Dole Whip

IMG_1272On the first day of our Eat Your Words course at Saint Mary’s, everyone was asked to give an introduction and to state which food, if any, they would be. Having just returned from the happiest place on earth the previous day, I thought of my favorite treats that are offered at the Disneyland resorts. What came to mind was the softly frozen pineapple dessert called a Dole Whip.1234697_10200906831047146_743629491_n

I told my peers that I would be Dole Whip if I could be a food because I know I’d be available in places that people love to escape to. Dole Whips are famously limited to Hawaii and the American Disney resorts. (I discovered it recently became available at an ice cream shop chain located on the west coast, however.) Because of where you can find Dole Whip, it, for me, means vacation and relaxation. They are a symbol of forgetting the stresses of daily life, and an encouragement to just enjoy myself a little.

The Tiki Juice Bar in Disneyland Resort’s Adventureland is where I most associate the dessert. It is a small oasis of a stand, where visitors queue up to get their own bowl of the tropical ice cream. May the weather be hot or cold, you can usually guarantee a line against the bamboo wall surrounding IMG_6591the Tiki Room attraction. When I approach the bar, it’s almost as if I momentarily stepped into a far-off island with the friendly smiles I’m greeted with, the heavy straw thatching above us, and the almost floral aroma of pineapples around us.

When I receive my dole whip, it’s a small treasure in the palm of my hand, it’s creamy soft-serve in a perfect tall spiral in its little rounded cup. I take my white plastic spoon against its buttery curves and appreciate its smoothness, like whipped buttercream frosting. Its light and refreshing, a satisfying balance of sweet and tart. I could swear they throw whole pineapples into their ice cream machines because the ice cream tastes so fresh and of real pineapple juice. Disneyland is my home away from home, but when I have one of these confections in my possession, I’m in paradise.

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Daddy’s Girl

Like many other first generation children, I grew up being told that my parents made many sacrifices and worked extremely hard to give us a better quality of life than what was available to them. I was to be grateful for the education I had, and for the work opportunities that would follow, because my parents didn’t have those things. It wasn’t practical for them to finish high school; it was necessary for my parents to help their families.

My father immigrated here with my mother and brought the rest of his family to America. For a long time I didn’t grasp how much hardship he endured, as he never wished for my brothers and I to worry about him. What was surprising was how much his upbringing has affected my relationship with food.

Being raised in a poor village in China, my father was never picky because his only option was to eat what he could. He helped my grandmother farm cabbage and squash to sell, so they could make enough money to maybe purchase a feeble amount of fish, or potatoes. He didn’t have a food he didn’t like, but he would tell me his favorite was potato because he could feel full when he could eat it.

I see other children these days picking at their food, or eating half of it before deciding they’ve had enough. I feel troubled when I see people tossing food away. I never understood why seeing these things afflicted me so, until I realized it was my father that taught me to not be wasteful. All my childhood, following my father’s way, I never thought of leaving the table before finishing the very last grain of rice in my bowl. I asked my father, “What was I picky about eating when I was little?” And he said, perplexed, “Nothing.”

I was never angry with my father for being too busy. He worked tirelessly seven days a week. But I remember that occasionally, he stayed home to take care of me and my brothers. He’d cook us shu je bo faan, a rice and diced potato dish with dried Chinese sausage. He feels happy when he’s able to find time to cook for us, and to know that we will be full. He has given my family so much that it hurts. He gave me a good life, but taught me not take anything for granted. He gave me a world where I can eat whatever my heart desires, but taught me to not forget where my family comes from.

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Mixed Grain

After hearing that Korean cuisine is coming up in current food trends, I was saddened to not be able to share my love for it with my classmates when we did not try a Korean restaurant on our field trips! As the course came to a close, my cravings for it could no longer be postponed.

