Blog Entry #7: Interview with my Mom

To be frank, I was quite looking forward to this assignment.  I know I’d been quite the picky eater, but I wanted to know when that changed, when I stopped being so picky and started eating sushi and polenta with fried plantains on top.  However, reading Luxury, that long-suffering ode to the mother as chef, made me wonder… did I make my mother suffer like that?  Thus, with that thought in mind, the questions began.

What was the first thing I ever ate?  You mean, beside milk?  After that, I would like to say, the standards, Cheerios, french fries, and you lived off of baby food green beans.  I had to buy that for you until you were eight.

What was the first thing you made for me?  We had a lot of chicken, you liked rice, you had such a limited diet.  I would cook but you wouldn’t eat.  That was so frustrating.

When did it get easier?  I guess you started eating more foods, you always liked my enchiladas.  Mexican food you would eat.  Wait a minute!  You wanted to be Mulan, so you started eating Chinese food.  Weirdo.

What foods did you stop cooking when you had children?  None.  That was always pretty stable.

Do you like cooking?  I love cooking.  I hate cleaning afterwards, but I love cooking.  I love when your dad comes home and the house smells good, your dad always comments.  I love that.

What are your favorite things to cook?  That’s easy; of course chicken and mole, my tortilla soup, and, then I’d have to say tri tip, just the standard.  And I love my crockpot salsa chicken.

Have you ever resented cooking?  Never.  Not a single minute. 🙂

When do you like cooking most?  I like cooking most on rainy days, and of course the holidays.

What is your relationship with food?  It’s a love-hate relationship.  I love the taste of food, I love cooking it, I love the smell, but apparently it loves me so much it never wants to leave me.

What did I hate eating when I was little?  Anything with flavor, or texture.  Oh my God, texture was the worst.

What made you want to cook?  I’ve always wanted to cook, ever since I was little.  It was always such a happy thing in my family.  That’s what the women did in our family.  Grammio was always cooking, and I adored Grammio, so I guess I just wanted to be like her.

Did your parents cook (as well)?  Yes.  Both of them did, but it was mainly Gramma’s responsibility.  I’m a better cook, though, except for Gramma’s sopa.

Did you ever cook for yourself?  Oh yeah, I had my own place, in college I was always the cook of our group.

Did your relationship with food change when you had kids?  I don’t know that it did, kid.  I had to keep a couple menus going, because you kids were very finicky.

Are there any meals that remind you of me?  Any time I make a pot of rice, I think of you.  And of course ham.  Definitely sausage and rice.

What would you like me to cook for my kids?  Enchiladas, all the foods that are the family secrets, you know.  I want those passed down.

Did you have to change your cooking to accommodate Dad?  I don’t know if that was the case so much as Dad learned to eat differently.

If you could eat a meal by yourself, what would it be?  No doubt in my mind; it would be a nice thick, fillet mignon, wrapped in bacon, with mashed potatoes and a nice bearnase sauce.

Then I asked the dreaded question: How do you deal with Dad’s La Victoria Sauce?  My mom’s face scrunched.  Hannah?  Why are you bringing that up?  Do you want me to get upset?  I don’t like it, I think it’s insulting, every time he does it, it pisses me off, my hands are on my hips.  No me gusta.  I couldn’t help but laugh, and she said, her voice joking, “I’m sorry you find my pain so humorous.”

What do you eat for comfort? Chocolate.  Dark chocolate.  Especially Dove Dark Chocolate.

How did the process of making Triple Threat Cookies change as we got older? Well, since it was never a solid procedure, but rather a texture thing, it’s a very fluid recipe.  You guys add your own favorite, I mean, you try to change it and I’ll yell.  Sometimes you’ll make Dove Chocolate chip cookies, and then I’ll yell.  Sometimes, you’d make too many sugar cookies, and then I’d yell.  That’s it.

What about the food politics of late (San Francisco banning McDonald’s Happy Meals, etc.)? They ought to just shut up.  The government doesn’t have any business in our kitchen.  They say there ought to be no business in the bedroom, I say get the hell out of our kitchen.

