More goodies and some belated Christmas presents :)

I left home and came back to school a few days ago, but I thought I should finish posting the things I've been enjoying at home. When I was at a retreat in October, a co-worker of mine found it amusing that I was taking pictures of the food I ate. Just a few weeks ago, she excitedly came up to me and told me that she had been "influenced by me". I had no idea what she meant at first, but then she pulled out her cell phone to show me pictures of meals that she had eaten, homemade by her boyfriend. It was really cute, and she told me that it was fun to take pictures of all these delicious foods so that she could look back on them and remember how great it was to enjoy them. And it made me realize just how much I enjoy looking back on the things I've eaten, since what we eat defines so much of our lives. Plus, I always find that I associate the foods I eat with the events that happen to me at the time, so seeing certain dishes has the effect of making me think of my life from certain periods of time. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I say that a picture of what you've eaten is worth a thousand memories :)

My mom made this black sticky rice pudding after Christmas, and filled it with a sweet red bean paste filling. Black sticky rice is similar to glutinous white rice in texture, except that its color is black when it is raw. To use it, you would soak it in water overnight, which turns the rice kernels a deep burgundy color. My mom builds the pudding in a round-bottomed bowl by layering the bottom with the black sticky rice, then spreading on the bean paste filling before covering with more black sticky rice. The pudding is then put into a steamer to cook the rice and obtain that sticky chewy consistency so familiar of glutinous rice. In the case of black sticky rice, the flavor is more unique in that it has a nutty taste, somewhat like a whole grain pasta or brown rice, except that it is slightly sweet and therefore suitable for a sweet dessert like this sticky rice pudding. Sometimes when my mom makes it she likes to stir up a almond or coconut flavored sauce to pour over the sticky rice pudding for extra flavor and to keep it moist. It's a delicious dessert that is often eaten for breakfast or as a snack in Asia, but not usually for an after-meal dessert, since sticky rice tends to be very filling and rich.

Instead of making the usual red braised pork belly that she likes to make, my mom decided to slice the pork belly up nice and thin, and toss it with sliced carrots, baby lima beans, and Chinese black beans for a dish filled with variety. The pork belly was soft and chewy, the carrots were slightly crunchy, the lima beans were soft and pasty, and the black beans were strong flavored. Though the presentation is never that amazing in Chinese cooking, the way that flavors and textures can be married in a dish is infinite. I've never heard of such a dish in Chinese cuisine, but it was definitely tasty and complemented the pork belly uniquely, in my opinion.

What a mouthful for a dish name! I'm not actually sure what to call it except to describe it, but this is basically a soupy kind of dish, containing silken tofu, napa, black wood ear fungus, and pieces of a Chinese fried dough called "you tiao", all stewed in a thick clear sauce. You tiao looks like a long and thin stick, somewhat similar to churros, and is often eaten for breakfast in China, accompanying a nice hot bowl of congee or soybean milk. When it's fresh, the you tiao is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. After it goes stale, it can become quite hard, and so my mom threw it into the soup to let it soften. If you think about it, this kind of dish is kind of like the Western chicken and dumplings soup, except that it's with tofu and Chinese fried dough instead hehe.

This is another dish that I grew up with, red braised potato sticks. My mom cuts up potatoes into these tiny little sticks, and cooks them with a red braise sauce until they are nice and tender but still a little crunchy. They do a great job of soaking up flavor from the sauce, and the potatoes really stick out in this dish, as opposed to fading into the background as a side dish. I love the texture of these little potato sticks, and they're always nice and tasty, never bland or dry like chunks of potatoes can be in other dishes. My mom also threw in a little bit of sliced Chinese sausage and some baby lima beans in here (you can tell she was having fun with the lima beans, it was like her new discovery as of late).

My mom's favorite way of cooking pumpkin is in this dish, flavored with some soy and black beans. She really dislikes the Westernized method of cooking pumpkin with cinnamon and other such spices. She enjoys the natural flavor and texture of pumpkin, with just black beans to give the flavor a kick. Since pumpkin has a natural sweetness, it actually pairs quite well with the saltiness of black beans, with neither flavor overwhelming the other. A really tasty way to eat pumpkin, in my opinion.

