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I've just had an incredibly pleasant dinner at the Cana Cuban Parlour towards the distant edges of Florida St. We shared a creamed black bean soup starter, topped with just enough a light sprinkling of cheese and cream. Imagine all the comfort of Chinese sweet black bean soup, but savoury, the meaty flavour of the beans just mellowed enough to not overpower. There were mojitos, very good mojitos, that were served with little shots of the underlying rum (mostly Seth's job to taste). We learned that Cuban-style rum is supposed to be smooth, surprised that rum could be smooth in the first place, and Florida-style rum is distinctly more caramel in colour and taste, also sharper -- rather more like the rum we'd had state-side before. His mojito was soda, mint and lime, pleasantly simple -- I may get one of those for myself next time. My mojito was all berry and mint and I was really happy plantains are such good tummy absorbent liners.

Seth got the arroz con pollo. I thought the rice was done well, he liked the sauce, but found the chicken erring on dry. I asked the waiter which he thought better, the slow-roasted meat, or the daily special (swordfish baked in banana leaf). Our lovely server seemed to think on this a second, then kind of gave up trying to compare the two and just described the meat in loving detail. We heard a tale of meat marinaded in orange crush, pulp and all, then cooked, a process of some twelve hours. The sauce is meat juice and orange bitter reduction. It's all served on yuca mash with many sprinklings of crisped onions and sweet plantains, topped with a richly mellow yet perfectly garlicky garlic. That description more or less sealed my dinnery fate. Cue me spending every next five minutes after my meal was served telling Seth, "This ish good. I'll be having cravings for this." Dinner win means we are going back. It means we have to find friends to drag there. It means I will have to visit during lunch hours for sandwich reconnaissance (and this stuff on the menu about sweet and savoury plantains deep fried and served with garlic sauce).

We were in the neighbourhood at all because I got this postcard in the mail saying a chocolate factory had opened in the area, called Charles Chocolates (surely it must be factory). They have an amazing space. Big glass walled kitchen, where they constantly replenish the little boxed pralines from, in fleur de sel-based flavours. There are chocolate covered nuts, 65% dark chocolate things, with peel, nuts and other wonderments. The cafe space is still being built, but there is hot chocolate, and daily pastries. We got Honey Bunnies (dark chocolate bunnies filled with sage honey -- this is sheer genius), and Seth got peanut butter pralines in dark and milk, and a sweet and salty hazelnut bar. I got a Charlemagne (it looked like chocolate mousse; what bovine says no to chocolate mousse?) and their last Meyer lemon curd white chocolate tart (because saying no to lemon curd is wrong and bad), and a dark chocolate, cherry and hazelnut bar (because dark cherries in chocolate... you get the idea).

I finished watching Chungking Express again, which I hadn't watched in at least a decade. It shows its age, most notably in how young all the actors look. Admittedly, Takeshi Kanehiro is relatively ageless, and Faye Wong could pass off as elfin in her 50s. Tony Leung improves with age, and Brigitte Lin, who plays these intense onscreen murderers (if only the old DVD-version of Ashes of Time didn't have such horrible subtitling; her entire substory of the transsexual assassin in love with himself is sincerely one of the best darn things I've ever seen). It's one of the faster Wong Kar Wai movies to go through. There's less tragically beautiful people staring off into space, which became high (if overly wrought) art by the time In the Mood for Love came out, more dialogue, actually more action. The one scene I love best in the movie, and the only I haven't forgotten over the years, is when Faye starts stalking No. 663 with gusto, changing out things in his house one after the other, set to her cover of the Cranberries Dreams (my preferred version, if only because Faye Wong's voice has a more etheral quality). Sif spent the movie in a delicate curl on one end of the sofa, then on my lap, soft grunting Sif.

As I write this, there is a cat curled up on each sofa. Dorian accidentally got to massaging my arms before I could cover them. They sting from his sharp, happy little claws. But he is a good little guard cat. He comes when he is called. I am sipping vanilla black tea with milk, and looking forward to one of the chocolate pastries, or a praline. I am liking the books I read, remembering what I love about books, finding and listening to music that makes me think. Writing seems less ephemeral, perhaps I will write about that one day.
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To the best of my memory, while I was growing up, I managed to never try the classic Hakka dish of tea rice (lei cha fan), a kind of Hakka herbal ochazuke. My mother is half Hakka and half Cantonese. Most of the food we ate was Cantonese. I actually think the Hakka dish that most commonly appeared on our table was stuffed tofu (and miscellaneous stuffed vegetables, usually bell peppers). Mom only really got into the pickling thing relatively late, that I recall. We have enough seasonal fresh vegetables back home that pickling foods was often just a flavour-enhancer, or something specific for a recipe later down the line. More importantly, our food already used a great deal of fermented (primarily seafood) products anyway, and just about any food item that could be dried and stay dead, roughly in that order. (Oh, unsmelly salted fish, where art thou?)

Both of us have been buried under work lately. My eating habits have gone to bits, and Seth's belly is still delicate enough to require careful, mild eating. Comfort food is required. We both like tea rice from various cultures, and I had these mustard greens pickling with leeks the past couple of weeks. The general idea behind Hakka tea rice is topping steamed white rice with various fresh and pickled vegetables, and a protein, if available, before pouring on a ground herbal tea mix. It's meant to be rustic and filled with simple flavours (although versions in Malaysian restaurants these days can get kind of posh). I definitely didn't have the herbs or the time on hand to grind up my herbal tea, but I did have good genmaicha, which has all that lovely toasted rice and green tea flavour.

You're probably wondering about the kimchee. Well, on St. Patrick's Day, I made a batch of chocolate stout cakes, and was also looking to make more kimchee. I wanted to try making a kimchee that wasn't Chinese cabbage, and we'd just bought a large bag of baby mustard greens. So I used some of the chocolate stout and molasses that went into the cake as my liquid base for the kimchee seasoning, and threw that into a jar with mustard greens and chopped leeks. I must admit, it smelled awesome going in, like barley miso, very earthy and hoppy. It still smelled like barley miso after a week. When I sampled some of the pickled greens, they had taken on a mustard green noir profile almost. Actually a little strong even with plain congee, and that's where I got the idea it would taste great stir fried with something. My original idea was to sprout some bean mix and stir fry it with that, but chicken is faster.

The final result, rice topped with stir fried chicken and green tea, was everything we needed to pick us up after a really long day. It wasn't too filling, but it made us feel content. I'll probably only make this occassionally, as I only get a craving for this many particularly earthy flavours in one bowl only occassionally, but it is a nice taste to remember.