I have frequented many Korean restaurants around the East Bay, but realized I had yet to try the place closest to me. Mixed Grain in Walnut Creek is not a name that I would have thought belonged to a traditional Korean restaurant. Being the only one of its kind in the area, I was a bit wary. And it’s not to say Walnut Creek does not offer great food, because it does. I was just worried that the food may have been westernized to cater to the demographic of the area.

However, I was pleasantly surprised at what Mixed Grain had to offer. The family-run restaurant kept to its traditions in terms of flavor, but also provide friendlier options for those not as familiar with the cuisine, as well as an easy to understand menu (I have found that is not always the case with some other legitimate Korean establishments).

imageMy boyfriend and I ordered canned juices from Korea that I do not even see available in other places I have dined at. My rice punch is cool and refreshing, and just subtly sweetened. His was a delightful apple flavored soda. The server set down banchan in front of us. In Korean restaurants, cold side dishes called banchan are customarily provided during a meal. image_1The ones placed in front of us all looked and tasted fresh. Little squared dishes were filled with offerings such as seasoned bean sprouts, baby kale, lightly fried potatoes, and of course, kimchi, a fermented vegetable side that ranges in spiciness and sourness!

image_3I ordered my regular: mild tofu soup and seafood pancake. I’m happy to see it all come out as I hoped. My soup is steaming hot in its black clay bowl. My server expertly cracks a fresh egg on the table with one hand and drops it into the fiery orange soup full of tofu, cabbage, and slices of pork. Taking a spoonful, it’s almost too hot to bare, but the flavor is so right that I willingly accept the burning sensation. The tofu is image_4light and silky, holding its structure just until I take a bite, where it almost melts in my mouth. I feel the soup warm my insides as it goes down, and the afternoon feels complete as I look out into the cold, gloomy sky outside the restaurant. I break my poaching egg when I’m half way done with my soup, and it’s bright yolk spills into the soup. For me, there are few food joys more glorious than seeing and eating soft-cooked runny yolk.

My seafood pancake is crispy and golden on the outside, and visibly full of green onions and chunks of squid. I dip it into a light image_5vinegar and soy sauce mixture and take a bite, to reveal its warm and chewy inside. Oblivious to everything else, I almost don’t notice the lady leaning over from the next table. “Excuse me, what is that?” She has that look in her eyes even before I explain, and I’m happy to then watch her turn and ask for seafood pancake for her table as well. What I love most about this dish is not the amazing taste, but how the textures all come together. The thin crispy outer layer, the soft pancake consistency, the crisp freshness of green onions, the melty chunks of oysters, and the chewy morsels of squid and clam. I greedily take a bite and pick up my bowl of fluffy short-grain white rice. Koreans always put their bowls of rice in thin metal bowls and use metal chopsticks. Spoons are an equally important utensil, and theirs have a longer handle that comforts me when I use it, as if I’m a small child gripping onto a tool that’s too big.

I could probably talk about Korean food all day, as I’ve only covered about half of our meal. What I can say to you is, instead of oppressing the desire to find some good Korean food now that you’ve read this blog, just go and get some already! You won’t regret it.

image_2(The BF’s order: bibimbap! I guess you’ll have to go yourself to find out about this one ;))

Cream Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

When I pulled three small, folded slips of paper out of the small tote, I smoothed them out to reveal my secret ingredients: mushrooms, extra virgin olive oil, and brown sugar.

Rummaging around my kitchen, I decide to compose a kind of cheese-stuffed mushroom. I take out six medium portabella mushrooms and brush the caps off with a damp towel instead of rinsing them. These guys take in water like a sponge, and I would hate to see it all come back out as I’m baking them! I pop off and set aside their stems and spoon out the black gills within the bowled flesh.

In my small mixing bowl, I throw in an 8oz block of room temperature cream cheese. I added the mushroom stems and a couple garlic cloves, minced together, and gave a few grinds of salt and black pepper.

After roughly mixing the creamy paste, I gingerly spoon some into each awaiting mushroom cap. (I only use about 2/3 of the mixture. Feel free to add as much or little cheese as you want if you’re trying this for yourself.) A drizzle of EVOO, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and into 400 °F they go. The baking time for these little cushions of cream is not an exact science. (That means I didn’t keep track.) Let me just assure you that these guys should be pretty forgiving.

