30×9 Begin

I need a little more discipline. There’s nothing like a 30 Days to force myself to follow some rules.

For the next 30 Days, I will:

1. Go to bed before midnight.
2. Not eat dessert after dinner.

My motivations are pretty simple. I’ve been going to bed Way Too Late these last few weeks. I’ve also been eating Way Too Much ice cream, no thanks to Safeway’s $2.49 a pint sale on Ben & Jerry’s last month. I feel crappy. This has to stop.

To be more specific, the goal is to try to be asleep by midnight, but I’ll allow jumping into bed at 11:59 PM if necessary. I’m also allowed to eat whatever I want for dinner, and much of it as I want. But no dessert. No snacks, either. Just dinner, dinner, and more dinner if I’m still hungry.

Here’s to feeling less crappy.

Random Refrigerator Contents Fried Rice

Ingredients, chopped up:

  • 2 cups of pork belly taco meat. If I remember correctly, it’s pork belly simmered until its fat renders, then deep fried in its own rendered fat. Maybe April can add a recipe link to the comments. Update: Hey look, April added a recipe link to the comments!
  • 2 cups of Azmina’s Fancy Pants Mediterranean Roasted Cauliflower. I cooked an entire head of cauliflower the other night and nommed my way through half.
  • 1 pound of spinach. Because no fridge is complete without spinach. Yes, that’s a lot, but it cooks down to nothing and you can feel strong (to the finish!) like Popeye.
  • 1 cup of carrot shreds. I bought a big bag of them for pickling. These are the shreds that didn’t make it into the pickle jar.
  • 2 eggs. Actually, 2 egg whites and 1 egg yolk. It really wasn’t necessary, but you can’t call it fried rice if you don’t add egg. Yup, for reals.
  • 2 cups of cooked brown rice. I had a major cooking fail the other night, and ended up with a lot of leftover rice. I also burned myself. Ow.

Cook the veggies, fry the meat, scramble the eggs, crisp the rice, mix it all together. Random refrigerator yum!

Kefir On The Grow

We’re now 10 days into the incredible edible kitchen kefir experiment.

The milk kefir is chugging along. After a few mango and honey smoothies I decided to try drinking it straight. I thought it would taste weird but it’s no problem. It’s less sour and thick and super smooth as the kefir from the store. I wonder how they process theirs.

After a couple mediocre-tasting too-strong-for-my-zero-alcohol-tolerance feed-them-whatever-I-had-on-hand lazy brews, I switched the water kefir to coconut water. It makes a much more palatable, less alcoholic drink. The kefir seem to like it too, as they started multiplying madly after the switch.

I now have about 4x the grains I started with for both the milk and water kefir. I’m going to have to start eating them soon, giving them away, or throwing them out. Anybody want some?

I told mom about my little project. She loves health stuff, and has plenty of time for kitchen science experiments. Last year she was making osmanthus flavored rice wine. After some research online, she called and told me the Chinese name for milk kefir: teen sahn shuut leen (leen as in leen fah) which translates directly into “sky mountain snow lotus”, or “yeasty bacterial blob that looks like a beloved lotus flower covered in snow, from the tallest of the tall mountains”. Apparently, the higher the mountain, the better, and “sky mountain” is about as high as you can get in Chinese.

Reading about this and hearing my description of kefir also helped her connect a couple things in her head. She had always heard about the health benefits of “sour milk”, but was never able to figure out how milk gone bad could possibly be good for you. She realizes now they were probably talking about kefir.

Let’s hope my next kefir post isn’t about how they’ve quadrupled out of their containers and have begun to take over my kitchen.

Hippie Homebrew

My friend Ida has been brewing kefir at home. She offered some starter grains and I took her up on it.

Monday night: Go to Ida’s house for pickup and find that she’s not there. Play with her adorable kids. Go to Ida’s work. Receive a little lump of milk kefir and a small amount of water kefir in two Ziploc bags. Catch up with Ida over dinner. Yay!

Tuesday night: Put each kefir into a 16 ounce glass jar. Add milk to the milk kefir, water to the water kefir until both are approximately 12 ounces full. Feed the water kefir frozen orange juice concentrate instead of sugar against everyone’s advice. Leave them on the counter like I’m supposed to even though I really want to put the milk in the fridge.