She then told me, without a question to prompt it, “It’s, very honestly, the best way I know to show my family that I love them.  I try to show that in everything I cook.  It’s very personal to me.  I mean, if you don’t like my food, you don’t like me.  It doesn’t make sense, but it’s how I feel.  It’s like he’s putting La Victoria on my love, Hannah!”

After the interview ended, I was silent in thought, no sound being made but the clinking of my fingers on the keyboard as I typed.  I had worried that my mom had sacrificed so much to make me happy as a child, because I had been such a picky eater.  Hearing that she hadn’t really sacrificed that much at all gave me a sense of relief.  I guess it’s because I’m instinctively afraid of inconveniencing people, but maybe I’m not as much of a burden as I feared.  That makes me smile.

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Blog Entry #6: Memories on Mission Street

I feel a strange connection to this place, though I have never walked its streets.  There is art on the walls on homes and businesses, and I am fascinated by the sheer variety I see.  An Aztec man wearing a cape and a feathered headdress conquers my curiosity and various walls throughout Mission Street.  Refugees see light coming from a country they are uncertain they will be able to reach.  The Virgin of Guadalupe gazes down upon an exhausted Juan Diego, roses bloom from his tilma, and my eyes well up with tears.

The first place we stop is La Victoria, a bakery I hear has been around for nearly 60 years.  At the tour guide’s prompting, I have cream-less coffee for the first time, and it is far sweeter than it should be; it could be the three shakes of sugar I put in there, but the second cup of coffee, with no sugar whatsoever, tastes the same, like sweet burnt turned into liquid.  I am given a piece of concha, elote and citadela, and every piece reminds me of my mother’s homemade bread.  The concha is sweet, the vanilla semi-frosting a powdery delight.  The elote is denser than the others, and tastes strongly of sugared corn, whereas the citadela is light and crisp, and as we leave the bakery, I take thirds of the free samples.

After that, the next bright memory my mouth delights in is a small taqueria.  I scrape the onions off of my taco, because raw onions and I have never been friends, and I put a small piece of al pastor in my mouth.  I am transported to the taco truck that had delighted my life for a while last fall at Saint Mary’s, before leaving for reasons I cannot understand.  I hope it comes back.  However, this taco holds me in a way the other never had; perhaps it is because there is far more meat and far less cilantro, but the spice and the pure unadulterated meat in my mouth drive me to take a few more bites before I fold the tortilla and take a bite, cilantro and all.  It is bliss, and finished far too soon.  I declare that I shall order a thousand of these before my friend tells me I probably couldn’t afford that.  I sigh, acknowledging that she is correct, and rethink my desire; fifty would be enough, I guess.

We approach Humphry Slocombe next, the famous ice cream shop I heard about on the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate, a place, I must admit, I have always wanted to try.  I figure that the most I’ll get here is a few sample spoons, but once I hear we’re allowed a full scoop, and in a cone, to boot, my heart sings.  I taste samples of at least three flavors, including Chocolate and Sea Salt (tastes just like milk chocolate honeycomb), Brown Sugar and Fennel and Secret Breakfast.  I ultimately choose the Brown Sugar and Fennel ice cream, and it reminds me of a dessert my best friend’s mother made for me once, condensed into ice cream form.  The fennel is strong in my mouth, and the ice cream feels smooth as I lick it away.

Our final destination is not far from where we began.  It’s a hole in the wall restaurant called Mr. Pollo.  It is a miracle that even our small group of twelve people can fit in there, but we manage.  The chef appears before us and has us pass around a Buddha’s hand as he prepares our meal, frying the plantains and stirring the polenta in a pot on the oven.  Once he is finished, he presents our plates to us, and I take a bite.  I grin, because the polenta reminds me of my father’s cream of wheat, but saltier and tasting far too much like corn to be made from anything else.  The fried plantain is a slightly more savory banana, and the crisp gained by frying the plantain tickles my taste buds as the savory fades into sweet.  The arugula salad has a dressing that reminded me of balsamic vinegar, and the cheese, just barely detected by my roving tongue, gives the dish a richness I relish.  It is only after we leave that I remember that this place was also featured on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and my mind can only respond, Of course.

