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pow pow pow!

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Recipe: sweet and sour chinese mushrooms

Timing can be everything when it comes to winter storms. You certainly want to avoid driving in one around these parts of Colorado. And if everything works out, you’ll get to your destination BEFORE the storm hits, then hunker down and wait for the powder day. We are not always so lucky nor do we always have the flexibility to chase storms, but we hit the jackpot for the second time in a row this weekend. Crested Butte began to see some flurries on Saturday, and by Sunday morning we went in search of the powder on the mountain. More snow (a lot more) is forecast for the next couple of days, which is great if you can stay put and enjoy it. We’ve already got a wall of snow 6 feet high adjacent to the driveway and it is not going away anytime soon. Neva likes standing on it because… she’s a crazy little girl.

it just keeps snowing

telemark skiing powder is possibly the best thing ever

jeremy agrees

Chinese New Year is coming up in a week and I’ve already got the grocery list for all of the ingredients I’ll need to make our little feast on Sunday, New Year’s Eve. For several years now, my minimum menu has included Chinese potstickers, cellophane noodle soup with dan jiao (egg dumplings), and rui tsai (lucky ten ingredient vegetables). Before I settled into my Chinese New Year cooking groove, I’d often call up my mom or grandmother to ask what I should make. They would always reply with a casual, “Oh, any Chinese dish is fine.” But then I’d get warnings not to eat squid (bad luck), or white tofu (death?), and not to buy salt for a month after New Year’s Day – oh heck, just to be safe, don’t buy salt for the month prior! That’s why I’ve settled on my SAFE list. Barring a few specific ingredients, I think most dishes should be fine. If you’re looking for ideas, you can always visit this recipe round up I posted a couple of years ago. Or perhaps you’d want to try these sweet and sour mushrooms?

Back in our Southern California days, we would occasionally meet up with friends at a Buddhist vegetarian Chinese restaurant in Monterey Park: Happy Family Restaurant. It may not sound very interesting or exciting, but everyone we took there (even the carnivores) loved it. Every dish on the menu was plant-based and absolutely delicious. Chinese Buddhists have a culinary tradition of making vegetarian “meat” from vegetables or tofu. One of our favorites was the vegetarian chicken, which was essentially deep fried mushrooms tossed in a wonderful sauce. My version of it is close, but… I use egg whites which is a big no-no in Buddhist cooking. It’s still vegetarian, but it isn’t vegan. If you want to go full Buddhist vegetarian, omit the egg whites in the batter and you’ll probably have to omit some of the sauce ingredients like Worcestershire sauce. I’m pretty sure there is no Worcestershire sauce in any Buddhist cooking – vegetarian or not. It’s just a hunch.

mushrooms, flour, cornstarch, egg whites, baking soda, salt, celery, vegetable oil, water

whisk the egg whites until frothy

combine the batter ingredients (except for the egg whites)

fold the egg whites into the batter

**Jump for more butter**

i can’t wait

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

Recipe: braised napa cabbage with bean curd sheets

How has the start of your new year been? You can sum ours up in one word – COLD. I mean, we expect it to be cold in January around Colorado, but the first of the year put us in the deep freeze. We actually had to wait until afternoon before we could ski in temperatures above zero.

the nest thermostat reported -32°f outside

frosty branches as the sun rose over the mountain

But don’t cry for us! Cold in Crested Butte is not the same as cold in places like… the Midwest. These frigid temperatures occur when the skies are clear overnight, allowing any heat to radiate straight up toward the stars. That also means the sun is out full and bright in the morning, doing its job of warming us up into the single digits, providing happy rays, and basically making Colorado the awesome winter wonderland that it most definitely is.

we took neva on the nordic trails – she was a happy nutjob

racing the sun as it drops behind whetstone mountain for the day

On the drive home to Nederland, Jeremy and I observed how Neva is improving (i.e. calming down) each day with house guests, ski touring, walks, and general every day behavior. She’s less of a spaz, although she is still very much a spaz. Our hope is if she can learn to stay with us on skis while leashed, she’ll naturally transition to trail running in the summer. “I can’t wait for summer,” I whispered. Jeremy gave me a look – the look that wonders “What have you done with Jen?” Oh sure, I love winter and I will relish every last snowflake this season! But last summer was ALL ABOUT PUPPY and itty bitty hikes. This next summer will be great big hikes, long trail runs, multi-day backpacks, and a very happy Neva.

