Aside

One should never over-bake shortbread cookies.  They must be removed from the oven while looking suspiciously unbaked.

Sometimes it just fits.

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There were more apples than my taste buds could handle.  The nice little old lady let me take way too many from her tree.  So I baked, stewed, syruped, curried, and did everything I could think of.  And there were still apples.  Wonderfully shaped, untouched by any chemicals, exploding with crunch at every bite.  I couldn’t resist the allure of them all over again.  But I had no time to bake, stew, curry, or do anything fancy.  And I needed some punch to rev my apple-overloaded taste buds. 

Basil.  Dried and from the spice jar.  It just fit.

A Chayote by any other name…

…is a Pataste. When I found some on sale last week, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them. A very light, simple, straightforward tasting soup.  Almost like what Mima makes, but completely different. But she is still to blame for this soup.  If she hadn’t given me chayote last year, twenty chayote that sat in our fridge for weeks, I would have never discovered this bit of incredible.  Mima’s soups always had chunks of chayote, and all sorts of veggies and meats mixed in unexpected, and delicious, combinations.  And there didn’t seem a chance that I could recreate one, so I tried this recipe.  And liked it.  And my roommates liked it.  And I made it again yesterday. With only five chayote this time.  And they stacked quite nicely in little mason jars waiting to cool off.  Maybe the marinating Cornish hens should have been cropped out. … …next time.

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Coffee is evil, but i think I just found my cuppa

And it had to be Vietnamese Iced coffee. I don’t mean that sarcastically, it really did have to be exactly that. Even though I’d never tasted it. Or liked coffee. Or had the odd little metal hat filter, much less a specific can of coffee. Or the extra money.

But I did have determination. And quarters. Lots of quarters. Maybe $15 over 2 trips. And by that point I was going to love Vietnamese Iced Coffee even if I O.D.’d on my first glass. Ca phe sua da (as you may find it in certain Asian restaurants) is a bit strong. The strongest drink I usually go for is an occasional sweet tea. No soda. No triple machiato, chai tea gone wild (though chai tea is a lot of fun to make & we’ll proly get to that some time…), I like water. Though my nutritionist side says to disclaimer that soda, juices, and triple machiato chai gone wild are okay to be had in moderation, my hokey side says moderation = 1 non-water a day. We fight over stuff like that.

Back to ca phe sua da. Isn’t that a pretty word, just try saying it quietly to yourself. Don’t let anyone else know how bad we butcher Vietnamese, but try it. And then taste it. It’s very simple to make. and looks flat out gorgeous sitting on the counter, or by computer, even 26 hours after it was made. It’s okay to be in love and scared of caffeine.

Ca phe sua da (Vietnamese Iced coffee)

  • Get a funny lil’ hat filter.  My local Asian store had at least a dozen, but amazon has several varieties (it should look like this). If your store has it cheaper, perfect.
  • 1-2 Tbsp coffee.  The Vietnamese in the states usually go for the Cafe du Monde, for both flavor and ground size.  I picked mine up from the same Asian Supermarket.
  • Some Sweetened Condensed Milk.
  • Ice.

1. Set the water to boil & fill the coffee filter to the inner rim with the coffee grounds.  You can measure out 1 or 2 Tbsp, but I get frustrated when I can’t remember how much I want, so the inner ridge works just fine for me.

2. Screw the lid on snugly, then unscrew it 3/4 of a turn.  This will compress the grounds just right, while giving them a bit of room to expand once the water is introduced.  Add somewhere around 2Tbsp of S&C Milk into a glass, then place the filter above it and fill it with water. After an initial burst, the coffee drip should slow to around 3 drips/second.  It should finish in about 5 minutes, leaving you with a gorgeously layered drink, which is Ca phe sua nong, till you add the ice.  I’ve been enjoying the hot little shots made with agave syrup, because they remind me of Dona Carmen’s coffe that I finished 5 cups of in Guatemala (my friend kept on taking pictures of empty coffee mugs to commemorate the moment).

3. If you mix that little bit of steaming goodness & pour it over a tall glass of ice that then gets stirred or shaken, you have wonderful ca phe sua da.