All the while I am surrounded by pictures of memories that are at once familiar and foreign.  Perhaps my grandparents or my great grandparents and beyond knew of the struggles painted on these walls, but I have been lucky.  For a few moments at a time, I feel remorse that these images do not strike my soul as fully as they should, but far more moments are devoted to gratitude to the people in my life that did make those sacrifices so I would never know that pain.  As I leave Mission Street to go back home, I can only wonder at my glorious luck and the pieces of my heart I may have left behind.

Blog Entry #5: Chopped: Home Edition

I sat at my desk and blanched at the torn pieces of paper laying ominously in front of me.  Written on the three shreds in front of me were the ingredients peanut butter, gold raisins and thyme.  Peanut butter and I have never been friends; its craven stickiness and cloying taste prevented me from enjoying it.  Gold raisins reminded me of the tops of fingers, shriveled from swimming in a pool for too long and then mercilessly chopped off for human consumption.  As for thyme… I actually liked that, so the ingredient list wasn’t completely horrific.

For hours on end I panicked, wondering how in heaven’s name I could combine these ingredients into something remotely edible.  I then figured that chicken was a safe choice, because it could be paired decently with peanuts and thyme.  Eventually, with loads of help from my family, I managed to plan the meal.  Two days later, I bought the ingredients and cooked the meal for my grandparents and me, who I was visiting for the weekend and who are awesome.

I went to the grocery store to get my ingredients, and, after taking enough pictures of them to make a photographic novel, I began to cook.  I first preheated the oven, then seasoned the chicken.  I was then seized with a fear that I had overdone the garlic powder, so I added some  extra thyme and rosemary to compensate.  I should have added salt instead.  Meanwhile, I was cooking my basic pot of rice and dreading having to add the raisins to it.  I know the raisins had to go somewhere.  Finally, once both started cooking, I aimed for the balsamic peanut butter sauce.  I dolloped some peanut butter into a bowl, and then attempted to drown it in balsamic vinegar.  I ultimately failed, but my effort was valiant.  The sauce was a pleasant blend of the two flavors when it was freshly made; however, when left to sit out, the peanut butter took over the flavor like the sadistic demon it is.  Finally, once all the dishes were done, I took pictures of the prepared meal and sat down with my parents to taste my strange creation.

The results were… not horrible.  My grandparents loved the meal.  I was far happier at that fact than with the meal itself.  I know now not to overdo the rosemary, and that the tiniest bit  of that stuff goes a long way.  The meat needed a bit more salt, and the balsamic sauce was a relative failure, and for that I blame the peanut butter.  The rice was actually very good, even with the raisins, and they lent a sweetness which blended well when eaten with the chicken.  Would I do this again?  Of course; just get me some basil or chocolate (and please, no peanut butter) and I’m set.

Sunday Dinner for Three Recipe:

Thyme Chicken:

Four chicken breast fillets (I couldn’t find any container with three)

A few dashes of Thyme

A LIGHT sprinkling of Rosemary

Some Garlic Powder

Salt (make sure to use a salt shaker that actually dispenses salt)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place the chicken breasts in a glass pan, and sprinkle with garlic powder, then thyme, then rosemary, then salt.  DO NOT OVERDO THE ROSEMARY.  Or else your chicken will taste like a sprig of rosemary, and the thyme and garlic powder will disappear from the tongue’s view.  Place in the oven for 45 minutes.  Take out of the oven and make sure there’s no pink, and let cook an extra five minutes if there is.  Serve.

Balsamic Peanut Butter Paste:

A scoop or two of peanut butter

As much balsamic vinegar as humanly possible

A few dashes of garlic powder

Grab a bowl and the ingredients.  Scoop the peanut butter into the bowl, then pour as much balsamic vinegar as humanly possible.  Repeat the pouring of the balsamic vinegar as needed, unless you’re one of those masochists who likes peanut butter.  Once the sauce reaches decent consistency, place a dash of garlic powder in it.  Serve immediately, or else the peanut butter will become even more prominent, and nobody’s that masochistic.