I also couldn’t wait to get home and stuff my face with vegetables. When we are in Crested Butte, the access to vegetables is somewhat limited compared to our usual array on the Front Range. That is especially true of Asian vegetables. I owe my vegetable addiction to my mom, who not only provided at least two vegetables with every dinner, but she prepared them in the most delicious ways possible. These days, Mom and I exchange vegetable recipes when we cook for one another. I usually introduce her to new western-style salads or preparations, and she is constantly surprising me with what she calls “old” Chinese recipes. How many treasures are locked up in her head? I’m doing my best to have her teach me when she’s here in the summers. She taught me this napa cabbage recipe a few years back. Winter is the perfect time for its warm, comforting flavors.

dried bean curd sheets – found in asian grocery stores

bean curd sheets, ginger, salt, chicken (or vegetable) broth, green onions, napa cabbage

**Jump for more butter**

here come the holidays

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Recipe: fried mochi rice (nuo mi fan)

I walked to the back of the store where just a week prior, the aisles had been loaded with bags upon bags of Halloween candy. Nerds. Snickers. Twix. Life Savers. But instead of witches and skeletons, white Christmas trees strewn in sparkly silver tinsel and metallic red and green baubles now loomed high overhead as I approached. There was a sad, lone island of discounted Halloween candy for sale – a paltry remnant of the once Super Sugar Coma Mega Center. I grabbed a couple of bags and continued on my way, careful not to linger long under the impending holidays.

I am a terrible holiday person. Holidays = Thanksgiving and Christmas. I wasn’t always this way, but over the years I have scrutinized the holidays (and most other things in my life) through the lenses of practicality and sanity. The holidays are neither practical nor sane. Jeremy and I have determined that our favorite way to pass the holidays is to be outside on the snow – preferably with a dog.

and now we have the snow and the dog

she has no idea how cold it is going to get in crested butte

The one person I did travel for over the holidays was my Grandma when she was alive. As she got older, it became more burdensome for her to fly to visit her daughters, who are scattered across the country (also, the airlines suck). If she was going to be alone in California over Thanksgiving or Christmas, I’d book a flight to see her and Jeremy would occasionally join me. I’d do what I always do – take her out to run errands, try different restaurants, and just spend time listening to her, holding her hand, and being with her. I loved that woman so much. So so much.

One year, Jeremy and I accompanied Grandma to my second cousin’s gigantic annual Christmas party where tray after tray of delectable Chinese food was lined up on buffet tables as the festivities got under way (my second cousin is head of catering at a restaurant). There was a rice dish I sampled and really liked, but never got around to asking what it was called because my brain was busy switching back and forth between Chinese and English while conversing with the elders as well as the kids. These things can and do slip from your mind. It was a few more years before I was reminded of that lovely rice – because my pal, Lisa, posted a recipe for it for her 2009 Thanksgiving. But my memory was fuzzy and I wasn’t sure if that was the dish I had eaten at the party. Was it a stuffing? Was it just a rice dish? And then something clicked in my brain last month. I finally did some research and got around to making it myself!

Of course, the first thing my mom said when I told her I made it was that I used the wrong ingredients and then she said I cooked it wrong (mom stir-fries and then steams). Turns out, as with most things, there are different ways to make nuo mi fan or lo mi fan or fried mochi rice or fried sticky rice. Apparently there are just as many names as recipes. The key is the sticky rice, which is also called sweet rice or glutinous rice. Gluten-free folks should not shy away from glutinous rice as it has no gluten, it’s just called that because it’s so damn sticky. That said, if you are gluten-free, you should be aware of things like soy sauce and the char siu pork which may or may not contain gluten.

This recipe will require a trip to an Asian grocery store unless you have a crazy awesome well-stocked ethnic aisle in your typical supermarket. Chinese sausage (lap cheong) can be found in the refrigerated section at your Asian grocer. At least, that’s where I found mine after scouring the aisles ten times over. These sweet and savory sausages will need to be steamed before chopping them up for the rice. The glutinous rice will most likely be called sweet rice. The grains resemble little oblong pearls and the brand I like most is Koda Farms. As for the scallops, the only place I ever see them is at the Chinese medicine counter. You might be able to find them packaged with all of the other dried sea creatures in a dedicated aisle, but do look for a separate counter with large glass jars filled with dried scallops (refer to the photos in the xo sauce post). For this recipe, you can get away with broken pieces which are more affordable than whole dried scallops.

lap cheong

sweet rice

dried scallops

**Jump for more butter**