February 23, 2011

let's read s'more graham

Is it possible to fall in love over a dish of onions? It seems improbable and yet I could swear it was just then that I fell in love. It wasn't, of course, simply the onions — it was that sudden sense of an individual woman, of a frankness that was so often later to make me happy and miserable. I put my hand under the cloth and laid it on her knee, and her hand came down and held mine in place. I said, "It's a good steak," and heard like poetry her reply, "It's the best I've ever eaten."
--The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
A writer worthy of his name (it rolls off the tongue so very nicely!). The Heart of the Matter is up next; I've always loved that title.

February 16, 2011

gluttonous, glutinous rice balls

"Yes, the only people in the world whom it seems to me the Jews are not afraid of are the Chinese. Because, one, the way they speak English makes my father sound like Lord Chesterfield; two, the insides of their heads are just so much fried rice anyway; and three, to them we are not Jews but white--and maybe even Anglo-Saxon. Imagine!"
--Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth
Well, Jewish and Chinese people have at least one thing in common: mahjong. My first Philip Roth experience has been semisweet (a good quality in fine chocolate, but not, unfortunately, in books). More specifically, I find him semi-entertaining, semi-annoying. This book reminds me of a cross between Harold Brodkey and Chaim Potok, but a watered-down version of each.

I have no idea if Jewish people enjoy eating glutinous rice balls, but I certainly do. If you've never had them before, the Lantern Festival (Feb. 17 this year) gives you an excuse to try them...and if you're like me, soon you'll be clamoring after them year-round.

I recently discovered the secret to improving the texture: use equal parts of sweet rice flour and regular rice flour. Rice flour is used in pan-fried turnip cakes (yum!) but it really helps make a difference in these glutinous rice balls. In the past I'd only used sweet/glutinous rice flour to make these, and the dough was either too sticky or too dry. The combination of sweet rice flour and rice flour really results in a dough that has a wonderful consistency. I also picked up a technique from a street vendor in Taiwan last year: rolling the dough into logs and then divvying up the logs into equal-sized bits. They look a little like pillow mints, don't they?

Glutinous Rice Balls/Tangyuan (湯圓)
Ingredients
1/2 cup sweet rice flour + 1/2 cup regular rice flour
Hot water
1 tbsp granulated sugar (optional)

Preparation:
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Combine the sweet rice flour, rice flour, and sugar in a bowl. Add hot water a tablespoon at a time, mixing with chopsticks, until the dough is not sticky but also not dry. It should be moist to the touch, without being sticky. If you accidentally add too much water, just add more of the rice flour and sweet rice flour, in equal parts.

Roll the dough into thin logs and cut into evenly sized, pillow-mint-like shapes. You can roll the shapes into balls, if you want, or leave them in their pillow-mint shapes, which lends a rustic quality that I personally quite like. Alternatively, you can also roll the dough into larger discs and stuff them with black sesame powder, red bean paste, or peanuts, and then wrap them up like dumplings.

Drop the balls into the pot of boiling water. When they float, they're done. Fish them out and consume immediately, with plain sugar water or red bean soup. They're also especially tasty with shaved ice and fruit.

February 13, 2011

the best love letter

"There is very little evidence that [Rilke] was interested in breakfasts (except for one occasion when he first discovered in 1901 a California health food — Quaker Oats — and enthusiastically sent a packet to his future wife, with the recipe: Boil water, add oats)."
--from Robert Hass's intro to The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
Hahaha. It amuses me to picture Rilke sending this to his future wife. Who needs poetry when you have oats?

In all seriousness, though, if someone mailed me a packet of oats (complete with flawless instructions), I'd probably consider marrying him, too.

February 5, 2011

Window watchers

"...If this hadn't happened, who could understand why in the end you refused to go away from the window, obstinate as you always were? You wanted to see the people passing by; for the thought had occurred to you that someday you might make something out of them, if you decided to begin."
--The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Rainer Maria Rilke
One thing I've always loved about Manhattan is that there is always something or someone to observe; better yet, everything is so squished together that you don't have to travel very far to see lots of different things.

I took this photo during my first visit to the city. It's been almost 4 years since then, but the image of this woman sticks with me to this day, and I don't even know her. Imagine what you or I could make out of her, if only, as Rilke said, we decided to begin.

February 3, 2011

Honk if you like roast goose!

He's got it right now for sure — and, sitting there at one of the white Formica tables, Cantonese pop songs oozing and occasionally distorting from an undersized speaker, you know it, too. In fact, you're pretty goddamn sure this is the best roast goose on the whole planet. Nobody is eating goose better than you at this precise moment. Maybe in the whole history of the world there has never been a better goose. Ordinarily, you don't know if you'd go that far describing a dish — but now, with that ethereal goose fat dribbling down your chin, the sound of perfectly crackling skin playing inside your head to an audience of one, hyperbole seems entirely appropriate.
--Medium Raw, Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain is a much better writer than I thought he would be. I highly recommend his book — even if you hate watching him on TV, he's not so bad in print. And his stellar description of roast goose makes me want to try it again.

I had a roast goose once. My dad heard about a place that supposedly served Hong-Kong-style roast goose, and since he's obsessed with goose meat, I knew what was coming...

We started combing the streets without many details to go on. Things got so dire that at one point I mused that we were literally on a wild goose chase.

At last, we found the place (pictured at left - the red sign). The goose roasters were a couple from Macau — and highly bemused as to why a family would come all the way from America to try their roast goose. I personally didn't find it preferable to roast duck (which is much easier to find), but maybe I just need to find another goose-roasting establishment. Either way, cheers to A. Bourdain and other goose lovers everywhere. And Happy New Year.