Saturday, September 24th, Day 9
Woke up at about 9am. Phone call with Melissa until 10:30. Taking it easy today. Answering e-mails, checking web sites, studying Chinese characters on the internet.
I called Sailai, my Thai sister. I’m planning to visit her. It looks like November 3rd to November 6th I’ll fly in and out of Bangkok. She is taking me to the Kathin Festival in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Wat, Sailai’s brother, is working up there helping to build a new hospital. He invited Sailai to give a robe to the head Buddhist monk. I will fly up with Sailai with other members of Wat’s family, including his wife and son. I know Wat’s family because I stayed with them for a week when I visited Laos and Thailand in 2007.
I searched the internet for help with my cell phones. It looks like they should work, unless they are locked. The saga continues!
At made an early dinner at 5:30pm. Wish I had a “chef’s cam” to record my cooking so I can share it with all the chefs in my family. I am going to put the recipes for some of the dishes I’m making into this blog. It’s so much fun being able to find all those hard-to-find ingredients!
I remember the first Chinese cookbook I bought when I was 18: “The Chinese Vegetarian Cookbook”. The author’s parents were Chinese Buddhists. In the preface of the cookbook the author talked about going on a pilgrimage with his father. They walked from Buddhist monastery to Buddhist monastery, each one trying to outdo the others with vegetarian meals. The author said he had meals that were amazing, like the vegetarian fish that was made of mashed potato wrapped in a bean curd skin, with bamboo shoots carefully placed inside to imitate a fish skeleton! I liked the recipes in that book, but had to make runs to San Francisco’s Chinatown to get the ingredients.
Tonight’s dinner was deep-fried eggplant, stir fried with onion, mushroom, fungus, and ginger, served in a mushroom water-hoisin-pepper paste sauce.
So many goodies just waiting to be tossed into the wok! I “tongue-ball” the amounts, based on how strong each ingredient is, trying to balance all the flavors. So there is about a cup of eggplant (I should have put 2 to 4 times as much eggplant!), a quarter cup of fungus, a half cup of mushrooms, one onion set (making about a half cup after cutting), and two tablespoons of diced ginger. Note: the fresh ginger is much more mild and less woody than the old ginger. And I don’t peel fresh ginger, just scrub it as necessary with a Tuffy-like pot scrubber.
Get the sauce ready so you’ll have it when you need it at the end of the stir-fry. I used 2/3 cup of the water from the mushrooms and tree fungus. Be sure to avoid the dirt that has settled to the bottom of the bowl. Pour from the top or you will have gritty sauce and broken teeth! To the mushroom water add 1 tablespoon of hoisin sauce and between 1 and 3 teaspoons of pepper paste. Here’s where you can make the dish mild, medium, or hot based on how much pepper paste you use. Stir until blended and put aside for the last minute. Note: Corn starch is often mentioned in Chinese cookbooks to thicken the sauce. DON’T DO IT! In China, sauces are thick and goopy. Maybe it helps the food stick to your ribs? But it isn’t necessary. The sauce will thicken as it deglazes the wok. Your sauce will be a little runnier, but the flavor will be superior and your tongue won’t get coated with all that starch. Besides, the runnier liquid is perfect for soaking into rice!
The secret to good Chinese stir-fry is having the ingredients cooked so fast that they still taste fresh, but not raw. Since all the vegetables go into one wok, you have to time the addition of each vegetable so that all of the vegetables are done at the same time. So start with the longest-cooking vegetables first. In this dish, I pre-fried the eggplant strips until they stated to go limp, drained all the oil out of the pan and set the eggplant on a paper towel to absorb more oil. When I was ready to go, I put my wok on “rocket-fuel” and waited for it to begin to smoke. I put the onions and mushrooms in first. I love that sound. I stirred for about a minute, using a wok spatula, which is a specially shaped spatula that matches the curvature of the wok. I added the ginger, stirred for about 30 seconds, then added the eggplant and fungus. (Actually, I made the mistake of putting the fungus in with the mushrooms and onions. Have you ever seen what happens when fungus gets really hot? It’s like cooking popcorn! The fungus explodes out of the pan, often taking other ingredients with it!)
Give a few quick stirs just to toss the ingredients together and get everything hot. Add the sauce by pouring it higher up the pan, above the vegetables, using the heat from the higher edges of the pan to heat the liquid quickly as it descended towards the center. If you just dump the liquid into the center of the pan, it will take longer to bring to a boil, and you’ll stew your vegetables. Once your liquid boils, you’re done! Plate it right away to slow the cooking. I like to put it on a plate large enough that the gorgeous red-brown sauce oozes out, giving a beautiful border. Serve with rice. The rice should be served in separate, individual serving bowls to allow each person to eat the rice plain, as a palate cleanser in a multi-course meal, or spoon rice onto their plate to soak up some of the delicious sauce. You DID remember to start the rice before all of this?
After dinner I felt so content, and my Buddha belly was so full, that I meditated for 15-20 minutes. It felt good to just sit there. And I need to get into shape for the Kathin Festival 🙂
As it got dark, I played guitar. I had heard a neighbor practicing I-IV-V-I (using A, D, and G). The ukulele was out of tune, even for a ukelele! Did they know it was out of tune? Was it a person who was unfamiliar with Western music and did not hear it?
My guitar playing was freer than usual. Maybe it was the meditation? I hope I remember some of the new chord progressions and fingerings. I wonder if I will.
I knew that the people out on the street could hear me (because of how clearly I had heard the ukulele earlier.) But I was also aware of (1) Chinese don’t seem to be bothered by all kinds of noise (honking, merchants with megaphones, parties and loud bars late at night) and (2) singing anonymously seemed to fit with the tradition of the local men’s chorus. If I was going to sing solo, it was best to sing anonymously.
My Chinese lesson for the day was translating the web site of Sichuan Airlines to see if I could book a flight. I got pretty far, adding words like “arrival”, “departure”, and “e-ticket” to my newly created “Travel” flash cards..
It was already late when I started work on my blog, and didn’t finish until 3:30am. Tired and brain spent, I got ready for bed. I hadn’t gotten dressed all day. I hadn’t even brushed my teeth.