Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On joining the club, and chicken tinola.

I knew that becoming a mother would be like joining a club of sorts, with an initiation of birthing a human and a common lifetime goal of not killing the kid, but I don't think I knew the extent of it until I started creating a baby registry. You guys, parenthood isn't just a club -- it's an alien universe with its own special language (terms like "babywearing," "nipple confusion" and "Woombie" are common in everyday conversation), transportation devices (infant seat, umbrella stroller or complete travel system with one-handed folding capabilities?) and food beliefs (breastfed, formula fed, baby-led weaning...). And of course, each baby item comes along with personal horror stories ranging from "this product is mildly annoying" to "my baby almost died using this." Yikes.

I'm also learning that over thinking and overwhelming often go hand in hand. So while I'm welcoming any advice that moms have to offer, I'm trying to remember that this baby isn't coming into the world perfectly accessorized -- that there will be some trial and error and tears and triumphs, and in order to really decide between the Maya Wrap and the Ergo and the Baby Bjorn, I'm just going to have to strap the kid to my chest and see what happens. 

While the baby registry has me backing away slowly, one thing that I can't help but want to dive right into is feeding the kid. I'm already fantasizing about family dinners around the kitchen table, where Mom, Dad and Kid each have their own individual French bread pizza customized to their liking (pepperoni for Dad, fresh tomato for Mom, and hopefully something somewhat nutritious for Kid). Introducing him to Filipino foods like pancit, adobo, lumpia. Helping him discover how he likes his eggs cooked. Creating memories rooted in the flavors of his childhood. 

I watched this great video about Ashley's blog Not Without Salt (scroll to the bottom of Ashley's post to watch) and her approach to cooking as it relates to her family. In it she says: 

"I can't be everything for these little people, but what I can do is give them a good meal and help facilitate these memories around different tastes and different smells and different moments, and we can spend time cooking together in the kitchen. And to me that seems simple, but it's so much, and I recognize that it is a gift for them." 

Then I read an article in the latest Saveur (after Murdo read it and told me he thought I would like it because of how it tied together childhood memories and food, and because there was a reference to the goodness that is slow cooked bone marrow -- he knows me so well) about a woman going through a divorce and finding happiness, if only just for a brief moment, in a favorite dish her mother cooked all day, just for her.

I can't help but hope that my own child will find comfort in the food we make for him. That the smell of garlic sizzling in hot oil will always remind him of home, and that he'll make a special place in his heart for his dad's grilled cheese sandwiches. And when he's feeling sick or sad, a piping hot bowl of chicken tinola would be enough to lift his spirits. 



Chicken Tinola
Filipino chicken tinola is traditionally made with papaya, although I grew up eating it with chayote, a small, mild-flavored green squash that can be found at an Asian produce market. My grocery store didn't have chayote squash on the particular weekend I was craving this dish, so I substituted broccoli, which my mom would often do as well.

My mom's method involves bone-in chicken parts, and instead of broth, she uses (clean) water reserved from the final (typically third or fourth) rinse of the jasmine rice with which the tinola is served. For convenience sake, I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs and canned chicken broth. I also added a handful of frozen spinach, because when you're growing a little human, you can probably never have enough green vegetables.

With all these adaptations to the original recipe, this might not even look like authentic tinola. It certainly didn't look like my mom's. But it tasted like home, and that's all that matters to me.

2 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 inch of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
1 small onion, sliced
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 14-oz can chicken broth
1 cup water
1 big bunch of broccoli, cut into florets (or 3 medium chayote squash, peeled and cut into large pieces)
Handful of fresh or frozen spinach (if frozen, thaw under running water and squeeze dry) - optional
Cooked white or brown rice, for serving

Heat oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger and onion, and cook a few minutes until fragrant and the onions are soft and translucent. Add the chicken and cook a few minutes more, then add the fish sauce. Season with ground black pepper and cook the chicken, stirring and flipping until slightly browned and the juices run clear. Add broth and water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and add the broccoli. Cook until the broccoli is soft but not mushy, or cooked to your desired texture. (If using chayote, cook until tender when pierced with a fork.) Add the spinach, if using, and heat through until wilted. 

