4/10/2019

Digging spring

 

I'm growing up and I'm also leveling up as a PNW-er (no pun intended).

In other words, I'm starting to garden. (Ahoy!)

Instead of just looking forward to summer, I'm reveling in spring and soaking it up.


Well before March 21, I started counting down the days until I could put some seeds into the ground.


I've tried - and failed - before at a garden, so this year, we are taking it small. We are essentializing. Whatever each of us really wants - enough to take care of - we get to plant. 


I've put in some mesclun, a few Easter egg radishes, some peas and cucumbers. We'll get four blueberry bushes - one for each kiddo. I also scattered a box of wildflower seeds I got from the Dollar Tree. We'll see what happens.

Theo picked and arranged this little bouquet.
I'm not one for instruction manuals, so I needs must accept with full responsibility what results (or doesn't) this year. 


Either way, in taking a page from Emily P. Freeman, Thursdays have become my gardening day: we get our hands in the dirt, plant another row of lettuce, weed, water, check on the yard as a whole. Basically, I channel Michelle Obama.

It doesn't mean that we can't do any gardening on the other days of the week (we do), but Thursday is intentionally set aside to make progress on it. I love seeing how much happens in just 7 days.

Tell me what you are growing this time of year! (In your literal garden, or just your life, y'know.)

2/14/2019

Gold for us, or, Brainless Crowdpleasers

As promised, here is our family's list of BCPs. Note that it includes some take-out, eat-out, and frozen options. It's not limited to just what we can prepare from scratch; it's a list of what we can have for dinner that should mostly please everyone at the table. A lot of them are similar - permutations of each other - and that's okay. In fact, that's part of why this works.

I didn't do the exact math, but I think it's about 75% Asian, the reason for which I expounded upon in my previous post.

This is close to the order in which I originally brainstormed them, so you'll see funny associations and a lot of things grouped together because one thing made me think of another.

Nice to know I had Noona's approval on my list
It seemed weird to write all of them out, but I think that's the beauty of it. Having this list is gold for us, even if it doesn't look like much to anyone else.
  1. Pork egg omelette
  2. Costco rotisserie chicken and rice
  3. Spring rolls (usually with rotisserie chicken)
  4. Rotisserie chicken pho
  5. BĂșn bowls w/ rotisserie chicken or steak (are you sensing a pattern here? ;P)
  6. Thit kho / braised pork belly (Viet-Chinese blend)
  7. Kalbi
  8. Bulgogi that my MIL marinates, freezes, and brings over
  9. Fried pompano from Evergreen Market
  10. Cabbage Patch Soup
  11. Pizza, homemade
  12. Pizza, from Costco
  13. Oxtail soup with noodles or rice, or turned into pho with the addition of fish sauce and rice noodles (we love any of these options with kale boiled in the broth at the last minute and removed)
  14. Pho Asia take out or eat-in
  15. Xuxu (chayote) soup
  16. Canh with ground pork meatballs and opo squash or cabbage
  17. Hamburgers
  18. Homemade Hamburger Helper (I modify this with oregano instead of rosemary, and with minced garlic; also I use a lot more pasta water, and don't always use the full amount of chicken stock)
  19. Pasta with bulk Italian sausage, spinach, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes
  20. Sheet pan chicken
  21. Fried rice
  22. Green bean and egg with rice
  23. Dumplings (frozen), noodles, and vegetable in chicken broth
  24. Cauliflower alfredo fettucine
  25. Vietnamese chicken curry
  26. Golden curry with chicken thighs
  27. Sunday Night Stew
  28. Pot roast
  29. Corned beef and cabbage
  30. Chile verde for tacos or rice bowls
  31. BBQ beef brisket
  32. Whole chicken soup with ginger and garlic
  33. Chicken or pork meatball porridge with Chinese fried donut, cilantro/ginger/green onion
  34. Ginger fried rice
  35. Take-out sullungtang or soondubu
  36. Ground pork sauce over thin spaghetti or Shandong noodles (I posted on something similar once, and have since learned a better marinade for the meat, so I might update that)
  37. Ham and green beans
  38. Ginger chicken - plain or with celery, bell pepper, or whatever other vegetable needs to be used up (a cross between Viet ga kho gung and Chinese ginger chicken)
  39. Steamed spare ribs in black bean sauce
  40. Yakisoba or japchae
  41. Israeli couscous with chicken, zucchini, and tomato (I made this once with orzo and it was a hit, although also a confusing mind trip because orzo is rice-shaped.)
  42. Spaghetti with the marinara on the side
  43. Beef, vegetable, macaroni soup (like minestrone)
Pork egg omelette  (#1 on this list and for good reason) is my shorthand for what some may call coin-purse egg omelettes. This post on Woks of Life has good pictures of what they look like when you make them the "real" way - they really look like coin purses of egg filled with ground pork inside, and you can make them smaller to make them kid-sized. 

