Monday, August 31, 2009

The Sweeter, the Better

What is cooking?

Is it just another daily routine that we have to put up with, that makes us feel like slaves in the kitchen, spending what feels like loathing distances of eternity throwing spices and grilling meat just so that other people can greedily thrust it all down their throats in 10 minutes?

Or is it an opportunity you are given to express yourself in every way--in every spice you dash in the pot, in every splash of dry wine you allow to sink into the chicken as you hear sparkling crackles of the cooking doing its work--and to envelope yourself in the comfort of man's most prized possession, which is food of course, and appreciating that every taste that then enters your mouth (as you sit down to eat with your family and friends) will enter with substance and spontaneity to please the belly and the heart.

I have always been fond of food and cooking, but only a few weeks ago I started taking action on that fondness. I began looking through recipes of a cookbook I've held on to for years but never used, and it's got one of those "make it in 30 minutes!" titles...That title is what I probably see at least 100 times each time I look in the cooking section of a library or bookstore.

But anyways, I've been cooking actual meals (instead of just making brownies, pancakes and cakes, which used to be the only food-creating action I ever did in the kitchen) every few days for my family, and all the meals were for the purpose of eating at dinner time.

On my first night of cooking, I made mushroom brown rice coup with a shortcut nicoise salad and, for dessert, a ginormous strawberry souflee. I spent about two and a half hours trying to prepare this meal, the first hour of it I had spent chopping mushrooms, onions and other vegetables. After carefully (and almost being painfully obsessively cautious) pouring the soup into a snow-white bowl and tossing the french salad (it was slightly spicy because the dressing contained dijon mustard and white vinegar, plus a toss of chopped shallot), I felt like I had just finished running a 5-mile marathon. I was completely exhausted yet totally satisfied that I had made it through my first session of for-real meal cooking, and my family was surprised and excited about what I had accomplished. They did also sprinkle a few pieces of advice about what to do next time I make this meal, like how I should add more salt, more mushrooms, and more dressing to the salad.
Plus, when I donated a half hour after dinner to make the soufflee, it turned out delicious but it also made me realize that I don't like the way soufflees taste, so I decided to never make a soufflee again.

I guess that's where the wonder of learning comes in, where you sometimes just have to make a mistake in discovering an unknown territory in order to realize how you feel about it, and whether or not you are willing to set your foot in that territory again. I, as a beginner cook, made the mistake (I guess that's the work I would use to describe it, but not my family because I guess they enjoyed the dessert) of making the soufflee, and therefore I realized that I do not like soufflees. (And if you are reading this blog, please excuse me if I've spelled the last gajillion mentions of the word "soufflee" because I did see the red underlining that comes up when you've spelled a word wrong, but for some reason I can not use the right-click button to correct it.)

On the second night, I re-tossed up the nicoise salad that went along with a dish named (in the cookbook) Chicken with Pears and Marsala. I was ecstatic to make this, but the problem was that I didn't have time to buy the specific type of pears (Bosc or Anjou pears), and that I didn't have marsala wine. But my parents suggested that I pick some of our backyard-grown japanese pears from the tree we have, and that I pour out the wine from a random bottle we had stored in a cupboard above our refrigerator. At first I was frustrated by these ideas because I wanted to make the meal based solely on every little detail that the recipe conveyed, but by the time I had finished washing and chopping the japanese (not Bosc/Anjou!...I sometimes still burst out in frustration at that) pears I decided to try and embrace the new and unexpected. Also, that perhaps I may run into something even better than what I thought the recipe would hold in store for me.
When I once again sat down to eat the dinner with my family, my parents were again (as always) encouraging and appreciative of the finishing product. I felt that the cooked pears were a little crunchier than I wanted, but then I was surprised by how nicely that complimented with the soft juiciness of the chicken that was almost smothered in the wine (and I was also surprised to discover how much tastier the chicken had turned out when I added the wine, regardless of what kind of wine it was :) ).

From that night on, I decided to let go of the notion that I always have to follow a recipe that I would turn to, and that I can use my inventiveness and creativity sometimes to make my own spin of that recipe.
That's why, last night, I cooked (not the slaving-in-the-chamber-we-call-"kitchen" type of cooking, but undeniably the Oh-I-can't-wait-to-watch-my-family-eat-what-I-am-making type of cooking!) something I made up slightly based on the "chicken with pears and marsala"--It was chicken and wine with a stir-fry of chopped nectarines, apples, red bell peppers, and onions, along with walnuts, cinnamon and curry powder.

I ended up enjoying this meal almost as much as the other two meals I had made, probably because it was much sweeter with the addition of fruit that I had thought of.

But even more than that, it must have been the great feeling of accomplishment I got and haven't yet let go of, by my discovery that I have the potential to take anything beyond the pages of a recipe.