Serve over rice. Makes about 4 servings.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

4 Years. With Pork Meatball Banh Mi and a Gender Reveal.



Murdo and I got married four years ago today, on a private lake in Michigan. After we said our vows, we celebrated in a big white tent with 150 of our closest friends and family.

Today, where that big white tent once stood, there is a house. A house that Murdo's parents built -- are still building -- into a new Michigan home, where summer weekends in Michigan as we once knew them will change from long days and nights of drinking on the deck, drinking on the boat, drinking around the fire, to early mornings with kiddos running around, barefoot and sticky-faced, ready for a day of swimming and wiffle ball and hot dogs and chasing fireflies and making s'mores. It will take some adjusting, to say the least, but just like we knew four years ago that the step we were taking was so, so right, we know that this next step -- this leap, really -- is right, too.


In the eating-for-two department, I'm happy to report that my taste for vegetables has returned (and with it, Murdo's complaints about the smell of steamed broccoli), I no longer crave the feel of my mouth burning from spice after every bite of food, and I now have enough energy to plan meals, go grocery shopping and cook dinner again. Woohoo! Let's eat pork meatball sandwiches!

Specifically, pork meatball banh mi sandwiches. I had my first banh mi sandwich a few years ago, from a Vietnamese restaurant in Wicker Park that no longer exists. Since then, I have been on the hunt for a good banh mi sandwich in the suburbs. I found a place close by that's good but not great. Then I found this recipe that's really good, that I've made twice, the leftovers quickly polished off. The last go around I realized that these meatballs would freeze beautifully (because I foresee the "Freezer Friendly" meal becoming my best friend very soon), and if you're not in the mood for a sandwich, I've found that tossing all the innards with some rice and a healthy squirt of sriracha makes an excellent lunch. 


Also: IT'S A BOY.* 

Pork Meatball Bahn Mi Sandwiches (from Bon Appetit)
For me, what makes the banh mi is the combination of flavorful Asian-style meat with the crunchy, quick-pickled vegetables, sprigs of fresh cilantro and creamy, spicy sriracha mayo. I say "Asian-style" meat because I think any kind of salty meat with Asian flavors will work. I've been meaning to try making it with these pork skewers, and I bet even Korean BBQ would be good (like bulgogi or galbi). 

These pork meatballs, though. They took me about an hour to prepare, cook and assemble into sandwiches, which is a little longer than I like to be making dinner on a weeknight, but they're simple and delicious enough that I've added this recipe to the regular rotation. Even better would be making them ahead of time and keeping them in the fridge or freezer until ready to eat.  

Sriracha Mayo
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sriracha

Stir together mayo and sriracha, and add more sriracha to your taste. Set aside in the fridge.

Quick Pickled Vegetables
2 cups carrots, cut into thin matchsticks(I used bagged pre-shredded carrots from Trader Joe's)
2 cups radishes, cut into thin matchsticks
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Combine ingredients in a medium bowl, and let stand at room temperature for an hour, tossing occasionally. 

Meatballs
1 lb ground pork
1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
salt and pepper

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Using your hands, gently mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. Use a tablespoon to scoop meat, and roll the mixture into about 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. I ended up with about 30 meatballs. If you're not cooking them right away, cover and chill until ready to cook.

Sandwiches
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 French baguette, cut into 6-inch long pieces (or however long you want your sandwich to be)
Thinly sliced jalapeno
Fresh cilantro sprigs

Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet or cast iron skillet over medium high heat. In batches (don't overcrowd!), add meatballs and, turning often, saute until brown on all sides and completely cooked through, about 15 minutes. I used a meat thermometer to make sure they were an internal temperature of 160 F. Transfer cooked meatballs to a clean plate and repeat with remaining meatballs, adding more oil to skillet if needed. 

Cut each baguette piece horizontally, either completely in half or left with a hinge, whichever you prefer. Pull out enough bread to leave a 1/2-inch thick shell, or to a thickness you want. (Pulling out the bread is a genius move that I just discovered! More room for innards!) 

