A Few of My Favourite (Food-Related) Things

Cream-coloured ponies and crisp apple strudels,
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles…

What follows is a sample of sweet and savoury thoughts that routinely run through my mind: dream-worthy bites made possible by the professionals, as well as foods, drinks, and food-related miscellany that make my life delicious. It is a throwback to the days when chain emails, Facebook note autobiographies, and magazine quizzes were as in vogue as they likely will ever be, with a tasty twist.

Any chance to rhapsodize about food and drink,

I will RELISH:

Favourite…

CUISINES:

Chinese, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern. My parents gave me the gift of a childhood redolent of Chinese comfort foods: Shanghai cài fàn (cooked until the qīng cài leaves have wilted, the là cháng sausage fat has rendered, and the rice at the base of the pot has formed a golden crust of guō bā, “pan adherents” well-worth the effort of scraping), Peking kǎo yā (roast duck with paper-thin skin that dissolves on your tongue), and Sichuan gàn biān sì jì dòu (dry-fried green beans spiced with chilies and peppercorns). While I dabble in recreating these dishes, my tastes tend toward the Mediterranean and the Middle East more than ever. I embrace the Italian culinary sensibility: focus each dish on a few seasonal ingredients, like spring peas and pancetta in risi e bisi, or basil leaves tucked between fresh tomato and mozzarella slices in insalata caprese. And whether I eat in or out, I turn to meze, featuring fat balls of falafel, tureens of tzatziki and hummus, and, when I can afford them, gold bars of fried halloumi garnished with mint.

METHOD OF COOKING:

Roasting. I am a baker by nature, after all. I love to olive oil up my produce and give them some lovin’ in the oven: roots, shoots, crucifers, and fruits ranging from tomatoes to strawberries.

CAKES:

Carrot cake with zesty citrus-chèvre glaze, made by me. Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, made by anyone who avoids the sin known as overbaking.

COOKIES:

Chocolate chip cookies from Tate’s Bake Shop in Southampton, NY. Usually, I am an ardent member of Team Chewy (soft oatmeal raisin cookies are my jam), but these crispy cookies from Tate’s melt in your mouth like no other.

CHEESES:

TheSpread

Hard: Gouda. Semi-Hard: Comté. Semi-Soft: Jarlsberg. Soft: Cambozola. But really, just about anything you can slice onto a water cracker or smear on a round of baguette. I grew up on cheese, albeit of the everyman’s American and cheddar varieties. Cheese was responsible for my rolls, which rivalled those of a sumo wrestler.

GELATO:

A tie between riso e cioccolato fondente from Giolitti in Rome and pistacchio from Gelateria La Carraia in Florence. Future trips and further taste tests may be required to break the tie.

DESSERT:

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Baked Alaska from Oleana in Cambridge. It inspired my pairing of pavlova with ice cream. And it motivated my baking of Baked Alaska brownie bites, delicious and safe for vegan and gluten-sensitive foodies, but still nowhere near as transcendent as that beautiful Baked Alaska, a mountain of meringue with burnished peaks, encasing coconut ice cream and macaroon, all encircled by a moat of passion fruit caramel.

NON-ALCOHOLIC DRINKS:

Masala chai, purchased for a few rupees from street vendors in India. From Telangana to Rajasthan, the vessel is identical: a flimsy plastic cup barely bigger than a thimble. This size is ideal, since the tea is so hot and so sweet that I sip rather than swig it, until my fingertips are blistered and I am down to the last luscious drop. Earl Grey tea from Twinings, Gingerbread tea from Teavana, and Mexican hot chocolate made by my college freshman-year proctor also make the shortlist.

ALCOHOLIC DRINKS:

Pimm’s Cup. One of the best parts of London pub culture was the prevalence of pitchers of Pimm’s. White Russians, cava, and cider are also standbys. And I wouldn’t say no to a bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey.