My mom made them this way growing up, but I do a simplified version that works for us, and is faster. It doesn't look nearly as pretty, hence the lack of pictures here, but it tastes the same to me.

You basically marinate ground pork in what my mom would call "the standard marinade" (the ingredients of which would remain a mystery to me until I got into my 30s - maybe she was waiting for me to reach Mom Status before she revealed to me these secrets??), saute the meat, then, pour beaten eggs over it.

I use my spatula to cut the "omelette" into fourths, and then carefully flip over each quarter and let them cook until set. You can add green onions if you're feeling fancy, and then serve over rice. 

This is a basic weeknight meal that usually goes over well with kids because it's not meat that requires intensive chewing. ;)

Pork Egg Omelette

Marinate 16-20 oz ground pork in salt (~1/2 t), a couple rounds of soy sauce, a swirl of sesame oil, 1-2 t corn starch, ~1/4 cup water, and couple of good shakes of ground white pepper. I usually mix this up with a fork.

Heat up a skillet over medium high heat. Add a swirl of oil, and brown all the meat. While the meat is browning, crack 3-4 eggs into a bowl, add a splash of water and beat with a fork. (Ultimately I will do this twice, so maybe you might just want to start with 6-8? For some reason, I do each batch separately.) I bet that a dash of shiaoxing wine in the egg mixture would be awesome.

When the meat is browned, remove half of it to a plate. Spread out the other half in the pan. Pour the beaten egg mixture (or half of it, if you've beat the full amount) over the ground pork and let cook until you think it's ready to cut into four pieces and flip them over. 

Repeat the process with the other half of the meat. Serve with green onions (which could have also gone into the egg), rice, and extra soy sauce for those who wish.

Emi's drawing of multi-colored fried eggs, with crocheted "chicky" on the side
--

I'll gradually work on adding more recipes for these BCPS, but feel free to comment if you'd like me to bump up a certain recipe in the queue. 

--

Also, this list seems heavily fall/winter influenced. I wonder if I'll add/update when spring and summer come around.

...which, at this rate, doesn't seem like will ever arrive.

But until then, we'll keep enjoying Kayla's snow cream (milk, sugar, and vanilla poured over snow).

1/27/2019

Exponentially better


I wanted to share a little bit about how our meal planning paradigm has slowly shifted. I recently took a course with the Lazy Genius called The Meal Plan. It costed actual cash dollars, and while I would have gladly paid for it even if it didn't work (because everything else I've already learned from her has been worth it), it did help me a lot and I'm really thankful.

I have complained so much about meal planning and tried many different methods. And while my currently meal planning game is far from 100% right now, it's exponentially better, and I have Kendra to thank for it.

It's awkward, because I want to share, but I don't want to give away for free what she has worked hard on and is part of her business and livelihood... does that make sense? So I emailed her to see how I might do this respectfully. She basically gave me the green light and simply asked that I include a link to the course. There's a wait list currently, but you can sign up to be notified when it opens up again. I highly recommend it.