Bean out.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Parisian Waves

I love the smell and sound of the rain.

I love the booming voices of laughter and lively conversation that seem to bounce around the brightly-colored walls of the Starbucks store, as I occasionally feel even more at home by the coffee machines doing their work to make the cups of heavenly warmth that every person undoubtedly loves.

I also love the first few moments of daytime when I wake up, and I look outside my window but all that I see and hear and feel is the light chirping of the morning birds that brighten up the world from its deep sleep.

Another sound that I adore is the one a person living in a beach house would feel attached to; the sound whose word seems to be the only word that person may find in the dictionary, because it's the only sound that communicates with them to their very core, bringing them an ultimate sense of peace that should never be interrupted by the normal stresses of life (jobs, etc.); and that sound is no other than the ocean crashing along the shore.

A beach house owner may always be given the feeling of freedom to flee (wow, that's a nice alliteration I just added) whenever he/she wants, from whatever stress they would feel at the time, or just for the many times they feel like wrapping him/herself in the refreshing blanket that the sea and the atmosphere within the beach house throws on them.

Why should not everybody own a beach house? It seems like such a rarity, but that's probably because the area that I live in has the type of climate that doesn't often allow for that kind of relaxation...Yet regardless of the weather, you would always be given the chance to enjoy yourself resting comfortably in a cozy chair on your balcony, while watching the crisp, blue pulses of the ocean pulling back and forth in front of you, with newer layers of sand piling in uneven yet perfect layers in this almost fairytale setting.

Part of my future plan is to buy a beach house, which you probably would have figured out by now :) . Not only have I already set my mind to this goal, but I have also thought (however not yet decided) about how I'd like to decorate it.

Lately, during my past few visits at Barnes & Noble, I've found myself wandering about the home decorating section in the magazine rack. I remember picking up a very heavy and thick, yet softly-pictured in calm shades of blue, magazine about the Parisian style of home decorating; I thought of purchasing it, until I discovered that the price was much higher than I would have wanted :P .

But that doesn't mean I'm still not scavenging for suitable bundles of creativity (aka home decorating magazines :D). Hopefully, I'll soon come across one that speaks the very same view of a "perfect home" to me as the way that I've spoken these ideas to myself.

However, I'm not perfectly sure how I would want my future beach house--or any house in general that I may buy in my future--to look like, whether I want it to look modern with its walls almost suffocatingly covered with paintings by people I've never heard of (though if I think about that idea longer I may like my house to look that way, since I love paintings regardless of who created them out of their inner images; I shouldn't be pessimistic about that); or if I want my home to look French and fancy, with laces and curtains matching the exact shade of the pillow cases;

Or if I want my future place to contain a look based entirely on my first instincts, my truthful preferences, and my personality; the way to decorate this way would be if I went along with pieces of the house instead of deciding firmly what to do with the entire place at once.

This is how my mind works in every situation. I don't like to decide on one big, general thing and act on it without ever changing my decision; I feel like if I want something to look the way I want it, even if I'm just talking about this blog I'm typing right now, I would rather decide little by little what I want to do in each part and have everything broken down.

With this method, I have felt more confident with my decisions because if I made a decision all in one, I would have eventually altered it because of some problems/mix-ups I would have run into along the way.

This is the way I think of things, though I don't want to stay firm on it; I would like to be open to different ways to deal with obstacles, challenges, and successes.

And whether or not I am feeling stressed out by it, there is never a time where I wouldn't like to stop to think about the things that I love, such as the rain, the morning birds, and the crashing ocean waves. :)

Bean out.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


I feel like food is one of the most important things a human could even begin to feel grateful for having in his or her life...I even come to the point of worshipping food, and any food, even if I were talking about a small chipped piece of walnut found abandoned and stuck in the corner of a container...Is it normal for me to think of food this way?

When I get hungry, meaning in my definition if I haven't eaten in at least two hours, I become increasingly anxious and occasionally my heartbeat quickens as if I'm watching a very, very slow second-hand of a clock trying to push upward against gravity to reach past the last fragments of time for a boring science class to finish and to release me into the warm, open arms of freedom (not that I ever hated science class that much in high school, but when I talk about it as a simile to my hunger for food I feel like I detested it). And if I do find that food stands within my near reach, or in the comfort of my kitchen, I grab a small handful of walnuts or a bowl of berries and I am completely satisfied; I feel my entire body relax and back in its natural (and rightful) state as I munch slowly to take in every spark of taste that seems to appear in my imagination, and I can't help but automatically look forward to the next time that I can eat.

