The Language of Food: A Linguist reads the Menu – Dan Jurafsky
The secret financial life of food: from commodities markets to supermarkets – Kara Newman
The third plate: field notes on the future of food – Dan Barber
Burnt toast makes you sing good: a memoir of food and love from an American Midwest family – Kathleen Flinn
Provence, 1970: MFK Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste – Luke Barr

 

 

 

 

backclassics

Back to the Classics 

Ok! So I need to read more classics. And I like that the cut-off date is 1965 – or at least 50 years ago. That I can do! I’m listing books in all twelve categories, which is a bit ambitious. I just hope to be able to complete six categories. But I tell you, I had such fun putting this list together!

 

A 19th Century Classic
Ruth – Elizabeth Gaskell (pub. 1853)

The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells (pub. 1897)

A 20th Century Classic

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey (pub. 1962)

They came like swallows – William Maxwell (pub. 1937)

Tender is the Night – F Scott Fitzgerald (published 1933)

A Classic by a Woman Author.

Frenchman’s Creek – Daphne DuMaurier (pub. 1941)

A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry (pub. 1959)

A Classic in Translation

The Pillow Book – Sei Shōnagon (translated from Japanese, pub. 1002)

I am a Cat – Sōseki Natsume (translated from Japanese, pub. 1905)

A Very Long Classic Novel — a single work of 500 pages or longer

Shirley – Charlotte Bronte (pub. 1849, 624 pages)

A Classic Novella — any work shorter than 250 pages

The Pearl – John Steinbeck (pub. 1945)

Candide – Voltaire (pub. 1759)

The Duel – Giacomo Casanova (pub. 1789)

A Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title

Heidi – Johanna Spyri (pub. 1880)

Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell (pub. 1848)

Lady Susan – Jane Austen (pub. 1791)

A Humorous or Satirical Classic

Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K Jerome (pub. 1889)

The Inimitable Jeeves (Jeeves #2) – P.G. Wodehouse (pub. 1923)

A Tale of a Tub – Jonathan Swift (pub. 1704)

A Forgotten Classic

When the Sleeper Wakes – H.G. Wells (pub. 1899)

Love On The Dole – Walter Greenwood (pub. 1933)

Four girls and a compact – Annie Hamilton Donnell (pub. 1906)

A Nonfiction Classic

Seven Years in Tibet – Heinrich Harrer (pub. 1952)

Kon-Tiki – Thor Heyerdahl (pub. 1948)

A Classic Children’s Book.

The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien (published 1937)

Pinocchio –  Carlo Collodi (pub. 1880)

A Classic Play

A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams (pub. 1947)

Death of a Salesman – Arthur Miller (pub. 1949)

 

reading england 1

Reading England 2015

And because I cannot resist a good map-banner-thing. And it kind of ties in with the classics challenge above! I first saw this on Much Madness is Divinest Sense

I’m going for:

Level two: 4 – 6 counties

The first five counties I picked because of the books suggested, London as an alternate, and Sussex because I once lived there

CumbriaSwallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Devon: Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore or And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (which is according to this list, set in Devon, and since it’s published in 1939, it’s kind of a classic, right?)

GloucestershireCider With Rose by Laurie Lee

Lancashire: The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell

YorkshireThe Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith

London: Keep the Apidistra Flying by George Orwell

Sussex:  The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

Yorkshire: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (I hope it’s ok that I reread this – it was something I read many years ago as a child, and am now curious to see if I would enjoy it!)

PS I might have to change the counties/books chosen here depending on the availability of the books from the library!

 

What reading challenges are you thinking of joining next year? 

Weekend Cooking: Harumi’s Japanese Cooking

In 2006, after a long flight from Chicago to London, transiting in Dublin, then what seemed like an even longer bus ride from London to Brighton, I finally made it to the University of Sussex’s international graduate apartments. And I was exhausted. It was late in the evening. I was in an unfamiliar place with strangers who had already moved in a few weeks ago (my three flatmates, two Japanese and one Thai, had all arrived earlier to take English classes – and were wondering who the person who got the biggest room was, yes, by pure luck of the draw I got the biggest room in the four-room flat, and it had a sea view, as the apartment building was just across the beach, one of the reasons I wanted to live there). I was hungry. The porter who gave me the key and some brief instructions was friendly but had other students waiting to ask questions so was only able to supply me with: “try the fish and chips down the street”. I didn’t want to tell him that after a long day of almost non-stop travel, I wasn’t quite ready for greasy food.

