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Fish eyes for the kitten gods...

So, the 'chicory' I was growing turned into tomatoes. I thought something was suspicious when the adult leaves grew into no chicory I'd ever seen. I mean, with a stalk and leaves, rather than a lettuce-esque radial of leaves coming out of a suitably turnip-like root. This is remarkably disappointing, since it means my entire packet of seeds was probably mislabeled. I've kept the three tomato plants around. They've begun to flower. While I am deeply dubious I will get tomatoes, my garden experiments have been odd in general.

As the tomatoes wait to become what they are, I've lined the boxes with spring onions and the mustard greens I am now trying to get rid of the seeds for. The mustards never grow to full size on my porch, making them effectively slow salad greens. More importantly, we were visited by the polite raccoon again last night, resulting in many slightly crushed and bruised mustard plantlings. Polite, mind you, not because it's ever tipped its hat to me -- though that would make me like it more -- but because it manages to carefully dig in my boxes without spilling any crumbs. I am beyond an ability to be angry here. It's just thinking of the raccoon as a sort of Dorian with opposable thumbs.

I think the irony of this is that just the other day, I was looking at Coles Hardware's raccoon repellent rack and wondering if I should get some pellets, given that I'd not been foraged by a raccoon for about two months straight.

If I have been quiet lately, it's partly because it's hard being a hikkikomori with social obligations, and also because the spouse and I developed a damaging relationship with classic ironman XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Oh, XCOM, I hear you go. That old game. No, not quite. You see, they remade the original XCOM so that everything you once had to imagine in 256 colour is now brilliantly smoked and shot through with light in HD. Also features streamlined commands (no 100-page manual!) and all the fiendishness of setting up cover only to have it grenaded away by the next passing Muton. It even has troop-killing, game ending-fail bugs, which makes it extra charming, and like, old school. But don't mind me. Playing 58 games (that's 'game' as in campaign, not 58 maps) of ironman (read: no saves), watching people miss shots on 98% hit chance for aliens as big as a wall makes one... a little bitter. I highly recommend XCOM. Because it's awesome.

My two most recent quests are to somehow make ten minutes of walking a part of each day, and baking bread. Yesterday, we walked to Sun Fatt Seafood where the really nice Fish Uncle (he's the one with the moustache) actually remembered I hadn't been there in a while. That made me a little guilty. I love Sun Fatt Seafood. They recently upgraded their store to have sushi-grade fish, about 20 different kinds of oyster and uni. So it's totally rad. I am experimenting with buying whole fishes instead of fillets. No, I don't know what I'm doing with all that fish stock yet. I walked out of Sun Fatt with a Fish Uncle-recommended snapper for steaming and a whole mackerel to grill in salt. The snapper was lovely! Tender, sweet flesh, not too many pin bones. Bringing home a nice fish for dinner makes me smile. After carefully scraping off every bit of meat I could from the bones, I gave the cheeks to me and the eyeballs to the cats. They seemed pleased.

Baking, unfortunately enough, is not one of my crafting skills. My mother, an excellent baker, might be ashamed. I finally caved and got new yeast. I had this yeast, see, that had been living in my freezer for four years, and stuff doesn't rise with it because yeast is not eternal. I was partly motivated to try this bread-baking stuff after watching the fascinating history of bread according to Humanity has Declined (a show that shares both an Afi-like title and an Afi sense of humour -- you were warned). Thanks to my new yeast, I got four mini loaves of the closest thing I've ever made to bread yet. The crumb was a bit dense, close to rye bread, but it was bread. Bread in my mind should be fluffy, puffy clouds of yeasty dough slathered with butter and sprinkled with sugar on top. Thanks to my mother's macrobiotic phase, I know that bread can also taste too healthy. Bread that is too healthy is not really bread, it is a health food. The local bakeries make a lovely challah, so I don't know if I want to even try going down the cloud bread route (although...fluffy buns shaped like Sif...) But I would like to make pretzels, maybe, or the baked beignets that failed last time because of not-eternal yeast.

My ten minute walk for today should be to the supermarket for bread flour...