I hope that by sharing what I've learned, it might help you, and also, I'm really interested in more conversations about food, culture, and family. Perhaps you'll read through the lines to see what I mean, and what I've been thinking and wrestling about lately.

--

One huge component of Kendra's Meal Plan is to have in your arsenal a list of Brainless Crowd Pleasers. This is a physical list of meals that please your crowd - your people, your family, you. You draw from this when you are making your meal plan.

It's so simple and obvious that I missed it. I kept thinking about what "normal" families eat (or what they "should" eat, or what kid might like to eat) instead of thinking, What does my family truly like to eat?

Thinking about this turned on its head the question I usually ask. And now, instead of trying to figure out to modify the meals I want to cook/eat into meals my family will eat, I now think about how to plan meals around the foods I know my family will eat.

I can safely say that Kathy, Theo, and Emilyn are more particular and more limited in their preferences than are David and I. Instead of seeing this change as catering to them in a "selling out" sort of way, I am now relieved that when I cook something I know Kathy likes, it usually turns out that Theo, Emilyn, David, and I all love it, too.

And these foods tend to fall in the Asian (and particularly, Southern Chinese and Vietnamese) spectrum.

(Theo doesn't care for tomato sauce, so spaghetti is off our rotation. It doesn't mean we never eat it, but I try to change my default mentality that it could be incorporated with regularity. I'll just find myself banging my head on the wall if I do so.)

Don't get me wrong, I am *happy* to eat Asian food. I just don't usually think of it first when I think of what I'm craving. Ironically, this is because it is like background noise to me, like water to a fish. When I think about what I want to eat, it's Mexican, Indian, or Mediterranean. (Or, lbh, McDonald's.)

But eating Asian? It just doesn't come to mind.

However, when I smell julienned ginger hitting a hot pan with sesame oil, I am immediately transported to my mom's kitchen, Ratatouille-style. The same goes for preparing green onions, cilantro, ginger: the Chinese Holy Trinity.

In our second- and third- generation Asian-American household, I used to think of making bao or steamed anything was a special occasion.

Now I take out the steamer on a weekly basis, and it feels surprisingly natural.

Everyone is happier food-wise, and as the kitchen's chief executive director/operator, I couldn't be more pleased.

This is the game changer.

Yes, it's fascinating to me that where we landed was: what works for us is to plan, cook, and eat more Asian food. But it's maybe even more interesting to me that choosing to "settle" for What My Family Eats (even if it's not what I always feel like cooking or eating) is ultimately way easier for me because it takes the anxiety/pressure off wondering if my family will appreciate the effort I put into meals.

--

And so begins what may become a series of posts on food and meal planning. List of our Brainless Crown Pleasers (BCPs) forthcoming.

Tell me about you! How are your food habits similar/different to when you grew up? How has your environment, geography, and intercultural/interracial connections shaped your development of food habits?

--

P.S. This article entitled "Our Idea of Healthy Eating Excludes Other Cultures, And That's A Problem"* was an interesting one sent to me by my friend Marla after we talked about intuitive eating and how that could help us better take into account cultural differences.

*Marla, I'm getting self-conscious about referencing an article in front of an English professor... it's supposed to be in quotes and not italicized, right? ;P

P.P.S. I'm happy to report that more than a year later, we are pretty much still using our days-of-the-week mnemonic for our breakfast routine. The slight modification is that Tuesdays may have more tater tots than tacos, and that Friday's Fried Eggs sometimes come in the form of French Toast.

1/16/2019

A few randoms, IV

#shelfie
1. Theo and Emi have been obsessed with chickens and eggs lately. (We also got three new Barred Rock chicks last Friday!) A couple weeks ago, Theo created an imaginary friend/chickie that he has named Eggy, and it's made of one of my knit hats stuffed with socks wrapped inside a towel. The two have since gathered more knit hats and made more "chickies" with these. Last night Emi asked me to crochet her a tiny hat for one. It's about the size of a cotton ball and perfect for her newest chickie. They love making nests and coops for their chickies.