Mustard Green, Leek & Molasses Kimchee
1 big bunch mustard greens (kai lan) or ½ bag baby mustard greens, chopped into bite-sized pieces
½ stick leek
3 tbsps rice flour
1 tsp Korean chilli flakes
2 tbsps molasses
1 cup dark stout
½ cup water
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
3 tbsp rough salt

1. Mix greens and salt in a ziploc bag. Marinate for 6 hours, shaking the bag every hour or so to evenly distribute the salt.
2. Rinse and dry greens at least twice. Try to get out as much salt as possible.
3. Bring stout, water, molasses, chilli flakes, garlic, ginger and rice flour to a gentle boil. The paste should thicken before you turn off the heat. Let cool.
4. Layer greens and kimchee paste in a jar (with lid), leave about an inch or two off the top for fermentation. Cover jar loosely with its lid.
5. Keep jar in a warm, dark place for about 3 days, or until bubbles actively start to form in the paste. Tamp down the pickles with a clean spoon or chopstick every day, to release bubbles.
6. Refrigerate. They're best eaten after a week of maturing. Good pickles almost never die.

The Stir Fry
2 chicken breasts (thinly sliced)
½ stick leek
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 cup pickled mustard greens with pickling liquid (from above)
2 tbsp cooking oil

1. Marinate chicken and mustard greens. Set aside.
2. Heat leek and garlic in oil on high flame until fragrant.
3. Add chicken. Stir fry until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Add about a tablespoonful of water at a time if the 'sauce' is too thick.
4. Serve chicken on top of steamed rice, with or without green or oolong tea poured on top (like a soup).
vampyrichamster: (Default)
Me: I am hoping that since your pizza has meat and comes before mine in the physical confines of our abode, your pizza shall form a barrier for my pizza. It is otherwise quite tasty pizza.
Spouse: It's possible. Dorian could be (gasp) full enough to not bother us.
Spouse: Uh-oh, there he goes.
Me: I promise you I have done everything I can to keep the cats full tonight.
Me: Oh, dear. He is in the study.
Spouse: DUN DUN DUN
Me: He's heading back your way. Didn't touch my pizza. Hoping he doesn't like olives or something.
Spouse: He's wandering into the kitchen. Sif is sleeping on couch.
Me: All right, then. Sif can form a barrier for our pizza.
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Yesterday, I made ful medames for the first time. I used dried lima beans, lacking fava. My original batch became a dinner after 24 hours of soaking and about 2 hours of slow simmering. Seth thought it was erring on bland, and more worryingly, that parts of the beans still seemed hard and undercooked. The next morning, I reheated the leftovers in more water, doubled the seasoning and mashed it with a potato ricer. with a dash of olive oil and sprinke of fresh parsley, it made a lovely breakfast. I think I see why so much care went into its description in Palace Walk, where I first read about it in one of the book's opening scenes of a typical morning at the Abd al-Jawad household.

That scene stuck in my mind more for its establishment of patriarchy in the family as the main colour of the characters' lives, and Palace Walk is still a book, that a year later, I am forced to mince through between long stretches of quiet. The historian and learner in me is fascinated by the setting, this plate etching if you will, of a particular time in Egypt's history. The woman in me winces and recoils at the familiarity of the characters. Palace Walk's power lies in its description of mundane life, of the fact that its typical, conservative family, with its cloistered women and unsurprised men, depends on the veil between men and women, and the sheer lack of communication between the sexes that results. For a person raised in a much later culture, with only a fractioon of these conservative values still remaining, the familiarity of these types of men and these types of women is almost chilling. At best, fascinatingly repellent, like watching a train wreck come undone, one mangled metal chunk at a time.

Food becomes a keystone for many of the major scenes, either because the family only really meets together at meal times, or a conversation piece and emotional catalyst for how characters react to each other. A dish involving chicken stewed in creamed almond sauce, showing up about a third of the way into the book, became cause for another kitchen experiment last year. Am I feeding the patriarchy by wanting to recreate these literary flavours for myself and my husband? You might say, it's all in the intent, surely. My husband and I predicated our entire relationship on our ability and willingness to communicate with each other, however difficult. It is something we are very proud of working hard at -- we both did not want a 'lasting' marriage that depended on one partner occasionally going 'deaf' to the other's comments.

In my house, I am more apt to be herded towards a sofa with a cat on top if I show signs of housework, especially if my husband believes I have better things to do, like drink tea and write blog posts. It is not demanded that I do anything really -- I think the unspoken consensus between us is that if one of us does something for the other, it is a gift. If we do it for both of us, it is a courtesy -- the effort is appreciated.

Back to the point, Palace Walk is no Like Water for Chocolate. All the feelings are repressed. The foods, while delicious, are honestly verging on ephemeral in their pleasure. Everyone suffers in the structure the family propagates. Such families work, but the problem is, would anyone really want to live in one such as that?
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My aromatic mulling spice experiment was a failure. I dramatically underestimated the cloves in the spice mix I was using as the base layer of aromatics. The original idea was, I would lay on the ex-mulling spices -- mostly pepper pods and cloves mixed in with a lot of raisins and almonds -- at the bottom of the pan, and steam-braise the seasoned brisket on top, propped upon many chopped carrots. I would then use mulled wine concentrate (the failed Christmas mulled wine) mixed in with water for the braising liquid.

What came out of the oven three hours later clearly leaves a lot to be desired. For a start, the devil with the cloves. Everything tasted like cloves. The wondrous beef juices in the dark spiced wine (already clove-y when it went in) now tastes like some kind of experimental pickling liquid as I imagine it would in the medieval age, used to mask spoiling meat in a terrifying fumigation of spices. I diluted about two ladlefuls of the stuff in soy milk and kidney bean tin drippings (we were having the pot roast with beans), which made a passable, more vaguely clove-tasting sauce. The rest will probably be frozen and reused in highly diluted form whenever I need some kind of red wine base for a red meat sauce. I am still loathe to throw it away. It just needs a lot of dilution.

The mulling spices were briefly rinsed and scattered under the trees outside as compost. I can't imagine the racoon dumb enough to try and eat that. It smells medieval and tastes like disinfectant. Maybe I'll get lucky and it'll even kill a few slugs.

The carrots I had hoped to eat, redolent with beef juices, instead absorbed so much clove-infused wine, they were soft, tender, purpled pieces of astringent by the time I fished them out. They shall be buried, under a tree. Again, they will likely not be eaten by either man nor beast. Unless they intend to smoke it.

To add insult to injury, the beef came out much drier than I thought it would. It wasn't bad, just too done. Now, it was the one thing spared the cloven-footed flavours of the sauce, but I will grumpily have to find something to do with a rabbit-sized round of leftover beef. Maybe fresh rolls. I think I can still do that right.

(You'd think I would have figured out once-used mulling spices were still able to impart all their dark flavours into a braising liquid over three hours in the pot before I attempted such an experiment. Alas, no.)
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Ah, puffettes. Puffettes of fur floating amiably down my hallway. Puffettes of plants I planted in December, stunted and perplexing, barely surviving the ravages of slugs even with my late night huntings, so that they are clumps of determined survivors in my EarthBoxes, that may grow into adulthood. Or they may not. Cream puffs for breakfast, stuffed with strawberries, on the window seat I reclaimed from the cats as mine.