The cook and the hunting cat

Made cheesecake for the first time on Friday. The process was remarkably easy, something mokie mentioned a long, long time ago. Unpacking the butter and cheese was a fascinating process for Dorian.

Butter! Let me lick the stick of butter! I wish to gnaw it and run away with it and lick it like the stick of butter that it is!

Comparatively speaking, crushing up crackers for the base got far less attention, until I brought out the melted butter.

Butter! It has a liquid form! Does it still taste like butter? I need to find out!

I used purely honey instead of sugar in the cake, resulting in a smooth, delicate sweetness. Not too sugary. I also substituted half the cream cheese for yoghurt and extra lemon juice, so there's a good taste of actual cheese and dairy, without being too rich. My first slice was served with a cherry-sake reduction, and fresh Rainier cherries. That drove up the sweetness quotient somewhat, although there was honey in the reduction. I might try straight up cherry juice and sake next time, or just the fresh cherries. This was the first time I've had Rainier cherries -- found them at our local grocerer, and they are delicious. Like wee peaches, softly sweet and quite gentle, not nearly as robust as Bings. When eaten alone, my cheesecake is everything I miss about cheesecake.

I do have to work on my cake crust. I buttered together some leftover ginger snap crumbs and unbaked crumbly bits I'd frozen off a very dry cookie dough. The crust is nice, but a little hard on the knives to cut through. I don't have a cake knife, and since all the cakes I've made before are very soft cakes, I've never needed one. My solution thus far has been to run my cake with a pizza cutter (needs to be sharpened), then carefully try to lift whole pieces by nudging and slightly cracking the pieces of crust away from each other. I also overbaked the cheesecake, not trusting my instincts to take it out when I thought it was done about 10 minutes before my timer went off.

Dorian got cream cheese and butter wrappers to lick, and bonus mac and cheese from my dinner plate. A little bribery goes a long way with Dorian. After an evening of helping me bake (and eat things), he spent an age kneading my arms into a soft, velvety purr. Sif, oddly enough, has not yet figured out I have cheesecake. She's usually very fond of the pastries and cakes. I wouldn't wave it around under her nose, but I wonder.

The purple-ation

Yesterday, we bleached my hair. For about 24 hours, I looked like Ichi the Killer. It made me feel a bit odd, like I was an extra stylish Asian trying to look blonde. More or less, I was a little terrified of catching myself in a mirror. That was corrected this afternoon, when we got everything on my head purple, maybe many shades of purple, depending on how well the light and dark bits take. It's all still freshly washed, so we can't really tell how everything looks yet. My fringe seems to be a brighter eggplant than the rest, at least. The spouse has been an absolute treasure throughout this process, volunteering and dabbing my head with bleach, after carefully slathering my ears with Vaseline. The cats supervised. Dorian wanted to help, but I think there might be laws against turning my cat purple. I resisted the urge to uncover my shower cap and smother Sif in my purple-soaked hair all afternoon.

For the longest while, I was quite happy with standard Asian black hair. When turning one's hair brown was popular, I refused to go with it. My mother got into it to cover her greys, and would often berate me for being out of touch with fashion in every way, including my hair. I just couldn't see myself in the scarlet-amber shades. I have long liked nice dark blues and purples, and silvers and whites. Unfortunately, I couldn't see that going well with me walking down the streets of Kuala Lumpur. I get enough trouble from over-eager cab drivers there about my ethnicity. That, and I'm very honestly not sure about how I look with light hair in general. My skin tone is way too brown.

I thought about baking cookies while the bleach was working. Seth talked me against it, something about poisons in my hair. I suspect there will be much baking over the next few days. Or, I will walk into Knead and just buy enough pastries to last me through the weekend, in a gluttonous smorgasbord of custard tarts and orange madeleines. It will be a treat if that happens. I may just not leave the house from sheer inertia. They gave away miniature wedding cakes for Pride, which I missed. The gesture sounded awesome though.

