Thanks. Thanks, life. You’re doing alright.
Also, now this is happening:
Thanks. Thanks, life. You’re doing alright.
Also, now this is happening:
here at My Crappy Apartment as of late, exacerbated by the fact that Portland, for all its charms, just does not have the same quality and variety of Chinese establishments that the San Francisco Bay Area has. When I’m stressed, when I’m tired, when I’m emotionally drained, all I really want is some nice, savory, saucy Chinese food. The other day, during out weekly grocery-day ritual of food-related ennui, Yean said to me, “I want to either make something Chinese, or go out and get something Chinese.”
Reader, I was stumped. There was no restaurant I could think of that I really wanted to go to, but I was SOOOO TIRED OH GOD I DID NOT WANT TO COOK. What I really wanted to do was get on a plane, fly into SFO, and drop by Tam’s in Pacifica for takeout on my way to my Mommy’s house. “Yep,” I thought,”that would really hit the spot.”
So after ten minutes of weeping quietly on the floor, I put on by Big Girl Pants and started scanning the ol’ internet for something easy to make. Enter the amazing Jen Yu of Use Real Butter, a blog I’m addicted to both for the recipes and the gorgeous photography. Silly me, scouring cheapie Chinese restaurants all these months and expecting a match to a comforting food memory. I should have just made one of Jen’s recipes all along.
We made two dishes, the stir-fried shrimp and snow peas, which was exactly as tasty as I remember it being at Tam’s, and the scallion pancakes, which were BETTER than anything I’ve ever tasted in any restaurant, ever.
The only stinker in my execution of the recipe might have been the water chestnuts. I like the crunch, but protip: don’t get the cheapest, saddest little can of water chestnuts in the “Asian Foods” aisle of the grocery store. They will, of course, be tiny and sad in your stir-fry. And then we needed to go to the Asian market anyway because Safeway didn’t have Shao Xing wine, and they had all kinds of nice shit, including fresh bamboo shoots, so boo on me for attempting one-stop shopping. I also added in a bit of ginger, because we had it.
I was a bit afraid to stir fry on my crappy electric stove, which has exactly two settings: off and burning. It turns out burning works great for stir-fry! Score one for apartment dwellers!
recipe by Jen Yu of Use Real Butter1 pound raw shrimp (we bought frozen, peeled, tail-on, and defrosted at home) 2 tsp. cornstarch 3 Tbsp. shao xing cooking wine 2 cups snow peas 1 cup water chestnuts 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 tsp. ginger, minced 4 green onions, cut into 1 inch pieces salt to taste
Toss the shrimp in a bowl with cornstarch, wine, and some salt. In a large sauté pan, over very high heat, cook the snow peas and water chestnuts in a few tablespoons of oil. When they are just underdone, remove the veggies to a bowl. Heat a bit more oil in the pan and add the garlic, ginger, and green onions. When the onions begin to wilt, about one minute in, add the shrimp mixture and sauté very quickly, tossing the pan frequently. When the shrimp are almost cooked add the veggies back into the pan and cook until everything is done, tossing to coat the veggies in the sauce. Season to taste and remove from heat. Serve with rice.
Recipe by Jen Yu of Use Real Butter*2 cups flour 1/2 cup warm water 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped vegetable oil salt
In a bowl, mix the flour with the water until completely incorporated. I found I needed all of my water, and then a bit more, to get the proper consistency, but you might want to go easy and mix a few tablespoons in at a time. The dough should be firm and silky, and just a tiny bit sticky to the touch. If your dough seems dry and rough try leaving it on the counter with plastic over it for about 5 minutes to let the water absorb into the flour. Knead the dough about 20 times until it is super smooth and firm, then cover again and let rest 15 minutes. After resting, divide the dough into six equal parts and roll each part into a ball. On a floured surface, roll out each ball very thin, about 1/16″, the spread a small spoonful of oil over the surface. Salt the oiled pancake generously, then spread a few tablespoons of the scallions over the surface.
Starting from the back, roll the pancake up like a cigarette, then roll the whole thing up into a snail-like coil. Pinch the end of the coil so it doesn’t come unrolled, then flatten it with the palm of your hand. Put a little more flour on your work surface and roll the pancake out to 1/8″ thickness. Set aside and repeat with all the balls of dough.
To fry the pancakes, heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Fry the pancakes one at a time, flipping when they are golden brown and crispy and adding more oil as needed. Cut into quarters and serve immedieately.
*There’s a picture step-by-step guide of Jen doing this on her site. It’s easier than it sounds!