Rice with Gold Raisins

2 cups of rice

4 cups of water

a dash of vegetable oil

a dash of salt

a few scoops of gold raisins

Place the rice, water, oil and salt in a cooking pot, and set to a boil.  Once it boils, set the timer to 23 minutes and cover.  Keep an intense watch over the pot, as it tends to overflow and send white liquid out of the edges of the pot.  After the rice is cooked, stir the raisins into the rice dish.  Cover so that the raisins can absorb the steam and stop looking like human fingers.  After about ten minutes, serve.

Warning: The smell of sulfur will permeate this dish; blame the gold raisins, those demonic little things.  You can easily alleviate that with a dollop of butter.

Blog Entry #4: An Adventure On The Four Seas

There is no more primal eucatastrophe than the realization that you will be eating soon, after a long and wonderful tour detailing the wonders of the food in any particular place.  However, such an ecstasy is one I can fully understand.

I went to Chinatown with my classmates for my Jan Term class, and we had a wonderful tour guide named Frank.  He used to be a chef but is now a photographer, and he guided us along the path telling stories of childhood, of underground tunnels and sky-high apartments, of the significance of colors and the high variety of food.  There was something so open about the tour and the experience of walking (there was a lot of walking) around such a bustling area that my own mind began to expand, to open itself up like an unbound journal.  However, my stomach was also beginning to open itself up, and wanted food to fill it.  Therefore, the moment we arrived at The Four Seas, I was glad.  I was happily surprised to see that Frank had decided to join us at our meal; I was intrigued when he said he’d be advising us about our dishes and how to eat them to optimize the taste.

I had my first sip of tea that I didn’t think too bitter during the tour, so I let myself have another few cups of tea at the Four Seas.  The tea was amber and flowed into my mouth like warmed chicken broth.  It tasted of earth and water, and moments after the initial taste disappeared, there lingered on my tongue a primal sweet.

The first dish that arrived was spring rolls.  Normally, I’m not a fan of them; they seemed to me like stuffing coleslaw spiked with onions into a fried roll to make it taste better (I’m not much of a fan of coleslaw either).  However, a crunch later, these spring rolls made my mouth recoil; did I really just taste a spring roll I liked?!  The carrots and lettuce draped out of the roll like a curtain about to fall, and the fried skin of the roll flaked everywhere; in my mouth, on the plate, on the table….  The sweet and sour sauce only added to the pleasure; the added tang of the sauce gave the skin more bite and seasoned the lettuce and carrots inside.

The next dish was shrimp and chives pot stickers.  The unopened pot sticker looked like a half moon fried and laid to rest among the grass.  I took my first bite to discover that this half moon had eaten some of the grass as well.  I was met with green as far as my eye could see, though I could taste both the shrimp and the chives.  I dipped it in the sweet and sour sauce, though this time, the sauce harmed the taste of the food, hiding the blend of shrimp and chives from my eager tongue.

After that came the wonton soup.  The broth was savory and amber brown, and the myriad foodstuffs within the soup made it look like a fall festival in a bowl.  The wonton was filled with barbecued pork and surprisingly easy to slurp down.  Frank then advised us to add a drop of red vinegar halfway through eating our wonton soup to intensify the flavor.  I added between two and three drops of red vinegar, and the broth became sour, prompting me to slurp it clean once I finished eating the solid food within the soup.

Arriving at the same time were the Har Gow (a shrimp dumpling covered with rice dough) and the Chicken Siu Mai (a blend of chicken and Shiitake mushrooms formed into a dumpling-like shape).  Both of them were grouped into small wooden bowls for visual effect.