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Flashback: Painting My D.C. Summer by Numbers (08/11/12)

To commemorate my first month as a “real-world” D.C. resident, enclosed below is an excerpt of a blog post about my first D.C. summer, three years ago and pre-real world.  


Here are some highlights of and reflections on my nine-week stay in this thriving city, in numerical form:

First Time in Washington, D.C., A Summer of Many Firsts

I had visited the capital cities of my ancestral motherland and my homeland, but never that of my birthplace, Washington D.C. Ten minutes into my stay in D.C., I got my first glimpse of American national monuments, perhaps a peek of the Capitol Building in the distance, I sensed the gravity of this place, felt a private thrill at the prospect of living, working, and existing in such an importance place for the next nine weeks.

I had good reason to be excited. D.C. is to Beijing and Ottawa as NYC is to Shanghai and Toronto. The former is the latter’s less vivacious and less schizophrenic, but more civilized and equally important brother. In the summertime, D.C. is especially vibrant. You can feel the energy of the city and its inhabitants wherever you go that feels less in-your-face than that of NYC.

Heavy-lifting, D.C.-style.

Nine weeks in D.C. would provide me with the opportunities to accomplish many “firsts.” It started off with the first of taking Amtrak for the first time. With regards to work, I started my first paid summer internship in an office, conducted the first of many international Skype interviews and team meetings, managed my first course website, not to mention fist-pumped in an office setting for the first time while watching Spain dominate Euro 2012.Outside of work, I got my first exclusive tours of the Washington Post and the Library of Congress, earned fleeting first-name recognition from an eminent pollster, became starstruck by news anchors at my first live taping of PBS News Hour, all courtesy of the IOP’s SIW Program.

PBS News Hour Taping!

Moreover, I volunteered at my first voter phone bank, cooked my first ever risotto from scratch, celebrated a national birthday in that nation’s capital for the first time, watched my first spoken word exhibition at the Jerusalem Fund, set foot for the first time in the Smithsonian Museums, held my first exotic insect, and heard lions roar and witnessed zebras fighting up-close for the first time.

He was a cutie.

On a more personal note, I accomplished some more momentous firsts, all related to writing. I finished my first Model UN study guide, started my first blog, created my first and only bucket list, and finished my first full-length novel. The rare freedom of summer has allowed me to ride the natural ebb and flow of my inspiration, which comes to my in bursts, rather than in a constant stream. I have continued writing and will never stop as long as I live. My passion for writing is as much a part of me as my flesh and blood, my characters as much my children as my brainchildren, their storylines my lifelines. I have flirted with the idea of giving up meat before, tried to cut myself off from Facebook, all things that I renounced for a spell, albeit with difficulty. But I could never, ever give up on writing and storytelling, and this summer has reinforced that to me.
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Gorgonzola and Greens Pasta + The (Sort of) Last Supper

IMG_4937We thought that it would be our last shared meal for a long time. In fact, that “long time” turned out to be six-and-a-half sleepy hours, before he joined me in eating corn flakes bathed in cold milk, mine slightly soggy and peppered with peanuts, his still crisp enough to create crunching noises in rhythm with the steady striking of rain. Bowls rinsed, bags gathered, bodies embraced and released all too soon, I set out beneath a canopy of steel-grey clouds that flapped like slashed curtains.

See you laters can be just as hard as goodbyes, especially when the point at which “later” will become “now” remains undefined. After finishing my final college exam on the final day of Finals Period, I went through Senior Week and Commencement Week much like many of my peers, seeing and saying see you later to the people whose presence had enriched and defined the last four years of my life, whose absence would at first feel alien. In a flurry of duct-taped boxes, UPS receipts, and flights, I was off romping through Europe with A-, N-, and R-, spending more time applying knowledge gained in my senior spring architecture course and expanding my stomach for gelato after every meal than I was dwelling on having to part ways with my travel companions eventually, for a long time, or at least for some time.

