Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Month: September, 2013

Can I Get Some of THAT?

I’ve been obsessing over Jimmy Fallon, not him in particular, but his late night show.  I go through these spurts of obsessing over things and going all over the internet to find anything related to that thing.

I went through (although this is kind of ongoing) a Jane Austen phase where I was looking for any books and movies that had any references to Jane Austen and her books.  I might write a separate blog post on this– I didn’t realize how much is out there paying homage to good ol’ Jane!

I often go through a recurring phase of looking for bloopers reels on youtube.  I love watching old TV show bloopers reels, like Seinfeld and the Cosby Show.  It’s wonderful seeing these great actors being human and silly.  I get a kick out of that.

So lately my obsession has been Jimmy Fallon and his late night show.  It started when my cousin showed me this:

I was dying!  And I watched it a few more times with him and then I’ve shown it to multiple friends and family since.  There are so many things I love about this clip: the amazingness of the Roots playing this whole mashup live (no records or DJs!), the fun JT and Jimmy are having, the skills they have, and just the electric vibe of joy in that space.

Then I found that they had done this several times, though I think history of rap #2 is the best.

Just recently, I got back interested in JF when this video went viral:

Once again, more awesomeness by all these guys and the Roots (how cool to have them as your back up band, just playing the soundtrack to your life??).  Again, joy, fun, love of what they do.

Then I stumbled on this precious clip:

Love it.  You can do more searches of JF with other celebrity singers singing and the Roots backing them up on classroom instruments.  Robin Thicke, Carly Rae Jepsen, Mariah Carey…

And then it’s easy to just get sucked into all the other clips on JF’s channel.  His other currently viral video about hashtags back with JT.  His thank-you notes.  His game show activities with his guests.

So what I love about this is that Jimmy Fallon has found what seems to be HIS dream job.  It’s so obvious he loves what he does.  And it’s obvious he’s grateful and even a bit starstruck by himself.  Like he can’t quite believe he is where is.  I could be totally reading into this, but he seems to still be a grounded, normal person who has skyrocketed to fame, but more importantly, landed a situation where he is joyful going to work.

I heard him on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air a few weeks ago, and there seemed to be some of that disbelief that he, a normal guy, is where he is today.

I want me some of THAT.  To find a job, situation, place in life where I get to bring together all my loves: food, social justice, education, that outdoors, people, love, hope… change.  I’d be curious to sit down with JF and ask if he had any vision of what his life would be like.  Right now, I don’t feel clear on my vision; but I am clear on my loves.  And maybe that’s what he’d say, just be clear on your loves and keep them front and center and keep moving toward them and with them.  You’ll get there.  Or maybe you already are there.

I have landed me a job!  I’m not sure if it will bring me the kind of joy that the late night show brings to Jimmy Fallon, but I’m moving along, keeping my eyes open.

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Quick Chinese Noodle Dish

This is a dish I learned from a friend years ago.  Well, learned it in the way I like to learn my meals– by watching and asking, “what’s in this?”  So it’s not exactly as she makes it, but it fits my taste preferences.  Easy and delicious!

My friend calls it Gon Low Mein.  I call it Egg Noodles with Roast Pork and Chinese Broccoli.

What you need:ingredients

  • char siu sauce – a reddish, sweetish, tart sauce.  You can get this at your local Chinese market.  I like this brand.  Char siu is a preparation for pork, usually involving roasting.
  • egg noodles – any brand is fine.  I’m just showing you what I used.  I like this thicker noodle, but you can use the thinner version, too.  Also available at your local Chinese market, in the refrigerated section.  I only use fresh noodles, but I’m sure you could use dried egg noodles, too.
  • Chinese broccoli (gai-lan) – a leafy vegetable with a stalk that is similar to Western broccoli.  Sometimes you see little florets growing next to the leaves.  At your Chinese market– haven’t ever seen them at a Western market.
  • oyster sauce and sesame oil – for flavoring the noodles.
  • fried shallots (or onions or garlic) – not pictured here.  This is usually available in a plastic container, in the dried food section of the Chinese market.  They are so tasty, and although the dish is fine without this topping, I think it just takes it up a notch.

