Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 4 – Foodstuffs and Nature’s Bounty

Refuse the First Plate

There is a deliverance that comes, when you move from eating greasy scraps to more beautiful, noble food.
One kind of food gives you flatulence and diarrhea, a heaviness in the stomach.
The other keeps you light as you ride the ocean.
Fast, and watch what arrives.
A materially full person is not alert for dishes that descend.
Don’t always eat what’s offered.
Be lordly, refuse the first plate.
Wait, and the host will send out better food.
Lift your head like the tallest mountain in the dark that the dawn turns red, then gold.

As previously mentioned, my gardening experiences have been challenging at best but this year I am loving the bounty of a successful garden. We have just started reaping the benefits of spinach, tomatoes (2 eaten so far!) and basil (2 batches of pesto, one supplemented by my Pops’ crop) and we’re waiting for eggplant, zucchini, onion, string beans, butter beans and squash. We received a slew of kale (learned how to cook kale southern style but I still don’t like it) and green beans. My first attempt at cooking green beans wasn’t so successful to I spent yesterday trying out 2 other recipes. The first wasn’t so good but the second was yumm-o! I have learned that anything fried is yummy and fried green beans is a treat that must be tried.
As I was experimenting, I was thinking about Mum’s ability to make anything out of nothing including food. She had a dish she used with green beans and spinach called gomae (pronounced go-may-eh). It is simply heaven on earth and she would make it often for me. In researching the recipe, I swore she had miso paste in it. I look forward to another venture to an Asian market for sesame to try it. Like other experiments trying to copy mom’s recipe, I am expecting to be a little disappointed. There is nothing like mom’s cooking and I think the secret ingredient is her brain.
I loved watching her and my son dissect foods when we were out to eat. They both have the uncanny ability to taste a dish and come up with the separate ingredients.

One dish I have been successful in emulating and have turned onto others is a cucumber dish. The sauce is made of mayo, rice wine vinegar and a dash of soy. The mayo is best if it is Japanese mayo, there is a distinct taste in Japanese mayo – an extra creaminess. It is so yummy that we would eat cabbage just dressed in this mayo – tasty! I loved it as a kid because there is a picture of the Kewpie doll on the mayo. Lately, I’ve struggled finding it in Asian markets; I wonder if it is a hard import due to the earthquakes. The cucumbers also have to be prepped specifically. First, they have to be sliced as thinly as possible. Mom was a magician with the knife and had a Japanese cleaver she would use. In a blur, a piece of food became shreds under her hand. I still can’t work her magic with a knife and usually when I try I end up cutting myself. Once the cucumbers are sliced, they are placed in a colander with salt and under running water, they are squeezed like the Dickens. This softens them even more and the salt acts like an abrasive to aid the process. The water washes the salt away so there isn’t a salty mass when it’s done. Once softness is obtained, the cukes are squeezed in handfuls to express the water and into a bowl they go. Once the sauce is to taste, it is mixed with the cukes and into the fridge for a good chilling. Mum always touted the benefits of vinegar and you are left with a dose of healthy when you eat this dish.

One tragedy in trying to mimic her cooking was chicken adobo. She had many secret ingredients in this because any recipe I use doesn’t even come close. When she would make this dish, the chicken would literally fall off the bone and there were hardly any leftovers…ever. In fact, once she made a huge pot to bring to my brother’s house on a visit. He absolutely loved this dish and couldn’t stop eating…we had to make an emergency trip to the store for Pepto Bismol.

Another quintessential family supper was sukiyaki [I had to ask my brother the name and we agreed she called it sukiyaki although traditional sukiyaki is soup based]{I've been corrected by is yakiniku}. Mum would get thinly sliced beef from the Asian market and make a sauce that contained ginger, onions and other magical things. We would have bowls of meat placed around the table and a flat griddle in the middle. We would have our individual plates of rice in front of us waiting. With chopsticks, we would take a slice or two of meat, place it on the griddle for a quick cook and devour the food. There is no other yummy goodness than that. This is another dish where leftovers were scarce and we all had full bellies. I think a few fights were started trying to score the last pieces of meat. It was lovely to share a meal and it was different than sitting down with plates already made. There was a great camaraderie cooking together like this. As my brother stated, mum would “artistically place the meat on the dish and it was ridiculously good to the palate”.

Mum would always have dinner at 5:00. While I hated the punctuality of this growing up, I lament the lack of sit down dinners now. This world is so fast-paced and when I was working 3 jobs I often had all my meals driving in the car. There is a great ritual in sitting down and having a meal, even richer when it is a yummy meal dressed with love. I'm slowly bringing this back as I have a great reason with the lovely food coming out of our garden.
There are more experiments to be made as I try my best to live up to the great example mum led.

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