Wednesday morning: Smells fermentey!

Wednesday night: Milk kefir starting to thicken.

Thursday morning: Thin bubbly film on top of the water kefir. Carbonation!

Thursday night: Strain milk kefir into 8 ounce mason jar and refrigerate. Dump grains into clean 16 ounce glass jar and add more milk. Strain water kefir into 12 ounce beer bottle and cap it. Dump grains into clean 16 ounce glass jar and add more water plus frozen orange juice concentrate.

Friday afternoon: Make a smoothie out of milk kefir with frozen mangos and local honey. Super tasty! Notice the next batch of milk kefir is already starting to thicken. Taste water kefir in progress, add some sugar, watch it fizz like crazy when the sugar hits.

Friday night: Open bottled water kefir. Fizzy like soda! Realize it’s slightly alcoholic. Rebottle unfinished 2nd half. Feel head thump. Watch face turn red. Document everything in this blog post.

The milk kefir is a success. I plan to keep doing it. Not sure about the water kefir, though. Like kombucha, it’s tasty and fizzy, which I like, but also slightly alcoholic, which I can’t handle. Supposedly water kefir is beneficial if you consume even a tablespoon a day, so in theory I wouldn’t need to drink much of it. But then production would greatly outpace consumption. I’m thrilled I can make my own all natural low sugar fizzy drink, though. Need to see what I can do to lower alcohol content.

You Are What You Eat

Unfortunately, ice cream is “slow food”.

My realization that I need to train for my races, along with just having played my first real Black Stars game of the season, has me thinking about nutrition. I think it’s time to start my 3rd annual ice cream elimination diet. More dinner instead of 300-400 calories in ice cream every night. I’d be starting about a month earlier than usual, and this year the season ends a month later than usual. Will I be able to go dessert-free for almost four months? Probably not, but I should at least start so I break my nightly habit, then adjust as necessary.

And don’t say, “Oh, you’ll burn it off.” (You know who you are. Oh wait, it’s all of you.) This is not a calorie diet; I intend to eat the same number of calories each day. I’ll just be allocating the 20 percent I save for ice cream to something more nutritious. This is about putting good fuel into my body so I don’t feel like a pint of Chubby Hubby when I’m burning it off.

– – –

Update: 2012-01-15 @ 10:02 AM

I think the trick to breaking my nightly ice cream habit is to stock up on a few candies I really like and eat one piece at the end of the night. That way I still feel like I’m getting a treat, but it has a lot less impact on my overall food intake.

Not that I don’t enjoy the nutritious food I eat. I’m just wired to need dessert before bed, and this is a way to wean myself. If you’re wondering why I don’t just eat a smaller serving of ice cream, that’s because it will just leave me wanting more. And then I’ll have more. And then I’ll feel like Chubby Hubby.

Lucha Libre

French fry burrito! Picked up dinner at Lucha Libre (I love their domain name) on my way to the airport this evening. Picked up the Man v. Food Nation Foursquare badge in the process. I realized as I ate the burrito that I like rice better than fries. I mean, I knew that, but I didn’t think about it in the context of a burrito. Would I eat there again? Sure. I like their variety of salsas.

Thanks to dinner, airport Wi-Fi, and Wikipedia, I finally learned what “lucha libre” means. All those Mexican wrestler masks at the restaurant make a heck of a lot more sense now. It’s kind of embarrassing, actually, that I didn’t already know.

I wonder how “real” it is compared to US pro wrestling. They have good guys and bad guys, but are there storylines? Are the fights fixed?

Between the last paragraph and this one I did something stupid. I wondered if Nacho Libre might be construed as offensive so I Googled it, and was treated to images of a topless Jack Black in baby blue tights and red granny underwear. I really wish I could unsee that.

Meat

Oh my goodness, meat. I had dinner at a churrascaria last night. 16 kinds of meat, of which I sampled… half? Probably not even that. It was good, I guess. I don’t enjoy meat nearly as much as I used to. Mostly, I eat it for protein. My weekly eating goes a lot like this: veggies and tofu, veggies and tofu, veggies and tofu, veggies and tofu, meat meat meat, veggies and tofu, veggies and tofu. That makes today a veggies and tofu day.

My favorite item at Brazilian house of meat? Dessert. The pudim, or Brazilian flan, was quite simply the best flan I’ve ever had. Perhaps I should have named this post “Pudim” instead.