Spread sriracha mayo on the bread, then fill your sandwich with meatballs (I used 4-5), jalapenos, pickled veggies and cilantro. Add an extra squirt of sriracha for even more kick. 

Now eat! Baby Boy is hungry! :)

*Because we're impatient, we paid out-of-pocket to find out the sex of the baby at one of those 3D ultrasound places that will tell you baby's sex as early as 15 weeks. So while most expecting parents find out at their 20-week ultrasound at the doctor's office, we found out at 16. As of today, I'm 16 weeks and 6 days, And this little guy just keeps on growing!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The past 14 weeks.

School has started, which means Murdo and I wake up around the same time, silently wishing for double sinks in the bathroom as we stumble around slowly, bleary-eyed, through the early mornings. It also means longer commutes, and shorter days, and a constant mess of second graders' drawings and math tests cluttered around our family room.


And oh, it means summer is over. How did that happen?

This summer, besides not writing here, I have managed to NOT do the following:

- Pick up another camera besides my iPhone.
- Go to the gym.
- Eat the giant cucumbers spilling from our vegetable garden.
- Weekly laundry. 
- Cook much of anything besides bacon for BLTs. 
- Wake up earlier than 10am on a weekend. 

But but BUT! Before you go thinking that I am a complete sloth, here is a list of my accomplishments in the past three months:


- Sunk my toes into a white sand beach in the Dominican Republic.
- Ate the best grilled lobster of my life, served in the ocean by a man with a tray, a small inflatable raft and a cooler.
- Shucked, blanched, stripped, bagged and froze approximately 100 ears of farm fresh sweet corn.
- Made elotes and corn chowder with said sweet corn.
- Long after-dinner walks with Murdo most days of the week.
- Danced all night long with my closest friends at an epic wedding in Madison.
- Painted interior doors. Painted baseboards and trim. Taped, painted, taped, painted....
- Tomato and mayo sandwiches. YES.
- Made a baby.

OK, that last one can't really be checked off the list quite yet, since Baby isn't due to arrive until early March. But I'm telling myself that the reason for all the items on List 1 is for that last, really big, energy- and appetite-sucking item on List 2.


You guys, Murdo and I are expecting. I've just begun my second trimester, and while I haven't suffered from any nausea (thank goodness!), I have spent most of my summer feeling very tired, very bloated, very hungry or, on those very special days, all three at the same time.


My regular appetite changes on a weekly basis. The first couple weeks, I wanted chicken. Then, cheeseburgers. Lately, spicy foods (yup, it's definitely Murdo's kid in there) -- extra spicy Pad Kee Mao, hot giardiniera straight from the jar, Flaming Hot Cheetos right before bed. Fresh heirloom tomatoes plucked from our little garden, roughly chopped and simmered in butter and salt with several generous shakes of crushed red pepper flakes, tossed with spaghetti and basil. After a brief obsession with beef, my love for vegetables is finally starting to come back. Those poor zucchini and cucumbers from my garden. I've been picking them like crazy, setting them on the kitchen table and ignoring them for weeks. But I did manage to slice, bread and fry a couple of zucchini, and over the weekend, as we prepared food for possibly the last cookout of the season, I shoved a bowl of about 10 cucumbers at my friend Ryan and told him to make something delicious. He delivered a Thai cucumber salad that we served alongside pancit, Filipino BBQ pork skewers and handmade brats we picked up from a local sausage shop. This past weekend we ate well, and laughed hard, and by the time it was over and I was sweeping up stray blades of grass in the kitchen and Murdo was collecting empty beer glasses in the backyard, I felt incredibly happy and excited to be bringing a child into our little world filled with friends and family and food and love. 