The Har Gow was a curiosity in white, and I took it in my hands and found it soft as a marshmallow.  I took a bite, and found the texture in my mouth fascinating.  The rice dough was sticky in my mouth, even more so than most mochi.  The shrimp had just a hint of brine to it, enough that I could sense it was shrimp, but not enough to overpower the dumpling.  The bitten dumpling looked like a white chocolate strawberry truffle, with the shrimp as the light pink strawberry cream.  I tasted it with sweet and sour sauce to see what it would do, and it brought out the flavors of both the shrimp and the rice dough more strongly than I suspected.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Chicken Siu Mai, given that I don’t like mushrooms; the texture reminded me of my mother’s homemade meat loaf, and it had that strange earthen taste I couldn’t help but adore in the tea, and enjoyed in this.  I found that the sweet and sour sauce didn’t affect the taste of the sui mai much at all, which interested me, because it had a strong effect on the taste of the previous dishes.

After that came the Beef Chow Fun, a rice noodle dish with beef, onions and snow peas.  The texture of the noodles reminded me of pad see ew, because the thickness was similar, but hearing that these were rice noodles rather than egg noodles made me realize this dish was the hybrid of udon and pad see ew.  The rice noodles clumped together in a way which concentrated the flavor, and I could taste the flavor of smoke and beef throughout the dish.  I heard Frank call this taste wok hay and was glad to understand what he meant.  The snow peas were crisp, green and sweet, and the onions added a kick.

Finally, I beheld the dessert; sesame seed balls, glorious little spheres in which sesame seeds covered a rice dough, which in turn surrounded a lotus bean paste.  The smell of the dessert reminded me of a doughnut that had just been taken out of the fryer, and it was warm and rough in my hands.  Finally, after taking a picture of the sesame seed ball, I took a bite.  The best way to describe the taste of one of these would be to think of an enormous piece of red bean daifuku, and to imagine that, after it was made, it then wallowed in sesame seeds until it was coated with them and plopped itself into the oven for five minutes.  In short, my mouth was made very happy by my decision to eat dessert.

After that, I could feel myself going into a food coma, that fuzzy lovechild of contentment and sleepiness one feels only after eating slightly too much of a wonderful meal.  I looked at the table my classmates and I had ravished and smiled.  What an adventure we had today.

Blog Entry #3: The World in an Egg

The very last thing I expected to eat this morning was a hard-boiled egg.  They remind me of egg salad, that unnatural hybrid of eggs and mayonnaise whose very scent could drive me away from a room.  However, considering that I hadn’t eaten anything else and it was sitting in front of me, I figured it was better than a rumbling stomach two hours into class.

I contemplated the burnt sienna egg lounging in front of me, and my mind, borderline-drugged from lack of sleep, was giddy that I could finally call something other than the Crayola colored pencil or crayon that exact shade of brown.

Trying to remain awake, I turned the egg onto its side, and its shape reminded me of the Mercator map of the world.  I ruminated on its size, finding that it was about as large as a baby 12 weeks into gestation.  However, since I was hungry, I didn’t think on it much longer, opting to begin eating the contents hidden within the shell.  As I peeled the egg, the pieces of shell clinked together like broken pottery.  Now the egg’s milky white skin revealed itself to me, and I grinned; this had always been my favorite part of a boiled egg, the coagulated, fluffy white.

I found myself surprised that I could peel yet another layer, separating the white from the yolk, and I was reminded of a cell, the essential building block of all life.  To think that I could at once see the world and a cell in the form of an egg; naturally, my mind blurred them into one, remembering that the world is made of cells, looking just like this egg, though probably more detailed than this.  I savored the egg white, at first without salt, then with, making sure salt coated my tongue as I prepared for the yolk.

I cradled the yolk in my hands, hesitating to eat it; yolk has never been my favorite part of the egg, though it gives scrambled eggs that glorious golden color and deep flavor that pleases my senses so well.  I took a bite, and it felt like I was eating the inside of a truffle.  I pressed the yolk to the pile of salt that rested on the napkin on my desk, and took another bite.  Ah, much better; the salt added some much-needed bite to the part of the egg that would have overwhelmed my brain with rich fluff otherwise.

Before I knew it, the egg was gone, but as class progressed, my mind still thought of the world.