Ode to Pudim

army of men marching big sticks of meat
what do I want? pudim
you look sort of plain, oh what a surprise!
you taste better than you seem

your name translates to pudding
but here we call you flan
crème caramel would be more fitting
smooth and sexy like a Khan

I really ran out of steam on that last line after “smooth”. What goes with smooth? Sexy. What rhymes with flan? Khan.

I am reminded of this Radiolab episode that talks about how Genghis Khan fathered a bazillion children. Now that I think about it, conquering a people, slaughtering their men, and raping their women is not exactly the definition of smooth.

It still rhymes, though.

Corn Dog

The first time I heard the term “corn dog” I pictured a dog. Made of corn. Then I thought, no, maybe it’s a dog that looks like corn. Then I thought it was a term for someone who was really corny, but I think I was just confusing it for someone who is really horny?

I would not have guessed that it’s a hot dog on a stick. You know what would be a better name for that? Hot dog on a stick.

Also, let’s take out the filling. I eat around it anyway. You know what I’d like? Deep fried corn batter on a stick.

Hush puppy popsicles! I’ll have a dozen please.

Joong

I started this post in October 2010. My sister had visited me a couple months prior and brought with her several joong from grandma. I’d been told this might be the last batch of joong she’d ever make, and I was down to my last one.

Growing up, I remember grandma would make joong every year, to celebrate some Chinese festival I know embarrassingly little about. I had actually thought it was the Autumn Moon Festival, but we eat moon cakes for that, not joong. The internet tells me joong are for the Dragon Boat Festival. I didn’t know that was a real Chinese festival. I’d grown up thinking it was just some odd thing white people did every year in the Charles River with boats decorated like Chinese dragons.

Anyway, back to October 2010. I jotted some notes down about joong:

– smell of bamboo leaves
– homemade salted egg yolk
– fatty pork
– peanuts
– some sort of veggie (sauteed shallots)
– dried scallop (no, it’s shrimp)
– Chinese sausage

Two other notes: (1) You can’t buy joong with the same combination and ratio of ingredients in stores. (2) Grandma’s joong are made with love.

Now I can actually write up the recipe for it, or what I can piece together of the recipe.

~40 days before assembly: Prepare salted eggs.

Get a giant glass container with a screw-on lid, perhaps about a gallon in volume? I seem to think that the one grandma has is from restaurant-sized jar of maraschino cherries that grandpa brought back from the restaurant… back in the 80s. There will be some boiling of water and adding of salt. I seem to remember a 1:3 ratio, although I’m going to go with supersaturating the solution, or “salt ’til you can’t salt no more”. Let the solution cool. Fill the jar to the top with eggs and salt solution. The solution should cover the eggs completely. Wait at least 30 days, preferably 40.

Several days before assembly: Prepare more ingredients.

– pork belly: marinate with salt
– large dried shrimp (“hah yun”): soak
– dried bamboo leaves: soak
– sweet rice: soak with salt

Day before: Prepare rest of ingredients.

– shallots: sauté and mix with shrimp
– Chinese sausage: (“lahp cheung”): quarter
– eggs: collect yolks, which should be somewhat firm (save whites for whatever)
– fatty pork: cut into reasonable sized pieces (thumb size perhaps)
– sweet rice: drain (consider doing this two days before, but it should still be damp when you use it)

Day of: Assemble and cook.

I will give ratios relative to one joong for everything:

– sweet rice: several heaping tablespoonfuls
– Chinese sausage: one quartered piece
– fatty pork: one thumb sized piece
– dried shrimp: two
– shallots: just a little, ration with shrimp as it’s mixed in
– salted egg yolk: one, or half if you didn’t make enough, which would be sad
– raw peanuts with skin: 5-10 (some people use mung bean instead)
– bamboo leaves: 2 if they’re good and you’re good, up to 5 if things go horribly wrong
– cotton string: several feet of it

To assemble: Select a nice wide unbroken bamboo leaf. Bend it over itself keeping the midrib on the outside. Fold one of the edges over so it can hold all those tasty ingredients listed above. This edge then sits at the bottom, on your hand. Add a heaping spoonful of rice, then each of the items listed under it, and top it all off with another heaping spoonful or two of rice. Add another bamboo leaf, pointing the other way, again with the midrib on the outside. Make sure this second leaf wraps over the fold in the first leaf. Add a third leaf if needed. Folk the top edge over to form something of a cup.

