bless you, industrialization

Closely linked to and much like democracy, industrialization is also a protégé of Western politics. While I would probably say that democracy granted to developing countries is probably as bad as giving chocolate to a dog, it would be unfitting to say the same of industrialization. (Yes, hate to break it to you about democracy, but it’s sort of common sense. When you need to build a country and get stuff done, it’s better to have a single long-term vision than multiple parties putting on a talent show.)

Industrialization is sort of like pumping iron, it whips a nation into shape – it is impossible to achieve efficient production without order and discipline. For developed countries, it’s the tried-and-true steroid for jump-starting the economy.

Even for the average household, industrialization has worked its magic. That is, unless you still roast wild fish caught by wooden spears on scratch-made pit fires or, less appetizingly, bash the poor thing’s head on a rock then rip your teeth directly into the knocked-out animal’s less-than-tender flesh.

What we would call artisan or from-scratch today can hardly be achieved in the absence of industrialization.

Consider bread, the very edible incarnation of the word ‘rustic’. Made with yeast bred in incubators with machine-regulated humidity and temperature, and flour ground by furnace or electricity powered mills from commercially farmed wheat. Prior to industrialization, people sat around and waited for yeast to fall out of the sky (in the form of rain) into hollowed-out logs and grow into a usable amount.

As a student, oh my do I love industrialization for its gifts. Just think: no industrialization = no food processor = 3 hours to make hummus. I practically live off that stuff, and ain’t no UW student got the time to mash chickpeas for 3 hours a day.

Humans might have gotten many things wrong, perhaps more wrong than right, and industrialization in a hundred years may reveal itself as the dumbest crime man has ever committed,

but hey, it works handsomely right now.

Take millstones and grind flour.

Remove your veil,

strip off your robes,

bare your legs,

and wade through the rivers.

Isaiah 47:2

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If you’re any bit like me and simply cannot help but gloat at the sight of meatballs on a lush, creamy bed of polenta, then this is already, without a doubt, your next obsession. If you’re with me on the gloating despite your mild disapproval of polenta, then you my friend, have just found your next every-weeknight-dinner. Savoury spiced meatballs, caramelized with minimal effort right in the oven, nestled on a bed of buttery silken hummus, are finished off with an ingeniously vibrant and zesty parsley oil and plump sultana raisins. Make an extra batch of meatballs, freeze the extras, and you’ll have dinner served in under 20 minutes any day of the week.

Ingredients for the koftes, makes 24~30:

1 tsp each fennel seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, oregano, and thyme

1/2 tsp ground white pepper

454 g ground lamb or free-range, grass-fed beef

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, finely diced

1 free range egg

1 tbsp olive oil

a generous helping of sea salt, to taste

To make the koftes, preheat the oven to 415 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Place the all of the spices in a spice/coffee grinder and pulse until finely ground. Put the spice mix in a large mixing bowl with the remaining ingredients and mix gently with your hands until the mixture comes together. Add a little cold water if the mixture seems too dry. Divide the mixture into 24~30 portions and shape them into balls. Place them on the prepared tray and bake for 20 minutes, or until browned and cooked through.

Ingredients for the hummus:

1 can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and drained again

1 garlic clove

1 lemon, juice only

3 tbsp tahini

1 tsp honey or agave

sea salt, to taste

To make the hummus, place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add a little water at a time with the motor running to adjust to a lusciously smooth consistency. It should be slightly thinner than regular hummus.

Ingredients for the parsley oil:

80 ml extra virgin olive oil

1 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1 long strip lemon zest

To make the parsley oil, place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. It is best used immediately, but will keep, covered and refrigerated, for two days.

To assemble, spoon a large dollop of hummus into small salad plates. Splatter a bit of the parsley oil on top, then add a few koftes/meatballs. Finish with a small handful of sultana raisins and a round or two of freshly cracked black pepper.

Serve with pitas, lavash, or seeded crackers.

Happy noshing!