I sorted out some basic things and had a quick shower. And braced my introverted self for some socializing, and went to chat with one of my new flatmates, to ask her for recommendations on where to go. I found her in the kitchen preparing some dinner. Which she kindly offered to share with me. Perhaps I looked pathetic and half-starved. I’m not quite sure, but I’m forever grateful. It was a simple dinner. I can’t quite remember what we had but knowing Yukiko, it probably had a lot of vegetables in it. Perhaps a salad? And that was the start of our friendship.

Over this slightly less than one year in the same flat on Kings Road, we shared meals together, sometimes went grocery shopping together, shared our music with each other and chatted about everything. I edited her thesis. I dragged her to see The Flaming Lips with me. She met my boyfriend (now the Husband) who flew over from Illinois where he was doing a graduate degree (we met a few months before we were both due to leave for a year overseas. Most of our relationship was a long-distance one). I met her sweet younger sister who visited from Japan, and despite not speaking much English, wandered around London herself and even took in some Wimbledon matches.

And we’ve kept in touch ever since. Through emails, snail mail, the occasional Skype session. She attended my wedding in Singapore in 2008. It was her first trip to Southeast Asia and she really loved it, especially all the spicy food.

It was from her that I learnt more about Japanese cooking. I’d loved eating out at Japanese restaurants for many years by then but it was never something I dared to attempt at home.

Of course what I call Japanese cooking isn’t authentic, as I am not Japanese. Then again, while I am Singaporean Chinese, would I really call my cooking Singaporean? Or Chinese? Not exactly.

Anyway, one of the Japanese dishes that Yukiko introduced was chirashizushi, which is sashimi scattered over sushi rice. Her mum occasionally sent over care packages which included these rice seasoning packets that had a type of sushi rice marinade with finely sliced vegetables like carrots and lotus roots. All you do is cook two cups of rice and when it’s cooked, pour the seasoning mix into the warm rice and stir well. It makes for a quick simple meal. I often pick up some these packets from the Japanese supermarket in San Jose.

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(The sushi rice mix hasn’t been stirred into the rice yet)


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So it was Yukiko’s birthday earlier this month and I guess I must have subconsciously been thinking of her when I pulled out the seasoning packet and Harumi’s Japanese Cooking, which Yukiko sent as a birthday present one year. I love Harumi Kurihara’s take on Japanese food. Simple, modern, elegant. Like her tofu avocado dressing. Tofu with basil and gorgonzola dressing! And the yummy vegetable dishes like green beans with minced meat. And I really appreciate the very clean look of her cookbook.

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(I love these two pages, for its look into the many different dishes that Japanese households use. One seldom sees different shapes in Chinese households, as we seem to prefer round bowls and plates, at the most ovals.)

I’ve used the teriyaki marinade recipe a few times (it’s quite basic, some sweet, some savory:
1 tbsp mirin – I’ve seen recipes that call for equal parts soy sauce to mirin, so it’s really up to you
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tsp sugar – or more if you’d like it sweeter)

And so went with a chicken teriyaki dish, using boneless chicken thighs. And then some really garlicky green beans with a bit of soy sauce, sesame oil and some sesame seeds on top. Perhaps more Chinese than Japanese but it worked well together.

 

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Wee Reader definitely enjoyed it, then again he’d eat almost anything with seaweed sprinkled on top.

 

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97 Orchard: An edible history of five immigrant families in one New York tenement

“A place to cook and to eat, the kitchen was also used as a family workspace, a sweatshop, a laundry room, a place to wash one’s body, a nursery for the babies, and a bedroom for boarders. In this cramped and primitive setting, immigrant cooks brought their formidable ingenuity to the daily challenge of feeding their families.”

97 Orchard.

A building. A residence. A New York tenement, home to immigrants from Europe.

And in this case, five families who lived there between 1863 and 1935.

In the kitchens of the German Glockners (who owned the building), the Irish Moores, the Gumpertz family (German Jews), the Rogarshevsksy  family (Russian-Lithuanian Jews), and the Italian Baldizzi family, we learn how immigrant cooks fed their families, made their living, and introduced many familiar foods to this country, such as:

“German wursts and pretzels, doughtnut-shaped rolls from Eastern Europe known as ‘beygals’, potato pastries referred to as ‘knishes’, and the elongated Italian noodles for which Americans had no name but came to know as spaghetti.”

