Egg Candy Omelet–A Father’s Day Tribute

Omelet + rice + sambal terasi = divine!

Like many traditional Asian husbands and fathers, my dad was the sole breadwinner in the family and worked long hours. While Dad was also a strong authority figure, I have fond memories of him running beside me gasping and grasping onto my bicycle frame as I wobbled my way along the bike path sans training wheels. And to this day, I can still recall how secure I felt when he wrapped his burly arms around me ever so tightly lest the crashing waves swept me off to sea.

One thing’s for sure, Dad hardly set foot in the kitchen; nope, he didn’t wash the dishes let alone cook! But he did break with routine, just once.

When I was six, my mom spent several days at the hospital after delivering my baby sister in a complicated C-section. In addition to moping around the house, we—Dad, my brother and I—ate dinner out everyday. Until one evening, Dad decided to attempt the one dish he had any inkling of putting together—Mom’s omelet.

I remember peering over the kitchen counter as Dad cracked eggs into a bowl, my eyes following the gelatinous streaks of egg white running down the sides. Then, he hacked through a bunch of green onions and stirred them into the eggs together with a handful of fried shallots. Lastly, he sprinkled in pepper and salt (or so I thought!)… a lot of it.

With this omelet, the whole is definitely greater–or in this case, tastier–than the sum of its parts.

The final outcome was hardly attractive. I shoved my nose into the yellow mound as close as I dared. I shrugged at the familiar eggy smell. At least it didn’t smell bad. With my fork, I prodded it gingerly as if tackling an anthill. While the squishy texture was a little off-putting, my rumbling tummy took precedence. I ate one bite and then another. The omelet was sweet. Not just subtly sweet, but candy sweet. I squealed and proceeded to wipe my plate so clean I could have stacked it with the clean plates and no one would’ve known any better! What six-year-old wouldn’t love what amounts to a plate full of sugary sweetness?

The little girl I was then probably didn’t realize that Dad’s attempt at replicating Mom’s omelet was a loving gesture to help us ease the pain of her absence. And it worked. I was so riled up after I didn’t remember to sulk.

When Mom came home, we crowded around her, cooing over baby Mo and raving about Dad’s “egg candy” omelet all in the same breath. Mom was quite bemused by our enthusiasm for Dad’s cooking but perhaps it was for the best that she didn’t ask him to make it again.

Dad was recently diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and complains his memory is failing. When he came to visit the other day, I asked in jest, hoping to jog his memory, “Do you remember the time you made us omelets with lots and lots of sugar?” His eyes twinkled and his lips crinkled into a smile. “Of course, that’s the best way to make it! Heh…heh…heh…”

I guess some memories never fade.

Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad! I love you!

~~~

(Not My Dad’s) Omelet with Green Onions and Shallots

In my family, omelets have never been just a breakfast thing. My mum would tuck a ham omelet between slices of white bread for my school lunches, and oftentimes an omelet strewn with slices of Bombay onion was served as a side dish with meat and vegetables at dinner. My favorite way is to eat this simple omelet with green onions and fried shallots with rice. Dabbed with a little of my mom’s sambal terasi (shrimp chili paste), it’s a satisfying lunch for a lazy day!

3 eggs
1 tablespoon chopped green onions
1 tablespoon fried shallots
1 tablespoon water
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying

Serves: 1 hungry person
Time: 10 minutes

Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and add the remaining ingredients except for the oil. Stir with a pair of chopsticks or a fork until barely frothy.

Heat a 14″ wok or 8” nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat and swirl in the oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, pour in the egg mixture. Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, until the edges start to set, then break up the runny middle with a spatula (it will look like scrambled eggs but that’s ok) and allow the runny egg to seep underneath and cook.

Continue cooking until the top is almost completely set and the bottom is golden brown, another 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully lift one edge up and flip the omelet over.

Cook for another 1 to 2 minutes until the other side is golden brown and gently slide the omelet onto a plate. Serve immediately with jasmine rice and sambal of your choice.

~~~

This post is  part of #LetsLunch, our monthly Twitter-inspired food bloggers potluck. This month we pay tribute to fathers everywhere. 

Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ creations below. And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #LetsLunch.

