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!

Masiacan (that’s ˈmeɪˌʒɪ.kən) Fish Tacos

When two cultures collide and commingle, the food is one of the first elements that gets thrown into the mix. We really are what we eat, in not only a physical, but also a social and cultural sense. In the spirit of getting back to my travelling roots (yes, I do realize how ludicrous that phrase is) I decided to try adding an Asian flair to my trusty Baja-style fish tacos.

Element 1: Ginger beer instead of Corona in the fish fry batter

Verdict: Barely perceptible difference. Not bad, though!

Element 2: Ginger-Lime-Cilantro Pico de Gallo

Verdict: A winner! Next time maybe I’ll call it coriander instead of cilantro and add lemongrass for a more Southeast Asian flair.

Element 3: Lightly pickled Baby Bok Choy instead of chopped cabbage.

Verdict: Very nice. The key is not leaving the bok choy to brine too long, as the leafy parts can get waterlogged and soggy.

Element 4: Wasabi Guacamole

Verdict: Almost as awesome as it sounds, but not quite. Maybe next time I’ll punch it up with a little more lemon juice and some minced jalapeño to even the flavors out.

Element 5: Wash ’em down with a Ginger Margarita

Verdict: Flat-out AMAZING. I used this recipe from Jean-Georges Vongerichten

I made my usual white sauce, a mixture of yogurt with a bit of mayo, cumin, lime juice, and ground red pepper.

It was a tasty experiment in fusion cooking. A few tweaks to be made, but nothing a few more fish taco dinners won’t fix!

Dim Sum and Applause

We took my parents out for dim sum last week. It was an impromptu affair, as we suddenly found ourselves near the International District around lunchtime with time to kill. I’m not too familiar with the Seattle restaurant scene (in my defense, I’ve never really been an adult in this town) and phone calls to my go-to Canto-friend went unanswered (rant for a future post: why NO ONE picks up their cell phone in the States anymore) so we kinda just parked the car around 6th and Dearborn and decided to wing it.

We almost went into the promisingly named Ocean City Restaurant & Night Club when I spotted a gaggle of Canto-grandfolk chattering away animatedly on a street corner. We passed them and stopped for the light to change (this IS Seattle, after all…best not to jaywalk here). This gave me the moment’s pause I needed to muster up boldness, double back, approach the group, smile and, in my best gutteral slur greet them with a: “M’ho yisee, ngomen yiu yumcha. Bindoh ho?”

And then the heavens opened and angels sang because they didn’t give me I-Don’t-Speak-English Face. We did have to carry out the rest of the conversation in Mandarin, but they understood my opening line and directed us down the street to a place called Honey Court Seafood. The light changed, our little party of Westerners moved off down the street with many a goodbye smile and head-bob, and the Canto-grandfolk burst into a spontaneous round of applause. Really. They did!

I love Canto-grandfolk.

Honey Court doesn’t look like much from the outside, and the hubs speculated (in typical Southern China Expert Expat style) was probably owned by one of our newfound friends’ family members. He may well have been right, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t about to spoil this glorious linguistic exchange by letting my new friends see us walk into any other establishment. They might’ve thought I didn’t understand them.

The dim sum wasn’t half bad, though. In addition to the requisite har gao and shu mai and char siu bao, which were consumed too rapidly to be digitally documented, we had these:

    

Sadly, our dim sum lunch could not be considered a complete success because we were unable to procure a plate of lok bak gou 萝卜糕, which is, of course, China’s greatest contribution to the culinary arts. This, along with eliminating the opportunity to practice food characters, is why I’m not a fan of the dim sum cart system. Oh well.

A couple days later, we were telling a Cantonese 华侨 friend about our dining adventure (and my linguistic triumph). His only question: “How long did you wait in line?”

No more than five or ten minutes, we told him.

He snorted. “Food must not have been good, then. Good place, you wait hour, maybe hour and half.”

I’ll do better next time.

Successful Fried Rice…At Last!

After numerous previous attempts, I have finally succeeded in making the best fried rice ever. Thank you, Lifeskills Master JP Villanueva.

