FWIW: How to Fold a Plastic Bag

For What it’s Worth Wednesdays
My thoughts on many topics, widely varied

One of the useful lifeskills I acquired while in Mexico is the art of folding a plastic bag. Most people I know just bunch these things up and stuff them under the sink, where they expand, multiply like rabbits, and take over. Now, I’m not into hyper-organizing and I’m ashamed to admit that my house is messier than most, but this is one area where I do have just the tiniest bit of OCD. I hate an unfolded plastic bag.

Interested in taking back the territory next to the cleaning supplies and the recycle bin? Join me in folding your way to freedom!

Here’s how:

Clear some counter space. Spread the bag out so that the pleats, handles, and everything lay flat. I make sure to have the printed side facing up, but you need not be so meticulous.
 Fold bag in half lengthwise. Smooth, checking for rips or holes that would render the bag useless.
 Fold bag in half again, lengthwise.
 Grasp then bottom corner closest to you and fold it along the opposite edge, creating a right triangle:
 Continue folding right triangles. Resist the urge to create triangles with no 90-degree angles:

This is correct.

This is wrong.

Keep on folding those right triangles until you’ve got just a bit of handle left:
 Tuck that bit of handle between the folded layers.
 TA-DAH!
 Now you can fashion a plastic bag bouquet!
Or, just throw them under the sink. It’s OK; they won’t multiply.

At least, not like rabbits.

Orange Pomegranate Oat Muffins with Blood Orange Curd

While I couldn’t be more pleased that spring is around the corner, if we could ever get it to stop snowing in the Pacific Northwest, there are a few great things about winter that I’ll miss. Pomegranates and citrus fruit rank high on that list. I baked these muffins as something of a last hurrah for the chilly season. They have a delicate crumb, a crusty top, and this twist on classic Lemon Curd made with blood orange juice is luscious, tart, and comforting all at once.

Orange Pomegranate Oat Muffins

5 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
6 oz flavored yogurt (I used Tillamook Orange Creamsicle)
1/2 tsp finely minced orange zest
1/4 tsp orange oil
1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup pomegranate arils

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.
Beat butter, sugar, and egg together. Add yogurt, zest, and orange oil.
In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients thoroughly. Incorporate into the wet ingredients, being careful not to over-mix. Carefully fold in pomegranate arils.
Fill standard muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden-topped.

I tried a number of different Lemon Curd recipes before hitting upon the right variation for this Blood Orange Curd. In the end, my mother’s recipe won out. This was the first Lemon Curd I fell in love with, but I don’t usually make this version as it leaves me with a few extra egg whites on my hands. What, meringues? Me? Please.

Blood Orange Curd

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons finely minced blood orange zest
1/4 cup blood orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
3 slightly beaten egg yolks

Combine sugar, cornstarch,  zest, juice, and butter in a small, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until thickened and bubbling. Remove approximately 1/2 cup of the sauce and beat into the egg yolks. Return this mixture to the saucepan, and bring to a gentle, bubbling boil. Cook, stirring for two minutes more. I confess to adding one (just one!) drop of red food coloring; the egg yolk distorts the beautiful ruby red of the blood orange juice otherwise.

Be sure not to use Meyer lemons for this recipe, as the tartness of yellow lemons is needed to balance out the almost-sweetness of the blood orange juice.

Prepare a nice cup of tea and enjoy! The muffins aren’t half bad with a little pat of butter, too.

This is an earlier version of these two recipes. That single drop of food coloring makes as significant a difference in appearance as the use of only egg whites and a half orange juice, half lemon juice mix does in texture and flavor. Not these muffins didn’t get devoured, too, though…

How To Cope With Nostalgia

I was putting groceries away last week when, in between the kitchen counter and the refrigerator door, I got hit by a wave of nostalgia so strong it knocked me back on my heels. I managed to not drop the eggs, but I couldn’t stop thinking about CityShop.