A friend gave us these boxes of gourmet coffee beans during a house move. Lacking a coffee grinder, I have taken to hand-grinding the beans in my mortar while the water boils. It's really quite soothing, and the smell of the beans filling the kitchen is quite wakeful. I have found that it's easier to grind the beans two tablespoonfuls at a time, as this results in less jumping beans on the counter. I also only grind what is needed for that morning's coffee, freezing the rest of the beans for later.

My dinner plans for tonight are to purchase a round of brisket, and make a pot roast out of it. I'm recycling a rich layer of mulled wine spices, nuts, fruit and peel included, as a layer of aromatics on the bottom of the pan. I figure with a bit of leftover mulled wine concentrate and beef juices, this would also make an excellent sauce when drained. I've had the spices lying around in the freezer since Christmas. If this works out, I still have an extra yoghurt tub in the freezer to play with.

I haven't yet begun my great buckwheat pasta experiment, though I really want to. My beignet failure is a matter of practice, but it's really about finding a day when I'm not too tired out to roll and knead things. I have figured out that out of the numerous issues with the beignet dough, it was likely the non-use of butter that was the problem. Possibly also, elderly yeast. I have much tinkering and playing to do.
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Made baked beignets tonight, my first bread-like. I admit I fully expected this to be square bits of unleavened woe. Seth is currently on an elimination diet because his doctor thinks he might have a food allergy, but we don't know what. Right now, we're testing dairy and eggs. That's two of my favourite food groups right there. But, we are inventive, and this gives me a chance to cook a little more creatively. I poked around on the Internetz, and tried this recipe out substituting cow for soy (1 part soy milk to 1 tsp lemon juice = guerilla buttermilk) and butter for olive oil (didn't have margarine, and Crisco smells like shoe, bad shoe), bread flour for all-purpose (yes, I know there's a difference) and just for good luck, dug up the half satchet of yeast that had been following me around in freezers for three years (hey, it's yeast! it's immortal!), and uh, erred on entirely the wrong side of wisdom.

So, I knew this was going to be an adventure right around the time I put my dough together and got a surprisingly tactile glop. It looked a lot more like bread starter than bread. And it took forever to double. Like, twelve hours. And it was still surprisingly tactile yet stretchy glop, just a lot more of it. Okay, not the end of the world. We'll roll it out, worst case scenario, I get flatbread, then I send the husband out to buy a can of hummus. I can't even begin to tell you how awesomely tactile this stuff was. It was soft yet springy, pliant yet yeasty. There was no definable shape, just a slowly spreading...thing. I couldn't cut this stuff into squares with a knife. I had to cut it with a pair of scissors.

But! 400° F and twelve minutes later, I got golden brown puffettes. Not perfect puffettes, and they didn't fall flat on their faces after they'd cooled, but they were remarkably beignet-like. Dorian, my standard food testing cat, approves. They taste pretty good dipped in honey. I would even make this again, with actual bread flour, and margarine. Not giving up on the death yeast though. I have like, three more satchets!

Addendum: Though my standard food testing cat approved of the beignets, my uncommonly good-natured husband did not. One bite and he was done. His suggestion: the next batch, I try with real cow creams and butters, and eggs. It's okay if he only gets to eat a few. I should make them count, I think.
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Sitting in the semi-dark of my hallway, playing pass the ball between myself and my cat, at least until it gets so late we might disturb the neighbours. Our other neighbours, the ones in the rotating rat-trap-might-be-meth-lab next door, have been yelling and blasting rolling mixes of '70s rock and heavy (mostly thrash) metal. The metal, mind you, includes a cover of Joan Baez's Diamonds and Rust, which is shot through with occasionally brilliant bridges of something that sounds better than the original. Right now, it's '70s? '80s? Popular songs whose names I should know. The current song is one of those, has a recognisable synth line at the end that goes, "doo-doo-wee-wee-doo-doo". Suffice to say, we are all aghast at their music choices.

Wearing the pink Angry Birds pajamas my boss lady got me as a nice present last year. They were made for a fourteen year old Asian girl. Since I never gew after age fourteen anyway, they fit great. The fluffy one meanders over to interrupt our ball toss, partly because she doesn't understand how playing works, partly to lead me back to the kitchen for a treat. The fluffy one is growing elderly and grumpy, like there should be a meme made in honour of all her grumpy expressions. The Dorling is clever enough to kick rubber balls back at me. This was a game I loved to play when I was little. It was fun enough with another kid around, but it was a game I could play with myself and still feel like I was playing. He stares at me now with a kind of gentle wisdom that cats spontaneously develop at a certain age. Yes, even Sif.

I have cautious optimism about the carrot and mustard green sproutlings coming out in my EarthBoxes. They are mild weather tolerant, San Francisco is being cold. We may not have enough sunlight that they never mature. Any number of cryptic predators and curious digging maine coons might kill them before February. Overcooked, rubber-tough lima beans in butter are a number one source of neighbourly maine coons, did you know that? We have a visitor. He keeps trying to move in, and wonders why no one brings out the tea and biscuits. The maine coon, CMOS says his tag, nips my hand when I hold it out for him to sniff, and hoots sadly as he trudges off. It's all very well for him. All that Arctic fur keeps out the cold, and his ginormous size keeps other cats out of his hair. I would worry CMOS doesn't get fed enough at home or will one day imbibe some scavenged scrap he shouldn't, except a) Dorian is rather well-fed and still eats everything we don't nail down, and b) Dorian's eaten enough weird stuff to prove that the cats who wander around the neighbourhood scoffing random items probably have the Iron Stomach trait. He is a cat after my own heart. CMOS might be, but it's not like I can pet him, and I'm not partial to sharing my cats' treats.
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For New Year's, I wanted to make food that represented who my husband and I are as people, and the things that we cherished and loved. This was supposed to be our Christmas dinner, but I've been fighting allergic rhinitis for an incredibly long time now, pretty much well before my birthday. In the run up to Christmas, I had an actual cold as well, so I would make bold declarations about baking and cooking, then wind up on a couch with a cat on top all day. We had many cheese and cracker dinners all the way to New Year's.