Charissa‘s Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks & Uncle Andy’s Chimichurri Sauce at Zest Bakery

Eleanor‘s Salmon Smoked Bok Choy Soup at Wok Star

Emma‘s Ham and Rice at Dreaming of Pots & Pans

Jill‘s Root Beer-Glazed Onion Dip at Eating My Words

Grace‘s Taste of Diversity at HapaMama

Linda‘s Sesame-Ginger Chicken Wings at Spice Box Travels

Lisa‘s Hot Sugary Lip-Smacking Jam Donuts at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Rashda‘s Beth Howard’s Apple Pie at Hot Curries & Cold Beer

Sonja‘s Spicy Smoked Paprika Lamb Shank Goulash at Foodnutzz

A Post-Mother’s Day Post and “Losing Face”

Hand copy of well-known graphic called endless...
The endless knot, also called mystic or love knot, is a feng shui symbol representing never-ending love and unity among family members in Chinese culture.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, I had written a Mother’s Day post that came from the heart.

My many days of soul-searching were rewarded with memories that revealed themselves in full Technicolor splendor. My words were honest and truthful, as personal essays ought to be. I did share some intimate moments from my childhood but nothing I thought would color anyone’s opinion of me or my mother. Yet, something was nagging at me, like a hangnail so teensy yet so there.

When it came time to hit the ‘publish’ key, my finger froze. I couldn’t do it. I hit ‘delete’ instead. I shut down my computer and went off to wallow in a teetering bowl of Tillamook Mud Slide ice cream and a decadent afternoon nap.

A few days later, I made a new acquaintance. When she found out I was a food writer, she told me she knew a very famous food blogger and writer and had once asked her, “Does it bother you that the whole world knows every detail of your life?” The answer was, “No.”

That simple conversation was a revelation. In hindsight, I was concerned about how my mum would react to my essay (not that she reads my blog but still…), or that she might “lose face” if any of her friends or friends of friends read the piece (not that they will but still…).

As Asians, we are very concerned about “saving face,” an abstract concept that can simply be described as taking steps not to publicly humiliate oneself or others. Western culture appreciates honesty (sometimes to the point of being too in-your-face) and transparency but the opposite holds true with Asians.

As such, we never air our dirty laundry. Certain topics are so taboo they’re not even discussed behind closed doors, let alone laid bare for the prying eyes and ears of others!

I was also feeling particularly sensitive having just read Amy Chua’s contentious Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The book evoked many emotional (and verbal!) responses that I won’t get into but what I found most shocking was that despite Chua’s flagrant claims of being a very traditional Chinese parent, she’s flaunting some seriously filthy laundry for the whole entire world to ogle, rips, tears, stains, racy hot pink panties and all.

I could never do that to my family. And knowing how sensitive–and how very Asian–my mum is, I was right to err on the side of caution.

After some reflection, I decided on the following guideline *for my blog: If I thought my words may have even the slightest chance of hurting someone *close to me or making them feel uncomfortable, I would keep them to myself. (The same goes in real life, no?) My family and friends are worth much, much more than any number of hits on my blog.

What about you? Where do you draw the line when revealing details about your private life to the blogosphere? Do you have guiding principles? Please share your responses in the comments section, I’d love to hear them!

(*Addendum: I added the words in red after original publication)

Of Fusion Cuisine and Fusion Babies

The online Merriam Webster dictionary defines fusion cuisine as: “food prepared by using the techniques and ingredients of two or more ethnic or regional cuisines”

Going by this definition, just about everything we cook or eat is fusion cuisine. Noodles came from China (yes, they did!), so technically, spaghetti is a fusion dish. The Seattle dining scene is heavily influenced by the Pacific Rim, and even if no one bats an eyelid at grassfed flank steak shellacked with Sriracha-hoisin glaze served with a side of parsnip puree, this dish screams fusion! And while it never occurred to me when I was growing up, I was raised on fusion food. Many traditional Singaporean favorites are an amalgamation of the cultures that simmer in that diverse melting pot of a society. As were the Indonesian dishes my mum put on the table day after day.

In the same way, you could say my son is a fusion baby: he was created through the union of two or more ethnic groups. I am Indonesian-Chinese and my husband, Pakistani-White American (forgive the generalization as my husband is adopted and unsure of his heritage).