Despite what this post may suggest, super-sentimentality is far from my natural frame of mind. I could, and will now attempt to, keep this post crossing the line to nostalgia by noting all of the recent developments that have kept me engaged, excited, looking forward to the future while reveling in the present: moving into my first apartment (small but cozy, with fluffy carpet, at least twice as much counter space than my cramped dorm kitchens ever had, and a price that’s right for D.C.), assembling my small set of furniture (received piece by piece in the mail), getting reacquainted with the Metro (that is, paying steep fares, Kindle-ing it up, and being sandwiched between sweaty strangers), getting to know the locals (almost jarringly genuinely friendly, opening doors, holding elevators, and beaming smiles without fail), and starting my first full-time salaried job (I have already learned a lot from colleagues generous with their knowledge and their time). I have loved the past few weeks and cannot wait to see what the next, and yet more after, will bring.

But when the inevitable desire to reminisce about college, Europe, and the time spent in those places with people whom I love dearly arrives, I’ll gather some Gorgonzola, greens, and grains, and recreate my last supper with A-, itself inspired by one of our last meals in Venice. We made a few modifications, in part to use up pantry ingredients, in part on a whim. We threw in several handfuls of baby spinach, substituted pepitas for pistachios, and added a good glug of heavy cream nearing expiration. What we did make sure to include was Gorgonzola, rich and robust, our tried-and-true cheese that we had bought in blue-marbled blocks and smeared over crusty €1 baguettes wherever we picnicked in Europe and, most memorably, that we had devoured in that tagliatelle dish. One of my mottos for the trip (and in my life, really) was “the dairier, the merrier,” as a healthy appetite for adventure and cheese – nutty Comté, buttery Brie, and milky mozzarella still warm in its pillowy and pliant bundle – sustained us through scaling seemingly endless stairways, navigating labyrinths of alleyways, and crossing borders via overnight bus. Anointed with velvety and pleasantly pungent sauce, streaked with spinach, and freckled with pepitas and black pepper, this dish is the epitome of comfort food, reminding me of good times that were had and manifold good times to come, much sooner than later.

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“Oat” Cuisine: Life as a Dining Hall Gastronome

dining hall oatmeal ; best consumed between long stretches of text and time

I do not mind dining hall food most of the time. Maybe it is because I have spent cleaning crew weeks without kitchen access, subsisting on granola bars, almonds, and apples, but when there is a skilled grill staff, a stocked salad bar, and tubs of cereal when all else fails, I cannot complain about the occasional day when Scheherazade casserole (thankfully discontinued, as far as I can tell) or other dubious concoctions are the main offerings.

Yet, there are days when I find myself dreaming in flavours that I once took for granted. Pieces of sashimi as slippery as sin and succulent scallops, seafood delight all year-round. Marbled tea eggs simmered all day in pork broth that invite you in like a mother’s embrace. Caramelized onions that fill the whole house with a mouth-watering aroma. An array of brand-name cereals with the perfect yogurt complements divvied up in a daily family communion. Fragrant green tea leaves and soothing Twinings™ Earl Grey tea bags that, along with hearty conversation, fuel Sunday morning teatimes. And, above all, I crave fruits. Creamy avocados sliced over salads and sandwiches or scooped out and scrambled with eggs fluffier than cumulus clouds—my kryptonite. Peaches bursting out of their velvety skins that dribble juice down your hand—my nectar and ambrosia.

I remember the first peach I had in college. It was freshman year. I had happened to be eating in my future house’s dining hall, and had spotted a basket of peaches tucked away on a table in the corner. I practically pounced on it. They bore signs of jetlag, but I did not care. The peach bruised at my fingertips as I built up to that first bite, a moment of great anticipation; the seconds following, of bitter disappointment. It was an experience comparable to, I imagine, eating a hairball. I finished the peach on principle, before retreating to fantasies of peach jam and peach cobbler and peaches in their purest form, plucked straight from the tree on an Okanagan family vacation.

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