What you do:

  1. THE PORK:
    1. Get some pork.  A cut of your choice.  I’ve tried it with pork loin and country rib.  I think it’s good to use a cut that has a bit of fat on it.  It’ll yield a juicier meat.
    2. Put the pork in a bowl with some char siu sauce.  You want there to be enough sauce to slather the meat.
    3. And I sometimes add a dash of soy sauce and mirin to add more saltiness and flavor.
    4. Let the pork sit for a few hours or even overnight.  The longer, the better to get the sauce to seep into that meat!  See what it looks like in my previous entry.
    5. About an hour before you want to eat, roast the pork.  I have used my toaster oven successfully because I only have a few cuts of meat to cook.  You can also use a regular oven, of course.  I roast the pork at about 350-375 for about 30-40 minutes.  Halfway through, I flip the meat.
    6. After 30-40 minutes, I turn the heat up to broil (or a high temp) and roast the pork for about 7-10 more minutes to get a bit of a char on the edges.  Not necessary, but I like it.
    7. Note that cooking time may vary depending on the thickness of your meat.  Just use your best judgment here.  You want the meat to be nicely done but not dried out.
  2. THE NOODLES:
    1. Boil some water.
    2. Once the water is boiling, add the noodles until cooked, stirring occasionally to prevent the noodles from sticking to each other or the pot bottom.
    3. Drain the noodles in a colander.
    4. Wash the noodles with cool water a little to get rid of excess starch, but not too much where the noodles get cold.
    5. Drizzle some sesame oil on the noodles to keep them from sticking.
    6. Also, add some oyster sauce to add flavor to the noodles.  You don’t want the noodles to be drenched in the sauce, but you want there to be enough flavor when you eat it.
  3. THE CHINESE BROCCOLI:
    1. Chop the broccoli – use the stems, too.  You might want to slice the stems so they cook more quickly.
    2. There are some options for cooking the broccoli – boiling, parboiling, steaming, stir frying.  I mix it up myself.
    3. This is what I did yesterday when I made the dish.  Steam the stems for a few minutes.
    4. Get rid of the water from the pot, and stir fry the stems in oil with some minced garlic and then throw in the leaves (also chopped).
    5. Add salt to flavor and stir fry to get some gloss on the leaves and cook them down a bit.  You can also add some oyster sauce and sesame oil at this point.  You want the stems to be al dente, still on the crunchy side.  All this should take just about 5-7 minutes.
  4. ASSEMBLING THE DISH:
    1. Get a nice deep bowl.
    2. Add the noodles into the bowl first.
    3. Add the Chinese broccoli on top.
    4. Slice the pork (after it cooks and you let it rest for a bit) thinly.  Then put some slices on top of the noodles.
    5. Sprinkle some dried shallots generously on top!
    6. Dig in!

noodles

Whew, writing out a recipe is harder than I thought!  These instructions make this seem way more complicated than it actually is.  I’d say the pork is the “hardest” part, but it’s so simple– just take some pork, throw some sauce on it, let it sit overnight in the fridge, and then roast it!  And the other ingredients are easy– boiled noodles, stir fried greens.

Give it a try!  And once you do it, it’ll be easier the next time.

Happiness is a Well-Stocked Kitchen

I should be writing cover letters right now, but I just came back from running errands, which is so much more fun.  I feel so accomplished after getting items ticked off my mental checklist.

My refrigerator and pantry are now stocked with more fun things (mind you, both were already pretty well-stocked, but there’s always something more that I am looking to add.  The food world is a treasure trove of endless gems!):