As for the sugar, I think a balsamic vinegar and brown sugar reduction to go over the mushrooms sounds right. I use one part sugar and two parts good balsamic. (1/4 cup of balsamic should suffice.) I let it simmer until its volume is reduced by half and it’s a dark syrupy sauce. Try to refrain from bringing your face in to find that seductive scent—the moment you’re just close enough, it’ll be an instant sensation of searing pain in the sinuses!

I bring my ear up to the oven door and start to hear the sizzling of the caps sitting on the metal baking sheet. A comforting smell of bubbling cheese and steaming mushrooms begins to fill the room. The tops of the tiny mountains begin to take a golden color. This is how you know they’re ready. photo(2)

After taking them out of the oven, I sprinkled chopped chives over the tops and drizzled my molasses-like reduction and olive oil over the tops. I invited my roommate out to try some mushrooms and share some wine with me. Her eyebrows raised as she stepped into the kitchen, noting kindly how professional they look. We both picked our own bite size morsel and cautiously took a bite. The cream cheese felt luscious on the tongue, but was balanced by the acidity and sweetness of the reduction. The mushroom cap was juicy and complemented the flavors. She gives a look indicating she just experienced what I had. As we clink our wine glasses, I know by her small, telling smile that she wouldn’t have chopped me. 😉

Veggies vs Meat in the Mission

On January 10th, I was given the opportunity to go on a food tour in San Francisco’s Mission district by Edible Excursions. I’ve lived in the SF Bay Area my whole life, but I’m not so seasoned in the city’s different neighborhoods. I never walked around 24th street before, but was pleasantly surprised at the eclectic environment and the edible options it offered. I sampled numerous items including horchata flavored cupcakes at Mission Minis, a brat that is what sausage dreams are made of at Pig and Pie, savory al pastor tacos at El Farolito, and the infamous “secret breakfast” ice cream, a wildly creative dessert made with Bourbon and cornflakes, at Humphry Slocombe. I will highlight two locations that I visited. The food I sampled at each were both sandwiches, but are worlds apart; one being a vegetarian option and the other comprised of hearty deli meat.

Winter Vegetable SandwichThe first sandwich I will divulge is Local Mission Eatery’s winter vegetable sandwich. We were just starting our food tour, fully aware I was going to have to taste a lot more food through the next several hours, and I went back for a second sampling of this sandwich. It was that good. What made this item stand out to me was the attention paid to the texture. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate a buttery toasted piece of bread. It gave the right amount of hardness and crunch that sandwiched delicate ricotta creaminess within. There is a subtle hint of Local Mission Eaterypumpkin that enhances that smoothness. The addition of green heart radish and apple slices cuts through the guilty richness with just enough tart that compliments the rest of the ingredients. Oh man, I really wish I could get another sandwich right now.. Not only that, but I also wish I was back in the welcoming atmosphere of the restaurant. There are spaces where different LME walk inparties can share a long table and connect with one another, a library of cookbooks that the eatery lends out to patrons, and a large glass window that displays the walk-in kitchen that LME is so proud to present filled with locally grown produce. It’s difficult not to respect a place like that.

Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen is another locale I can’t help but respect, but for their own style and reasons. Although this is also a fairly new Wise Sonsestablishment, WS appears classic and homey. The space is modest, but the interiors are decorated with old photographs of who can only be imagined to be ancestors, alluding to the pride of their history. They, like Local Mission Eatery, are also not afraid to show you their inner workings, with a large glass window on the building that can be looked in on to see how they wise sons kitchenprepare their meats. Inside, people can view their chefs at work while they decide what comfort food they’ll be dining on that day. I sampled Wise Sons’ signature pastrami sandwich. I’m not a big deli meats kind of girl, but I can understand why they are famous for their sandwiches. The sandwich is simple in itself; slices of meaty red pastrami between two pastramidouble-baked house made rye bread. The rye bread was light in color, and though soft, is more dense than regular white bread. Fibrous grains were sprinkled throughout the slices. It was mild, and reminded me slightly of sourdough, which complimented the dry savoriness of the protein, of which I dabbled a slightly sharp brown mustard onto. With a juicy crisp spear of pickle adding acidity to the palate, it gives me a strong sense of satisfaction, that clarifies for me any doubts I had about this kind of meal.