On my last night at home, I decided to contribute a dish to dinner, since everyone was pretty busy that night. I thawed out a few salmon filets and made a teriyaki flavored marinade consisting of soy sauce, honey, white sugar, white pepper, sesame oil, fish sauce, and black vinegar. I didn't really follow any recipes, but ended up using my intuition based on previous times that I've made teriyaki (it always comes out a little different each time, because of this). Plus I don't mind being able to play around with different teriyaki marinades. I let the thawed fish marinate in the sauce for just a few minutes before I threw them into the oven at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes (I leave the marinade in the pan so that the fish cooks in it). No basting necessary. Then I serve the fish with a few spoonfuls of the sauce on the plate, and keep the rest of the cooked marinade for future salmon, because it can be reused quite easily as long as it is kept refrigerated. Easy and effortless, that's what I like :) The fish was tender, and by dipping each bite into a little bit of the sauce, the flavor was just right. My parents really enjoyed it, my dad even asked me what I put into the sauce, because it had a unique flavor that he doesn't usually taste because my mom doesn't make sauces this way.

On my parents' anniversary, I had forgotten to bake something to help celebrate, so at the last moment, I dug up a few packages of those instant muffin mixes from Betty Crocker. The instructions only ask for 1/2 cup of water per bag of mix (which makes 5 cupcake-sized muffins), and it made me weary, because I was afraid they would come out without great flavor. I was quite right… they lacked any buttery taste, and were not very crunchy on top, and too moist on the inside. The mixes I had were blueberry and triple berry, which were done with these imitation berry pellets that apparently melt into a jam-like substance to look and taste like baked-in berries. Well, I suppose these muffins are passable if you are just looking for a quick fix and something baked to eat. But if you are really looking for a true muffin with a buttery flavor, crispy top, and dense inside, this is definitely not the mix to use. It's very fast to whip together, and cheap, but not worth the disappointment. On the other hand… they are rather healthy haha, only 150 calories per muffins, as opposed to the insane calorie count of other authentic muffins…

After I got back to school, I finally got to see my boyfriend after having been on winter break for several weeks. We presented each other with belated Christmas gifts, which we both loved. I gave him the complete Calvin and Hobbes collection, which comes as three hardcover volumes in a boxed set, printed on beautiful paper. It was definitely an impressive set, and heavy too (nearly 10 pounds)!

For my gifts, I received a most dazzling 1 carat journey pendent necklace from Zales…

Isn't it beautiful? When he told me to open my eyes and I saw that necklace sitting in a box in the palm of his hands, I was just so ecstatic. I've always thought the journey pendants were beautiful for their simple shape embodying a romantic concept that love grows. And it was especially touching because this is the first piece of jewelry my boyfriend has ever bought me in our nearly 4 years of dating. Of course, don't be fooled, it's not diamond (a 1 carat diamond journey pendant would have cost about $800). But it's great that Zales sells this white sapphire version of the necklace, because you can't tell that it's not diamond :) The setting is also sterling silver instead of white gold, which also makes the necklace much more affordable without sacrificing appearance. The only thing is that with sterling silver I have to wear it carefully to minimize tarnishing, and I'll have to clean it occasionally. But it's just as beautiful as a diamond journey pendant, and the meaning behind the gift is the same isn't it?

The other gift my boyfriend gave me was a self-assembled gift basket filled with goodies that I like, it was so thoughtful! We refer to it as the "fatty basket" haha. He bought me a box of crab cakes, because I love them and like to get them when we go out to eat. He also got me a box of Ghiradelli chocolates, a box of rocky road fudge (I was eying them earlier in the day at the grocery store haha), a bag of Smokin' Cheddar BBQ flavored Doritos (I love this flavor), a carton of Ben & Jerry's ice cream in Strawberry Cheesecake flavor, and a big Kit Kat bar. Haha such an indulgence of food, he is sure going to spoil me silly! But luckily… I am very sentimental and tend to dislike eating food gifts. I feel like if I eat a food gift… then it will be gone! So in the past, I have almost always saved my food gifts, uneaten, to the point where they can no longer be eaten / have gone stale / or become rock-hard. Of course, this being a basket of things I like, I can't really not eat any of it, but at least I'm not tempted to eat the entire thing right away haha. And of course… he's sharing with me :)  I really liked my presents from him this year, because it's clear that he put time and thought into the gifts. Earlier, when he was asking me what I wanted or needed for Christmas, I refused to give him suggestions, because I told him that I wanted him to just give me what he wanted me to have, things that he felt would add to my life based on everything he knows about me. He took what I said to heart, and gave me these wonderful gifts that although may give me a heart attack at 30, are unique to who he is and what we share together. Thanks for your gifts, Greg! :)

Well, that's it for now. Now that I'm back at school, hopefully you'll see some meals cooked by myself soon hehe.

2 responses to “More goodies and some belated Christmas presents :)

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