Sunday, February 22, 2015

Guava Bars

So, I’ve been walking lately.  A brisk morning walk several times a week, as well as walking wherever I can vis a vis taking the car.  Although I have always espoused a life of decadence (i.e. rationalising my laziness), a pain au chocolat in one hand and a good book in the other, cozily ensconced in a mass of duvet covers, I can’t deny that time takes its toll on all of us unless we do something to counter it.  And so, a little movement is in order to get this old ticker in some semblance of satisfactory shape so I will be able to one day walk my now-little-ones down the aisle or take care of some grandchildren.

I’m being dramatic.

No, I’m not.  Listen here young and not-so-young parents…our health will one day be one of the best gifts we give our children.  They (and we) may not realize that now, when she cannot see past the My Little Pony shelves in the toy store, or the rubber ball he is determined to break apart with his teeth, but one day they will.

Anyway, enough contemplation for now.

My morning walks...I do love them.  Really.  And coming from someone who cannot abide by any physical activity whatsoever, that is quite an admission.  The inside of a gym literally makes me faint (as does the insides of sports stores fyi…the smell, it’s that weird smell of rubber).  Sports are even worse for me because they combine two of my least favorite things in life…physical activity and competition (ironic that both my husband and my best friend are avid sportspeople who thrive in competitive environments).  I knew I needed to get moving though, but the only times I actually don’t mind physical effort is when I’m shopping, exploring, dancing, or otherwise “just living”.  And so, I’ve decided to build my “fitness plan” on just that…"just living”.  Incorporating more activity into what I already do, or need to do: Turning my regular market trips into “marketcizing”, walking to pay my bills, using my feet instead of my car to pick up my daughter from pre-school.  So many things can turn into a walk, just as so many things can turn into an adventure.  Yes, doing this has injected more activity in my life and has (fingers crossed) made me a bit stronger (heart and lungs…I mean you!), but it’s also yielded some pleasant surprises: corners of my city I see with new eyes, my daughter’s love of our “little walks” that are now our own mini-adventures, and the amazing cobweb-clearing quality a good walk in the outdoors seems to possess.

And of course, there is that carbon footprint decreasing.

It must be said that I have nothing, absolutely nothing, against organized exercise.  My husband is wildly in love with biking and has also just started a passionate affair with cross-fit.  This is on top of his lifelong devotion to football.  And he is one of my favorite people in the world.  So more power to all that I say.  But I know that it is not for me.

And truly, I am well aware that this sort of thing is not going to land me washboard abs or the ability to wear a short skirt.  I am satisfied with the extra activity my heart (and lungs!) is getting…which will hopefully help me avoid keeling over on my next trip up some stairs.

It hopefully also gives me a little extra leeway for a few treats…like this one.

Guava Bars
(adapted from Simply Anne’s)
  • 215 grams all purpose flour
  • 140 grams rolled oats
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 200 grams butter
  • 300 grams brown sugar
  • 1 cup guava jelly 
- In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
- With an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low and add the mixture of dry ingredients.  Continue mixing until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl but is still crumbly.
- Line a 9x9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper – I like to make sure the paper hangs a bit over the edge of the pan because this is what I use to lift the baked product out of the pan.  Press a little over half the dough into the pan, firmly and evenly. 
- In a clean mixing bowl whisk the guava jelly until light and smooth, about 3 minutes.  This makes the sticky jelly much easier to spread.
- Spread the whipped guava jelly over the dough base, and then using your fingers, break up the remaining dough over the jelly.  You don’t have to cover everything; it’s ok (and actually quite nice) if the jelly peeks out here and there.
- Bake this in a pre-heated 325F oven for about 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
- Let this cool completely in the pan, then use the parchment paper to sling it out onto a chopping board.  Cut into squares.

Now, I know that guava bars may not be classified as health food by any standards but mine, where I file it neatly between fruit and oatmeal.  If you practice the same such standards, please indulge!  This is both simple to make and yummy to snack on if you like guava jelly (which I do, irrevocably).  In my old school they make a tart with guava jelly…and I like to think this is reminiscent of that. 