 

my first characters

In the western world, most people probably started off learning the alphabet with ‘A’ or ‘a’ for apple. Should the preliminary curriculum all of a sudden change course by 180 degrees and start with ‘Z’, parents might storm down the schools and government. Consider you lucky, you people who only have to deal with 26 letters of the alphabet plus a few accents aigus, accents circonflexes, and oh that forsaken cédille which is so often butchered by anglophones who don’t deal with any of the above save for the accent tréma which appears only once a year on Christmas cards anyway.

You guys have it easy. E-A-S-Y, I say.

Having lived in Taiwan until the age of eight, I’ve had the pleasure of suffering through the memorization of two thousand traditional Chinese characters before immigrating to Canada to start third grade. Yes imagine, your six, seven year old writing characters in notebooks filled with four-square grids that span each page with six columns of ten endlessly at a rate of 4 notebooks per semester. Some call it discipline, maybe I do too.

Anyhow, I don’t want to bog you down with too much of the details, but strangely enough, at thirteen years later, I still remember the very first six characters I learned.

1. 小 small

2. 花 flower

3. 生 live

4. 出 exit

5. 來 arrive

6. 了has

How is this relevant? Well, if you know nothing about Chinese (and yes it is a language, a written one to be exact though completely meaningless when used to describe a dialect), here’s the thing:

it makes perfect nonsense.

For example, if you wanted to say “small flower”, you’d literally put one and two together to get 小花. In the same way, by putting two and three together you’d get 花生 which means peanuts. Simple?

My a$$.

Where 豆腐ck did peanuts come from? It’s supposed to be flower live! But now that’s just talking nonsense, what is flower live even supposed to mean? Maybe the Chinese language does make sense after all those 24 dynasties spanning 5000 years.

And now we have it, main show of the post 花生豆腐 (peanut tofu).

He who was

seated on the throne

said,

“I am making everything new!”

Then he said,

“Write this down,

for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:5

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Peanut tofu is one of those things that are unimaginable, there’s no way around it, and I truly honestly do admire whoever came up with it. Its spin-offs, notably black sesame tofu and almond tofu which walks along a sweeter line are undeniably impressive, but nothing quite like the strange, earthy, savouriness you get from the peanut tofu. This is not the traditional recipe which uses a rice flour derived from an indigenous Taiwanese rice with a distinctive sweet aroma and custard-like texture once gelatinized. However, what this recipe does rely on as the thickener is agar powder, a colorless, flavourless seaweed that’s been dried and finely ground. This makes the tofu lighter in texture.

The author of the recipe recommends serving the tofu with freshly grated wasabi as well as aged soy paste. Fortunately, the latter is rather easy to come by nowadays in the age of Asian megastores such as T&T; try Wuan Chuang, which has a lovely balance of earthy sweetness and savouriness and can pretty much hold its own. However, obtaining fresh wasabi root is still a challenge. Personally I prefer it without wasabi – what can I say? I’m a purist.

Tweaked and translated from 我的日式食物櫃 – Liz

Ingredients for the Peanut Tofu, serves 12 as an appetizer:

800 ml unsweetened traditional soy milk (you can find this in Asian grocers, DO NOT use soy beverages such as So Good, Silk, or Soy Dream)

3 tbsp all natural peanut butter (made with just peanuts)

8 g agar powder

400 ml filtered water

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tsp sea salt

To make the peanut tofu, whisk the agar powder and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until dissolved. Put the peanut butter in a blender and blend with the agar mixture until smooth.

In a separate pot, whisk the soy milk until hot, but not boiled. Whisk in the soy sauce and salt. Pour the peanut agar mixture into the soy mixture and stir well.

Place the pot in an ice waterbath to cool the mixture down as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, brush the inside of a 13 x 9 in. dish with a neutral oil – preferably peanut, to stick with the theme – or simply line the bottom with parchment.

Once the mixture begins to thicken, whisk it vigourously until smooth and pour it into the prepared dish. Chill completely for at least 2 hours or until set.

Serve cold with soy paste and a steaming cup of genmaicha, enjoy!

 

nothing ordinary from ordinary

Life always does that. It sneaks up on you. You can make as many resolutions as you want. You can build up walls to keep things out. You can send your heart and effort in hopes of bringing in the finest of life’s treasures. But life is clever. It is brilliant, but it is clever. It has a mind of its own. Whether you choose to laugh freely along with its jokes, or be insulted and pout with your top lip against the tip of your nose, it tumbles, stumbles, and rumbles on.

There are things, just ordinary, small things that make frigid hands a little warmer, tight eyebrows a little looser, and the lazy afternoon sun a little cozier.

I am leaving you with a gift – 

peace of mind and heart.

And the peace I give

is a gift the world cannot give.

So don’t be troubled

or afraid.

John 14:27

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This hot cocoa doesn’t rely on cream to give it creaminess. Instead, it’s the oats that do most of the magic here to make a silky smooth, creamy, and rich hot chocolate that’s borderline unsweetened and intensely spiced. But, my favourite part is still, after at least a dozen of these, the thick froth cap.

Ingredients for the Savoury Spiced Hot Cocoa:

2 medjool dates, pitted

4 raw walnut halves

2 tbsp oats

2 tbsp Dutch processed cocoa, feel free to use raw

few drops vanilla extract (the real stuff please!)

pinch each of sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chili (optional)

2 1/2 c filtered water

 

To make the hot cocoa, place all ingredients in the Vitamix. Blend on maximum until steaming and piping hot. Pour into your favourite roll-up-on-a-couch-with-a-book mug and sip away!

If you don’t have a Vitamix, I totally understand, I was there once too. Just combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the oats have been cooked out. Transfer the mixture to your blender and blend until smooth. Serve it up all the same.

Happy cold weather!

 

add avocados – $2

I despised cilantro for the longest time. Blame the Taiwanese street vendors – they put it on everything. Taiwanese beef noodle? Cilantro it. Oyster vermicelli? Cilantro it. Sticky rice cakes? Why not, let’s cilantro the heck out of it! Thank God for Typhoons Saola and Tembin, which saved me my misery when I was there in 2012.

Yeah, no. When there’s something good, you don’t just put it on everything, bacon being the rare exception.

Growing up, honey avocado milkshakes were a weekend brunch treat that Ma would blitz up as my brother and I covered our ears and dashed to plop down on our own respective chairs at the table. That must have been around the year 2000, when they were still as alien to most kitchens as Shuvuuia eggs.

If I were born today, I’m pretty sure I would despise avocados as well. Now a cliché symbol of upscale minimalism much like the chair-stand iPhone shots of artisan latte art, it’s become more and more of a thoughtless commodity procured simply to serve as a vessel of vaunting for the consumer.

Restaurants are surfing this wave as well. Everywhere I go I see plain, untreated avocados – void of any culinary innovation – sold as legitimate menu items priced at upwards of $3. Avocado smeared on piece of multi-grain toast, $8. I don’t know about you, but I go to Costco for my avos.

Don’t get me wrong, I love avocados, which is exactly why the mindless consumption of these green eggs makes me cringe. Here’s something original to try. And no, avocados here are not an afterthought.

“Vanity of vanities,”

says the Preacher,

“Vanity of vanities!

All is vanity.”

Ecclesiastes 1:2

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Black sesame oil is different from the more commonly found and used toasted sesame oil. It has a distinct bitterness laced with molasses and black tea, making it particularly compatible with ginger, poultry, and rice-derived alcohols. It plays triple-duty here, first to crisp up the ginger chips, then to fry the duck eggs, and finally, it becomes the sauce for the rice. The avocado lends a creamy texture which complements the nutty flavour from the black sesame oil and mellows the punch of the ginger. And the savouriness of the duck egg combined with the mirin soy reduction practically creates an oozing volcano of umami. For under 10 ingredients, it really doesn’t get more epic than this bowl.