If everything is still intact, fold the top over perpendicular to the original leaf bend. No rice falling out? Good! Now wrap it all up with string, tight in the corners but not too tight in the middle since the rice needs to expand. If you folded things the right way the string will have nice strong corners to hook into. Leave a little extra string so you can tie the joong together in pairs. This will help you fish them out of the pot after cooking.

This will probably make a lot more sense:

To cook: Get a GIANT pot, load with joong, and simmer for ~3.5 hours, refilling water as needed. Make sure the joong are covered with water the entire time.

Yay, documented!

HOME Home

At the end of last month, I spent 7 days back home with my family. It was a great week. I mostly soaked things in and enjoyed my time with my folks. Toward the end of my visit, I took a few notes.

Mom and Food and Food and Mom

When I first told mom I’d be visiting, the first thing she said was, “There are lots of things I need to cook for you!” I understood this to mean three types of foods: (1) Those that make my body healthier and stronger. It’s called “bo” in Cantonese. (2) Traditional items I don’t cook for myself. (3) Things I really like to eat.

We got a little of each. There was health replenishing soup (“bo tong”) with chicken and chinese herbs (“yeuk choy”). There was taro cake (“woo tao goh”). There was black sesame pudding (“tsee mah woo”). There were even a couple packs of Combos from a random trip to CVS. I was really surprised and touched that mom remembered I liked Combos. Dad too, for returning from his errands with flaky BBQ pork pastries (“tsah siu soh”) for me.

But wait, there’s more! There was red roasted pork (“hoong siu yook”), won ton (“won ton” ;-), and plates of cut up fruit with toothpicks in them every time I turned around. Mom has also started to make some new items such as pickled vegetables and home brewed rice wine. The rice wine was super tasty. She’d even flavored it with sweet osmanthus, a previously unknown to me plant with a wonderful scent. Apparently it’s well known to real Chinese people.

We had somewhere between five and eight different dishes at dinner every night. I ate a little bit of everything. You can’t go to a restaurant and get dishes like the ones at home.

When mom prepares food for us, she’s always thinking about balance. I don’t mean in terms of nutrition. The western concept of nutrition is something I think about. Balance is something mom thinks about. I only understand the general concepts: hot (“yeet”) vs. cool (“leung”). Basically, some foods are “yeet hay”, some are “leung”, and eating too much or too little of either throws your body out of balance, which results in illness. But understanding which foods are “yeet”, “leung”, “bo”, or even knowing that they exist, is beyond me. I don’t think this knowledge is really documented anywhere. I worry that it will be lost. I’m sad that I haven’t learned it.

Joong

Last year, my sister brought me a few joong (you can think of them as Chinese tamales) from grandma. It had been our understanding that those might have been the last ever batch of joong she would make, as it’s fairly labor intensive. When grandma found out I was visiting, she sprang into action and prepped for another round of joong production. My sister, mom, and I all showed up to help, and we spent Saturday afternoon learning how to make them. We had a nice time, and the joong were tastylicious!

The next day, I spent some time wrapping won ton with mom for dinner. I thought about how wrapping joong and won ton are nice family bonding activities. We really don’t have enough of that these days.

Grandma

Oh, grandma. As with all my family members, I love her unconditionally. It was great to see her and she is always really nice to me and my sister. But it was really difficult to watch her interact with mom. I remembered when I was 6 years old I asked mom why she let grandma treat her so badly. I found myself wondering that again last week. I am in awe of mom’s patience, love, and caring. Not many people can do what she does. Mom has siblings who can attest to that.

Bobo

Bobo, my replacement after I left for college, is now 14 or 15 years old. She’s lost a lot of hair, weight, and energy since I last saw her. I wonder if I’ll get to see her again. I don’t think she wonders the same. Sometimes it’s nice to be oblivious.

California Is So Far Away

Every time I go home, I find it more difficult to leave. I find myself wondering how many more times I’ll get to see everyone, when I’ll see them again… if I get to see them again. I love living in California, but not being with my family is a pretty big downside.

I suppose the upside to that is I do want to be with my family. Not everyone can say that. I feel lucky that I can.