At my last weighing, I am apparently 109 pounds. I have never been over 100 pounds in my life. Four years ago, I was sticking to around 89. I would have thought, since I eat very little on normal work days, often forgetting meals entirely, my weight wouldn't have risen particularly widely. On most days, I get about one full meal in, usually dinner. Not on purpose, mind you -- there's often too much to do, so meals are late. Over the course of our week-long holiday for July 4th, I've done a little better. Not great, but better. I even managed to make a nice dinner for us on Tuesday, with bribery gristle from our steaks for Food Inspector Cat. Both cats seem to actually be calmer when I am barefoot and in the kitchen. Sif is generally calm when I am calm. Dorian just likes me in the kitchen, provided I am cooking. It amuses me greatly to watch him follow Seth's chopsticks while he eats, a compliment to my food.

Fashion, vegetables, shopping binges, etc.

I have discovered my brand of disheveled, nomad Asian rocker chic. It is called Alicegohome. It has the requisite amount of confounding layers, completely unreasonable zippers and straps (What! What do you mean they are two separate things?), an intense love of fabrics, deliciously complex constructions and has a name that sounds like a band I'd listen to.

It has things even my mum might approve of, stuff she probably won't (I am 100% not a jegging person, or a legging person, but something has to be said of combining denim swatches and stockings), and stuff that look like unique perversions of the girly clothes she would make me wear.

Naturally, being something that I like, it's primarily in a foreign language, has nearly no international shipping and is hardly ever distributed abroad. Yesstyle actually has a fraction of the current season's collection. Which includes about two of the pieces I'd actually get. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that means I save money. Maybe.

Yesstyle finally mailed out my order from three weeks ago. One of the items somehow fell out of stock, got back in stock, fell out of stock again. On the bright side, the short hop from their Hong Kong headquarters took all of three days. My clothes are technically now in southern California, with potential delivery possibly by Monday. Also broke down and got a sock garter band, because my classic sock garter isn't very good with thigh highs, and I find sock glue dubious. Sock glue works -- it works great actually, when your socks have lacy tops and you are terrified you might damage the lacy tops by pulling. I just like generally more permanent-looking solutions.

Meanwhile, the spouse and I are planning to make turning my hair purple a weekend event, we hope. He has dyeing experience enough for the both of us. Theoretically, I get this idea that if I ever developed a penchant for putting eyeliner on myself, he could help with that too.

My Gentle Souls boots arrived last week. They are gorgeously soft and decadent. I think at 5.5, I got the right size to hold thicker socks while still being tight enough to need breaking in. I still can't help but think I am wearing the gentle souls of docile deer. Not in a bad way. I'd wear the deer and eat it too -- alas, vegetarian I am not. But hey, deer. I still have no idea where my camera went, so no photos yet, countlibras.

Speaking of countlibras, I nearly lost the crop of shiso she sent me too. I think I overwatered the seedlings way back, and I watched in terror as one half-inch high seedling after another withered and died. In great desperation, and also because my other vegetables looked thin and weak, I ordered some liquified carp. My mother used liquified carp on her garden, and I think it has made the soil in every pot and planter I have a lot healthier. The EarthBoxes actually have very good compost in them, and thriving worm colonies, which get fed all the time with my kitchen scraps. It just was lacking decent fertiliser. The shiso pot was erring on the side of dry and dessicated. I essentially repotted the three seedlings that were left, added plenty of diluted carp and watched how, in a week, the plants seem to be growing. It has been now long enough it's probably not my imagination saying the leaves are bigger. My catnip in a catnip jar is shooting up, enough that I'm considering trying to transplant a couple of the seedlines onto my barren window planter. I fancied my idea of planting catnip in an ex-catnip jar (even has a smiley cat on it) was clever, but Dorian, the cat most liable to taste things, has shown more interest in the lemongrass growing practically feral out of its pot than the catnip. I wonder if I should be worried.

The daikon top I tried to grow got nowhere once it was transplanted into the box. My theory is that there were enough rotting bits on it the compost creatures just ate it from within. In its place will go a resurrected celery heart, whose miraculous properties are not quite a joke. This was a wilted, yellowed celery heart my husband dug out from our onion cabinet in the fridge and stuck in water. Not only did it double in size overnight (I had to ask Seth where we got this new celery bit from), it's now green with splendid tops.