This is my attempt at explaining the lack of fresh produce in my final dinner of 2012. Only the pre-frozen bison meat was bought well in advance for its purpose. All the other foods that went into this meal were things we had preserving around the house on December 31. Quite as a result, I didn't use any salt in our food, as everything else was well-seasoned. Seth accidentally overestimated ingredients in the mulled wine he made for Christmas, which produced the wonderful spice wine liquer I used as the base for our meatball sauce. The lemon balm was the stuff I accidentally grew all year in my EarthBoxes instead of the herbs I wanted, which became a nice end-of-year pesto. The soft, densely-flavoured kimchee has been steeping away in my fridge for at least six months. The mentaiko was a fish roe pickling experiment that insufficiently dried, even though it was salted enough to keep. The cinnamon sugar was sugar left over from rolling around spice cookies, kept with a couple of cinnamon quills in a jar that did not make it into the pot of mulled wine. Really, everything that ended up in these dishes was a splendid accident. For that reason, anything that can or could be replaced by something wonderful and local to your household should be!

The only other exception was the salted egg I used in this recipe, which ripened right on New Year's Eve in its jar (in the basement). This was entirely the first time I ever tried salting eggs, chicken eggs n this case. I was absolutely terrified something would go wrong and the eggs would spoil over 21 days. Instead, when I peeked into the salting jar, the brine smelled sweet, simply of a thumb of fresh ginger, star anise and cloves I'd added for extra flavour. The first egg I cracked had a perfectly lovely orange yolk, solid from salting, and a rich, cohesive white. It barely spread out, sitting at the bottom of the bowl like a fried egg with still-translucent whites. I seriously can't wait to use this stuff in other foods around the house.

Bison Balls in Mulled Wine Sauce
Ingredients A:


1½ cup ground bison (cold)
½ cup instant oatmeal flakes (soaked overnight in cold milk; don't drain off milk)
1 tsp lemon balm pesto
1 raw salted egg (whites only; reserve yolk)
1 tsp cinnamon sugar
Enough oil or butter for panfrying

Ingredients B:
½ cup mulled wine (or red wine with ¼ tsp garam masala)
1 knob butter
1½ cinnamon sugar

1. With moist hands or a mixing spoon, stir ground bison until the fibres of the meat break and everything resembles a smooth, workable paste.
2. Add the rest of A, except the frying fat. Stir until well combined. Form meat paste into teaspoon-sized balls.
3. Fry meatballs until suitably cooked. Set aside. Reserve pan drippings.
4. Add B to pan drippings. Bring to low boil on medium low heat.
5. Serve meatballs with sauce.

Spaghetti in Mentaiko-Horseradish Cream with Kimchee
Ingredients:


2 serves spaghetti
2 sacs mentaiko
1 tbsp horseradish cream
2 tbsp half & half or cream
1 tbsp butter
½ cup kimchee (chopped fine)
2 stalks spring onion (sliced fine)
1 raw salted egg yolk (halved)

1. Cook spaghetti according to manufacturer's instructions.
2. On medium-low heat, bring everything except mentaiko and egg yolk to low simmer. Turn off heat.
3. Slice mentaiko and integrate thoroughly into cream sauce.
4. Mix in still-hot pasta until well combined.
5. Serve, topped with half a salted egg yolk on each pile of pasta.

Winter Stew

Jan. 2nd, 2013 01:37 pm
vampyrichamster: (Default)
As we hit the colder parts of the year, I've come to appreciate a simple stew I began throwing together a couple of months ago. I like regular stew well enough, but there often is no way to make just enough for two. I could reuse chilled and frozen portions all year, but this quickly gets dull. I've also been on a fish binge of late. Fish, more than chicken or beef, holds up really well to quick cooking, especially if say, you've forgotten to defrost something in good time, which I do often. My preference, just for the colour, is salmon or rainbow trout, but any fish you enjoy in broth works.

The stew I make uses a few other ingredients I've come back to enjoy -- konnyaku, which has such a lovely, jelly-like texture that resists mild boiling, and fu, whose peculiar bread-like texture softens in the milk broth but doesn't quite disintegrate. Tofu adds slivers of soft silkenness, while carrots can be cooked fast enough to be tender bites of sweet and bright. What brings everything together though, is the milk, miso and seafood broth. Seafood in particular for the umami flavour, which balances out nicely with milk for richness. I add a teaspoon of honey to round out the overall sweetness at the end. Temper the fishiness of your broth with a tablespoon of ginger juice (or minced ginger) if you like. Especially if you are using soymilk for the broth, this really brings out the warmth and heart of the dish.

Ingredients:

1 fillet of salmon (cubed)
2 cups fish broth
1 - 2 cups milk (preferably soy)
2 tsps white miso paste
1 tsp honey
1 carrot (cubed)
3 leaves Chinese cabbage
¼ block silken tofu (sliced)
1 handful fu cubes
¼ cup konnyaku jelly (cubed)
2 scallions or ½ leek (sliced thin)
½ cup sliced glutinous rice cakes/mochi (optional)

1. Over medium-low heat, bring broth, milk, carrot and cabbage to a gentle simmer. If using rice cakes, add them at this stage.
2. Dissolve miso paste separately in about 2 - 4 tablespoons of hot broth or water.
3. When carrots are tender, add fish then miso paste and remaining ingredients, honey and fu last.
4. Once fish is cooked to your preference (I like mine medium rare), turn off heat and serve stew warm. The stew goes well with steamed rice, though if you are already using rice cakes in the stew, this won't be necessary.
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Out of all the teas I recently bought, the one that I keep turning back to is the Coffee & Tea Exchange's Russian Caravan. It's a dense, smoky green and black blend. Smells like cooking fires and wooden caravans painted in faded circus colours. The taste is surprisingly mellow with sugar and milk, like sitting in front of a fire with a soothing cat on your lap. Actually, a lot like that.

When I was younger, I had a taste for lapsang souchong. As I grew older, my tastebuds petered out, finding the wok-bottomed, smoke-fired, black-as-ash flavours a little strong. The Russian Caravan strikes a nice balance between my good memories of lapsang and its likelihood of overwhelming the senses. An alternate theory goes that I have grown less bitter, but I find this remarkably hard to believe.

So I got it into my head a couple of weeks ago, I'd try to make bottarga. The simplest versions involved salting roe for about a week, akin to making homemade lox. I know there could be a bit more of a salting/drying process involved than that, but for simplicity's sake, I was not interested in hanging fish roe in my kitchen for a week to amuse Food Inspector Cat with. Off we went to Sun Fat Seafood, where the nice Moustache Uncle had an appropriate little bag of fish roe to experiment with. I had some tea leaves that had been immersed in soy sauce from my last batch of tea eggs lying around as well. Knowing that I would eventually attempt this, I dried out the leaves beforehand to help with the process. Tea-flavoured house-cured fish roe was then in order.

I got two kinds of fish eggs in my bag. One was a nice firm type, the other was a bit more squishy. After some washing and pat-drying, I layered salt, tea leaves, roe then more salt in a long enough container, sealed it, and stuck it in the fridge. Based on my (always dubious) research, I knew that mentaiko was essentially bottarga with less curing and a sake bath, so I planned to sacrifice the squishier, smaller roe earlier to feed my eminent impatience. That would be dinner tonight: house-cured fish roe with cream sauce on pasta.

