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January 28, 2002
a year ago
three years ago
four years ago

I Get To Cook!

I got to cook today, and I learned how to make a dish that Mom learned from her mother that can't be bought at any Chinese restaurant and most Chinese don't even know it exists. It's a really simple rural Chinese dish from the North, where at least one of the two main meals (lunch and dinner) has to be made from wheat flour. Mom's father had to have one wheat meal a day, and Mom's mother made all of them as during the war she had to make pretty much everything, all the food from scratch, sew the clothing, and make the shoes.

It's something Mom'd made fairly frequently, and we've had it quite a few times, and I really wanted to learn it for real and get my hands on the recipe to really get it down right.

The day didn't start all that well. I had a headache last night, and Jet woke up multiple times because his cold was doing badly. His nose was running, and I think he was achy and physically unhappy, too. So he was up every hour or every two hours, and John and I traded off who went to take care of Jet. One of the problems with having the monitor in the room is that if the other goes to take care of Jet and stays in his room and Jet ends up crying in protest, the other one still gets an earful.

So I had a pretty bad night. We had a lunch date with Kathy, so we had to get up before lunch, but I figured I could actually stay in bed pretty late and still get up in time. Both John and I slept in late. John got his shower, first, and then I took mine and I nursed Jet while John told me that we were going to meet with Kathy earlier as she had a 1 o' clock meeting. I was feeling not too good. I still had a headache, and still felt like I had a cold, but a big bowl of hot soup really sounded good at the moment.

We ate grapefruit with Jet. He actually ate half of John's half of a grapefruit and then stole bits and pieces of mine. He was stuffing it into his mouth with his fist, happily.

When we were done with breakfast, Dad went over some maps with John. We wanted to have lunch with Kathy, go to Frye's to look at picture quality printers, and then hit 99 Market to get some garlic chives and pork leg roast. Mom really likes the leg roast because it's very lean meat. I think that the American cut is 'a fresh ham', as it really did look like the lean leg portion. It's pretty inexpensive, and would be really tough if cooked directly, but for extra lean ground pork it was perfect.

We got to the Pho restaurant in plenty of time and saw Kathy out on the curb in the strip mall parking lot. She directed us to an empty spot and we got into the place at 11:30, as it was starting to fill up. It got *packed* as we sat, ordered, and ate. The waiters asked us for our order three times before we figured out what we wanted, not so much because we were any slower than usual but because they seemed to be in a big hurry to get our order and to get us out of there as quickly as possible.

The food showed up really quickly. The egg rolls were crisp but not so hot they'd burn heck out of your mouth. They served the egg rolls with fresh Thai basil and huge green leaves of lettuce to wrap them in and a sweet-hot transparent sauce that added a high note to the somewhat singular egg rolls. The pho had five kinds of meat in it, two slices each of tendon, brisket, tripe, rare steak, and stomach. There were plenty of green onions, and the usual plate of condiments, basil, bean sprouts, jalapenos and lime. I used my lime and some sprouts and basil. The soup wasn't burn-your-mouth hot, which is how I like it, but it was hot enough to have cooked the tenderloin slices fairly well and hot enough to taste really, really good against the needs of my cold.

I enjoyed it. I can't get better out there, so I really enjoyed being able to have it. Kathy had the same thing I did. John had a BBQ'ed pork with broken rice and it tasted like the teriyaki'ed short ribs we used to have in Redmond. That brought back memories. The rice looked like it had been broken before it was cooked, and it tasted more cereal like than usual long-grained rice. It was topped with some of the BBQ sauce, and there was fresh salad along side. It was very yummy.

It was also good to just sit and eat and talk with Kathy for a while by herself, without Mom and Dad. She had fun talking about work and about various situations there, and John and I talked about baby stuff and I talked about being pregnant and how weird it was that it had only been a year ago. We are definitely each in our own worlds, but it's kind of cool that we can both talk about our own world and get listened to on both sides.

From there we headed to Frye's, and by then I started feeling pretty bad. I was really warm in the car, which is when I thought I might have a fever, and I just felt faintly nauseous while I walked through the huge store filled with geek delights. I just didn't feel well, and it just made it all kind of blah which is sad when a geek makes it into geek Mecca.

