28 April 2010

Letting go ...

My mother and I had a long conversation yesterday night, about letting go. What does it really mean? How does one detach from things that are out of one's control? I still don't know completely, but we came up with a couple of things.

For one thing, there comes a point when you have to just trust in things working out in the end. When we were living in the old apartment, our rent was astronomical, and neither of us was making very much. We could have ended up on the streets. We never did, but the threat was certainly there. The point is, we could have very well spent that time in a daily panic, anticipating the final minutes. Instead, we both realised that the situation is out of our control, and the only thing we could do was work our butts off to make sure that the rent got paid. Yes, some months it got paid 7 days after the first, rather than 3 days before as we'd always done before, but it still got paid.

Funny, that.

The point is that I couldn't really affect the outcome. What I could affect was my reaction to it. It's the same way I view my moments in the subway. I'm an impatient little thing, and don't care to sit around on the train as it's crawling along between stations, or stopped betwen stations, or stopped at a platform. I do whatever I can to avoid such situations. However, when I'm in said situation, I zone out for a bit, and just enjoy the time that I have there, away from everything that can distract or impede on my time. It means that I must stop, and just be for a while. I don't get that chance very often, so instead of getting frustrated, I take it as time to get some much-needed alone time.

Then come the material things. I like my stuff. I like my stuff a lot. I get upset when something happens to my stuff (stolen, lost, broken), not so much because I don't have that thing anymore, but because the role that it fulfilled in my life now needs to be taken over by something else. However, I still think that regardless of what the thing is that I've lost, I'm thankful for what I do have, and the people that I have to share it with. I found a man who understands me, and likes being with me. Stuff comes and goes, but friendship, partnership, and love are much deeper and longer-lasting. Maybe it's not forever, but it's longer than the time my stuff will last!

So how do you let go of things that you're holding on to? You realise that in the grand scheme of things, they only take up a very small amount of importance. When you feel yourself getting caught up in the daily dramas, and stressing yourself out to the point of physical pain, it might be time to breathe, step back, and contemplate all you've done thus far, and all you'll do in the future. And that at the end of the day, whether or not you do something just so, or get something done just so, really isn't going to stop the sun from rising.

And then, you let go.

16 April 2010

If breakfast is most important, make it most garlic too

I don't get the obsession with crap breakfast food. Why must it be so overwhelmingly bland? I've spent eight hours in confinement, without being able to constantly graze on something. This must be rectified with something solid that'll jump-start my brain into getting the day moving.

I started with beans that I'd soaked overnight. I set it in a pot, and started it boiling the second I woke up. There is time enough for sleeping in and being lazy after I put my beans on. If my rice cooker were empty (a rarity), I'd have put on a pot of rice as well. Then, I set the timer for 1 hour (as it was still 6:30 in the morning), and went back to bed.

Here's the thing. I like to sleep in, but often times, because I drink water through the night (I like water a lot), I often have to clear the pipes in the morning anyway, so I can't really lie around in bed once I awaken. So this one minute detour wasn't any trouble at all on the way back from the washroom. I went back to bed at around 6:35, and snoozed for a good half hour. By 7~ish, I was good and awake properly. The sun was up, and I didn't mind running into the kitchen to complete the meal. I had a head of broccoli, and some plantain in the fridge. I quickly peeled and chopped the plantain, and dropped it into the beans, which had another 30 minutes or so to finish cooking. I then roughly chopped the broccoli, and sauteed it with three cloves of garlic, some oil, and a bit of curry powder. It's a fairly quick way to get broccoli cooking, which doesn't involve heating up giant amounts of water to get the thing steamed.

I let the broccoli cook for about three minutes, then slammed on the lid and turned off the heat. Often times, vegetables are happy to cook in the residual heat of your pot, and you don't have to spend any extra money on getting the pot hot. In a third pot, I popped some mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and sesame seeds (my favourite combination by far). While the pan was heating up, I quickly chopped an onion, and a very large piece of ginger into a rough dice.

I put the tiniest amount of oil that I could get away with, because I wanted my onions to brown quickly. The amount of fat you use is inversely proportional to the speed of browning your onions. As the amount of fat increases, the speed of browning decreases. You would think that more fat would mean faster browning, but this is not the case at all.

The oil will never get as hot as the pot itself. While you need a small amount to prevent the onions from sticking, and to pop your spices, you want the onions having a lot of contact with a lot of heat, because you're looking to crank out this meal in less than 30 minutes. If you sincerely think that adding extra fat is going to give more flavour, go ahead and do it after you're done cooking. That way, the fat will make an impact.

The reason that I chopped the ginger into big~ish pieces is because I didn't want it to get cooked through. I wanted there to be a strong ginger flavour. While the onions and ginger were cooking, I threw in some chili flakes into the beans. In for the penny, in for the pound, right?