Unfortunately, try as I might, I think the purple mustards I grew back in April have probably stagnated. The maturity period on the seed packet says 45 to 75 days, but given that these guys are supposed to also grow about 18" high, I think the lack of early fertilisation meant they're stuck dwarves at 3", even after thinning and transplanting. The good news is that more mustard seedlings have already started to shoot up underneath the biggest plants. The new seeds I bought are kind of awesome that way. Chicory is putting out lots of greenery. Keep staring at the stems hoping the bottoms are also fattening up. One step closer to growing food (that lives).

Dorian the Food Ninja

Dorian, our cat with the telescopic neck and an uncanny ability to manifest over our shoulders when fish is on the plate, has recently developed an untenable habit of zipping in when Sif pauses mid-meal, and running off with as much of her meal as he can stuff in his cheek pouches. His other mutant ability, as it turns out, is food inhalation. You may laugh, but I have heard him eat raw steak with sounds of, "Schluuuuuurp! Schluuuuuuurp!" I do not know how you eat steak by inhaling it.

Sif, meanwhile, is tragically defenseless against Dorian's food ninja speed and surprising telescopic qualities. You think you've scooped him off the floor in time. No! In that split second it takes to cuddle him to your chest, he has hoovered up a quarter can of tuna mix off the tiles and will be chomping it down as quickly as possible in mid-air. Mid. Air. We have tried serving him his food separately outside (the most effective means), holding him while Sif eats (results in a lot of grumbling) and watching him while she eats (thoroughly ineffective -- he's too fast). Even with four small meals a day, I worry one or the other cat is not receiving enough food.

Sometimes I wonder if we were the right family for Dorian. He's so full of energy and curiosity. We like to sit in front of screens and read things. My lazy parenting is thankful that we recently received a Booda Ball (I believe this is somehow related to the igloo-shaped litter box manufacturers), essentially a ball with a snuff compartment on one side and a space for treats in the other. Filling the Booda Ball with treats and having him roll it round gives us respite. He is a good little ball kicker. Sif stops at being confused by the whole treat ball principle. She may have understood treats are in the ball, but lacking any will to hunt down the treats, is more apt to accidentally run into one of the treats Dorian has kicked out. I actually think she finds taking out treats and not feeding them directly to her is some form of punishment. Well, now she's asleep from watching him kick around a ball. (Spouse: "Supervision is exhausting.")

Inspired by mokie, I decided to give Coffee & Tea Exchange's Sassafras Delight Black tea a go. Now, Mokes did a rather informative review of this tea way back (I kind of used her as my test hamster, however well-meaningfully). I had forgotten she said the smell of sassafras in this was strong. I bought a ¼ lbs. bag of sassafras tea, and 1 lbs. bags of normal black tea, including the hearthfired bottom-of-a-wok smoky Russian Caravan. The box smelled like sassafras from the moment I opened it to the time the rest of my kitchen smelled like root beer before bed.

Smelling of root beer is great. I spent all afternoon running back and forth between the study (whose litter box smelled like death and taxes) and snuffing the sassafras. I'd forgotten I loved the smell of root beer. It's wonderful.

Mokes also warned about the tea being cinnamony and a little spicy. I was looking forward to it. (I like my chai heavier towards the cardamom and black peppers.) Topped my standard 2-teaspoon measure with hot water and half and half. No sugar. I was hoping I'd get the flavour of root beer float once the vanilla ice cream had melted in. It doesn't taste quite like that. But it does taste like root beer. There was no bite, just a pleasant nip of cinnamon in the back of the tongue. The milk and cream really rounded out that floaty sassafras flavour. Without sugar, it actually had a hint of natural sweetness, which is tempered by the natural bitterness of black tea. On a scale of 5, I would give the caffeine in this a 2, after a regular 2 minute steep. I might try it steeped a bit longer next time, to see if makes everything else more robust.