Fusion baby or not, all toddler boys are programmed to love trains especially one named Thomas.

So it’s not surprising he was the inspiration for this fusion dish I created for #LetsLunch, our monthly Twitter-inspired food bloggers potluck.

One weekday several months ago, I was exhausted after a whole day of Isaac-sitting and I didn’t really want to cook. I was fine eating leftovers but I didn’t think Isaac would appreciate the fiery Indian curry from several days ago so I rummaged around in the fridge and found leftover cooked pasta, frozen peas and tofu. Yay, I thought, my kid loves tofu and will eat it with anything. However, tofu and red sauce didn’t quite appeal so I decided to try an Asian-style pasta stirfry.

I cut the tofu into cubes and brushed them with oyster sauce before pan-frying them. Once they were done, I removed them from the pan then continued with the rest of the ingredients. When everything had been given a final toss in the pan, I was a little skeptical but once I tasted the dish, I was pleasantly surprised.

When I made the dish again, I wanted a crisper tofu so I tossed the cubes in olive oil and baked them. The result–light golden cubes with crusty edges that held up better in the pan. I also added some butter toward the end to give the dish richness and flavor, a tip I learned from a Vietnamese chef when I was gathering recipes for The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook. I thought, “why not?’ since Isaac’s pediatrician was always telling me to add olive oil and butter to his meals to fatten him up.

Tofu, pasta, and butter(!) may seem like an odd combo but this dish turned out very tasty and has been filed away in my “recipes to keep” folder.  Plus, Isaac LOVES it! There we are, fusion cuisine for a fusion baby.

Our very own #LetsLunch-er Grace Hwang Lynch of HapaMama wrote a BlogHer article, highlighting that one in ten married couples have partners of different races. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, mixed-race marriages have increased by 28% in the past decade nationwide. Not surprisingly, more mixed-race (fusion!) babies are being born, according to this Washington Post article.

In the next century, perhaps fusion cuisine will be an obsolete term, humankind will be entirely mixed-race, and if Joss Wheedon (sorry typo, thanks Mo!) is truly a soothsayer, we’ll all be space cowboys cursing in Cantonese on the frontier! (And if you didn’t get that “Firefly” reference, you really need to email me to fix that!)

~~~

Buttery Tofu, Pasta and Peas

This is an easy, no-fuss recipe perfect for a weeknight meal. You can bake the tofu the night before and refrigerate until needed, or utilize the baking time to cook the pasta and chop the garlic and onions. You’ll still have time to take a shower and feed the dogs! I like my tofu a little crisp but if you’re running short on time, pan-fry the tofu cubes for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side instead. You can also use store-bought fried tofu or baked tofu.

Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes active
Makes: 4 servings

14-ounce package firm or extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for cooking
Sea salt
8 ounces farfalle pasta, cooked according to package directions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1-1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup frozen peas
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, toss the tofu cubes with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and salt to taste. Spread them evenly in one layer on a baking sheet. Bake until golden and crispy along the edges, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

While the tofu is baking, cook the pasta according to package directions.

Once the tofu is done, swirl in the remaining oil into a large pot and heat over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Cook the garlic and onion until the onion turns translucent. Add the pasta, followed by the oyster sauce and soy sauce. Mix well to coat the pasta.

Add the frozen peas and the butter and toss until the peas are heated through and the butter has completely melted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a glass of white wine or a sippy cup of milk (for you know who).

~~~

Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ creations below. And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #LetsLunch.

Anastasia‘s Miso Salmon with Mango Salsa at In Foodie Fashion

Cathy‘s Bacon-Studded Polenta With Tomato Gravy at ShowFood Chef

Charissa‘s Gluten-Free Azuki Bean Bundt Cake at Zest Bakery

Cheryl‘s Goan Pork Curry Tacos at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Eleanor‘s Wok Picadillo at Wok Star

Ellise‘s Salty Lime Sablés (Margarita Cookies) at Cowgirl Chef

Emma‘s Kimchi Bulgogi Nachos at Dreaming of Pots And Pans

Felicia‘s Mexican-Lebanese Hummus at Burnt-Out Baker

Grace‘s Taiwanese Fried Chicken at HapaMama

Jill‘s Southern Pimento-Stuffed Knishes at Eating My Words

Joe‘s Grilled KimCheese Sandwich at Joe Yonan

Juliana‘s Fusion Chicken Casserole at Food, Fun & Life

Karen‘s Ukrainian-German Cabbage Rolls at GeoFooding

Leigh‘s Venezuelan-Italian Cachapas Con Queso at Leigh Nannini

Linda‘s Project Runway Pelau: Rice & Beans Trinidad-Style at Spicebox Travels

Linda‘s Edible Salad Totes at Free Range Cookies

Lisa‘s Sunday Night Jewish-Chinese Brisket at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Lucy‘s Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango at A Cook And Her Books

Maria‘s Spanish Shrimp with Bacon, Cheddar & Chive Grits at Maria’s Good Things

Nancie‘s Chili-Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter at Nancie McDermott

Patricia‘s Buttery Tofu, Pasta & Peas at The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook

Patrick‘s Kimchi Jigae and British Mash at Patrick G. Lee

Rashda‘s Mango Cobbler at Hot Curries & Cold Beer

Renee‘s Asian-Spiced Quick Pickles at My Kitchen And I

Steff‘s Chicken Fried Steak at The Kitchen Trials

Vivian‘s Funky Fusion Linguini at Vivian Pei


Ingredient Spotlight: Kecap Manis

kecap manis art II
Kecap Manis II — Jackson Pollock would be proud!

A very important person once said, “You can’t argue with taste.” This V.I.P. happens to be my dad. He’d make this declaration while pouring kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce, literally “sweet sauce”) over whatever food was on his plate, be it fried noodles (normal) or spaghetti (not so normal). When it comes to food, Dad’s tastes are simple. He likes Asian food and he likes it cooked by my mom. Any other dish can be remedied by drowning it in kecap manis. Seriously. When Dad travels, he carries a miniature bottle (just like those pint-sized Jim Beams and Johnny Walkers) in his waist-pouch, tucked in nice and snug next to his passport and wallet. No doubt, he equates kecap manis with the elixir of life. Dad must be on to something. Kecap manis is popping up more and more on the culinary landscape as chefs are discovering the wonders of this thick, viscous sauce made from sugar, water, salt, soybeans, and wheat. Heck, even Yotam Ottalenghi, the famous Israeli-born chef who owns five London eateries, uses kecap manis in his Black Pepper Tofu recipe (Plenty, Chronicle Books, 2011). Kecap manis is used both as a flavoring sauce and a condiment at the table. It is a mainstay in dishes like babi kecap (soy sauce pork), nasi goreng (fried rice) and satay. I like to float cut Thai chilies in a tiny dish of kecap manis to serve with fried fish, and I find that a squirt or two of kecap manis in my bowl of chicken noodle soup adds subtly sweet undertones. Don’t restrict kecap manis to Asian dishes though. Marinate your steak, simmer your stews, and baste your roasts with it. You can find two brands of kecap manis in the U.S.: Cap Bango and ABC. More Asian markets carry the ABC brand but I always pick Cap Bango if available for its thicker consistency and sweeter, more complex flavor. Molasses is a worthy substitute although I think it tastes more similar to the Chinese version of sweet soy sauce that accompanies Hainanese chicken rice or popiah. If you can’t find kecap manis, I’ve provided a quick method to make your own at home below.

English: Kecap Manis Achli Masak(left) and Kec...
ABC brand kecap manis                                             Photo courtesy: wikipedia.org

I used to be offended that my dad would pour kecap manis over every meal I served him at my house. I’ve since learned to put things in perspective. My dad was a chain smoker for more than three decades and at the ripe old age of 72, his taste buds are probably a little worn and weary. So a taste of something familiar is comforting to him ??. Now I’m just proud he’s at the forefront of a new food trend, plus he’s taught me a very valuable lesson–you really can’t argue with taste.

~~~

Quick and Easy Kecap Manis

Some methods will have you simmering herbs and spices like galangal, star anise and cinnamon in the sauce. I don’t think it’s necessary but feel free to do so if you’d like. If you can find Indonesian palm sugar (gula jawa/merah), use it. A brand called SweetTree has it in granulated form and is available at Whole Foods. Time: 2 minutes Makes: 1/4 cup Mix 1 tablespoon water, 1 tablespoon regular soy sauce and 3 tablespoons brown sugar together in a small bowl. Microwave on medium for 20 to 30 seconds. Stir to mix. Microwave a few more seconds if the sugar has not completely dissolved. The flavor is similar but the consistency will be thinner than store-bought. To make larger quantities, use the same ratio 1 water:1 soy sauce:3 sugar and simmer on the stove top over low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes until the sugar has completely dissolved and the sauce is thick and syrupy. Store in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 months.