The winter vegetable and the pastrami were the two sandwiches I sampled that day. I felt both couldn’t be any more different, but both have given me the unshakable desire of going back to these locations and trying out some of their other items.. maybe to discover what a chicken vadouvan at Local Mission entails, or find out what authentic matzo ball soup tastes like at Wise Sons. 😉

Birthday Cake

I always appreciate something made for me from a loved one’s own kitchen, so I could anticipate the happiness from the person my friend’s sister was baking a birthday cake for. I remember the iconic Hershey’s logo on a brown box of chocolate cupcake mix. The image the package presented was delicately moist piece of cake with ooey cocoa perfection. In the large purple mixing bowl my friend’s sister was bowed over, brows furrowed, I could see the batter she had formed. To me, it looked exactly as it should, thick and sinfully chocolatey, and I could almost taste the cake it was soon to become. With much restraint, I didn’t take a swipe of the alluring mixture.

Ten minutes later, I overwhelmed with the memory of warm afternoons in my high school.. with the cloying odor of burnt chocolate from the Ghirardelli factory wafting across the city and upon my stuffy English class. Quickly realizing it must be the cake, we rush over to the oven, sheets of black smoke finding escape at the top of the door. As my friend frees the burnt chocolate exhaust from its confinement, we see the sludge overwhelming it’s metal container, flowing down like muddy tar onto the neon coils beneath. It is immediately apparent that my friend’s sister did not follow the directions and that the amount of batter she had produced was actually enough for two of the pans she had chosen. I’m smacked in the face with an acrid stench, and all I desire and all I can find myself doing is what the fumes are doing themselves, which is to flee.

蒸 水 蛋

There is one kind of food that I will never require a photo to recall what an experience was like and that is the food I grew up with: my mother’s cooking.

When my mother knows I’m coming home for a visit, she undoubtedly makes my favorite dish. It may be as simple as it can get: steamed eggs– zing shui daan is what we call it. I couldn’t imagine ever tiring from it. It’s almost indescribable the small excitement I feel when I walk into my parent’s kitchen and see the wide white bowl covered with an upside down plate. I will lift the plate momentarily to admire my mother’s skills. What you see is a light creamy yellow pool with green cylinders of green onion partially embedded sprinkled throughout its clean surface. The egg and water mixture appears soft, and silky. If it were not for the onions, I would not know if it was even in its steamed state– my mother’s timing is always perfect, as the smooth surface will wrinkle if left steaming for even a minute too long. When I tap the side of the bowl, it brings about ripples through this sunny pond, and not only a second later is back to its unblemished state; She has made it just right.

Careful with the water that has accumulated onto the plate from steam, I bring my face closer and allow myself to appreciate the light fragrance of the warm custard that is this dish. It smells savory with hints of green onions, and scallops– my mother’s secret ingredient. I can’t wait to spoon it over my fluffy white rice.

As I plunge a spoon into its immaculate exterior, I feel a small tingle of pleasure as it comes up like buttery jello. This is the image forever ingrained in my mind, that instills joy to the child within me. I add the spoonful to my bowl of waiting rice, now complete. I mix the two partners together, just as my parents prepared for me when they fed me as a toddler. As a spoonful passes my lips, I know this is my ultimate comfort, as the mixture melts on my tongue, and I see myself sitting around my family’s make-shift dining table, chinese newspapers laid out under dishes, my dad perched upon a step stool watching the night time news, and my mom asking me to say “Ahh..”

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