As some of you may know, today is a very special day for me and my family. Ten years ago, my Dad passed away of a sudden heart attack on a golf course. As anyone who’s lost a family member knows, the pain never totally goes away. But it’s been enough time now that I can look back on the good times and be glad for them. I’ve got my mom and my sister here with me and we’re about to embark on a day of joyful eating, and possibly some reminiscing, but mostly eating.
I know. What a downer, amirite? Because it’s also another very special day.
That’s right, nerds. This week concludes the festival of Shatmoy, also known as the time between William Shatner’s birthday on the 22nd and Leonard Nimoy’s birthday on the 26th. The 27th is for partying, baby. It’s the Presidents’ Day for sci-fi fans.
There are endless ways that Star Trek and My Dad intersected. We would fall asleep on the couch watching The Next Generation. He took us to a Trek convention and bought a phaser remote for the TV. Daddy was a devoted, if slackerish, sci-fi fan, and the obsession was passed on to his daughters long before his death.
Happy Shatmoy, everyone! May your days be filled with karate chops and nerve pinches.
While at Casa Mom last week I got the chance to go through a bunch of old pictures. Some were my own blurry/finger-over-shutter photos which hinted at my current digital camera philosophy of “if it’s worth taking one picture of it’s worth taking a dozen more from slightly different but no more interesting angles.” Some were inherited and thus slightly higher quality photos that friends had given me. But the bulk of them were pictures my parents, usually my dad, took. I think Daddy had the same disregard for film price as I did because for every money shot that made it into the album there were a dozen more test shots of trees or deer or the curtains. I’ve inherited a lot of his habits, I think. Like my dad I’m not especially visually gifted, but I like to play around. I know what I want to capture, I’m just not exactly sure how to go about doing it, which may explain why I took twelve shots and two videos of (in my defense, impressively large) waves at Fort Point last week. What’s fascinating to me is the point of view, the glimpse into the mind of the photographer. When I look at my dad’s photos I see the world as he saw it. I see his endless landscape photos as an attempt to capture the enormity of nature. I see his sneaky long-lens candid photos as trying to preserve a happy family moment, even if it’s just me and Yean sitting at a picnic table eating chips.
My dad did manage to stumble upon quite a few gems, which got pasted into the photo album along with his dorky puns and commentary. One of my favorites is the one above, which is possibly the only evidence that I had any interest in cooking as a child. I love the look of pure concentration on my face, not to mention my gigantor forehead. In my more wistful moments I wonder if my dad had any idea I’d grow up into a professional baker. I see this picture and I think maybe he was trying to capture my independence, my tactile skills. But of course, he probably didn’t. When that photo was taken I think I wanted to become a botanist (because my grandma let me help her weed the garden) and when he died in 2000 I think I was still set on “comic book writer/artist/professional anime watcher phD.” And peanut butter toast is hardly advanced cooking.
So I think a lot about my dad, and my relationship to food, and how the one is shaped by the other. And it’s easy now to look back and make the connections, because they’re there and because it feels good to ground myself in my past. But for the life of me I can’t remember exactly why I decided to go to cooking school. It’s like the idea was just there all along and when the time came to make plans I just added it to the queue. And really, it’s worked out pretty well. But considering the other things I wanted to be in high school (filmmaker, artist, accountant, environmental world-saver, and of course paperback writer) it’s hard to reconcile the person I am now with the person I thought I’d become. The other layer of weird is that most people in my graduating class had absolutely no idea what they wanted to do with their lives and are just now really starting to figure it out.
But I really, really want to see the little baker in childhood me, in part because I’ve always been a person who defines herself by what she does and in part because I want the father I remember from when I was 14 to absolutely know the woman I am at 24. There’s this phantom Dad that hovers over my life nodding approvingly at my decisions and then there’s the reality, which is that I was very young when he died. And that’s rough.
But there’s another reality that I’m coming to accept, which is that I could have become any one of those things (accountant? really? And didn’t I fail biology?) and I would have been happy. And that, at least, is something I know he knew. And the knowing he knew is enough, nowadays.
Sorry for the radio silence, homies, but it’s been a busy time here over at Your Crappy Apartment. First there were the holidays, in all their stressful overworked glory. Is it possible to hate Christmas while only marginally celebrating it? I believe it is, yes. The downside of working in the food industry is that the month of December becomes a death march of productivity. And cinnamon. At the end of the holidays is a period of heavy drinking that one will almost surely regret come January 1st.