It was fun to read the various recipes that accompany the stories, such as fish hash and vegetarian chopped liver. And culinary traditions always fascinate, especially ones which seem so odd to us today, such as the apparently common commodity of broken eggs, as well as the fact that goose liver (i.e. foie gras) used to be fed to children as a nutritional supplement. And the occupation of ‘cabbage-shaver’ for sauerkraut.

“With a tool designed specifically for the task – it worked like a French mandolin, the blades set into a wooden board – the krauthobler went door to door, literally shaving cabbages into thread-like strands. The cost was a penny a head.”

The only quibble I have with this book is its somewhat misleading subtitle. The ‘history’ of these five specific families is hardly that. We get little more than a glimpse of these family’s histories, instead they are used as a starting point to kick off each chapter, and to illustrate how the “culinary revolution” transcended this one neighbourhood, and which continues today “among immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America, who have brought their food traditions to this country and continue to transform the way America eats”.

I read this book for the Foodie challenge

Library Loot (16 August 2012)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

I’m continuing my accumulation of Southeast Asian books for this month.
The Singapore School of Villainy: Inspector Singh Investigates – Shamini Flint
This is book three of the series. I’m currently on the first book and it’s quite fun.

Homicide detective Inspector Singh has returned home to Singapore to rest his weary feet after time spent globe-trotting and crime-solving in Malaysia and Bali. But it’s not long before he wishes he would be sent off to another foreign locale. With his wife nagging him and his boss lecturing him about his unconventional work habits, he’s thrilled when a new case comes across his desk.

A senior partner at an international law firm has been murdered, and it’s up to Singh to catch the killer and solve the case. There’s no shortage of suspects, from the victim’s fellow partners, many of whom are hiding secrets, as well as the dead man’s wife and ex-wife. Soon, Inspector Singh is poised to expose the treachery that lies beneath Singapore’s high society. Fast-paced, funny, and highly original, Shamini Flint’s The Singapore School of Villainy: Inspector Singh Investigates is a fabulous mystery featuring everybody’s favorite turbaned detective.

The Gift of Rain: A Novel – Tan Twan Eng

The recipient of extraordinary acclaim from critics and the bookselling community, Tan Twan Eng’s debut novel casts a powerful spell and has garnered comparisons to celebrated wartime storytellers Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene. Set during the tumult of World War II, on the lush Malayan island of Penang, The Gift of Rain tells a riveting and poignant tale about a young man caught in the tangle of wartime loyalties and deceits.

In 1939, sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton-the half-Chinese, half-English youngest
child of the head of one of Penang’s great trading families-feels alienated from both the Chinese and British communities. He at last discovers a sense of belonging in his unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip proudly shows his new friend around his adored island, and in return Endo teaches him about Japanese language and culture and trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. When the Japanese savagely invade Malaya, Philip realizes that his mentor and sensei-to whom he owes absolute loyalty-is a Japanese spy. Young Philip has been an unwitting traitor, and must now work in secret to save as many lives as possible, even as his own family is brought to its knees.

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement – Jane Ziegelman
I’ve been neglecting the Foodies Challenge, and this book so happened to be prominently featured on the shelves as the library is showcasing food-related books this month. I couldn’t help but grab it!

In 97 Orchard, Jane Ziegelman explores the culinary life that was the heart and soul of New York’s Lower East Side around the turn of the twentieth century—a city within a city, where Germans, Irish, Italians, and Eastern European Jews attempted to forge a new life. Through the experiences of five families, all of them residents of 97 Orchard Street, Ziegelman takes readers on a vivid and unforgettable tour, from impossibly cramped tenement apartments, down dimly lit stairwells, beyond the front stoops where housewives congregated, and out into the hubbub of the dirty, teeming streets. Ziegelman shows how immigrant cooks brought their ingenuity to the daily task of feeding their families, preserving traditions from home but always ready to improvise. 97 Orchard lays bare the roots of our collective culinary heritage.

Burma Chronicles – Guy Delisle
I’ve been wanting to read Delisle’s graphic novels but my library system doesn’t have any of them, so this was an inter-library loan from the SF library. And it’s about Southeast Asia.

From the author of Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China comes Burma Chronicles, an informative look at a country that uses concealment and isolation as social control. It is drawn with Guy Delisle’s minimal line, interspersed with wordless vignettes and moments of his distinctive slapstick humor.

Locke & Key Volume 5: Clockworks – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Woohoo! Yet another installment of this creepy series. Not SEAsia-related obviously, but I’ve been on hold for months while the library was acquiring this book….