Our child. In the year leading up to this pregnancy, as I was mentally preparing myself for the huge life change we decided to jump into, I imagined myself in a constant state of awe that my body would be making a human. This hasn't really been the case, at least not now in these early months, when my growing belly is mostly due to gas and lack of exercise, and it's easy to let the symptoms take over my brain because right now, the symptoms are all I can feel and see. But sometimes, when I let my mind and my body go very still and quiet, I remember that I'm never alone anymore. That there is a tiny human taking shape just below my belly button, and that I'm carrying this tiny human with me everywhere I go, and even though six months from now this tiny human will be a real, live, slightly bigger and more demanding human no longer in my belly, I will still carry him or her with me wherever I go, every day of my life.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Breakfast Rice Bowls


If you scroll through my Instagram feed, among the photos of cats and feet and plants and selfies, you will find pictures of eggs. Fried eggs, on top of stuff. Because Fried Eggs on Top of Stuff is possibly my favorite meal ever. Wondering what to eat for breakfast? Find those leftovers, mix 'em all together, and put a fried egg on it. Ta-daaa! Time to eat.


The "stuff" part of the equation varies depending on what I already have on hand -- toast, ramen, black beans, waffles if I'm feeling ambitious. But the best, hands down, is rice. I've been eating eggs and rice for as long as I can remember, and is quite possibly the reason for my love of runny egg yolk. Nothing sops up that liquid gold like steaming hot rice. Nothing reminds me of breakfast at home, made lovingly by Dad, like eggs and rice.
Lately I've been making brown rice on Saturday mornings -- the super easy frozen Trader Joe's kind, where you just pop the bag in the microwave for three minutes and it's done -- and keeping it on hand for weekend breakfasts or when I'm on my own for weeknight dinner. This morning, I tossed the rice with leftover steak, mushrooms and green beans from last night's dinner, and topped with -- you guessed it -- a fried egg. I took a quick iPhone pic of my breakfast rice bowl (what I've started calling these things in my head lately) and started shoveling it in my mouth, which now that I think about it, is a very accurate description of how I typically eat eggs and rice.
And you guys. It was so good -- enough for me to start thinking, half way through, "I should blog about this. I should take a picture with my camera. How come I never take pictures of these things?" But then I was done eating, because even food bloggers hit a point of no return when so engrossed in a delicious meal that no photo op is going to pull her away.
But it was good enough for me to pull out the laptop, even though it's 70 degrees out right now and I had plans to hit the garden center and pull weeds and rearrange my day lilies in the front yard, to write about it. I realize that most of you already know that eggs and rice is a delicious thing, but I thought, maybe some of you don't? Maybe you've seen other recipes and photos but decided to just stick with eggs and toast? I am here to tell you to make this already, and eat it, and to give you some suggestions for what to add (STEAK! STEAK! STEAK!).
Breakfast Rice Bowls*
I feel kind of silly writing a recipe for this, since really all it involves is scooping some rice in a bowl, mixing in whatever leftovers you find in your fridge, zapping it in the microwave and topping with a fried egg (or two). That's it! But in case you're unsure of what to add in your bowl, below are some suggestions. As I mentioned above, the steak + mushrooms + green beans combo I had was really, really good. Which reminds me -- I have to tell you about cooking mushrooms (or any veggie, or any food, for that matter) in a cast iron skillet. Stay tuned!

What you need:
leftover rice 
1-2 eggs, fried to your liking

Possible additions:
Leftover meats - STEAK! Ham, turkey, rotisserie chicken. Sausage. Whatever you used for taco night (ground beef! shredded chicken! carnitas!). Shrimp, salmon. Or hey, I bet you could mix in that sushi you couldn't finish the night before and that'd be good, too.
Beans - black beans, white beans, chickpeas, edamame.
AVOCADO - It is a happy morning indeed when I have rice, avocado and eggs all on hand. 
Veggies - The asparagus you grilled with the steak would be perfect. Or any vegetable that you served with dinner the night before. Also - corn, tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, green beans, green onions. If I don't have any cooked veggies in the fridge, sometimes I'll quickly saute something in olive oil and set aside. It helps to cut up the veggies in small, bite-size pieces.
Hot sauce - I like Sriracha, Valentina or Frank's.
*Can also be eaten for lunch or dinner. :)