2. Mari Andrew was on Forever35 talking about how even in her dream job (of being artist, I assume she means), she realizes how important it is to start the day with gratitude as a self-care practice. I enjoyed listening to this segment beginning around 41 minutes (Episode 38).

3. My friends Kayla and Marla and I have been talking and thinking about the concept of intuitive eating as brought up in The Lazy Genius and Healthy Eating episode which was very intriguing and provocative. If you give it a listen, let me know what you think!

4. If you need some laughs, check out this funny list of mom memes that my brother, of all people, sent me.

5. I have been desperately wanting more houseplants and found some new fun ones I'm super excited about. I even made a simple macrame plant hanger for one of them (not shown, because lighting is bad in basement, which is precisely why plants are needed to cheer up the space).


5b. Speaking of the basement, we've recently shifted the indoor trampoline that was in the basement out to the carport (which wasn't being well utilized) so that the basement could be more of a playroom/office/studio. Changes! Good changes, for once. ;p Transforming the carport into a covered, outdoor play space has been awesome for winter. I self-five myself for my great ideas.

6. This isn't anything that new to our life/routine but I want to capture it here on my blog because I'm sure I'll forget in the years to come. A lot of our evenings these days look like me and David alternating nights going gai gai (outing in Cantonese) with Kathy, while the littles sleep. TJMaxx, Target, Michaels, and Winco are some of regular destinations.

7. My meal planning game has really been upped since I took a course with The Lazy Genius. I plan on sharing more about that in this space soon. Stay tuned!

8. Another thing I am likely to forget about in the future is how long this current phase with Cori has felt. She's a little over four months now and up until this last week has not fallen asleep for bed before 10 or 11pm. For many weeks it was midnight or 1am. David and I got used to staying up late doing things but it was exhausting (probably especially for David who usually gets up at 5am). Now she's finally creeping up on an earlier bedtime and it's wonderful. Also, her naps are so irregular compared to T + E (although as my friend Kelli pointed out, Theo and Emilyn were probably both "my worst sleeper" when they were in that stage, too, lol). I've tried so many different waketime lengths and frequently end up with 45 minute naps. So these last couple of days I'm also keeping her up longer (much longer than I did with T + E) and seeing some moderate success. But we shall see.

It's rilly hard to be mad at this face, tho.
We are obsessed with her dough-soft cheeks. Kathy came up with the nickname Cori bao (or cork-u-bao, a blend of porcupine and cha siew bao). We also call her Corky.

9. I'm crocheting another blanket and am excited for how it will turn out. It's nice to have a project where I can see progress and growth!

10. Theo and Emilyn are saying the funniest things and I need to do a round-up of all those quotes here soon. For now, here's something that just happened yesterday:
Theo (eating gyoza): Mama, what are these dumplings called? (Because we usually eat boiled dumplings and not pan-fried.)
Me: Well, you could call them gyoza or potstickers.
Theo: Oh, okay. I really like these potstickers!

11. I started my own One Line A Day journal using a beautiful Moleskine journal my friend Kayla had gotten me years ago that was too pretty to write in. The mint green is just so on point. We will see how long this lasts. So far I have written a sentence for Jan 8-15 :D

1/07/2019

Ahoy!

I feel like Bob Wiley from the scene in What About Bob? where he says, "I'm sailing! I'm a sailor! I sail!" 

Y'all. I paint now. I'm a painter! I'm painting!


Kathy's amazing artwork has inspired me to try watercolor. I was really scared at the beginning because I did it as a child and really was not very good at it. 

In grad school, I took a community class in oil painting and had a lot of fun with that medium. I liked that I could really mix stuff as I was going, and didn't have to worry about it drying. It felt analogous to cooking (vs. baking) where I could adjust as I went. Watercolor seemed like you had to think things through and then have only one shot at it.


