Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Where the Grub Comes From

I grew up thinking that everyone had a jungle of fruits and vegetables in their yards where their parents would go and get bits and pieces to prepare meals. Then I got a little bit older, and I thought that all Asian families did this. Eventually I realized that the sheer volume of things my parents grow isn't very common at all, and that my parents are amazing (and a little crazy).

Some snapshots of a few of the wonderful things they grow in their backyard:


The stuff that ends up in the Khmer version of scallion pancakes. It's pronounce "kuh-chai" and is sort of green-onion esque, but has thicker leaves and is not as sharp in flavor.

Chinese kale. I think.

The tenderest lettuce leaves you'll ever wrap around a spring roll.

Lemongrass. These will eventually grow into a chaotic jungle.

Lonely sugarcane. I think my dad might have planted these for a lark since I showed envy at the multitude of sugarcane in my aunt's backyard. (Yes, my aunt has this kind of yard, too. The whole family trades their respective bounty.)

Kaffir lime tree. I don't recall actually seeing any fruit on this tree, ever, though the leaves are used often in my mother's cooking. Her delicious, delicious cooking.

Dessert: tangerines! Or whatever variation of small orange citrus these are. They're tangy, and more sour than sweet, which is why I like them. One of my friends suggests that this means I must have a sour disposition. I don't think that's true. Jerk.

Things I left out: banana trees, a lime tree, pomegranate trees, persimmon trees, a guava tree, mint, and many other things for which I don't know the English names.

And this (along with lots of leftovers from family gatherings) is how I survive on $20-40/month for groceries.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Candlelight Cooking: Bacon, Beans, & Greens

It should be known that people who live alone tend to do weird things. We eat weird things, we prance around to music we generally don't admit to liking, we indulge our strange habits and idiosyncrasies because, well, who's going to say anything?

Unless, of course, you tell people about it. Which I am doing now.

One night, I arrived home with eyes exhausted from staring into a computer screen for too long and I couldn't bear the thought of turning on any lights, so I spent the evening using only candles to illuminate my apartment.

And thus, the title of this post is explained. Not that it wasn't self-explanatory.


Yes, that is a milk-crate doubling as a counter. I laid it on its side on top of another milk crate, creating a fairly efficient shelving system. I've since replaced it with scavenged furniture. That little cutting board is actually concave on the other side for use with a mezzaluna.


Everything just looks better by candlelight, doesn't it? Especially onions glistening in saved bacon grease. Who's afraid of a little bacon grease? Not me. Not even in the near-dark.

The two pans:

Baby bok choy on the left, kidney beans on the right. I added some of the bacon-flavored onions to the kidney beans, and both dishes are seasoned with red pepper flake and a tiny dash of oregano. You shouldn't leave your kettle on the stove like I do, it's bad for it.

Pre-rice bowl:

This was such a simple and satisfying meal that I think I've become addicted to the combination of beans and rice as a result. I'm sure the bacon-y goodness helped, too.

Cooking by candlelight was relaxing; my sense of time slowed down and I was more careful and attentive than usual. I'm also very appreciative of the convenience imparted by electric lights since there were a few moments when I was tempted to turn them on. I refrained for the sake of my tired eyes.

This was just one of my less-embarrassing, more-delicious weird moments. There are many more-embarrassing, less-delicious (to most) weird moments that are better left unspoken.

More bean-y reading:
  • Mark Bittman's beans & rice on Serious Eats
  • Wikipedia has a surprisingly long entry on the combination
  • The Amateur Gourmet post that probably planted the idea of beans & rice in my brain long ago