I spent the last week recovering from Christmaspocalypse ’09 in sunny foggy but mild-ish California, lounging around in my Mom’s house trying to figure out when and how I could next stuff my face with something delicious. A few meal highlights:
1) Lunch at Hog Island Oyster Bar, SF Ferry Building– Everything is expensive down at the FB, so you might as well do it up and eat the thing you really want to eat, price be damned. You don’t go to Hog Island to stuff your face on the cheap, you go there to sit back, drink a glass of wine, and enjoy the view of the bay while sampling some incredibly fresh and reverently prepared shellfish. We were there on an overcast Monday, so the crowd was negligible and the views were unobstructed. And yet my Mother, who hasn’t set foot on Market street for anything other than a dentist appointment since 1991, still ran into someone from her church choir. Veeeerrrry interesting.
2) Making this roasted lemon garlic crab dish with my Mommy– I would eat it every day if I could.
3) Grilled BBQ chicken and pork skewers from the Filipino place- Fil-Am cuisine in Daly City, please marry me. Your certainly-not-up-to-fire-code grill produces the most delicious, charred and juicy meat that I have ever put in my mouth, and it is dirt cheap to boot. Also the lumpia makes me cry with joy.
4) In-n-Out Burger- ‘Nuff said.
5) Dim Sum from Hong Kong Seafood, SF– OHHHHH MY GODDDDDD GO HERE. I have fond memories of getting takeout from their to-go window and eating it in Golden Gate Park, but because we were jonesin’ for the fresh stuff (and because my Mommy texted me a week before my vacation to tell me she was craving dim sum) we went there on a weekday and ate our weight in steamed and fried things. They don’t do carts during the week so a little knowledge is necessary to order the good stuff, but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the fried taro dumplings, the egg tarts, and the eggplant stuffed with shrimp. My personal guilty pleasure is the fried shrimp balls, which look like little testicles but are crispy and flavorful and not tough like they can be when they’ve been sitting out. A happy surprise was this little desserty thing that the waitress with the egg tarts pushed on us, which had barbequed pork wrapped in super flaky pastry that was undoubtedly lard-based, brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with sesame seeds and baked. It as like flaky heaven in my mouth Oh, and the sticky rice…good lord, the sticky rice. I want to have babies in that rice so that the first thing they experience in this world is the smell of dehydrated shrimp. That’s pretty gross, I guess. Forget I said that.
6) The many delicious flavors of the Mission District, SF– This is a bit of a cop-out to lump everything I ate into one experience, but I’m beginning to believe the best way to experience the Mission is to wander around with someone who knows it really well, like my dear lady friend Rhiannon. There are just so many things! To eat! How can a girl pick a favorite? Let’s start with the destination-worthy Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream: the flavors are ridiculous, but ultimately delicious. You will think of ice cream in a completely different way, and you will damn well like it. After that we had dinner and killer margaritas at Velvet Cantina, then settled in at Cha Cha Cha for my one true Mission District craving: sangria. There was also an attempt to stalk find the creme brulee cart that was derailed by a location/date mix-up. Next time, creme brulee man. Next time.
Driving home for ten hours in the rain, I asked Yean if it was weird that I spent my whole vacation either eating or planning to eat something delicious.
“That sounds like an AWESOME vacation.” she said, looking at me like I was a crazy person. Of course I’m exaggerating. I did do other things, or at least I think I did. But the food. Oh lord, the food. I miss it already.
Merry Christmas, bitches! Hope you all enjoy SANTA OHHHH MY GOOOODDDD!!!
Continuing this blog’s focus on only the most mature and tasteful news stories, I’m proud to report that the Portland Water Bureau found E. coli in a Washington Park resevoir this weekend.
That’s right. Shit in the water.
Thankfully, the areas being advised to boil their tap water before drinking are strictly west of the Willamette, so yours truly didn’t have to deal with feces in her Nalgene. The most (well, only) awesome thing about Poopocalypse ’09 is perhaps that the affected areas include the relatively pricey, hipster-and-yuppie-infected West Hills, Pearl District, and Northwest 23rd neighborhoods. Flip on the news and its all “GHOST TOWN in Uptown!” and “I bought this SoBe cuz’ they’re out of Aquafina but oh wait what about brushing my teeth” and “how much bottled water can you really carry on a bike anyway?”
In fact, I’m starting to think that someone shit in the water for THIS VERY REASON. Like, why THIS resevoir? Because it’s hilarious. And what better way to dissuade would-be PDX immigrants than a demonstration that the Rose City does not, in fact, actually shit roses?
(related video: Outkast!!! We love them. They’re freaky, though. Not just because they talk about girls pooping, which NEVER HAPPENS.)