  • fenugreek and thyme – dried spices that I don’t use a lot but have been wanting to use more, along with a bunch of other spices I have acquired.
  • carrots, onions, and potatoes – I always like to have a ready supply of those root veggies.  That way, I’m always ready to make a chicken or beef stock, some homefries on a lazy weekend morning, or the base of a stir-fry.
  • dried shiitake mushrooms – great as additions to various dishes – Korean noodles (jahpchae), Chinese stir fry…  I’m hoping to make a Chinese sticky rice thing with these mushrooms soon.
  • a cantaloupe – I think it’s peak time for cantaloupes and melons out here.  So I’m trying to eat as many as I can before it’s over.  I love eating seasonally– it’s kind of like a fun race against the produce, and sometimes I try to find new ways to work with that ingredient.  But it’s also great just eating it as is.  And of course it tastes soo much better to eat things when they’re in season and grown locally.
  • two kinds of Chinese egg noodles – I love noodles in all forms, and I like making simple noodle dishes for dinner–  stir fried, in a soup, just mixed with a good sauce.

fridgeAnd in addition to stocking my fridge and pantry, I’m also doing some prep work for future cooking.  That’s always fun, too.  My mom says she feels rich after she’s done a lot of food prep to offset future slaving in the kitchen.  I would agree.  Like making a big batch of kimchee or making and freezing a trayful of dumplings or pickling beets or making stock!

I bought some pork rib meat and put it in a Chinese char siu sauce (a reddish, sweet and tangy sauce used for roast pork, especially).  I’ll let it sit overnight and roast it tomorrow or the next day.  Yum!

charsiu pork

I’m also making a beef stock out of bones and stew beef that I got from the meat counter at Berkeley Bowl.  I tossed all that in my stainless steel Dutch oven with water, a few carrots, celery, and an onion to make the stock.  And every so often, I skim off any fat and gunky stuff.  I’ll use the stock in the future to make my favorite Korean soups– yookaejang (a spicy beef soup with lots of scallions), mandu gook (dumpling soup), and seaweed soup.  After I started making my own stock years ago, I couldn’t go back to store bought stock.  It just tastes so much better!

beef stock

And just like that, it’s already 4:30pm. Life is good.  I think I’ll make some egg noodles with oyster sauce and Chinese broccoli for dinner.   I set out some shrimp to thaw, and that can go on top!  Oh wait, that might have to wait till tomorrow– I forgot that in my prepping frenzy, I also put some rice in the rice cooker to be ready by 6:30pm.  Change in plans.  Rice with shrimp and Chinese broccoli!

This is the life of an unemployed food lover!

A Study in Sourdough

I brought back a sourdough starter from New Zealand, from one of my homestays.  The starter is from a German woman, and I’m thinking she got it from Germany and brought it to New Zealand.  And then she gave me some dried up chips to bring back to the U.S.!  That’s something I love about sourdough starters– the passing it forward aspect.  I wonder how many households are using this same starter around the world?  And what’s cool is that all the loaves of bread, or other bread-related foods, all probably taste and look really different.

Here’s my sourdough starter, sitting in a mason jar after having been revived from a dried state back in December when I came back to the U.S. after my most recent travels:

starter

And here is a collage of some of the loaves I’ve made.  I’d say I’ve probably made close to a dozen loaves in the last months.  And each one has been different.  I haven’t quite hit upon the right combination of ingredients.  But I’ve learned a ton just from the process.  It’s always amazing what you can learn from doing something over and over and over again.  Like running– there are all these learnings from running that have been documented: Haruki Murakami wrote about these learnings (a great little collection of essays) and there are lots of blog postings about lessons learned from running.  Just type in those key words into your favorite search engine, and a slew of posts come up.

loaves

So here are my learnings from making sourdough bread using a sourdough starter.  Let’s start with the more practical, mechanical learnings.