I just scraped away my 48-hour-cured roe for this purpose. It was surprisingly unfishy. In fact, I almost want to say that it was fishier before curing. Now, whatever else I thought about it, it was still enough to summon both cats, including a determined Food Inspector Cat, so we should take my olfactory abilities with a pinch of salt (literally). Other surprises: after 48 hours, the squishier roe was remarkably firm, like cooked crab roe. I haven't tried it yet, as I wanted to really only cut open the sac right before it goes in the pan. Nonetheless, I've scraped and gently rinsed off excess salt and tea leaves, and the roe is soaking in some sake as I write. I trust Dorian. If he thinks it's delicious, it probably is. (How do you know he's my cat? Put him next to mystical people food, and you couldn't not know he's my cat.)

In other news, my first winter shoots have turned up in the EarthBox. I'm planting two different kinds of mustards and a row of carrots, figuring these are the most cold-tolerant plants I have (so say the seed packs). Tiny greens may eventually ensue, or not. I'm not sure. I don't think I'm a terribly good gardener. But even mustard shoots are delicious. I can work with that.
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You would think that Food Inspector Cat has an easy life, tasting all dishes and licking his chops, but no! Tasting and supervising the vast array of mystical human foods is an arduous task, requiring attention to detail and adherence of ancient cat rituals. Consider the appearance of the Custard Tart, a holy relic that requires careful monitoring of its progress throughout the house, and a dedicated cat detail to usher its coming. Or that most sacred of mystical human foods, The Fish. Truly, no food demands attention more vigorously than The Fish. Every step in its cooking process has to be carefully inspected for quality, preferably with a choice tasting. If The Fish makes its appearance in a magical cat food-shaped can, a gathering of cats must be held, and cries raised to the heavens in demand gratitude. When The Fish is finally carried to its resting place, all cats must follow in procession. Then, gathered before Its Most Marinated Platter, it is up to Food Inspector Cat to liberate negotiate the Sacred Cat Tithe.

This is a patient game, wherein he must alternatively sit and wait for the right opportunity, while never letting up bargaining for his price. Constantly, he must sniff the offerings to exhibit great interest in the various fine foods available. It is customary to space much sniffing with more patient waiting, feet tucked daintily inwards, while blinking soothingly at the humans present. When the humans appear unwavering, he lets out a curious paw into the platter space, moving food towards his general direction to indicate that negotiations are not yet over. On rare occasion, he must fight for his tithe, using his great charm and speed to escape a most undignified hugging.

Long after every crumb has been ingested, it is up to Food Inspector Cat to ensure nothing goes to waste. Every accessible plate, bowl, spoon, fork, chopstick and frying pan must be inspected for leftovers. Every drop of sauce must be accounted for.

And as his final duty of the day, Food Inspector Cat must mingle with and cajole the Food Giver into another day of many sacred cat tastings, for his task is as much about diplomacy as it is wiliness. Using finely honed skills in Traditional Cat Medicine, he massages the Food Giver's spleen for good digestion, and kneads endlessly in a 12' by 12" radius, ensuring that at least something in the house is perfectly, utterly, spongy soft for no apparently good reason. Thus, we live in balance, Food Inspector Cat and I.
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It took me about an hour and a half to pound two cups of steamed glutinous rice into an appropriately squishy mass, but the squishy mass, it is very good. I learned a bunch of things after the first batch was ready to sit in my mixing bowl. For a start, although the recipe I used called for up-and-down pounding, I discovered it was actually a lot easier to scrape up and down from the sides of the pounder. This ensured that the dough stayed clear of the sides, and eventually helped grind down the rice better. An additional benefit was that it seemed to take the strain off my wrist, because pounding rice is a labour-intensive affair. You can also kind of tell when the dough needs a bit more warm water to keep it pliable enough to pound by the sounds it makes. When it starts emitting lewd squishy sounds, it needs more water. A creamy dough doesn't sound like wet clay mud.

Another major thing I discovered about the mochi making process was that I didn't need to roll and knead the dough out on my counter to make it work. With enough toasted rice flour to coat the dough, it's possible to mix up the main dough ball in a big mixing bowl, then tear up small pieces to roll into balls on a plate of toasted rice flour. This dramatically saves on the cleaning required afterwards.

The mochi was also surprisingly easy to fry, and required a hot pan with very little grease at all. The texture I got, even though I clearly wasn't aiming for mochi as smooth as a baby's ass, was a soft, chewy middle with a slightly crisp outside. Topped with browned butter, soy sauce, chopped mustard greens and shredded toasted nori, it made for a wonderful, if deeply filling dinner. I approve, Seth approves and Dorian approves. Sif doesn't care. The mochi wasn't topped with bonito flakes, after all.

For pre-dinner dessert, custard tarts from Champage Seafood Restaurant!
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I seem to be in a dumpling-type mood lately. Maybe it's the cooler weather, but there is something pleasing about eating a plump, round dinner when it gets cold. I tend to prefer dumplings in soup, but stir-fried dumplings come a close second. I think it comes from really liking spaetzel with lots and lots of butter. I've been experimenting with the possibilities of tamale flour lately, as the refined texture seems to lend itself really well to smoother, less 'rustic' cornmeal dumplings. It has the advantage of being quicker to work with than normal flour dumplings, and is also more resilient to long cooking.

Later this evening, I am going to try pounding my own mochi from scratch (with real steamed glutinous rice) for torture's sake, then toast it, slather it in indecent amounts of butter and shredded toasted nori, then serve it to us. But I did want to get down my recipe for the cornmeal dumplings as a reference first. It's gluten-free, and can be as egg and dairy-free as one wishes. Dorian, my beloved food inspector cat, is at this very moment approving of the gluten, egg and dairy free version (posted below), because he's... like that.

The kale part to this recipe came about partly because I was craving greens, and wanted to try cooking curly kale, which is a very pretty vegetable. Curly kale is also deeply resilient to long cooking. Unfortunately, cooking does wilt the curls, but it's definitely a less thickly vegetal kale than the Asian versions I usually have.

Cornmeal Dumplings )

Stir-fried with Kale )
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My English Tea Store purchase arrived this morning. 3.5 lbs of tea! Keenly tried the smallest packet, the test Vanilla Chai, and was then quite sad about it. My overwhelming impression of the leaves from the get go was this powerful smell of orange oil. It looks like there might be orange peel somewhere in the mix, but this was definitely an additive. The effect was somewhat like the way too much lemon oil is sometimes used in Earl Greys, resulting in an uncomfortable, cloying potpourri in the linen closet stench. I suspect the tea will be salvageable as an ingredient in my upcoming mochi pepperkakor experiment, but I'm honestly not sure how else to use this distinctly strong cookie-like tea.