Blog Entry #2: Of Pollo Basilico at Gina’s

Gina’s is an intimate restaurant, to say the least.  Hunter green covers the walls, and rose-patterned wallpaper complements it.  Hanging from a pitch-black chain is a chandelier that lights the restaurant just enough to see the food and one’s fellow guests, and the tables are arranged so that if the restaurant were full, it would not be difficult to sneak a bite of a dish of some poor soul from the table next to the aspiring thief.  Large pieces of paper drape over the tables, and a basket of crayons is perched on top, waiting for any aspiring artists to draw to their heart’s content.

After a while sipping the cream of the raspberry Italian soda I have ordered and trying not to fill my stomach with slices of bread, parmesan cheese and tomatoes soaked in balsamic vinegar, the pollo basilico arrives on my plate, and I grin.  There it is, my pollo basilico, lightly battered, then smothered with basil cream sauce and paired with house-made cheese tortellini, carrots and zucchini.  As I pray over my dinner, the pollo basilico rests on my plate as though it were resigned to the fate of being mauled by my mouth.  After prayers are done, somewhere at the table, I hear a sigh.  I can not tell if the sound came from my mother, my father, Owen, or the dish itself, for the myriad memories have begun to blur into one.  A single bite of the chicken, covered in that basil cream sauce, sends my brain into overdrive, and my eyes begin to sparkle.  The zucchini compliments the sweetness of the carrots and basil cream sauce, and the tortellini dances on my tongue as my teeth rip it apart to gain access to the cheese inside.  A while that consists of conversation and the savoring of the pollo basilico in front of me passes before I hear the clinking of the silverware on my plate that signals that the meal has disappeared into my mouth.

Blog Entry #1: A Treatise on Apples

Given that I am religious, it is strange that the first thing I associate with apples is not the tale of Adam and Eve.  I don’t even think of a memory within my own childhood of a particularly good fruit in my hands.  No, the first thing that comes into my mind when I think of apples is a manga I absolutely adore; Death Note, and Ryuk, the Shinigami (also known as a death god) who is absolutely addicted to them, to the point where he allows Light Yagami, a psychotic genius with a god complex, to control him in exchange for them.  I am annoyed at myself that I am such an anime nerd that apples are associated with Death Note and not anything from my childhood, but I digress.  This is meant to be about apples.

I know very well that different apples have different tastes; a Red Delicious is wet and cloying beneath its garnet skin, whereas a Granny Smith apple is sour and dry, best when sliced and dipped in warm caramel.  A Golden Delicious is strange and wet, being the only one to have its skin match the fruit within.  But a Fuji is soft to the eyes, a gradient of red and gold, and it is crisp and wet, the juices and flesh ravishing the mouth with sweet.

However, the apple currently in my hands, and to be honest, the first apple I have eaten in a long while, is a Pink Lady.  I have probably had one before, but forgot a long time ago.  I close my eyes and place it on my forehead of all places, and it is cool to the touch.  I am tempted to shudder, but resist.  The skin is smooth in my hands but hard in my teeth.  It is pink and red at once, with a near-literal kiss of gold.  It is flecked with pale yellow markings, and it almost looks too beautiful to eat.  Almost.  This apple is the first thing I have eaten today, after all.

I smell it, and it is heady; the stem concentrates it into earth.  I then place it to my ear and let my fingers play with it for a while.  It sounds as though I am writing, pencil to paper, in an echoing room with no one else there.  Finally, after a long while, I take a bite.  It is tart and wet, and while the juices cover my lips and tongue, the skin gets stuck in my teeth, and I have to use my fingers to get it out.  The flesh is tough, but my teeth are strong; I revel in its tartness, and wonder if these were the apples that could hold sway over death itself.

I stop myself from ravishing it whole to look at the damage I have caused to it.  It looks exposed now, as though I have removed its mask, though I highly suspect that my own has been removed as well.  I embrace the apple with both hands, and the juice leaks onto them.  I cannot wait to taste it again.  I take another bite of the apple in my hands and I understand Ryuk perfectly.