4. Sit back and reminisce over the wonderful experience of making a drink treasured by countless folks, ignoring the caffeine buzz that’s coming.  Supposedly, the lack of a paper/cloth filter allows more oils to make it to the coffee & therefore more caffeine.  My chemistry friends shake their heads that I’ve forgotten whether that’s tru or not/

    Memoirs of Japan

    It was a stunning wedding.  The type that magazines fight over who gets to feature it.  Ai-san and Ryujin-san were gorgeously complete together and we were invited to join the festivities.  That did mean travelling across the Pacific ocean again (never thought I’d get another chance), and spending a week with the newlyweds and their family, as Mom and I were treated to each family member’s favorite parts of Japan.  Yes, we suffered bravely through what the upper half must live like.  Fresh bakeries, local delicacies, modern/traditional wedding, old friends from years back.  Poor, poor Mom & I.  Though stories and pictures will likely sift down to here for quite a while, let me tell you about one that came back to the States for an unexpected reprise.

    After a fabulous day at Nikko, the “national treasure of Japan,” Mr Watanabe, the bride’s father, decided we should rejuvenate over some chikara udon.  Having always treasured udon noodles for their divinely thick chewiness, I was more than willing to oblige.  Chikara udon is a big bowl of piping hot udon noodles in seasoned broth, topped with fried chunks of mochi & various other goodies.  It’s also called power udon, because all those noodles plus fried mochi equals impressive calories.  Sugoi oishii!  Especially since mochi happens to be yet another of my many loves.

    Did I pack some up to bring back to the States?  No, that would be too straight forward.  Instead I fantasized about those noodles for months.  You can actually buy them in most large grocers nowadays, but I didn’t want to tarnish the memory of the noodles made by some mama-san and papa-san on the side of the road thousands of miles away.  I realized that I had to make them myself. (plus, those packets are too pricey to make a meal for 4, especially for college roommates who might not like them).  So I searched, high and low, for the perfect recipe.  Or maybe it was the simplest.  Or was it cheapest?
    Torn, I finally decided on Kevin’s recipe from Closet Cooking.  I found his site a while back while trying to figure out how to use a huge tub of gochujang that I’d been given, and liked what I saw.  Simple recipe, few ingredients, and some toe-tapping fun, like all the best recipes recommended.

    Udon Noodles – recipe from Closet Cooking

    Ingredients:
    1 tsp sal
    2/3 cup water
    2 1/2 cups flour

    1. Dissolve the salt into the water.
    2. Mix the water into the flour in a large bowl.
    3. Knead the dough for 10 minutes.
    4. Place the dough into a freezer bag and step on it to flatten it with shoes off.
    5. Remove the dough from the plastic bag and roll it out.
    6. Fold the dough in half.
    7. Repeat steps 4-6 a few times.
    8. Let the dough rest for a few hours.
    9. Roll the dough out until it is about 1/8 inch thick.
    10. Fold the dough 2 or three times and slice into thin strips.
    11. Cook the noodles in boiling water for about 10 minutes.

    If you’ve never tried, I highly recommend anything that involves getting you hands covered in something new.  This was my first time with dough.  From the advice of other dough-experienced persons, I decided that my dough was too dry at first.  It looked really “shaggy.”  That’s how they described it, and once I saw it for myself, I understood perfectly how a lump of dough can be shaggy.  So continue kneading with the addition of a few drop of water at a time.  A little went a long way, and I was ready for the baggie step.

    Oh Lord, it was fun.  My roommates were worried about me stepping circles in the kitchen, but it didn’t bother them too much.  Not after seeing me play capoeira.  That is until they realized I was playing with food this time.  P & Ja just shook it off, but J had to come and do his own tap dance on the dough.  Good news, after just a few times of flattening, the dough gets really strong.   No damage whatsoever, hooray!  It undergoes this magical transformation that turns a slightly shaggy blob into a gorgeous, silky, hunk of future noodles.

    Flatten incredibly thin, fold and slice, and I had made my first noodles.  I would advise: cut the noodles so that they’re square by cutting the thickness of each layer, not the 3 folded layers.  Or you get (still tasty, but kinda funny looking) ribbony noodles more like flat rice noodles.  I wanted mine thick, but next time…

    I also had to boil a little bit longer, and decided they were done when most of the noodle was transparent, except for just a bit of the center.  That’s when they were the perfect chewiness.
    Also, I rinsed the noodles to remove the starch that would make them stick together and become goopy, and the cold water cooled them, so that they were perfect with a bit of cold dipping sauce.  I’d picked up at some mentsuyu at the grocers that I diluted to the proper taste & added some furikake.  Heaven all over again.

    Following a tradition I learned at another cozey restaurant nestled in another set of mountains, after I’d finished off the noodles (didn’t take very long) I added some of the water from boiling with the used mentsuyu and enjoyed the last of the meal.