But if I see that food cannot be found close to me, I instantly panic and I feel detached from my mind and sanity, as my heartbeat quickens even more and I forget all the thoughts that preceded the thoughts I had about what I should eat.
I then lose all capacity to think of anything other than food--anything other than the possibility of allowing a spoon of vanilla frozen yogurt to melt on my tongue, or the familiar feeling of a warm stream of Starbucks chai latte flowing down my throat and into the very core of my inner peace and serenity. Nor can I throw out the luminous dream of hearing the light sizzles of a pan smothered in olive oil, as I make myself a cheese omelette while my ears are decorated by the soothing melodies of French music coming from my stereo near the kitchen.

If more and more time passes on of not eating food (perhaps because I have forgotten to bring food to a meeting where no snacks are served; or because I am sitting in Barnes & Noble that's right next to a Starbucks and I had already made up my mind that day that I won't spend any more money that week), I become convinced that the time is moving slower and slower almost to a stop. My frustration adds up and I can no longer breathe. And my mood begins to plummet as I become desperate even to the point of thinking I could munch on Starbucks napkins right now.

But once I start munching on those walnuts or start taking out the chilly low-fat yogurt, blueberries and the crunchy cereal from the cabinet and fridge to make myself a parfait, I am relieved and have come back to life. My sanity comes back to me like an old friend, and I tell it that it needs to work harder to stay with me the next time this disaster happens. I have pursued the seemingly-distant dream of satisfying my stomach and my inner being, and I am proud to have accomplished it.

Sometimes, I think about the scene in the adorable movie Something's Gotta Give where Jack Nicholson's character and Diane Keaton's character find themselves in bathrobes and pjs in the middle of the night, standing barefoot in the kitchen and making pancakes, discovering that they have a meaningful connection with each other. And when Erica (Diane Keaton's character) begins to leave the kitchen because she remembers that Harry (Jack Nicholson's character) is dating her daughter (if this phrase that you just read has shocked you because you haven't seen the movie, and the phrase has therefore distracted you from the point of this blog, please watch the movie so that you can get the real perspective of it since it's not that scandalous in the movie), Harry hopefully (and somewhat sadly) asks her, "You don't want pancakes anymore?"
That question always struck me during the movie no matter how many times I've watched it, because it really shows the way that food can play alternate roles in people's lives when we least expect it. If Erica and Harry hadn't arranged to meet in the kitchen, and Erica hadn't offered to make pancakes for the two of them, they might have missed their chance to see themselves in each other's eyes. (Wow, that phrase could not have sounded cheesier :P).

And do I want pancakes anymore? Of course I do, because I just heard my stomach growl and I am hungry for some leftover pancakes I made for my family just this morning. :)

here it goes!

Bean out.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Running through the path

So this morning, the first thing I did after waking up--even after I gazed outside at the what people call dreary and muggy (yet normal, in the Seattle area at least) weather of gray clouds--was deciding that I'd go out jogging at the downtown park. My mother seemed surprised when I shared this decision with her, when she invited me to do aerobics with her; I even surprised myself in fact, since usually I like to stay indoors when it's cold outside.

On my drive to the park, I felt as if no thoughts had entered my mind, which is an extreme rarity in my case. I had the radio on, as always, and I kept changing the stations because almost every other one was in the middle of commercials (I'm someone who has absolutely NO patience for radio commercials!!). But eventually, I left myself listening to a jazz station, leaving me at peace for the rest of the ride.

Once I got there and began walking towards the circular path while trying to untangle my ipod earphone wires, I immediately realized how cold the air was especially comparing to the amazingly (yet sometimes frustrating) hot weather we had in the weeks before. Though I'm someone who prefers cold to hot--partially because that means I get to wear scarves and cute jackets--, these first few minutes of walking were a little difficult.

But as I got to running through the path surrounded by trees and green while listening to U2, Carla Bruni, and the rushing waters coming down in the waterfall next to me, I felt myself becoming totally immersed in the atmosphere, even when I could feel my cheeks becoming stiff and cold (which explained how hard it was for me to smile when people walked past me). I could feel the nature-loving part of myself emerge, and maybe that was the reason I ended up running an entire mile without stopping! I also ended up walking another mile, after which I needed to take a break so I rested on one of the benches for a few minutes; I could feel myself begin to fall sleep, but even with my eyelids feeling heavy I looked up towards the rustling, pure-green leaves floating in the cool breeze, and I already felt as if I dozed off into a dream.

On my drive back home (actually, scratch that--I drove to Barnes & Noble, which is literally my second home considering the number of times I go and how comfortable I feel there), I had a strong sense of pride, exhaustion, and peace hovering about me. The jazz music on the radio wasn't enough to satisfy me, so I decided to pull down one of the windows so that I could hear the noises of the city roll inside my car (the sound of cars rolling by, pedestrians in mid-conversation, etc.).

I would share with you my millionth trip to B&N, but that would lead me to write another gazillion pages, as I don't want to break any of my fingers, so I'll leave this blog as it is now :) .

Bean out.