I'm not sure if it's the new modern watercolor style that's easier, or that I'm approaching it differently now. Youtube tutorials help a lot, too. So crazy how you can just learn anything these days, from the comfort of your home.

With little kids around I haven't touched oil painting in years; it's nice to have watercolor because I can pick it up whenever and just paint in the margins (literally and figuratively). 


We love to use the cheap sketchbooks from Michael's (Kathy and I joke that the best artwork always turns out on the cheapest paper). They are Artist's Loft brand, and just $5. I used to get the bigger journals because you technically get more for your money, but now I like the small ones because it's easier to take out and also there's less pressure to fill a page.


So far I'm mostly doing botanicals and lettering; perhaps I'll branch out (ha) to other subjects eventually.


I want to host an art night sometime. If anyone is interested let me know! We'll pop in What About Bob? and do some painting!

12/26/2018

Art Gallery




Kathy let me host an art gallery to display and sell her art!!! She has been doodling and painting a lot lately and her work is amazing, so I suggested we host a small gallery in our home.





The primary goal was to put herself out there (a huge step for any artist, or let's face it, any human person), and if she made any money, that would just be gravy.

Prior to the show, she opened a fortune cookie that said, "Everything will now come your way."



She had a lot of framed original watercolor pieces, some matted prints (next time we will do more but it's a lot of work!), and handmade cards.



It was a huge success; she felt like people were fighting over her paintings like it was Black Friday. Guests also purchased stuff that she was planning on throwing away. (Accordingly, we made a "sale" basket of odds and ends and people enjoyed sifting through it.)

She also received the compliment of many commissions and reproductions.

One of my favorites. My friend who purchased this for her aunt said she will make sure her aunt appreciates it, or else she will take it back ;P
We are so proud of our daughter and so thankful for the friends, family members, and mentors who came out so support her!

11/28/2018

THANKSGIVING 2018

(Christine, this is silly but I am channeling you in my post title ;p)


I was so happy with my Thanksgiving tablescape this year that I had to post pictures.


I saw this a year or two ago and haven't been able to get it out of my mind. Since I recently learned some brush lettering (thank you Kathy!), I decided to attempt my own version of it this year.


I wasn't quite sure when/how I was going to get this all done, but in the back of my mind, decorating the table was my "fun extra" that wasn't critical to the day/meal, but that would be the one thing I really wanted to do for myself. (See Note To Self #6.) It was quite a tension for me to hold during the day: that I really, really wanted to do something I may not end up getting to do.


With little kids around, I couldn't set the table before lunch. And while Cori's naps aren't coordinated yet with Emi's, I still managed to get the decorating done in the afternoon, before dinner.

I started with laying out the paper (from a kid's roll of easel paper). I couldn't find my burlap fabric that I sometimes use as a runner, so I folded up a coffee bag in half lengthwise.



There isn't much non-evergreen greenery outside anymore, so I took a philodendron from the mantel and spread out the vines (?). I added candles and various pumpkins we had accumulated this fall.

I traced dinner plates with my Tombow brush pens and then brush lettered the names. Instead of drawing the utensils (which was super cute in my inspo pic), I simply set the table with utensils and napkins. For dinner service, we set the plates at the buffet.





I didn't have enough time to decorate the buffet as well as I would have liked to - the 6-foot folding table we used for it had become the temporary dining table (where the kiddos usually craft and play all day) so I couldn't claim that early enough. I prioritized the dinner table and chose to be satisfied with that. Later I realized I had a lot more pumpkins around (especially on the front porch), which I could have grabbed to make a display with greater impact.

It was fun to have a paper table cloth and perhaps it was the inspiration for others to do art after dinner.



In terms of the food, some highlights this year were that David smoked the turkey, and made a sweet potato pie with ginger. Other than that, my mom and I prepped our classic family dishes.

Past Thanksgivings:
Thanksgiving 2014 | Friendsgiving 2016