We did look at all the printers, and got various printouts and I was finally convinced by the actual data that, perhaps, the Epson printers are better than the price-equivalent Canon printers. And there are actually Epsons with the individual ink cartridges and Epsons with longer-life inks and printing processes. All the objection I might have had are now gone. I did, however, see the output of an S800 and figured out that if I really wanted to use all the capabilities of that printer that I'd have to buy a better camera than the one I have. There is no way I'd be able to use that kind of capability the way it ought to be used, yet.

We bought a bottle of iced tea and a Klondike ice cream sandwich at Frye's. That's all.

That amuses me.

Shopping at 99 on a full stomach made it very easy to get out of there without anything extra. We just bought the garlic chives in a big bunch with nice, fat leaves, and a three pound leg roast that was lean and pretty and pale pink. Then we took a mildly adventurous way home as we happened across Genesse as we recognized a place near Steve's, which led to Clairmonte Mesa, which hit Balboa. And we got home from there easily.

Once home I took two Motrin and fell into bed and slept for an hour, calculating that that was the time when I had to get up in order to get the pork ground before chopping and mixing everything and dinner probably still wouldn't get done until 7, but that was okay. If Kathy could make it, it might be late anyway.

Sure enough, when I got up, Mom had already soaked the mushrooms and was getting ready to cut up the pork and have Dad grind it. She said that I couldn't help because I was sick, but I said that I probably could help, some at least. And so I did. I'm pretty impressed at how much she did let me do, as I am not nearly as good pr patient about letting someone do things in my kitchen as she was with me. We individually chopped the seven things that went into the filling. Mom also cooked the scrambled eggs and the pork and we did a little extra chopping of the pork to get it down to the size of everything else.

Then I made the dough and had a minor disaster. I didn't turn the food processor on so that it was running while I was pouring the water in. The hot water flowed right out and all over the counter. So I had to do the dough by feel, by getting it to go and adding water and testing what it looked like and what it felt like. I got lucky and got it just right. Not too sticky and not too tough, and I even got the water the right temperature, so that it cooked the flour enough to stop gluten formation pretty thoroughly.

I got to divide up the dough and then Mom let me roll out the pieces and just told me when it was enough. Five cups of flour, about two cups of 85%boiling water and 15% room temp water, all divided into five pieces that were rolled out to about 15 inches in diameter. We spread the filling on, rolled them up and tucked them in the steamer, two to a layer, one roll on the outside, the other on the inside. Then they got steamed for 30 minutes.

The seven items for the interior are the transparent bean thread, chopped spinach, dried shrimp that's been beaten to dust, garlic chives, scrambled egg, rehydrated dried shitake mushrooms, and the ground pork that had been soaked in some soy and wine and cooked. They were about even in amounts, though a bit more of the bean thread than anything else and only two tablespoons of the dried shrimp powder. Plus a good shot of soy, a little wine and a very generous amount of sesame oil, and that made the filling. So it was basically a steamed, savory, roll.

Jet let me make the first two rolls, but then came over and demanded to nurse. So Mom took over and did the last three while I nursed Jet and he went down for a nap.

Kathy arrived just as it was all finished cooking. She got there in time to rescue Jet from his nap, for the last time of his trip here, and they had a good time together before we all sat down to dinner. Jet ate crackers and bits of roll while we ate.

It was good.

Mom and Kathy love the dish. Dad doesn't hate it, but it's not one of his native dishes. John really enjoyed it, he really liked the texture and the lightness of it, so we might do it ourselves now that I know how and we really enjoy it. We had fun eating it together, and remembering other times we'd had the same dish and Kathy noted that, like me, she really enjoyed it a lot better the next day when it was fried to reheat it. So she got the leftovers to take home with her.

Jet got to say good-bye to Kathy as he went off to go to sleep. That was cool.

Everyone else went to sleep at 10, after watching the beginning of The Fifth Element. I'm so glad Trip gave us the DVD as then we can watch it any time, and it's just so cool.

I took a while longer to get to sleep, but I needed a little sanity time to myself. Eventhough I was exhausted, it was just good to watch the lights of San Diego from my Mom and Dad's diningroom. Just to sit there and breath the darkness and the light of living people for a little while. I do miss that view, and the trip, as a whole, has been pretty good, all in all. The things we do miss of the place, and the things we can't really get in Colorado. The lights and a view of that much of the city is a good part of the same kind of things.

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