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Cooking for a Sick Belly

As both our work schedules have picked up at a delirious pace, the illnesses we started the year off with have kind of also occasionally reared themselves on bad days, lingering in the background with teeth bared even while we rest. My unending head cold, compounded by allergies of all kinds, waters my eyes during long hours of transcription and wakes me up with a sore throat in the middle of the night. The spouse's long-running heartburn, having died down to a semblance of normalcy for a few months, flared up at Thanksgiving, and threatened to upset him ever since. Last weekend, a particularly bad bout put us back on soup and oatmeal for a few days. I made every bland non-irritant food I could think of at the time -- potato soup (accidentally added too much pepper), honey nut oatmeal (no fruit), even, at his request, chicken congee. Seth isn't a congee person, so it's kind of cool he asked for this while sick. He was relatively back on more flavours by Monday, but we are taking it as carefully as we can.

A roast duck from two weeks ago became a mild yet rich broth. Carefully strained and simmered with aged kimchee, shredded duck meat and bits of tofu, it became a well-remembered taste I could share with my husband. We had it with plain white rice, but the best way I've had it, courtesy of my favourite Hong Kong noodle shop in Perth, is actually in a hot bowl of wonton mein. The Malaysian version, both the Nyonya and different Chinese versions, often include a souring agent like assam keping (dried tamarind slices) or tomatoes, and all would use salted mustard greens rather than kimchee (my homemade pickles were salty and mild enough for the job). I know duck soup isn't exactly diet food, but the days are cold -- the morning I made this, there was frost on the ground, which demands a less lean meal.

Tonight, a little more experimentation with what Seth will tolerate. Cold soba and dipping sauce, topped by pan fried shredded duck with a hint of garlic butter and served with a sprinkling of ground roasted salmon skin. His came with broiled green peppers in caramelized teriyaki sauce, and mine with smilar slices of broiled pumpkin. In place of the duck meat, I had its meat, parboiled and dragged in slightly more butter. A teensy bit. The salmon skin was the last remnant of the Christmas gravlax. Having absorbed the salt and fennel flavours, it makes a great pseudo furikake. This meal too seemed to fare well. Given that he'll only be able to see the doctor in four weeks, we are doing our best to balance what are still very stressful job days for us with some imagination on what constitutes a safe dinner.

On the bright side, my fantasies of grinding up pesto instead of pouring everything into a blender are at least one step closer to reality, since I finally caved and bought a Southeast Asian-style granite mortar and pestle. That will make life a little easier-- not that I hate the blender or anything, but a mortar and pestle is easier to clean over a one-piece glass jar and blade unit. My mother also makes awesome fish balls with a mortar and pestle, and it's been a really long time since I've had a good fish glue. What this is entails fish paste spread on a plate, cut into slices ala fish noodles and dropped into a boiling broth, seriously not as bad as the name might suggest. Besides, I am pretty certain after reading Scandinavian Cookery for Americans that fish balls are also a Swedish food. First, I may need to ask the local fishmongers about a good fish for fish balls, possibly a good mackerel.

My sister-in-law also seriously spoiled us over Christmas. I got an authentic cast iron wok. A wok! I had to buy myself a wok lid so I can turn the wok into a super steamer. Egg custard with three kinds of egg! Baked salt chicken! Whole steamed fish! So excited!

And finally, as a kind of, "Hey, I've been working too much," present for myself, I will soon be getting a promising book, What Your Teacher Didn't Tell You by Farish A. Noor. A collection of what the blurb states are expanded lectures from the Annexe Gallery (the site of the recently banned Seksualiti Merdeka), it includes essays on pre-Independence and early Malaysia looking at the history of racial relations in the country. As a kind of bonus, it's illustrated with lots of pretty antique photos of Malaysians from the early part of the century. I look forward to reading it.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 19th, 2012 01:31 pm (UTC)
Egg custard with three kinds of egg? Like duck, quail, platypus?
Jan. 19th, 2012 08:17 pm (UTC)
Heh, no. Usually, normal eggs for the custard base and chopped up bits of century egg and salted egg.
Jan. 19th, 2012 02:51 pm (UTC)
>>A roast duck from two weeks ago became a mild yet rich broth

haha, I do the same thing. In fact, I just made some duck broth a couple nights ago.

I would love to know how your mom makes fish paste. There's a hotpot restaurant that has some good fish paste, but they won't sell it to me to bring home. XD
Jan. 19th, 2012 08:20 pm (UTC)
I was surprised the duck came through at all. Young bird, they usually don't provide a terribly flavorful soup.

I'll try posting up how my mom makes fish paste (which is how I make fish paste... I hope) when I do. It's easy enough, but the trick is to get good fish (pref. a mackerel) and keep the meat constantly cold. Mom would mix in ice chips to drop the temperature, and I've read other places where people take the additional step of immediately immersing their paste products in iced water afterwards.
Jan. 20th, 2012 07:17 am (UTC)

::salivates at the word "duck"::
Jan. 20th, 2012 08:35 am (UTC)
Why, yes! I too love the duck. Crispy duck skins! Orange duck eggs! Mmmmm.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )