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no need to fear

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Recipe: chinese fermented sweet rice (jiu niang)

We are two weeks away from the Lunar New Year, which I’ve always known as Chinese New Year. If you are wondering what to make for a party or for your own celebratory dinner, I refer you to my Chinese New Year recipe round up from last year to help give you a few ideas.

I consider myself a very lucky girl. I’ve always been pretty happy (except in graduate school – sheesh) and a little silly and very much loved by my family. It’s that love which anchored me from an early age. Wherever I went and whatever I did as a kid, I had a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart. I know now that much of that warm fuzzy was because of Grandma, who was always there for me. We had our routine: a daily walk around the neighborhood, making her bed together every morning (good habits!), putting my hair into cute little pigtails, emptying the sand from my saddle shoes when I got home from school, folding laundry together while watching cartoons. This kind and gentle matriarch would create special Chinese treats from scratch in our 1970s southern Virginia kitchen while I sat on the counter next to her, pretending to be the neighbor’s dog. These memories are so vivid in my mind. I told my friend over the weekend that Grandma has been gone for almost four years and yet I still feel her presence in my heart. She is just that much a part of me.

Last November, when my parents were in Boulder, Mom told me she was going to make jiu niang or Chinese fermented sweet rice. This was one of Grandma’s specialties that I used to sneak spoonfuls of from the refrigerator – that sweet rice porridge floating in rice wine with the slight fizzy tang of fermentation. She would turn it into a hot sweet soup for celebrations or to help kick a cold, flu, or tummy ache. I loved it so much. You can buy it pre-made in Asian grocery stores, but it’s expensive for a pretty small quantity. “Come down and learn how to make it,” Mom commanded. She had been trying for a few years to reproduce Grandma’s recipe, but with mixed results. Now, Mom had finally mastered it with consistency and it meant a lot to her because she too loved, cherished, and missed her mother. It wasn’t something I could put off. Mom and Dad were flying back to Virginia in a few days and as I get older I know not to take time for granted. “Okay, Mom. How about Saturday?”


start with good quality sweet rice

and chinese rice wine yeast



It’s just two ingredients, but you need to get the right two ingredients. You can’t use sushi rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, wild rice, long grain rice, medium grain rice, black rice, whatever rice that isn’t sweet rice – you must use sweet rice. Sweet rice is also known as glutinous rice, which contains no gluten, it’s just really sticky. I’ve shopped around for sweet rice and have seen some bagged varieties with grains that look longish, almost like medium grains. My advice is to get the good stuff. Premium sweet rice resembles short, fat, pearly, oblong grains. As for the Chinese rice wine yeast – it’s jiu qu (see Wikipedia) – a fermentation starter. This one can be tough to find even if you know what you are looking for. It always seems to be tucked away in some random little bin or corner of Asian grocery stores. Luckily for me, Mom had already found them at Pacific Ocean Market in Broomfield, so she told me where to look (by the refrigerated canned drinks at the front near the cashiers). If you can’t find it or if the employees in the store act like your Chinese is just THAT BAD, you can order it from Amazon – but you have to order a dozen and they’re four times as much as what I paid (I paid $.79 for two balls).

2.5 pounds of sweet rice (uncooked) and a ball of chinese rice wine yeast

crush the yeast ball with a mortar and pestle

turn it into a powder



**Jump for more butter**

happy as a clam

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Recipe: linguine with clams

No new snow for nearly two weeks has actually granted me the opportunity to take care of ski stuff that I would normally neglect on powder days. For one thing, we finally took our skis in to have the bindings swapped. A little bird told me that I could bring in a six-pack of craft beer and the ski shop fellas at the local mountaineering store could turn those around for me in a day. So I did. And they did! And they waived a bunch of labor fees too. When someone does you a solid like that, you return a few days later with homemade cookies. We also took care of our skate skis and I convinced my buddy, Erin, to do a nordic ski clinic with me. Even though there’s no new snow, skiing is completely on the brain.


pet the local mountaineering store pup while you’re there

erin and i having fun on the nordic center trails

our instructor showing us how to wax



I lost my photo mojo for a little while there, but that might have been because I was under the weather with a weird 24-hour bug that knocked me off my feet over the weekend. A stunning, colorful sunrise presented itself to the east Monday morning, but I felt so terrible that I just pulled the blinds down and crawled back under the flannel covers. Blarg. Tuesday morning promised to be a repeat of Monday, except that I was filled with pep and energy! I scouted a new location for shooting sunrise and managed to witness a beautiful progression unfold from this vantage point.

so many colors

mesmerizing textures in the sky



Being sick is one thing, but having cotton-brain runs my motivation straight into the ground. My mind floats in a heavy fog of pain or dizziness until I kick whatever it is I’ve got. I can tell when it’s gone because my perpetual mental to do list comes back online. Jeremy can tell when it’s gone because I start saying things like, “Help me make the bed,” or “The pastry brushes belong over there,” or “What would you like for dinner?” One category that consistently delights him is seafood. It is probably my greatest regret about moving to Colorado from the coast. We do have access to good quality seafood, but it’s not the same access as when you live a few miles from the ocean. That and the fact that seafood is a somewhat spendy indulgence here. So the other night, I had a craving for linguine with clam sauce – except I wanted fresh clams.

olive oil, linguine, wine, pepper, butter, garlic, salt, clams, parsley

minced garlic

chopped parsley

prepped



**Jump for more butter**

my kind of pie

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Recipe: cottage pie with beef and carrots

Well wow. Winter arrived this week like a dinner guest who shows up drunk in time for dessert. There was some snow, which I’m grateful for, but we plunged from above freezing to single-digit (that is fahrenheit) temperatures within an hour or two. All hell broke loose as the roads glazed over with black ice. It’s been snowing and below zero at our house for a few days now.


snowy ridges and frigid cold

sushi dinner with my folks before they flew home



My parents made it safely home to Virginia and I think they were relieved to not have to deal with snow and ice. We never got above zero today (Wednesday) at our house, but it should start warming up soon. I’m ready for more snow, I tell ya. It’s time to get the ski pants out. I’ve also been looking for reasons to cook things in the oven now that we have finally entered cold weather season. Can you believe I’ve never made cottage pie before? I wasn’t even sure what it was. But once I read through the recipe, it was clear to me that THIS is my kind of pie – a savory pie with mashie top!

flatiron steaks, white wine, fresh thyme, olive oil, black pepper, onions, dried porcini, salt, celery, carrots, beef broth base, flour, tomato paste

heat the broth and porcini

let the mushrooms steep

chop the porcini (save the liquid)



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