~~~

Here are more recipes for making kecap manis:

Here are recipes that use kecap manis:

Lemongrass and Pandan Christmas Sugar Cookies: An Experiment in Asian-Inspired Baking

stacked cookies

Growing up, my family didn’t have a tradition of baking Christmas cookies. My mom would place several orders of Bûche de Noël (Christmas log cake) for our family dinner on Christmas eve and to give away to friends but nary a sugar cookie was in sight.

I never realized what I was missing until I moved to the U.S. where everyone I met seemed to have a favorite family Christmas cookie. My husband has fond memories of churning out pizzelles (even though his adopted family is of mostly German descent, go figure!) in a pizzelle iron with his sister. My church friend Karen introduced me to biscochitos, or Mexican wedding cookies, the official cookie of New Mexico. (*Note: a reader insisted that biscochitos and Mexican wedding cookies were not the same so I removed this. Do you have an opinion?). And Deb was baking glazed Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) months before Christmas, packing them into tins to “age.”

When my sis and I lived in the same city for a couple of years, we baked an assortment of Christmas cookies to share with our friends: Snickerdoodles, Mexican wedding cookies, thumbprint cookies, etc. But that arrangement doesn’t last long when one of us is married to a man in the military.

This year, I wanted to create my own Christmas cookie tradition, as often happens when you have a child. Isaac isn’t old enough to help in the kitchen but I figured I could do with a little practice in anticipation of the time he’ll be ready a few years down the road.

The wheels in my brain started whirring and then it came to me: Asian-inspired sugar cookies!

You might take one look at my methods and decide, Wow, that’s a lot of work! It’s not that I intentionally want to make my already-complicated life even more difficult. Trust me, there is reason behind the madness.

red sprinkles

As I surveyed the ingredients in my pantry and refrigerator, I made a mental checklist of yay or nay items. I nixed the idea of curried sugar cookies; too straightforward. Coriander and cardamom were common Scandinavian flavor profiles too and weren’t uniquely Asian. Then I pulled out the pandan leaves and lemongrass in my freezer. Hmm …

As you can see, I was just using what I had on hand. Considering we are moving again soon, it’s in my best interest to cook down my cupboards. I also had some bergamot oil which I know isn’t Asian-inspired, but I love Earl Grey tea so I thought, why not?

I adapted this recipe for the sugar cookie base and set to work. I divided up the dough into four parts so that I would not be fully committed to any one flavor. (Quadruple any of the amounts below if you’d like to make just one flavor.) As luck would have it, all of them turned out yummy. And chopping up the lemongrass and the pandan leaves wasn’t so hard, really!

In the end, it’s not just about the cookies. Although eating them is always part of the fun.

It’s about moms (and dads!), kids, and siblings whiling away a wintry afternoon, sharing a laugh as they cream sugar and butter in turn, and sprinkle candies on cookies. It’s about the joy of seeing a friend smile as they accept your prettily-packaged box of cookies. And there’s nothing like the sweet smell of cookies baking in the oven to spread warmth and cheer, and remind us that Christmas is here.

Merry Christmas everyone!

~~~

Experimental Christmas Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Easy Sugar Cookies on Allrecipes.com

cookeis in a row

Cake flour produces a softer cookie with a finer crumb and I combined it with all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat flour because that’s what I had) so that it would still stand up as a sugar cookie. You can make the cookies entirely with all-purpose flour if you desire. I also prefer natural cane sugar to white granulated sugar. I like its richer, almost molasses-like flavor. If you prefer a sweeter cookie, add up to ½ cup more sugar.

Makes: about 4 dozen cookies

2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup natural cane sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons Lemongrass Confetti (see below)
1/2 tablespoon Pandan Juice (see below), or 1/4 teaspoon pandan paste (available at Asian markets)
1/8 teaspoon bergamot or other flavoring oils
Sugar sprinkles or other decorations

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Combine the flours, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well mixed.

Add the dry ingredients gradually, blending each batch in before adding more. Mix well.

Divide the dough into 4 balls and place in separate bowls. Add the lemongrass bits, pandan juice, and bergamot oil to each bowl respectively, leaving the fourth bowl plain. Knead each ball with your hands until the flavoring is completely mixed in.

Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten with the back of the spoon and sprinkle with colored sugar or other decorations.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Let the cookies stand on the cookie sheet for two minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks.

Rinse out cookie sheets, wipe down, and repeat until all the cookies are baked. (Don’t place dough on hot cookie sheets or they will cook unevenly and/or burn quickly.) Or refrigerate (up to 2 days) or freeze (up to a week) remaining dough to bake later.

Lemongrass Confetti

Trim about an inch from the hard root end of one plump lemongrass stalk and chop off the woody top where it just starts to turn from green to pale yellow. You should have 6 to 7 inches of lemongrass stalk remaining. Peel off the loose, tough outer layers to expose the tender white core, then bruise the entire length of the stem with a meat pounder, large knife, or heavy glass to release the aroma and oils. Cut the stalks crosswise into very thin ringlets (as thin as you can possibly cut them). Then rock your knife blade over the pieces to chop them into confetti-sized flakes. The tinier you can chop the lemongrass, the less chance you’ll be chomping down on hard bits when you bite into the cookie. Or whirl in a food processor. You should get about 2 to 3 tablespoons from one stalk.

Pandan Juice

Pandan leaves are considered the Southeast Asian equivalent of vanilla extract and are used to flavor cakes and kuehs in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. You can find pandan leaves in the freezer section of Asian markets. They are occasionally available fresh. (Go here for an article on pandan leaves I wrote for Saveur magazine)

Rinse 6 pandan leaves and snip into 1/2 inch sections. Place the leaves in a small food processor with 2 tablespoons of water. Whirl until pulpy and wrap in a cheesecloth placed over a bowl. Squeeze out as much pandan juice as possible. You’ll probably have more than the required 1/2 tablespoon. You can boil it down in a small saucepan over low heat for a more concentrated flavor or just add the extra to a cup of tea.

~~~

Asian-Themed Thanksgiving Recipes

Whew … I can’t believe that next week is already Thanksgiving! Can you?

In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that my sticky rice stuffing post has been getting lots of hits. That’s another hint that Turkey day is near. So I decided to link to all my Thanksgiving-themed recipes in one blog post to make life easier for you. Enjoy!

 

1. Sticky Rice Stuffing

 

2. Pumpkin Custard

 

3. Turkey Congee/Jook
Just substitute the chicken for the turkey carcass and save some turkey meat for garnish!

 

4. Chinese-Style Savory Pumpkin Cake

 

5. Top 10 Leftover Turkey Tips

And here are more ideas from around the Web:
A comprehensive list of ideas and recipes from IMDiversity.com
Turkey and side dish recipes from Chinesefood.about.com
A modern Asian-American Thanksgiving celebration from Food and Wine magazine

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If you have any Asian-inspired Thanksgiving recipes, please share and/or link to them in the comments section. I’d love to hear about them!

A Tribute to Oma

oma

My paternal grandmother, whom I called “Oma”

As my cookbook launched this past October 1st, I came to the sudden realization that I knew more about the grandmothers I interviewed than my own. And in a reversal of scenarios, one friend whose mom I featured in the book told me, “You know more about my mom than I do!”

It wasn’t deliberate, honest. My maternal grandma “Popo” died before I knew her and my paternal grandma “Oma” live an hour plane ride away in Jakarta. And unfortunately, my parents hardly ever told us stories about our grandparents.

I thought this was a travesty along the same lines of eating Indonesian fried chicken without sambel (chili paste)–a huge faux pas in my book , at least! I decided to set things straight.