In an attempt to ease my sandwich-hating husband’s lunchtime hunger pains, I threw a couple of mashed garlic cloves, some leftover rice, a pork chop, a couple handfuls of carrot, and a bit of cilantro (it’s healthier if you add something green) in the requisite “screaming hot wok.” Dropped an egg in, too, for good measure.

And ’cause I AM hard-core, I stirred and let it all sit in the wok with the gas dialed all the way up to High. The result: crunchy yumminess!

Best fried rice I’VE ever made…paired it with Black-Eyed Pea and Sweet Potato stew the hubby had whipped up the day before for a complete Afrasian lunch.

This was the crunchiest rice we’ve had since the 4 kuai clay pot wonder-rice in the dirty labyrinth of alleyways populated by poor university students behind the 广州东站. Wish I had photos of that place. We may have been the only foreigners the shopkeepers had ever seen. The eateries were tiny. Short-plastic-stools-and-no-tables tiny, and the kitchens were even tinier. You could choose the meats and veggies from a display tray to have tossed in your clay pot of rice. I remember having Chinese sausage, shitake mushrooms, and spring onions. Amazing. The Better Half took me there while we were still dating. It’s clear why I married him, isn’t it?

Happy Lists

When I was living in southern China, I had a little circle of friends who would meet regularly for Ladies Who (Frugally) Lunch sessions. We were all very busy people but we found that taking the time to meet a couple times a month over lunch gave us a chance to vent, tell our China Frustration Stories, and generally maintain our sanity.

Over time, we started to notice that our conversation at these luncheons was becoming distinctly negative. In an effort to combat this, before each lunch we’d each prepare a list of 10 things we loved about the city we were living in or China in general, and share our lists with each other over the meal. The Happy Lists were a great way to keep our lives in perspective and keep us focused on the good.

Now, in this my re-pat adventure version 2.1 (2.0 was a 3-month return that might have lasted longer had the economy not been so heinous), I find myself rather ambivalent about being back in the US of A. This is a huge step up from re-pat adventure version 1.0, when I was miserable for a year and nine months straight, with occasional breaks of sunshine and optimism. In the spirit of fostering that optimism, I’m going to share two lists with you: My I’m Glad to Be Back in the States list and my Can’t Wait to Get Back to THIS in China Someday lists. So much for being concise with the naming of those.

Now then, without further ado…

I’m Glad to Be Back in the States List:
1. Trader Joe’s. My goodness, did I miss me some TJ’s while in China. My friend O and I would text each other dream lists of what we’d buy that day if only there were a TJ’s nearby. Mochi Ice Cream balls, Chili Spiced Mango, the medley of tri-colored baby potatoes, Nerello del Bastardo, I could go on and on.
2. Running into people I know at the grocery store. I come from a smaaaaaaaall small town. If you grew up here too and were born within 3 years of me, I know you. It’s nice to see you again.
3. Really, genuinely fresh air
4. I get to take a ferry several times a week. It’s beautiful.
5. Driving a car
6. Drive-thrus. I am convinced that nature invented these for the single-during-the-day mother. I used to just be hungry until I had another set of hands to help out. Now, I can (kind of) nourish myself.
7. Carseats and all the places they fit (into strollers, over the kiddie seat in shopping carts, into the base of an upside-down restaurant high chair)
8. Outdoor performances, especially of the free variety
9.  Chinese people who are genuinely impressed with my Mandarin. I know. I’m so vain.
10. Berries. Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Salmon berries, Marion berries galore!

Can’t Wait to Get Back to THIS in China Someday:
1. 东北菜 (Northeastern Chinese cuisine) It’s insane. Everywhere I’ve been in China, DongBei food is one of the easiest kinds of foods to find. In the States…nothing!
2. 湖南菜 (Hunan cuisine)
3. Banks that open on the weekends
4. Shops, restaurants, etc. that stay open past 10PM
5. Chatting with taxi drivers
6. Mani/pedis that I deem “affordable”
7. Our really, really international circle of friends 
8. Older Chinese people in parks
9. The workout I got carrying my daughter and her stroller up three flights of stairs. I’m really going to struggle to walk anywhere near as much as I walked in China. See previous list, Item No. 5.
10. Tropical fruit. The mangos here are preposterous.