Ingredients for the Duck Egg Donburi with Avocado, Soy Caramel, and Ginger Chips:

serves 2

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp mirin

1 tbsp honey

splash of water, about 2 tbsp

1/3 c black sesame oil

1 small knob of ginger, sliced as thinly as possible along the grain

2 local duck eggs, or free range chicken eggs

1 small ripe avocado, thinly sliced

3 cups steamed sushi-grade white rice

toasted white sesame seeds, optional

To make the sweet soy reduction, bring the soy sauce, mirin, honey, and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Let it reduce by a third and becomes a thin glaze consistency. Remove from the heat and reserve.

Meanwhile, heat the sesame oil in a wok until a piece of ginger dropped in bubbles vigourously. Fry the ginger slices, in batches so the oil temperature stays relatively constant until crisp. You’ll know when they quiet down because that means they’re fully dehydrated. Drain the ginger on a plate lined with paper towel.

Tip out most of the oil into 2 large bowls (which will be used directly to serve). Use the remaining oil to fry the eggs, sunny side up. Watch the whites around the yolk – the eggs are done as soon as the whites become opaque because the yolk will become part of the sauce to coat the rice.

Divide the hot rice among the bowls. Arrange the avocado and egg to cover the rice, drizzle with the sweet soy reduction, and finish with the ginger chips and sesame seeds, if using.

To eat, take two spoons and hack the heck out of those bowls to mix together everything. Then spoon in. You’re welcome.

bad breath? suck it up.

Recently in my econ class my prof reminded me of the essence of each choice we make: there is always a trade-off. And each choice we make means that there’s something else we’ve given up. You’re reading this, hopefully to wring from it a few droplets of pleasure, and you’ve forgone the opportunity of finishing up the last bit of paperwork left on your desk.

That’s your choice, and you made it all by your rational self. But I’ll make an effort to convince you (that you’re using your time rather wisely) anyway.

No guarantees, but this post will probably most likely perhaps certainly change your weekday dinner cycle forever. Yes, I get it, there are lots of 5-ingredient broke-ass student dinners out there that are actually quite dexterous in composition and thought, but many of those involve processed products (i.e bottled sauces, pre-cooked produce, or compressed meats) which are at best perfunctory and exorbitant.

You don’t need five dozen different ingredients to make a 5-ingredient meal. That should make sense on more levels than one.

Oh wait, I lied, add to the 5 ingredients some 15 minutes and a good friend for decent conversation.

Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,

for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,

for you will laugh.

Luke 6: 20-21

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Ingredients for the Scallion Dry Ramen, serves 2:

1/2 cup neutral flavoured oil, such as avocado or rice bran

bunch scallions, thinly sliced

packets fresh ramen or thin udon noodles

teaspoon fine sea salt

pinch ground white pepper

To make the scallion oil, heat the oil in a saucepan until hot and shimmery. A piece of scallion dropped in should bubble vigourously. Tip in all of the scallions at once and fry, stirring occasionally, until well browned and crisp. This will take about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and pepper.

Cook the noodles as directed on the package. Rinse under hot water and drain thoroughly. Toss the noodles with the fried scallion oil and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Resistant Little Heart

If you’re cooking for a woman, make a good risotto and a salad. If you don’t have time to make dessert, you can go and buy some macaroons to have later.”

-Wolfgang Puck

The man’s right. On so many levels that probably never crossed his mind when he said those words.

One. Women I know love risotto. While there’s evidently something very attractive about the idea of rice that’s so immensely creamy and sensuous that it becomes one with your tongue, I would argue that it’s the al dente heart of that rice, a proof of perfect sensibility and restraint, that makes risotto that much sexier than rice pudding. You can quote that.

Two. Women are defensive of their toys, I mean, kitchen. Because, just like how children are forever fearing that their out-for-the-evening parents are late to return because they’ve died in a car crash, we girls grow up to fear that boys will burn down our kitchens once 30 minutes pass. Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me. But that doesn’t matter – risotto only takes 25 minutes, phew.