The Mim Estate darjeeling, on the other hand, is a beautiful flavour. It smells surprisingly vegetal, and looks like a very fermented green tea, even though it is a black. This mellows into a refreshingly smoky-savoury taste after steeping, with milk. There's a hint of something floral in there too. I quite like this tea, and would happily get it again, as I can see myself eventually craving it. The Coffee and Tea Exchange stuff also showed up this afternoon, so more vanilla tea tasting is in order.

Had zero luck trying to get a mid-size 2 litre glass mason jar off Amazon. First jar came with the lid smashed. Its replacement arrived three days later, this time completely smashed. When the delivery guy handed me the box, it actually went, "Clink, clink, clink!" I submit to you that buying a glass product online is a bad idea to begin with. Amazon seems to have potty ideas on how to wrap glass. My jar came tightly wrapped in a thin 2-ply of bubble wrap, vaguely cushioned on one side with air pillows. This left ample room for the jar to roll around and shake during transport. That's two boxes I'll have to haul seven blocks to the nearest UPS customer centre. Since I'm now going to have to get a full refund, I'll probably save that for something nice and sturdy, like a hand mixer.

I'm also willing to concede I may need to be less ambitious about my cherry sake liquer plan. Rather than wait around until I miraculously run into a tall enough mason jar, I should probably go smaller, using a nice glass 1 litre juice bottle or two. It should still be relatively easy to fill and retrieve. Since this still has to macerate for a year, it will still snugly fit in the basement, which has enough shelving to accommodate food for the next major apocalypse. Now, all I need is to run to the corner store for some Sho Chiku Bai (hey, it wasn't meant to be a totally classy experiment!) and put things together.
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This is the song that I have made up while eating my baklava at tea, as Dorian watches jealously from a corner of the dining table. My walking adventure today was to circle aimlessly around the perimeter of SF General until I wandered into a corner store acrss the street, where I found a hitherto unknown brand of artisanal pomegranate-hibiscus ginger ale (best I can tell, it is simply Ginger Ale by Bruce Cost) and got a piece of baklava. I was looking for what the UPS Drop-box Locator clearly said was a drop-box right there. After asking at the store, it turned out to be hidden in one of SF Gen's lobbies. Upon arrival, I realised the package I had was just too big for the drop-box flap. This means I will have to walk about seven blocks tomorrow to find the nearest UPS counter. I came home hoping for a cup of tea and an enjoyable slice of baklava, but Dorian found the baklava while I was making said tea, running off with half the nicest, pistachio topped bits. I feed the little rogue. I know he can't be that hungry.

Tomato and lemon balms have been yanked out of the earth and mulched. Lemon balm leaves await the roasting of garlic cloves for pesto. I'm hoping to integrate the final product in masa dumplings for our dinner. I fully expect the wee boy will try to help with that too. He has an unholy love of butter, creams and flour-based products of all kinds second to my own. Wandered into Chinatown last week and came home with a reasonably-sized bag of baked goods. Chinatown bakeries are ridiculously cheap. The place I accidentally stumbled upon (because with my sense of direction, almost everything is accidentally stumbled upon) is called the AA Bakery, and was appropriately piled high with Cantonese-style pastries. Since I had never eaten there before, I took the conservative route: two egg custard tarts, a polo pau (pineapple bun -- named for the pattern on top; I highly doubt this cake-batter crusted, butter-slathered bun actually involves pineapple) and a little log of Japanese-style cheesecake. All turned out to be most delicious. Dorian approved, and Sif offered to lick the cheesecake paper cup clean. I made the right choice going into a store that was loud with people.

Next week, I hope to stop by Chinatown again for fishball paste, exotic greenery and more buttery pastry.
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It seems I have made an embarrassing mistake about my herb patch. Ten months after growing what at first seemed like Vietnamese mint and a suspiciously lemon-minty basil, both bushes have flowered to reveal themselves lemon balm. Here's what I think happened. I planted two clearly different-looking sets of seeds back in spring. These put out two clearly different-looking sets of shoots. During the slug blight that I thought demolished all my plants, my plants had in fact died. The 'survivors' that remained in both patches, then very young, undifferentiated shoots, were these lemon balms, which I had not bought, and were likely residual to either my potting mix or the seed packets themselves.

The embarrassing part is how I didn't realise this for ten months. I know perfectly well what all three herbs look and taste like. The lower, spreading cluster that I mistook for Vietnamese mint had unusually small spear-shaped leaves instead of the much longer, less fuzzy leaves I would associate with the plant. This is compared to the taller-growing bush form of lemon balm that grew in the basil patch, having as a result much bigger, basil-sized leaves. I had suspected I was given the wrong type of each herb compared to what the packet said they should be, but not that I had grown an entirely different plant altogether. All is not lost. Since I know the lemon balm for what is is now, I feel less bad about just pulling it out of the ground. The lemon balm leaves still make an excellent pesto, and the flowers, which I am still pressing, will doubtless make a lovely smelling sugar for cookies by Christmas. In its place, more mustard greens.

Also be yanked out of the ground is that last tomato plant. I despair that the flowers will ever mature at this point. Bought a satchet of mizuna seeds that I am quite excited about, and would like to plant in its place. Mizuna is sowable in milder winter climates, and can be eaten year round. The other side of the box can be sowed with carrots, which have also seemed to sprout and grow in this weather, and will either yield carrot greens or roots, both of which I like to eat. The makeshift compost bin project is going well, so I am encouraged by the enriched soil these things will be going into.

Have begun what shall be a month-long experiment in salting eggs. The big glass jar I got for this purpose was overly big, being rather more suited for pickling some twenty eggs or more. I ended up using a plastic cookie jar with a convenient curve under its lid to help press down the eggs, having failed to sufficiently submerge the eggs in brine with all manner of small cups in the bigger jar. I do like having the big jar around though. It will be most useful for storing rice, which we just bought in bulk. Eggs seem very fragile to pickle. But I did make perfectly good gravlax for last New Year's, which is also fragile, so it can be done. Also found an apparently reliable source of food-grade sodium carbonate (light ash) online, which leads me to think homemade century egg may also be possible, but I'm not 100% sure. Pei dan seems to be a much more involved process than mere salted eggs.

Amazon is sending along my smaller jar, which should be a sufficient size for the cherry sake liquer experiment. That's an even longer process, being ideally a year's worth of steeping. Ah, winter. The time of pickling!
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I was supposed to be starting on our garlic noodle dinner, but somewhere between the wok and the chopping board, I got trapped under an ever-loving cat who is grateful she got a treat. Now, with my laptop perched precariously on my knee and a fuzzy chin resting on my wrist, I need to find something to do until the cat gets distracted and walks about twelve inches to my left. I finally cracked open the big baumkuchen Seth got me and had it with some strong milk tea for tea. When watched with some soothing Natsume (episode 9 of season 4 -- I am going to run out pretty soon), teatime is marvelous and calming. It is also essential to watch anime featuring plump, hamster-like cats with a suitably plump, hamster-like creature. In this case, the aforementioned fuzzy cat is excellently huggable for the occasion.