A few weeks ago, my birthday came and went and so did my late grandmother’s whose special day was the day after mine. My parents called me to wish me a happy birthday and I spent the next hour on the phone with my dad asking him to tell me about his mother, my Oma (Dutch for grandma).

Embarrassingly, my first question was, “What was her name?” I’d always called her Oma. The answer: Sicilianti Monica Sie.

Born in 1913, Oma was the youngest of three girls and a boy. Unfortunately, her brother passed away when he was very young. She was born in Cirebon on the northwest coast of the island of Java and grew up in Jakarta where she trained as a teacher. However, she never taught in a school. Not to say I can blame her, she did have a total of nine children!

In 1937, Oma married my Opa (grandfather), Tan Tjo Tjay. Opa worked for the postal service when Indonesia was still a Dutch colony and they moved several times and lived in many towns including Cirebon, Jakarta, Magelang and Bandung. My oldest aunt, tante Tres, my dad, Rudy, and my uncle, oom Theo, came in quick succession.

The family was living in Jakarta when the Japanese invaded Indonesia in 1942 during WWII. And so began a time of extreme hardship.

From 1943 to 1945, Opa was interned on suspicion of spying because he was a Dutch civil servant. To survive, Oma sold cakes and cookies at the market and fed her children whatever she could pull together. (Dad used to tell us he ate cockroaches and rats to survive but to this day, I still don’t know whether to believe him.)

Most heart-wrenching of all is the story Dad told me of the time Oma lugged him, 3, and tante Tres, 4, to visit Opa in jail. The three of them had to take the train from Jakarta to Bandung and each and every car was so chockfull of people it was impossible to enter through the doors.

In desperation, Oma shoved her two children into the train through the window. Just as she did that, the train started chugging away along the tracks. I can’t imagine what was going through her heart and her head right at that moment. A cocktail of love, panic and adrenalin must have been coursing through her veins as she started running alongside the train and thankfully managed to squeeze herself into the entryway of a train car. After frantically searching, she finally reunited with her children.

That wasn’t the end of the episode. After the harrowing train experience, Dad related how Oma had to bribe just about every official in the prison hierarchy to gain access to Opa.

oma_and_family

This picture was taken right after my younger sister, Mo was born in 1979. Oma is sitting at the right end of the couch next to me. Mom is cradling Mo in her arms.  The young lady on my mom’s left is her sister tante Wawa and the crazy boy with the blurry face is my brother, Mars.

When the Japanese occupation ended, the family eventually settled in Bandung, a city three hours (depending on traffic) southeast of Jakarta, where life more or less went back to normal.

Oma was a stay-at-home mom and had helped from her own mother.

With a brood of nine, the family always ate at home. Dad accompanied Oma to the market and carried her shopping, while in the kitchen his brother Theo would help with the cooking, which is why “Oom Theo got fatter than the rest of us,” I quote Dad.

Meals comprised a lot of soups, one of the easiest dishes to cook for such a big clan: oxtail soup,  sayur asem (sour vegetable soup), and sayur asin (salted vegetable soup).

Fish like mackerel was seasoned with tamarind and deep fried, and for a special treat, gurame (a white flat fish similar to barramundi) was deep fried with taucheo (yellow bean paste). Every so often, Oma would buy 10 or so crabs and cook them with ginger and oyster sauce. Plus, she’d stir fry vegetables like chayote, long beans or kangkung (water spinach).

There was always a meat or fish dish, one veggie dish and the requisite bottle of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) which Dad is still addicted to till this day.

With nine siblings around the table, if you weren’t quick you didn’t get the choice pieces of meat.

Opa was a pork lover so there was often pig offal on the dining table as well which none of the children liked—the head, nose and cheeks, trotters, etc. No one ever fought over those dishes!

For the last four years of her life, Oma was bedridden. She had a hereditary condition that caused her vertebrae to be crooked—she was literally bent double the last time I saw her standing. She also went blind probably from undiagnosed diabetes. I think it’s sad that she chose to stay in Indonesia despite her two sons being in Singapore where there was better health care.

Oma died in 1985.

That was as much as I got out of Dad that one morning but I hope to learn more about this special woman who brought him up. In fact, I’d like to try and recreate some of the simple dishes Oma used to make.

That’s the least I can do in her memory.