Sunday, January 30
I have a foodie friend across the street. A lovely Japanese lady, foodnamed Chirashi-zushi (CZ). Like me, she grew up in Asia, spent a considerable amount of her youth in Europe and somehow ended up in the States married to an American. Most of our meetings are spent over food and we always end up talking quite animatedly about tastes, recipes and ingredients. Having spent 10 more years in Charlotte than I have, she knows a lot more about good Asian restaurants and grocery stores. After many months of saying that we were going to go Asian grocery shopping together, we finally did it last weekend with our children. Our husbands politely declined to join us, not sharing our giddy enthusiasm for Asian groceries. Here are the highlights of that food excursion:
1. Met at Tin-Tin Asian Buffet in Ballantyne (50 mins South of Davidson) for lunch
I have never seen this array of food anywhere: sushi, dim sum, noodles soup, steamed shrimp, craw fish, steamed fish with soy and ginger, Malaysian curries, roasted pork, Thai desserts....I could go on and on. They even had my favorite sweet bean curd that I love from my Singapore days! The children enjoyed it very much as they were empowered to eat what they wanted, when they wanted. I only had one rule for them: waste not, want not.
2. Hatoya, a specialist Japanese grocery store in Pineville (10 mins West of Tin-Tin)
As soon as we stepped in, "Konnichiwa!" I felt as if I was transported back to Japan. It is owned and manned by a Japanese couple who speak very little English. CZ introduced me very cordially to the owners as someone who had lived in Japan and I smiled and nodded. I was given a little cup of tea and the shopping began. I had come prepared with a list and I made sure I got the basics: mirin, sake, vinegar, miso, nato and Japanese pickles. CZ helped me along with her quiet yet firm sense of a Japanese mother with my purchases suggesting good brands and encouraging me to get the instant broth to mix the miso in, even though I had been taught to make it from scratch with bonito flakes and seaweed (kombo) in Japan. Japanese women don't say "no!" nor do they say "don't". When I pointed to a Japanese rice cooker that I wanted to purchase, she very gently said, "we're going to Super G next. They have much more variety."
3. Super G (25 mins East of Hatoya on Independence)
This place completely floored me! It is a huge supermarket, bigger than Harris Teeter and holds only INTERNATIONAL PRODUCE!!! Korean Kim Chi? Neh! Mexican Habaneros? Si! Indian curry powder? Aaama, dee! The quantities of fresh produce was astounding. Not a piddly box of limp green chillies but an entire legion of them in a bright and shiny row! Gleaming fresh fish laid out in piles like handbags at Saks 5th Avenue. They even scaled and gutted them right in front of you! It literally was like being back in Tekka market.
Five hours and 100 miles later, CZ and I drove our tired children back. They too were happy as they had run up and down the grocery stores playing catch. Korean grandmas don't mind this as much. Mine were also looking forward to Japanese gummies, Poky sticks (OK POKY!) and a box of Turkish Delight in the trunk of the car. It was a happy day, searching for the things we loved and took for granted in our childhood. And I got my Japanese rice cooker. Chirashi-zushi was right, and I was very thankful for having her as a friend across the street.
Saturday, January 29
Assuming it’s not too late to ring in the new year (hey, it’s still January), happy 2011 everyone! So, I hope you guys had nice holidays. Mine sure were tumultuous. I know it can seem like the new year’s just an arbitrary point at which we humans decide that the Earth has completed another round of the Sun. But December, amazingly, was a month of endings for me – it was as if the Universe was determined to shake out all the old baggage it didn’t want me to carry into 2011 – and January has been a month of new beginnings.
I have so many things to share with you guys. Honestly, I have a list of at least 20 things to talk to you about, so I’m going to get cracking. The first is a discovery I made in my local bookshop: the latest book from Jamie Oliver (provider of perfect roast chickens and emancipation for undergrads boiling canned beans). Called Jamie's 30-Minute Meals, each recipe provides step-by-step instructions to preparing a full sit-down meal in half an hour. My first attempt consisted of tray-baked chicken with pancetta, mashed potatoes, an out-of-this-world creamed spinach, and a strawberry drink-dessert. The next time I tried a sausage ragú with penne, a zesty chicory salad, and a batch of mini frangipane tarts. Admittedly each meal took me an hour, but I was still impressed at what a short time that was to have made so many dishes in.
And everything tasted great. Having tried a fair few of his recipes now, I’m starting to realise what Jamie’s genius consists of – he has an instinctive feel for ingredients and where they can take a dish, and by combining just 3 or 4 flavours, he creates something really special. For example, the creamed spinach is flavoured with just spring onion, garlic, thyme and nutmeg, but those 4 things elevated the simple spinach and cream to a whole new level. The other major hit was the frangipane tart, with which we ended the wholesome penne and salad meal. Who knew that almond, orange zest and vanilla paste could become something of such heavenly, fragrant warmth.
‘Making a difference’ is one of the topics that’s often on my mind. So, I wanted to say: thanks, Jamie, for making such a difference to my new year, and for showing me that endings don’t always have to be sour and that some can be sweet and fantastically frangipane.