Friday, January 11, 2008

Eventful thoughts on an uneventful winter's pause...

(chocolate peanut butter brownie image credits RL)

Well, actually where I live, this "winter" has been hardly wintry. Nonetheless, I had a great break after a slew of final examinations that left me brain-dead, sleep deprived, and laden with sanity-saving cookies, fried goods, and caffeinated coffee. In spite of my good intentions, there's something about exam week in which only full fat peppermint chocolate lattes and oversized cookies can quell the mournful crying of my soul...Fortunately, the only way from the deep depths of sorrow and misery of exam week is upward. Essentially, winter break. My overall winter break was uneventful- I crashed at home and just mingled around.

But I started my winter break on a very, very good note. Within an hour of returning home from university, I plugged in the mixer, pulled out my measuring cups, and made a delicious batch of warm gingersnaps a la David Leibovitz (if you don't know him and you really like baking and people who live in France, you ought to know him...). Within an hour or so, trays of steaming gingersnaps were whipped out of the oven and soon placed into their final destination: my stomach. Though growing up gingerbread and ginger-flavored cookies were not my favorite, these cookies were wonderfully spicy without having an overwhelming blast of ginger (which, in its dry form, has a funky smell in my opinion).

With confidence boosting from my delicious cookies, I decided it was time to do the impossible. I decided to climb Mt. Everest. ... and by Mt. Everest, I am being metaphoric (well, duh). Here's the thing: I have a few culinary tricks up my sleeve. I mostly make edible dishes that can even be delicious. I enjoy changing recipes and twisting them to make something even more incredible. And don't even question my bean dip skills- cause I make a mean bean dip. Sure, I do have a few bad meals here and there (1 tbsp of garlic is a bit overwhelming for 2 cups of soup, cornbread's cousin is not the same as cornbread, yeast should not be mixed with boiling water, even a little bit of egg yolk will not let that meringue rise no matter how much cream of tartar you put in), but overall, I think it's a safe claim to say that I am a decent cook.

So why in the hell can I not make a gosh darn pie?!!!

My forays into pie making have been, er... Less than perfect (and that's saying it nicely). The first time I baked an apple pie, the crust was unbaked and soaked with the overwhelming juices of the Golden Delicious apples I had replaced for Granny Smith's. My mixed fruit pie's filling has sour from my over zealous use of lemon juice and nitpicky calorie-saving lack of sugar. The only part of my crumble pies that is eaten is the crumble part. Etc., etc., etc... What baffles me is that I can bake a decent cheesecake, make a creamy chocolate tart (isn't that suppose to be pie's cousin?!), and make ice cream cake. so why... why oh why dearest pie, must thou be so unkind to me? Well, that December afternoon, with my wits in check, fingers tingling to roll that dough, and mouth watering for the "it has to be successful" thought of pie, I faced my ultimate food challenger. I was ready - psyched really. The butter and Crisco were chilled in the fridge, the fruit (peaches and strawberries) was immascerating in a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, and a splash of orange juice. The icy water was waiting for me. After doing some warm up stretches, I could only anticipate the glory that was about to follow...

Only to find myself getting my butt kicked again (sigh)...

The crust had fallen prey to the immense juices expelled by the fruit and the fruit itself was not as sweet as I had anticipated. The lattice top (fancy, eh?) also fell prey as the pie filling oozed over it as well. I'll keep the other horrific details to myself since this is a foodblog that should be keeping up one's appetite instead of killing it. I'll just end the pie debacle with the fact that I hate wasting food and ate most of the pie all by myself (the rest of my family happened to be on "diets" at the time) over a week's time until even my own pie tolerance became intolerant. The pie did, however, taste better the day after it was baked, and with a drowning scoop of ice cream, was even slightly tasty.

In happier food news, my family's Christmas feast was excellent. Garlic roasted turkey, succulent tenderloin swimming in au jus (basically the natural juices that exude out of the meat during roasting), my aunt's waist-killing cheesy bacon mashed potatoes, and classic green bean casserole were some of the dishes served. I lended my own skills by preparing caramelized parmesan brussel sprouts, Thanksgiving's cornbread casserole, orange cranberry sauce, and gingerbread yams. The feast went on without a hitch and I had a well deserved post-dinner nap to celebrate.