The big baumkuchen was so much better than the small baumkuchen. It was moist and dense, yet deceptively light. Not too sweet, just a hint of toastedness from browning the different layers. Richly eggy. Mmm. I thought I gave myself a generous slice (it was meant for two of us, but Seth declined), and I still feel like I've just had enough of a sweet treat to go with my tea. Nevermind that I had about two bowls of cream nabe on rice for lunch. I am nonetheless on the verge of hungry into starvation.

Someday, I will make gratin rice. I don't know what sort of gratin rice though. I am deeply partial to fishes baked in cheese sauce. Presumably, since the spouse rarely says no to cheese sauce, he will not turn down gratin rice. Right before we went on holiday, I decided to try on my wedding dress to take to our anniversary dinner. It was once a much larger dress that got trimmed down to size to fit my then 24-inch waist. We managed to get me into the dress, but I realised I couldn't sit or bend in it anymore. I am now officially too fat to fit my wedding dress, worn precisely once four years ago. The spouse thinks I am lady-like and likes me the way I am, so I think I am still okay. But still! Four years on and I can neither fit into my old jeans or wedding dress. With my luck, I'll hopefully last another ten years before I go up another jeans size. That's ten more years with a glorious love of pastries and cake, and an unholy affection for butter and cream sauce.

In a rare Cyber Monday splurge, I went ahead and bought some six different teas between The English Tea Store and Coffee & Tea Exchange. I got a Mim Estate Darjeeling 2nd flush, Vanilla Chai, Scottish Breakfast and Buckingham Garden blend from the former. The English Tea Store seems to use a lot of Kambaa estate tea in their blends, which is remarkably astringent on its own. I am slightly warry of what might come in the mail as a result, but was keen to try more of their teas before I passed judgment on what I had previously ordered. The Scottish Breakfast was described by a commenter as "peaty". Mayhaps I have finally found a tea the spouse will like that reminds him of his favourite pickled swamp waters. The Vanilla Chai, which I bought merely a sampler for, just sounded too delicious to pass up on. Since trying Numi's (freakishly expensive) vanilla tea, I have developed quite a taste for this stuff. Hopefully, my instinct was right and ETS's vanilla chai will not be naturally flavoured, as I am trying to expand my profile of unflavoured (chemically flavoured) teas.

From Coffee & Tea Exchange, also a Vanilla Tea and a blend they called Russian Caravan. My sister-in-law got me a Russian blend from them one Christmas which I utterly adored. It was a slightly unusual blend too: black teas and greens, with possibly some oolong thrown in. Their Vanilla Tea seems to be just tea and vanilla bean bits, and at a reasonable price ($26 for a pound vs. Numi's $85). The only downside to C&TE is the postage cost, which is $10 for what seems like the initial pound of product, then iterations of a dollar or so for every few ounces. So it's really a place one should consider buying in bulk, I think.

[livejournal.com profile] mokie informed me that Eastern Shore teas are now available from Baltimore Coffee and Tea. They represent some of the best flavoured teas I have ever had, namely, their Black Raven Tea. Oh, yes, it is Poe distilled as a fine blackberry tea, not too tart, not too overwhelmingly berry-flavoured on the palate, but smooth and dark. Unfortunately, I feel like I have spent all my tea karma for the rest of the year today. I would like to drink all tea, but it may just be impossible.
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Discovered the first comb of blooms on my basil the other day. As my herb box flowers into its wake over winter, I look forward to harvesting the two small but productive bushes, and seeding the ground underneath with leftover seeds I intend to turn into random salad greens. The basil has already decided to replace itself with a new, freshly sprouted seed on the side, I see. I am hoping that by aggressive cutting, I can maximise the amount of harvest before the plants truly give up their ghosts. That first comb of basil blossoms was a very pretty pale purple. I trimmed it off and pressed it in my heaviest cookbook for posterity. My hope is to collect enough basil and mint flowers to press, dry and grind with sugar, perhaps turning it into a nice cookie topping or flavouring by Christmas.

Also exploring the possibility of mochi pepperkakor. I discovered recipes today for a Hawaiian dessert called butter mochi, which reminds me more than slightly of similar kueh in texture, type and form. The idea of a baked, buttery, egg-rich, coconut milk flavoured, glutinous flour based custard is the basis for one of my most favourite kueh, the Indonesian kueh ambon, which also seems to feature coconut water or coconut-based alcohol for fermentation. At least one recipe seems to suggest for cookies, normal baking flour is directly substitutable with mochi flour in a 2:1.75 ratio. Another notes that the thickness of mochi cookie dough rounds produces interesting variable textures after baking. Thin, pepperkakor-level rounds would produce a crispness akin to biscotti. This is great, since the most labour-intensive part of pepperkakor making is getting the dough thin enough to be and stay crisp. My luck with this has gone everywhere from gingerbread textures to crisp yet not crunchy biscuits, rather unlike store bought pepperkakor.

My Black Friday purchases, not really on sale, were a nice steel whistling kettle and two mason jars. Our aged whistling kettle was something I'd found abandoned on the stove by a previous tenant when I first moved in with Seth, and it had followed us ever since, faithfully getting grubbier and developing rust spots on the inside. The last straw was when I noticed a distinct rattling, like sand, at the bottom of the kettle and poured it completely out only to find hundreds of little black enamel flecks in our sink. Some basic research tells me that enameled kettles don't hold well against the potentially high heat of gas stoves. We've only ever moved into places with gas stoves since the beginning. So in spite of every heat resistant assurance and pretty colour I saw online, a nice, traditional steel kettle it is. The two mason jars, a two-litre and four-litre, are for longstanding pickling projects I've intended to try all year. I have had cherries freezing away in my fridge since summer, waiting to be steeped for a year in decent but inexpensive sake and sugar, maybe in the basement, where they will hopefully not horrify anybody. With any luck, this will yield two products: a nice cherry sake liquer to be taken with a lot of ice, and leftover drunken cherries for a heck of a jam. The larger jar might perhaps hold about twelve eggs, preserved in tea brine. Always wanted to try making my own salted eggs for porridge. I would more gladly try to make century eggs, but the process for that seems... involved, with three kinds of ashes and/or different kinds of salts. I liked lab in school a great deal, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable with putting together all that.