My first CityShop

CityShop is one of Shanghai’s great wonders. I hate shopping for clothes, but love going grocery shopping (think there might be a correlation between those two truths? nah.) and CityShop was my chain store of choice in China. They’re a great combination of domestic and import goods, ridiculously expensive produce, reasonably priced in-house baked goods, and recognizable cuts of meat. Their marble pound cake got me through my pregnancy.

Still, what I loved most about CityShop was its Western-ness. The aisles are actually aisles, that is, straight rows with reasonably grouped boxes, bags, and bottles of food, not labyrinths ranging over numerous floors. The smells of cheap soy sauce, mystery meat, and durian do not permeate the entire store. Towards the end of our stay in downtown China, CityShop even started stocking mochi ice cream balls. What more could one ask for from a grocery store in the Far East?

So why was I overcome with an urge to go outside, hail a cab, and head to CityShop? I’m still puzzling over that. In the meantime, here are some handy tips to cope with your own battles of nostalgia, be they foreign or domestic:

- Savor the memory. Remember what it was that you loved about that time, place, moment, aroma, sound. Our experiences make us who we are and we should celebrate the great moments we’ve had.

- Get in touch with someone connected with your nostalgia. Catch up on mutual friends. Reminisce over good times. I’ve let too many good friendships go to seed over the places over the years, and I don’t intend to do that any longer if I can help it.

- Enumerate the reasons you’re grateful for the life you’re living now, lest your nostalgia become more bitter than it is sweet. Lists are my thing, but I suppose anything that is conducive to gratefulness will do.

How-to Tuesday: Five Minutes’ Peace

I’m experimenting with obligating myself to post more regularly by committing to posting on a theme for different days of the week. This began with Small Style Thursdays. Herewith begins my foray into How-to Tuesdays.

Five minutes of peace is an elusive goal for many new parents, and perhaps some not-so-new moms and dads as well. Here’s my favored procedure:

-Baby on hip, put the kettle on to boil and drop some Ginseng Oolong Tea* in a teapot.

-Set baby on the kitchen floor. Distract with measuring cups while you slice and plate a piece of the Pumpkin Pie with Apricot Preserves you managed to bake last night after the little one went to sleep.

-Before the water boils and gets too hot, pour a bit of (purified!) water into a bottle with some oatmeal cereal. Put the kettle back on. Settle the little one with her bottle. Pour tea.

-Waste precious moments of quiet time arranging tea and pie to photograph for posterity. Grab a spoon and mess with the whipped cream from a bottle so it looks like it might possibly be freshly whipped.

-Sit down to enjoy tea and pie. Realize that the tea is too weak, but the pie is heavenly. That’s OK, the tea is really just an excuse to eat pie in the morning. Get Spotify going for some mood music. Polish off slice of pie.

-Pour second round of hot water over tea leaves. Chase after escaped baby and re-settle her with her half-finished bottle while tea steeps.

-Savor second cup. Be sure to exhale slowly after each sip to appreciate the naturally sweet aftertaste.

-Aaaahhhhhh.

-Share pretend sips of tea with baby and groove to Spotify choices to distract the little one from “helping” you type up this post. Nobody promised five *consecutive* minutes of peace.

*It’s worth noting that the über-Chinese Ginseng Oolong Tea and classic American Pumpkin Pie make a great pair. The sweetness of the ginseng, only apparent in the aftertaste, complements rather than overpowers the sugary spiciness of the pie. I discovered Ginseng Oolong (人参乌龙茶) at a tiny dim sum joint in Guangzhou and it quickly became one of my favorite teas. It’s a great introductory tea for novice drinkers of loose-leaf tea…a stage I haven’t moved beyond myself.