Finally, because it looked like I had some extra time on my hands, I smashed up another 5 cloves of garlic, and chopped them up roughly. In they went with the ginger and garlic. The time was 7:20, and the onions were nice and soft, and the ginger was still holding strong. I threw in a bit of turmeric, stirred it around a bit, and added the tiniest extra bit of fat to help cook the turmeric. Finally, I added just a bit of black pepper to finish it off. I scooped out some of the bean water from the bean pot, and poured it into my spice pot. This would help me clear off any aggressively browned bits that stuck to the bottom of the spice pot, and get up every last delicious morsel.

I poured the spiced mixture into the bean pot, and immediately rinsed out the spice pot. I didn't want extra dishes lying around! When the pot is still hot from the stove, it's a snap to clean in seconds. I put the pot back into the shelf (I haven't ever bothered drying my dishes), and let the beans cook for the final five minutes.

When the timer beeped, the beans were cooked to a turn, spiced perfectly, and the yucca was tender. The broccoli was succulent and garlicky. And of course, the rice was hot and waiting.

If you're going to do breakfast, do it with garlic, ginger, onions, and other wonderful spices.

07 April 2010

It's a curry dish made of mustard seed, cumin seed, potatoes, chickpeas, methi leaves, a head of garlic, cilantro, salt, and dried red chile flakes. Instead of taking the lazy route with the oven, I just did everything on the stove, in my cast iron skillet. This meant that the potatoes got a good strong sear on them, giving them a crispy crust. The same happened when I added the chickpeas. The methi leaves are so fragrant and tasty. However, for my liking, it's a little bit on the bitter side, which is why I counter balanced it with all that cilantro, garlic, and chile flakes.

All in all, a pretty nice breakfast, I'd say.

05 April 2010


So you've all had Vichyssoise by now. Potatoes, leeks, bla bla bla, snoozefest. It's good but it's not great. Frankly, potatoes don't have quite enough flavour to carry this soup on its own. It's neutral at best, and outright bland at worst. No thanks! And what's even worse is that you don't even brown the freaking leeks. You barely simmer them in the hot fat till they're just transluscent. YAWN.

At Chow, I did my own version of the classic, and made a few significant changes. For one thing, I let the leeks brown. It brings out the subtle sweetness of the leeks. I also used the green parts, which is not only less wasteful than the classic version, but also so much more tasty. Then, instead of potatoes, I used cassava instead.

I have raved about cassava in the past, so I'll spare you the lecture, but think about it. If you've had even just boiled cassava, you'll know that it's got a unique, almost floral aroma going down. Cassava has flavour. Cassava has texture. Cassava has character. (Hey, maybe that's a neat idea for a bumper sticker? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?)

I also used coconut milk at the end, which gave it still more flavour and aroma. All in all, I'd say it was a smashing success, seeing as how it got eaten up fairly quickly.

When washing leeks, I tend to slice them in half length-wise, give 'em a whiz through the slicing blade of the food processor, THEN wash them. Saves a lot of finicky scrubbing. The dirt just flies away.

1 lb leeks, sliced thin, and washed well
3 lbs cassava, peeled, stemmed, and diced
3 TB canola oil (you can use olive oil too if you prefer)
1 1/2 TB salt, reserved
1 tsp black pepper, reserved
2 cups coconut milk
Water, enough to cover the cassava during cooking

In a large pot, sautee the leeks until they're light golden brown. Add the diced cassava, and let the cassava and leeks cook together in the fat until the cassava gets slightly transluscent. Add 1 TB of the salt, and just enough water to cover the cassava.

Let the water come to a rapid boil, then drop down he heat to low, and cover the pot with its lid. Let the soup simmer away slowly for at least one hour. You can check every 20 minutes or so to see that everything is coming along nicely. The cassava should be tender all the way through. If you don't cook it thoroughly, you can end up with an upset tummy, so please make sure that the cassava is cooked through.

Finally, when the cassava is cooked through, turn off the heat, and stir in the coconut milk and black pepper. Taste for salt, and add the final 1/2 TB if needed. If you don't need it, just leave it out. I like my soups to be a bit on the salty side, so I generally bump it up at the end, but some people prefer to let the gentle sweetness of the coconut milk come through instead.

I personally like mine to be whizzed in the blender, and be smooth, but a lot of people prefer it to be chunky, and keep all those textures that you spent all this time working to create with the chopping of all those veggies. Either way is a winner in my eyes.

02 April 2010

Cigarette update

I haven't bothered to take my cigarettes to work with me in about a month and change. I'll still have a few when I get home, but that's about it. Still don't bother to smoke on weekends or if I'm tired.