Never mind! The cupcakes are good! My mother says so. You know you people always say, 'I'm so special, my mother tells me all the time'? The opposite if true for Chinese mothers. Compliments are a novelty saved for dean’s list announcements and usually couched in some subtle version of ‘you could have done better (and you know, the neighbor’s daughter did)’. But not this time! I think it’s because none of her neighbors’ daughters bake, and because the cupcakes were only mildly sweet, which she prefers. So I guess if you have a Chinese mother who likes her baked goods not-so-sweet, email me for a recipe. Actually in all seriousness, I also had one of the underbaked cakes for dessert, and it was surprisingly satisfying…kind of gooey in the middle.
Back to this post. Monday, I succeeded in convincing my mother to go Chinatown shopping with me, and then cook me dinner at my apartment. Huge win for me, obviously. If you are a single girl living alone downtown, I’m not sure what could constitute a better Monday night.
Shopping in Chinatown is always fun, and I don’t do it enough. This trip was spurred by a dire shortage of Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese version of balsamic). But I also stocked up on some Asian veggies, tofu and rice. Cliché, cliché, cliché. Yes.
When we got home, my mom made two simple home-style dishes, shrimp stir-fry with bok-choy, and leeks with egg and tofu, all the while complaining of my woefully under-stocked kitchen. I don’t blame her; we cook very differently, and it’s always hard cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen. Fortunately for me, the end result was delicious. Served with rice, of course.
Hm, recipes? Maybe now is a good time to give some preface, aka explain my Chinese-foodie complex.
When people find out I like to cook, they always say ‘I bet you make really awesome Chinese food!’ OK. I’ll accept that without comment. But oddly, I’ve never gotten ‘I bet you make a kick ass seafood risotto!’ which, …..no big deal, but, I do.
Chinese cooking is like my ugly girlfriend. You know, we’ve been dating a really long time, she has a great personality, and I love spending time with her Monday through Thursday, but I don’t bring her up in front of company on the weekend. If I’m walking home from work, teetering on the brink of starvation, I’m probably going to whip up some egg plant stir fry with sesame oil and vinegar, throw it on left over rice and call it a day. If a friend is coming over, I’ll make chicken piccata with wild rice walnut pilaf.
My Chinese cooking repertoire consists of variations on a small subset of my mother’s vastly larger one. Its development seems stunted at the level it was at when I moved out at sixteen; since then, I’ve stuck to the same dishes I always ate at home. Maybe it’s a comfort thing. Despite my love of food and cooking, whenever I’m at my mom’s house I never try to help in the kitchen. It seems purely my mother’s domain, and I revert back to my childhood mentality….showing up only to eat. I do the dishes.
Why don’t I learn more Chinese dishes? I’ve tried. One way is for my mom to actively teach me something. Her recipes usually go like this…mix the stuff with some of that stuff, you know, that stuff on the middle shelf, um oh yeah and some of that other sauce, cook it, maybe add some …..you get the idea. Then there are cookbooks. The problem is, and yes I am embarrassed, I can’t read Chinese. I think of myself as Chinese through and through, I just can’t read it. And yet, I’m certainly Chinese enough to have an innate distrust of Chinese cookbooks in English. I’ve seen them at the bookstore, bearing some name like Tracy Chen, titled Authentic Chinese Cooking, with a photo of either some stylized minimalist noodle dish or a middle aged Chinese woman in designer clothes wearing too much makeup leaning into the camera. Oh, I’m a hypocrite. I drool over the food photos in Gourmet and Fine Cooking, but stylized Chinese food under soft box lighting? It’s too fake! I can’t do it. And come on, middle aged Chinese women don’t wear makeup! Nor are they named Tracy. Really, now.
Ok, ok, with that being said, I'm going to stop whining and shape up my Chinese cooking skills. In any case, I did learn to cook first from my mom, and the techniques she taught me are applicable to every kind of cooking. Next time, I'll summarize a few and add a recipe. Stay tuned!
Also Erin's creme brulee is making me so hungry! I can't wait to try it, and it will be the oven broiler version...I'll let you know how it turns out.