Lifeskills: How to Cook Baby Bok Choi

One of the best things about food in China is learning just how good vegetables can taste. Who knew?Bok choy is one of my favorite vegetables to cook. Not the great big heads of 白菜 bai cai (literally, white vegetable, aka Chinese cabbage) nor the immature, baby, version of the plant the Southern Chinese call 小白菜 xiao bai cai (small white vegetable) but the similarly sized, light green vegetable bunches that we call baby bok choy in the States. Eight or nine times out of ten, the term 青菜 qing cai (green vegetable) got me what I wanted in China, though that term could refer to a whole host of different leafy greens.

This is what I'm talking about.

Anyway, this is how to cook that lovely vegetable. It’ll work for just about any other substantial leafy green.
Have on hand:

  • Bok choy (remember, this boils down quite a bit so buy more than you think you’ll want to serve)
  • salt
  • sesame oil
  • oyster sauce
  • soy sauce

Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil.
Cut the ends off the bok choy to separate into individual leaves, and wash these.
Blanch the bok choy leaves, a handful or two at a time, in the boiling water for ~30 seconds. Remove from the pot and set aside in a colander placed in the sink or in a large bowl to catch drips.
Toss out the water and, over *low* heat, add a tablespoon or so of sesame oil to the pot. Be sure the heat is low, as sesame oil has a very low smoke point. Add a couple good-sized globs of oyster sauce and a dash or two of soy sauce. Mix these together well and let a bit of the moisture boil off. Add the blanched bai cai back to the pot and stir to coat. Et voilá!

I serve this with just about every Asian dish I make. You just can’t get enough dark leafy greens in your diet. It’s especially good with my famous Whole Pink Fish with Orange Juice and Cumin or Pai Gu (Spare ribs) in Black Bean Sauce.

Let me know how this works out for you and what you pair it with!

Why I’ll Never Be A Food Photographer

Over the years, I’ve had a number of different ideas about what I’ll be when I finally grow up. When I was 8, I wanted to be a seamstress. Hah. When I was 15 I wanted to be a graphic designer. Hah again. At 25 I had my sights set on becoming a sommelier. Well, at least I’m good at tasting wine.

I’ve also given a passing thought or two to cookbook writing and food photography. Tonight’s events are proof I ought to give up on the latter.

Inspired by a tweet from Expatria, Baby, I whipped up a batch of these carnitas. They were delicious. I served them with warm tortillas, sliced avocado, home made roasted tomato salsa, black beans, and my arroz mexicano, which The Better Half always likes because it reminds him of jollof rice. I even chopped up onion and cilantro and served it, half and half, yin and yang in a shallow dish, just like they do at every taco stand in Mexico. And what do I have to show for my efforts?

This lousy, unappetizing picture:

Carnitas, Stage I

I was too busy eating to take any other shots.

Better not quit my day job.

This is Where I’m From

I come from an island. A small island. The kind of island where all the kids go to the same school and nobody locks their cars. There’s actually a joke that’s been floating around for years saying that, on the Island (Yes, we call it THE island. Sometimes we even call it The Rock.) people only lock their cars during the zucchini harvest…’cause if you don’t, you’ll come back to a car full of squash.

My Korean friends from Portland came to visit me once. I look them to the lighthouse (a legitimate tourist attraction)

I took them to the Park&Ride.

I took them to see the Bicycle in the Tree.

We drove past an old railroad car overgrown with blackberries. They commented on how odd it was to have a railroad car on an Island. This had never occurred to me.

When they left, they said in typically polite, understated tones, “We understand you much better now.”

My Mexican friend from Cuernavaca came to visit me once. I took her to the lighthouse, to the Park&Ride, to the Bicycle in the Tree, and past the overgrown railroad car. I also pointed out the joys of Highway Haiku to her.

When we drove past the railroad car, she turned to me and said, “Ahora sí, amiga…ahora sí.”

A friend of mine organized a Welcome to the Island party for some mutual friends who moved here recently. I baked and adorned this Cider Tart from my own apple cider

…and organized a haiku contest in which teams wrote their compositions on blackboard strips.

A nod to the ferries we depend on to go anywhere significant:

A reference to ambiguity:

And, to sum it all up:

This is where I’m from.