  1. Managing a starter is a big part of the process.  And it’s not as difficult as one would think.  You just want to keep your starter bubbly and happy, and you can tell when it’s not happy. Happy = elastic, gooey, bubbly, white-ish, and yeasty-smelling.  If it’s grey, liquidy, and stagnant, then no good.  And the way to manage a starter is just to feed it flour and some water every few days.  More frequently if you leave it on the counter (like every other day or so) and less frequently if left in the fridge (once a week or so).  You keep it in the fridge if you don’t use it every week.  That’s what I do.  I make a loaf every 2nd or 3rd week or so, so I take the starter out of the fridge a few days before I want to make a loaf, feed it, and then use it.  And when I’m not making bread, I leave the starter jar in the fridge where the molecules just rest a bit.
  2. Pay attention to the starter but not too much attention.  It doesn’t need to be severely monitored, but it also likes some love every once in awhile.  That’s what’s great about a starter, it’s pretty low maintenance, like succulents which don’t need a ton of water or care.  I appreciate the low maintenance of this little organism.  It needs me but not too much!
  3. Just estimate measurements, but maybe start with a more exact recipe.  I’m more of a cook than a baker.  I like to use a recipe as a starting point and then make my adjustments, like adding more of one spice than another or substituting sour cream for yogurt or adding in different vegetables.  That’s why I can only do quick bake recipes like chocolate chip cookies or banana bread.  Anything that requires a lot of measurement and exact protocols is annoying to me.  It’s funny because I’m totally not like that in real life– I’m incredibly detail oriented and concerned with protocols and precision.  But when in the kitchen, I like to let that go.  It’s my chance to unwind and be free of the work-mentality.  So with sourdough bread, I started with a recipe, got comfortable with how the dough should look and feel, and then started to improvise from there.  I added a bit more honey or tried a different kind of salt or oil or flour.

And from there, the more meta-level learnings:

  1. Learn to let go.  As I said, I’m usually a bit of a control freak about things.  So making sourdough bread has taught me to be more free and improvisatory.  I’ve experimented with the recipe I started with, and just yesterday, I tried a completely new recipe, incorporating yeast along with the starter.  That resulted in a new texture to the bread.  I think I’ll try it again and add more salt and some honey.  Every loaf I’ve made, I’ve done something a little different.  I’ve had some success with some and some that weren’t so great (that went to the chickens!).  But I’m learning to go with the flow and be more flexible about bread-making, specifically and life, more generally.
  2. Make your own food.  I’m learning to look at the things I eat and see where I can cut back on processed, store-bought, ready-made consumables.  It’s really interesting to see how much you can “take back” into your own kitchen.  I’ve only bought two loaves of bread in the last six or so months.  And those were both when I had friends in town and was making bruschetta or something special that the sourdough bread didn’t quite work for.  Bread is my big project right now.  I’m not sure what other foods will come next in my journey of making my own food!  Any suggestions?
  3. Be in it for the long-haul.  Making bread is a lifelong process, I would say.  Because I’m not really using exact measurements and have been experimenting with different recipes, I keep playing around to find a really good loaf.  And even when I find that really good loaf, I’m sure I’ll keep maneuvering and wiggling to find another really good loaf made in a different way.  But I’m excited each time I put the loaf in the oven to see what will come out an hour later.  Besides the assortment of ingredients, things like climate, elevation, and water affect the bread, and that’s always variable.  So I can never come out with the same loaf twice.  But that’s part of the journey!

OK, I’ll leave it at that. I’m sure this list could go on and on.  But I like a series that just has three parts.  I’m still looking for good recipes for sourdough breads, so if you know of any, send them along!

Finding Purpose

I’ve been looking for purpose in things, both on a small and large scale.

One of those things is this blog.  It’s a funny thing, blogging– putting your thoughts out into the world, to both known and unknown individuals (although I guess that could be controlled– setting a password on the blog so it’s not totally public or not sharing the url with friends and family so it’s pretty anonymous.)  I’ve chosen to share the blog with family and friends and leave the blog public, so I’m left in this limbo of the blogosphere where I don’t share my innermost thoughts and musings on things as I might in a journal and I also aim to have the writing be a little more generally accessible.

And I seem to be finding that being in limbo is a challenging place to be.  Am I trying to be a little bit of something for everyone and in the process being nothing for no one?

So to get back on track, I’m working on finding purpose for this blog.  I’ve mused on this before, but I’ve strayed from that original purpose.

For a time, this was a travel blog, which was wonderful.  A documenting of my travels through New Zealand, Bali, and Malaysia.  But now I’m settled again (although itchy to travel, as always!).

It strikes me that I should write about what I love, know about, and care about.

  • Food
  • Social issues
  • Life journeys

So I’ll see how that goes.  Next blog: my attempts at using a sourdough starter!

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