Three. Women love men who can cook. It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship. It’s just that everyone loves to have someone close who will, on the right occasions, cook for them. It could be a best friend, a brother, perhaps from a different mother, who cares? Who cares if they bought the dessert? They cared enough to make you risotto.

I cared enough to make risotto.

In all honesty, that’s all you need to make a good risotto. It’s not some pretentious art as gastromedia casts it. The only thing, which isn’t even difficult, is the constant stirring. Stirring increases the amount of the rice’s surface area which comes into contact with liquid, which in turn helps release the starch. This means you will have a very creamy risotto as the “creamy” texture is essentially the married portion of stock and starch.

And at all costs, keep tasting – that’s key to catching your perfect al dente!

I remind you that you should

stir up the gift of God

which is in you through

the laying of my hands.

-2 Timothy 1:6

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As much as I love risotto, I think I would still appreciate it more if it goes along with several varying textural components, not to mention a even coverage of all the flavour bases. Here, aside from the creaminess and al dente of the rice, there is equally the buttery firmness of the halibut, the crunchiness of its skin, as well as the near-transparent crispness of the fried basil and ginger. The acidity of the lime is hardly detectable in the finished dish, but it is crucial to the balance of flavours – it’s what keeps you coming for another bite without feeling weighed down.

Ingredients for the green basil risotto, serves 6:

3 tbsp coconut oil

1 c diced white onion

1 1/2 c short grain rice, do not rinse this!

2-3 tbsp green curry paste, depending on its strength

4 c unsalted chicken/vegetable stock

1 can unpasteurized full-fat coconut milk

1 c gently packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 lime, juice only

sea salt, to taste

To make the risotto, melt the coconut oil in a deep saucepan or small pot. Add the onions and sweat them until soft, being careful not to brown them. Tip in the rice and stir until the grains are evenly coated with oil and are translucent. Stir in the curry paste until fragrant.

Pour in 1 cup of stock and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Continue to add stock, 1 cup at a time, still stirring and keeping the heat low for about 15~18 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree the fatty portion of the coconut milk with the basil and lime juice to a vibrant green milk shake. Chill until needed. Stir the remaining watery portion of the coconut milk into the rice.

Once all the stock has been absorbed, taste your risotto and see if you like the doneness. It should be very creamy, but still retaining a bit of nutty texture in the center of each grain.

Incorporate the coconut basil mixture and take away from the heat. Spoon onto warmed plates and top with the seared halibut, fried basil and ginger (follows).

Ingredients for the crispy-skinned halibut, fried basil, and ginger:

2/3 c mild vegetable oil, for frying

12 ginger slices, thinly sliced with a mandoline or very sharp knife

18 fresh basil leaves

1 lb thick halibut fillet, cut into 6 neat portions

sea salt

To make the fried garnishes, heat the oil in a small saucepan until a chopstick’s point submerged bubbles vigourously. Add half the ginger slices and fry, spooning the oil over the slices occasionally until golden and crisp. Take them out and drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Repeat with the rest of the ginger.

To fry the basil, lower a couple basil leaves to the hot oil – be careful, it will sputter. Fry for 5-10 seconds, until crispy and bright green. Drain on paper towel.

For the halibut, blot the portions dry with paper towel and season the skin side generously with sea salt. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on medium-high heat.

Add a couple spoonfuls of the basil frying oil to the pan and swirl to coat in a shimmery layer.Place the halibut portions (don’t crowd the pan, do it in two batches if you need to), skin-side-down in the pan and leave them there for 3 minutes, to really crisp up the skin. Flip them over and cook for another 1-2 minutes, you want to see a thin line that is still translucent beige along the sides. Transfer them onto the plate, keeping the skin side facing upwards, and allow to rest for a couple of minutes before plating.

Plate up and serve with a salad as WP suggests or, if it’s a chilly day where you find yourself, consider steaming some green beans and yellow zucchini to brighten up your day!

Enjoy! (And for once, dessert is optional!)