I was under the weather today, so Seth made up some canned mushroom soup, which I always find comforting while ill, and put out crackers and cheese. I tried Saint-Marcellin for the first time. It's like a very small, young, amazingly runny brie, with a strong flavour and smell, very mushroomy. It was a surprise to break open the thin skin and find this liquefied cheese inside. The pungent flavour does mean it is easy to use sparingly though. It may pair well with the nice fig preserve Seth bought me a while back, and which needs eating. As I write this, the fluffiest cat is waiting to lead me to bed. Perhaps tomorrow, there will be more flowers waiting to bloom?
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It's been a charming set of days here at our hotel. We spent a pleasant Thanksgiving walking through the Financial District and into Chinatown, through surreal, quiet streets devoid of locals, tourists, cars and taxis. I pass by Chinatown a lot these days on the way to lunch, but have never quite developed the mettle to step through the arch. Too many tourists and touts, really. It also bothers my deep seated neurosis about a considerable lack of Cantonese-ness in my being, linguistically and otherwise. I often feel like I might step on someone's toes by being not Chinese enough. Chinatown, on a quiet day where most of the truly touristy shops are closed, and the diehard shops for locals are open, with a trusty guide in the form of Seth, is a rather different boost to my self-esteem. With Seth, and following Seth through the still-unfamiliar territory, I am allowed to turn into the dork of dorkvania sort of flapping my arms about while incoherently babbling about the menus on HK-style cafes (all the big dim sum places were closed). We walked a lot, since Seth wanted to locate his old apartment there and a sad little noodle shop he remembered. I must have stood in front of, and incoherently babbled at, about ten different little restaurants, raving about three-egg steamed egg custard, combination egg spinach, baked gratin rice and crab sauce greens, all the while looking out for that staple of a nice day out -- preserved egg porridge. I sniffed longingly at BBQ duck noodle stores, stared at tiny hole in the wall lunch bars serving lesser dim sum, but featuring tall piles of leaf-wrapped stick rice dumplings. Most of these were alarmingly loud and full of people, with menus all in Chinese (which I can't read) pasted on the walls. I did not have the thickness of skin required to walk in.

We think we found Seth's old apartment. The sad noodle shop was gone, and the spouse identified about three different shops that might have been it. This took us through the local supermarket hub, where generations of women jostled and elbowed each other over boxes to pick out the best bunches of grapes, bok choy and fish. It was a nostalgic trip for me. This Chinatown may as well have been the Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur at that point, or any number of other market districts I remember. The whole sight made me wonder how I ever survived shopping as a kid. I suspect this is why as an adult, I deliberately avoid crowded markets and shop at my own leisure. When I was a child, I was often drafted on shopping bag and/or cart duty, while my mum wandered off to jostle and elbow other ladies for the best fruit and the best crab and the cheapest bread. I saw plenty of the next generation of kids in waiting, with the requisite bored husbands playing with their phones close, yet not too close, to corresponding shops.

There were Chinese medicine halls, the smell of which still tingles my nose and fills me with strange, musty comfort. I even saw two tall kettles of bitter herbal tea base for sore throats and other ailments. I don't know if Seth saw them too. He may well have decided to stay quiet and hurry me along. The last time he was made to drink herb tea, he spent the whole day washing out his mouth with coke. Big glass jars full of scallops and wooden crates of fish maw called out to me, "Stew! Stew!"

We finally whittled down our walk to three neighbouring restaurants. The basement restaurant, Kam Lok, had big tables and family-style serves, which would have been nice if we weren't booked in for a fancy Thanksgiving dinner that night. The ground floor restaurant, Washington Cafe, was clearly a HK-style cafe, with happy hour specials involving all my favourite porridges and vegetables. The top floor restaurant was a hot pot place whose photo-menu involved normal family-style dishes of veggies coated in seafood sauces and three-egg steamed egg custard, instead of hot pot. We chose Washington Cafe, my glee levels rising the entire time. It was minimalist in every decorative way, the waiters were all frazzled and loud, happy families were eating all around us. The menu was gigantic with specials, claypot rices, baked rice, rice sets, noodle sets, sets mixed up with other sets and family-style servings -- I'm pretty sure it had something in the range of 200+ items. It had iced Horlicks. I squealed like a little girl. It had fish and preserved egg porridge. When that came, the bowl was big for one and just enough for two. The spouse doesn't eat porridge unless he is sick in bed. Nevermind, I was determined to finish ALL PORRIDGE. He had pretty good Cantonese fried rice. My porridge was amazing. The porridge was plain, but the fish was well-seasoned and smooth, and there was a whole fillet chopped up in there plus maybe two century eggs in large chunks. I ate porridge till I was blue and I think I will still have cravings for that porridge. I am craving that porridge right now. The only thing they didn't have was crullers. Maybe I can lure the spouse back to Chinatown this morning for crullers and custard tarts, but this is unlikely. I shall just have to brave Chinatown from now on. Just checked. Yeah, he wants American or Italian or seafood for lunch.

After lunch, we wobbled unsteadily back to the hotel, which is quite amazing. I've put in my vote to make this a new yearly tradition. The king sized bed is smooth and non-lumpy, like a ginormous mochi. The pillows, of which there is a veritable hillock, are plump, sturdy yet soft. There is some luxurious threadcount going on. I had trouble saying goodbye to it this morning. The bathroom, easily the size of our bedroom at home, has the best tub and best shower ever. It beats my traditional clawfoot tub. The wee non-slip beads lining the bottom offered traction while being unobtrusive. The stainless steel bath faucets were seamless and away from tangling into feet. The water heated up almost instantly. Oh, and the shower is godly. Most showers, rain or otherwise, are frankly just showers. This shower, you walk in, and you're like, "It's just a shower." Then the water comes on, and all your sore back muscles are very massaged, and by the time you come out, you're all, "Wow, um, that was not just a shower." Also, we are on the 45th floor, and our room is entirely walled with glass except for important structural bits, so we have gorgeous fog over both bridges in the morning, and Oakland looks pretty at night with a low carpet of lights undulating over very gentle, flat hills, with jagged city lights covering the ground all around us from downtown. Seth got us flower service when we came in. The flowers aer all the colours of fall, with deep purples, softly scented pink roses and bright yellow sunflowers.

Thanksgiving dinner was fulfilling and delicious, but the best part of all was the gin and tonic, which is a specialty of the S&P Brasserie on the ground floor of the Mandarin Oriental. They offer a fine selection of house-made tonics. I had a ginseng and gingko infusion with a bit of lemon, angostura bitters and a ... generous dash of Old Raj. It was the best drink I've ever had in San Francisco. Richly flavourful, they captured the slight bittersweetness of the ginseng and gingko, balanced well with citrus. Seth, going through the apparently quite excellent Californian wine pairing and a Hakushu whiskey, eventually walking back upstairs with me and a fragrantly orange-infused tonic mixed in with this weirdly and fantastically meady honey-based gin.

We said our difficult goodbyes to awesome bed, bath and shower. Now, I must frantically stuff things into other things, in that we may return to our fluffy cats. My husband is swank, whether in jeans or in a suit. We are in love, and we remembered why we love this city. The holiday was very good.
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