    The most rewarding part of it all was that J (who hates Asian food and anything fishy, poor guy) liked the noodles and another friend (Salvadorean) couldn’t get enough of them.

    Devoting to what?

    I’m one of those folks who absolutely loves the idea of doing devotions.  I get all excited about planning to spend x minutes every morning to just take a break and chat with and listen to God.  Love the idea.  Hate that I still can’t do them well.  Oh, I’ll start for a day or two, but after that, it’s a coin toss.  A very unfair coin toss, that heavily favors against me taking those few minutes.

    5 minutes ago, instead of thinking, “I should do a devotion,” I thought, “I should go online and read some manga.”  I’m not quite a hopeless addict, but close.  No updated stories, so I went to an old site that I love about polyphasic sleep cycles.  Puredoxyk is amazingly knowlegeable about them, but also keeps some faiths that I’m always interested in reading about.  I like to read from the most recent posts, which are often not the least bit about sleep, but something in my mind likes that bit of random reason to my ryhme.  Today I was reading about Tibetan prayers and evidence for the spirituality (NB she does not believe in a God).  It was well written, as usual, and aside from being pretty enjoyable – I want to meet this Sabbath myself – it got me thinking.  And my mind wandered back to the idea of devotions.  And wondering why I have such a hard time posting, getting ready on time, chatting with God, and devotions.  Not that they’re all related, but that they all went through my head.

    Sweet Southern Perfection, er, Tea

    The other night I was absolutely craving a taste of home, but I didn’t have much in my mini pantry that seemed just right. Then I noticed the teabags. PERFECT! I could make sweet tea! With the limitations of what can be made in a dorm, I was estatic, completely elated. So I made it. And drank almost half a gallon before midnight, when I realized the brilliance had only gone so far.

    Let me tell you about this bit of heaven that most of the world has yet to figure out. Sweet Tea. No, it’s not anything you buy as a powder or drink from a can, and it is not merely adding a couple packets of sugar to that stuff they serve at restaurants here in the west. Sweet tea is what you get when sugar cane, and lots of it, is infused with tea. It really isn’t fair to say that it’s just tea with oodles of sugar, sweet tea is way more than that. Visiting my grandparents, it’s so common that it’s just called tea, and if you expect any of it without sugar you’re obviously in the wrong state. Even at home, we have friends who come over incredulous when we don’t have any in the fridge, it just never lasts long.

    The way I was taught to make tea look about like this

    Tea (makes one gallon)

    • 7-8 regular teabags, usually Lipton, but whatever we last bought works too.
    • Sugar. Just a touch less than two cups
    • Coffee pot. Yes, a regular old drip coffee pot.
    • Ice, and you don’t have enough yet.
    1. If you’re a hard-core coffee person, consider cleaning the machine a little, though we rarely bother anymore. It does leave a unique flavor though, so you’ve been warned.
    2. Place all those little tea bags to brew in the coffee pot with as 4-5 cups of water (usually the max a coffee pot can hold), and let it roar. Or trickle.
    3. Add the sugar to your pitcher now, maybe only 1 & 3/4 cups if this is your first time.
    4. When the tea is done brewing, add it to the pitcher right away and begin stirring. There is no way you could possibly get all that suger to dissolve in cold tea. Once the sugar’s melted, fill the pitcher to the brim with ice or cold water.
    5. Let the tea get very cold in your new fandangled ice-box, overnight is good.
    6. Fill your pretty, tall, flower painted, plastic glass (or what you use when you’re not trying to impress, and just want that comfy glass that everyone tries to use first) with ice to the very top. Add the chilled tea.
    7. Wait for condensation to form. Unless you’re in the south, then you’ve already got a pool under the cup, so no need to wait.
    8. Enjoy a sip of divinity.

    Interestingly, this is what made me want to start a blog. I was wondering what other folks thought about sweet tea.

    ¡Salud!

    Here’s to happy, healthy, and hectic beginnings.

    My first post, oh goody, goody, and gosh. So how should we start this relationship?  Hm… How about expectations?!  For me, I hope that this site can become a puddle of resources. Something for me to draw on for expression and outbursts, and something for you to pull nuggets of wonderfully gooey and shiny quirks of just-what-you-were-looking-for’s and occasional tidbits of heavy truth. It’s probably a good thing you can’t see my impish grin as I imagine the possibilities that come with time. But, for now, let’s just begin.

    A toast to our future!

    Kompai!