TEXTURE, TASTE, AND PEP
Dessert last night was Chinese broccoli with eggs.
Didn't bother with rice or noodles. I could've done noodles, they don't take long to cook, but I was having too much fun with the frypan.
[This comes to mind because at present my apartment mate is hogging up the kitchen, and it will be at least an hour before I can prepare something to eat. She's braising two huge fleisch-thingies in there. Stuffed fleisch with something or other. It smells delicious.
Her and her boyfriend will feast sometime this week.
I swear, she's become a better cook since she broke up with that previous boyfriend a few years ago and started hanging with Wheelie Boy (the American-born Russian Jew in a wheelchair). But I had a salad with hot sauce not too long ago, so no biggie.]
Chinese broccoli (芥蘭 'gai lan') is rather like oil vegetable (油菜 'yau choi') and mustard (芥菜 'gai choi'). All three have a pleasing bitterness and crunch, and are very hard to muck up, provided you remember that the stalks need more cooking than the leaf. Either add them to the pan first, or blanch them beforehand.
I think my mother would not have like them, and would have found some excuse to keep them out of the house. Reason being that such veggies would have upset her rigid dietary applecart. Food was fuel, food was a building block, and food at set times was regrettably necessary. If it was fun, something must have been wrong. Food was NOT SUPPOSED TO BE FUN! Fun made it somehow less nutritious.
Acceptable vegetables: lettuce, tomato, bell pepper, celery, carrots, string beans, fresh garden peas (these last two required very long cooking).
All meat dishes and spaghetti sauces needed onion, to cut the fat.
Vegetables were best in chunk-form, raw and plain.
It preserved their nutritional value.
NO cabbage EVER!
Cauliflower was also arguably edible, but too much effort to prepare, and should in any case only be served raw with a bland Russian dressing. Which is just ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together with no addition of horseradish, pimientos, and tabasco. It would probably have quite horrified her to know that that is also known as tostone sauce.
Tostone just sounds so non-nutritious.
And suspiciously wrong.
I don't mind carrots, but I haven't eaten them in years. I am completely unexcited by peas; if I never eat a pea again, I'll be perfectly happy.
Spices were also on her suspect list. She would very sparingly employ paprika, dried parsley, caraway seed, black pepper, and a bay leaf.
And avoid all other spices as much as possible.
No garlic, no ginger, no chili.
[Let us politely not mention the very many jars of condiments, sambal, and containers of ketumbar, kunyit, temo kuntji, lengkuas, trassi, and other horrors, that my father and I hid just a little bit further down the concrete cellar stairs, where she would not venture because they were steep, and she had arthritis as well ménière's syndrome. Yes. No mention.]
The only exception was chicken with paprika.
Nothing sparing about that.
Perhaps in reaction to her food ideas, and almost certainly in defiant gustatory affection for the foods of various aunties (Indonesian Dutch ladies), my own cooking embraces brash boldness.
I want my food to be fun.
THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER
My mother was culinarily a product of a time, a place, and a class.
Food, you understand, is a caste marker. The poor and uneducated went for flavour, the enlightened classes left that kind of stuff to restaurants and served their families sanctified nutrition at home. Learning how to cook beyond functional edibility was considered rather a waste of time.
Beef curry was a treat if someone else (my dad) cooked it, spaghetti a not infrequent ritual (but would have to be nutritious, no matter how Bohemian it was to serve), and steak or chops were the proper proteins for dinner, as everyone knew, accompanied by two vegs, a starch, and a salad.
And the table would be set properly.
Red wine with dinner perhaps. White is for flibberty-gibbets.
Or fish. If you risked serving that. Which you shouldn't.
During her last few years I did most of the cooking, and maintained her standards whenever she was home from the hospital. Which was the right thing to do. She died when I was seventeen.
Sad to say, once she passed away I became a food anarchist entirely. The only time I set the table now is when I do Indian or Indonesian food, only because it tastes better with the appropriate table silver and plates.
By her standards, what I eat nowadays is not decent food at all.
It's probably not extremely bad for me, but it's far too adventurous.
Those stalky Chinese things? People didn't used to eat that!
The noble garden pea. Now that's a vegetable.
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