Speaking of Christmas, I received great presents. My family is well aware of my love for food, so I was happy to be the receiver of a beautiful crock pot and blender. In excitement, I squealed happily, while my young cousins probably thought it was weird that I found "domestication" so joyful. They much prefer their Xbox games and coloring kits.

So, in contemplation of a life with a crockpot and blender, I quickly dispatched plans for their immediate use. With Christmas leftovers, I decided to make turkey and sausage gumbo with the crock pot. I had made some lobster stock with the leftover lobster from my dad and my's traditional steamed lobster lunch (which occurs each time we are reunited at the chagrin of the rest of my family members, since it also happens to be that my dad and I are the only real lovers of lobster).

What was beautiful about the gumbo was how easy it was to make it. The only difficult part was making the roux (a browned mixture of butter and flour that thickens soups and sauces). Happily though, my little 7 yr old cousin suddenly became intent on what I was doing. Being nothing less than eager to spread my cooking joy to others, I let her help me make the roux (she mixed it together), cut leftover turkey chunks into bite size pieces (with a regular dinner knife), and dump all the gumbo's ingredients into the crock pot. Setting the crock pot to low overnight led to one of the most delicious stews I've eaten in a while. With a hefty spoonful of white rice, the gumbo was simply heaven. Of course, for as long as it lasted (I have a huge crock pot and my gumbo was gone in 3 days time).

With the blender, I whipped up some mean breakfast smoothies. Smoothies are really incredibly simple and fast to make, not to mention healthy. With a 1/2 cup of frozen berries, 1 cup of soy milk (or regular milk if you prefer), a scoop of plain yogurt, and a dash of orange juice (to naturally sweeten the mixture up), I had a cool and satisfying drink easing me into the new day.

Though I would like to think that being healthy is a priority, with big holidays, healthiness can get lost among the plethora of ranch sour cream dips, cheesy quesadillas spiked with chipotle tabasco, Godiva chocolate covered pretzels, and boxes upon boxes of chocolates and caramel popcorn. How could I be human and refuse these precious goods of deliciousness?! Though my constant grazing habit during the holidays is not my best attribute, it was nevertheless lovely (of course I'm still too scared to go on a scale, but am trying to be optimistic since my clothes do still fit!)

Among the other goodies and treats I indulged in were the following: fried chicken, East Carolina pork barbeque (vinegar-based, chopped pork- some people swear by it though I must transgress and admit my own bias towards the tomato based Western variety), large heapings of Paula Deen's cheesecake apple streudel and Ina Garten's peanut butter (bundt-cake, there were no other pans!) brownie which is pictured above (from my wonderful group of friends who have a knack for fattening me up...), delicious crab dip with toasted pita triangles, an impossible amount of delicious Korean delicacies (bibimbap, dumplings, rice cake soup, etc.), fresh hamburgers topped with avocados, Indian buffet (chickpeas... droooool...), hushpuppies, corndogs, and cajun fries (did I mention that health just didn't seem like a priority...), 2 ice cream cakes and 1 yellow apricot-strawberry filling with whipped cream cake (my family had 3 birthdays to celebrate over the break... it's truly not my fault), and afternoon tea (I felt so... proper?).

Alas, this break was certainly a time of feasting... But, as I'm typing this entry on a loaned computer (my own laptop suffered a epileptic seizure and is currently recuperating with the computer doctors...), I am realizing that my memories of food are leading me back to memories of family togetherness. Even though I have (at the moment, wish me luck!) given up vastly unhealthy goodies in a pursuit to achieve a New Year's resolution, I must say that it's not the food that I miss so much as those who made my holiday so special, delightful, and wonderful. Food is something much more than just a source of alimentation, but a medium into one's heritage, memories, and livelihood. Just the thought of it, not its actual physical presence, provides me thoughts, inspirations, and memories.

In that sense, I'm going to try my best to pursue another goal for this new year: appreciate food. It sounds like a simple task, but I know that I fall into a pattern of just eating rather than tasting the flavors of the ingredients, feeling the textures of each dish, smelling the aromas, eyeing the arrays of colors and shapes. Food is truly a beautiful experience.

So, while I say my farewells to the food that has treated me well (though my waistline and thighs may have other choice words to say...), I am going to try to appreciate the food that I eat and share my thoughts right here. So, here's to a great New Year and more successful foodblogging during 2008!