Is it a good bedtime tea? Well, I'll see if I'm still up at four.

Soft leathers and strong soles

After much hemming, hawing and measuring my calf, I finally caved and got myself some Gentle Souls boots (in black). The big push was that because I'd taken so long to decide, Frye's official site took down the Veronica back zip boots in the specific type of leather I wanted. (That took all of 48 hours, proving to me that when I like something and think I'll come back to it later, the opportunity withers at the roots and disappears into the dust from whence it came.) This is the tall version of the boot I wanted. Frye's has an amazing range of leathers, and even when something wasn't to my taste, I could appreciate the colouration and distressing. What drew me to the Veronica tumbled leather boots was how soft the tumbled leather looked. There are similar versions of Veronica, but in pull up form. I knew from trying on boots in store that pulling up boots, especially tall boots, was something of a struggle for me. A zipper, or even some form of button system, would be a real game changer. (Strings are nice to look at, tying them was never my best skill.) I was also genuinely worried, that at 5", 15' shafts with a habit of running long would be virtually unwalkable. For the price, I kind of wanted what I bought to be as perfect as possible. An 11.5' shaft makes a good compromise.

My father, you understand, helped instil a love of boots in me. He's a petroleum engineer by trade, if that helps. From a young age, it was sort of inadvertently ingrained into me that boots were best when they had a) protective steel toes and b) good rubber soles with lots of traction. Dad also really likes leather, which as we can imagine, beyond the realm of Texan oil companies and working on rigs, is not the most convenient material to wear in tropical Malaysia. But when boots were all the rage in the '90s, it was Dad who encouraged me to try wearing them. Prior to that, the most comfortable pair of shoes I'd ever worn were these lovely suede ballerina slippers I wore to death. I was quickly won over to the school of traction and protected toes.

Back in Asia, boots are largely fashion items. The heels are absolutely ridiculous. Oh, they are on fashion boots here too. Many boots have soles more appropriate for oxfords or work shoes. Some look downright slippery on a flat surface, others are narrow or peculiarly-shaped. One of my almost-purchases was perfectly stylish, with more straps and buckles in different configurations than is reasonable, but the sole was more of what I'd expect on a pair of office-bound leathers.

Here in San Francisco, I have the pleasure of wearing my boots every day, in rain or shine. My last pair of boots, a nice pair of Snowfly (a Malaysian brand) ankle boots, have lasted me at least 7 years. I found a nice store downtown that resoled them even better than before, with strong stitching down the front. Because the insole had deteriorated over the years, I tucked in some good gel pads, and these snug boots continue to do what they do best, but better.

A major selling point of Gentle Souls was in fact the flaxseed cushions in the gel soles. I know breaking in boots is part of their worth, but I wasn't sure torturing my feet while I walked made walking more pleasurable. Walking around in worn-down soles is painful. I look forward to trying out the cushioning system in my new boots. The absorbent deerskin lining in every shoe must be a bad insider pun. I will be wearing boots made of gentle souls, and I should add, I am quite fond of venison. Soon-ish, more talk about food, I think.

Slow sprouts

The weather has just gotten warmer, which in the sense of this being San Francisco, meant we were warmer than other wintry locales to begin with, yet trapped in what felt like a permanent autumn. Sprouting seeds in this environment, I have found, is difficult and prone to tragedy. It doesn't help how little backyard sun we get. It keeps my unit snug and chill in summer, and not too badly off in winter. But it also means my hardworking sprouts grow to little dwarf vegetables, not liable to seed unless they bolt. The tomatoes I grew last year went up to at least 6 ft., but didn't get enough sun to turn flowers into fruits.

I'm not giving up -- yet. Leek cuttings from my kitchen scraps are turning into real leeks. Leeks are pricey but delicious. I'm going to dig out a particularly splayed leek tonight for chicken. I want it to grow more, but the splayed leaves are hiding way too many slugs. Some mysterious sprouts have shown up in both boxes. They are mysterious and strong. Since my EarthBoxes double up compost bins, the most likely candidate for these sprouts are bell peppers. I don't harbour any illusions that bell peppers will fruit on my porch, but I am collecting ideas on delicious stir fries and poaches for pepper shoots.