The sprawling tale of the Locke family and their mastery of the ‘whispering steel’ thunders to new heights as the true history of the family is revealed to Tyler and Kinsey. Zack Wells assumes a new form, Tyler and Kinsey travel through time, and surprises beyond imagination will be revealed before the sixth issue ends!

I’m excited to get reading! Erm that is, after I read all the other books that I’ve borrowed previously.
What did you get from the library this week?

52 Loaves

William Alexander is a man who goes all out.

He is intent on perfecting perfect bread. And just one type of bread. Peasant bread or pain de campagne.

And that’s one loaf of bread baked each week for a year. Equals… Yes you got that right, 52 Loaves. Well technically more than that as there are plenty of loaves baked during a baking course he takes in Paris and plenty more in a monastery.

More on the monastery later.

As with most decent non-fiction reads, Alexander goes in search of the experts. The commercial yeast maker, the bread baker, millers and owners of professional ovens. All while making his own bread. And growing his own wheat. Yeah this is man who doesn’t like shortcuts. He even grinds his own home-grown wheat, with what is probably an old Indian grindstone! Can you beat that???

“I continued grinding, playing with the motion, moving from a back-and-forth action to a tight circular one, humming a mock Indian song – that is, I’m sorry to say, the Atlanta Braves war chant.”

He disdains the popular no-knead bread which I think isn’t quite the right reaction. Sure it’s a bit tasteless (add more salt) but it got people baking bread. Like me! Before attempting the no-knead bread, I had given bread-making a try but it’s just way too hot in Singapore to knead and I just didn’t want to do more.

But after successfully making the no-knead bread – and then getting a Kitchenaid mixer with that very useful dough hook – made me want to give other breads, kneaded or not, a try. So the no-knead bread isn’t to be pooh-poohed at. It is a great way to get started with doughs and yeasts and all that. Just, you know, add more salt than the recipe calls for.

Anyway, this book ought to come with a warning sticker: Will make you hungry for bread.

Because I was. And you might have noticed that it led me to bake up a couple of loaves (and some cookies).

And my kitchen – and most of the house – smelled oh so good…..!

Just thinking of those wonderful smells and that delicious crusty bread (sadly, long gone) makes me want to eat bake some bread.

I’ve sidetracked long enough!

52 Loaves was at times amusing (in that self-deprecating way) and I have to put it to Alexander to giving breadmaking such utter devotion. But the problem with a book that details 52 weeks is that not every week makes for good reading – at one point he decided to sleep in a separate room from his wife (I’m sure plenty of couples sleep in separate beds, I just didn’t need to know the details). As a result the book is a little uneven.

The time he spends in France though are the highlight. He somehow weasels his way as a guest at a monastery in Normandy (told you I’d get back to the monastery bit) where he finds himself having to train an apprentice baker (when he’s still more or less an apprentice himself), and meticulously planning a baking schedule around their services!

Alright, I’m off to figure out what bread to bake tomorrow.

Far Flung and Well Fed; Life is Meals

Two books on food, with plenty of similarities. Both books seem to require dipping in and out, as they are collections of articles (in the case of the Apple book) and short anecdotes and tidbits of information (in the case of the Salter book). Johnny Apple is the more well-known foodie, having written for the New York Times:

“For years and years there wasnt a food and travel writer alive who didn’t want to be Johnny Apple and have his expense account and his wife Betsey – preferably both. But what they didn’t have, as this feast of a collection demonstrates on every page, was his style, gusto and encyclopedic field of reference. Not to mention his diligence.”

James Salter (who co-wrote the book with his wife Kay) is more known for his literary career, but his (and his wife’s) love for food is obvious. Like Apple, they have traveled around the world and enjoyed many a memorable meal. Apple’s articles of course are more in-depth, more researched, whereas Salter’s book is, as its title states, A Food Lover’s Book of Days. I might have read both of these books faster than they are meant to be read – to be dipped into here and there, really. But the library’s due date was approaching and I didn’t want to renew yet another book.

Perhaps because the Salters’ book is a little more personal, I enjoyed it a little more (I also preferred the simpler, more elegant cover – as well as the wonderful illustrations by Fabrice Moireau – some of his illustrations of Paris can be found here). Besides nuggets of information about ingredients and foods of all kinds, they tell of their dinner parties at home, both successes and what they deem to be failures (although the guests remember it otherwise).

I especially liked Kay’s entry on 7 August, ‘First Home-cooked Meal’ where Kay tells of the first time she cooks for James – a quiche lorraine in 1973. The entry ends with:

“Was it a perfect lunch or a perfect dinner? Whichever, it was only the first.”