The Parisien carrot seeds I got free from a seed supplier last year have produced nothing. The shoots come up, look pretty for about 4 months, then they die, with no rooty goodness underneath. I might sow the remaining seeds in a shallow dish and harvest them for salad or something. They're tasty greens. Kind of bummed about the roots. Maybe the next time I get a bunch of organic carrots with tops, I'll save the tops to try and root.

The mizuna, of which only one plant survived, is starting to bolt. I'm waiting for the flower head to mature a bit more before I pull it out, because flower heads on mustard greens are the tastiest bits. This will probably also be the fate of the snow vegetables in the other box. They've not grown beyond 4-inch by 2-inch clusters since December. That seems like enough time to determine they're stunted. Or maybe they're just slow. I know that last year, I had the same issue with these inexplicable dwarves.

I was perusing Nichols Garden Nursery's website the other day, and they have all these cool exotic things I want to grow. Wolfberries! Pepper leaf bushes! Amaranth! Quinoa! TEA! I'm guessing I have way not enough sun for quinoa (but...but...high yield Andes grain plant...), and I'm all wobbly about the amaranth, though there are spinaches that can grow under semi-cover. Anything bush-like requires more pottery than I have, as they will be somewhat permanent. Tea is plausible, given our cool, permanently shady weather (see pottery issues), but tempting (see pottery issues). Tea takes a while to grow though, unless I'm using fresh shoots as a salad dressing. I did get chicory (Madgeburg), which yields both an edible green and roots that add chocolatey-malt flavours to coffee. The roots may also be cooked like similar root veggies. I know my luck with carrots have been dismal, but I'm hoping chicory will provide some kind of tasty root bulb. I also got a purple mustard (you're probably noticing a theme in my desperation to grow interesting mustards - it is all about how much I like them pickled and saladed), and cat mint, for my cats, obviously, but it's still a mint, and will still be dishable to humans.

The real improvement to my gardening will be EarthBox struts, to lift the boxes 2 ft. off the ground. I'm hoping this will not only give the boxes more sun, but aerate the soil more thoroughly for composting purposes (though things do disintegrate really fast in there already), and keep away slugs. I'm summarily executing slugs with a good crush and toss, but there seems to be more than last year. Frequent cinnamon and diatomaceous earth dustings only help so much when it's rainy.

Finally, in a burst of self-sufficiency (hah!), I planted the last of my leftover shiso seeds from last year, shiso seeds the ever-wonderful [personal profile] countlibras sent me at Christmas, and random basil seeds both leftover and found in the basement (from some long-ago resident who lived in my unit). The leftover shiso were the first to sprout, tiny, helpless looking sprouts in my window box in the airwell. We shall see. Rubbing my paws while staring at shoots to grow faster doesn't actually work.

Dorian brought a maus into the haus!

My first reaction was, "Ohdearohdearohdear."

I had some delay saving it. It was wee, smaller than my little finger. It was totally alive, if terrified out of its mind. I had to chase Dorian and the mouse all over the house, while finding appropriate implements. When I carried it out, I went, "Hopefully, you are not dead. If you are dead, I will have to give you a funeral."

I have given many rodents funerals. Virtually all died of human-related causes, not cats.

The mouse was let go along the back fence. It had to catch its breath, then tried to make it for a crevice. There were two prominent tooth marks on its back, where Dorian carried it around like a cat plush toy. I think those will heal though. Now, hopefully, I haven't caused some kind of mouse infestation. But it is fruit and flower season. Mice have a right to seek out yummy foods.

Dorian was so happy. He caught a maus! It moved itself! I had massive conflicts of interest. I like my cat, but it's a mouse! A small, cute mouse! I gave Dorian lots of tuna. I think he's mollified, though he keeps returning to the study to check, just in case the mouse ran off again.

I may also need to periodically check the yard, just in case the mouse was more injured than I thought, and Dorian is smarter than I usually think.

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This Feels Like a Holiday?

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).

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