This got a 3 out of 4 vote in my household: everyone liking it except for my choco-phile little girl.  She did get me thinking about doing this with chocolate chips, nuts, and marshmallows instead of the jam so she may just get her wish one day.  I am certainly going to try this with other jams as well; off the bat I am thinking a mangosteen or a mango version would be delicious.

If you’d like to see my non-workout workout attempts, whether to inspire you (because if I can do it…), or to make you feel more virtuous (because you are already doing so much more I am sure!), or even just so we can virtually laugh together, you can follow me on Instagram and look for my hashtags #the80breakfastsfitnessplan and #idontthinkyourereadyforthisjellydonut :)  You can also look for #marketcizing for specific market-centered “working-out” :)

And…if you are like me, and have always been avoiding exercise, why not strap on those neglected sneakers and just…go.  Explore, wander, pick up a bag of pan de sal from the bakery two streets down, walk to the mall and buy yourself some killer shoes…discover, but on foot! (and if you are so inclined, go ahead and tag your photos with any of the hashtags above so we can all enjoy our glorious attempts at being more active together ;))

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sesame Soba Noodles

I was at our neighborhood coffee shop yesterday morning.  I woke up a just a tiny bit earlier so I could sneak a solo coffee before I went to market.  Which I suppose is a funny thing to do on Valentines, but I love it when I have time to grab a cup of coffee before heading to the market on Saturdays, so there you go.  Just me, my flat white, doing my little (and I do mean little) market list, and watching my neighbors.  A little bit of calm before the weekend bursts upon us.

I sat there, like I have done many Saturdays before, sipping my coffee, looking around.  I let everything wash over me.  The deep comforting smell of the coffee, the way the cup’s fat lip touched mine, the multitude of conversations happening all around me, the soft green of the succulents they like to put on every table.  And I felt a kinship with everyone there, although they were all strangers.  Does that sound odd?  You know those times when you think the human race is going to hell in a handbasket?  Well, this was the complete opposite of that feeling.  I felt like, at that moment, I was connected to everyone.  And they to me.  That we were all trying to be humans together.  The breathless and hopeful and tenuous and fleeting beauty of it.

At that moment, I loved everyone in that coffee shop.  The old man in the maroon felt fedora, smoking a cigar and holding his cane and looking like he had a million mysteries running through him.  The group of three in the table in front of me, two foreigners and one local, talking about UNESCO heritage sites and other such important matters.  The young family with their baby in a stroller, an iPad propped up so he (or she) could watch Hi5 while they had their breakfast, making me feel (gratefully) less guilty about my own loose protocols on TV and gadgets.  The couple on my right, older, all briskness and business, their formality hiding a fondness and familiarity, that I felt anyway, even through the way he said “let’s have the French toast stuffed with dark chocolate” as if he was conveying the bottom line of a financial statement.  The couple on my left, younger, who held hands across the table and would not let go, through earnest conversation topics, shifting of positions, and ordering of coffee their hands linked, stretched and knotted but wouldn’t break – that day they did not seem trite or corny, but reassuringly endearing, so much so that when their order came and their hands parted I almost felt the pain of it.  Even the waitress across the room, who seemed to understand what I needed with just a softly mouthed “water” from a distance, her lips echoing “water” before coming over with a tall bottle to refill my waiting glass.

Glorious humanity. I felt you. I felt the goodness. 

This has nothing to do with noodles, except that noodles too are good, and sometimes glorious.

Sesame Soba Noodles
(adapted from Savory Simple)
  • 70 grams noodles (I used somen but you can use soba if you have it)
  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon chili oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 3 tablespoons pasta water
- Prepare noodles as per package instructions.  Rinse in cold water and set aside.
- In a small bowl whisk together thoroughly the peanut butter, sesame oil, soy sauce, chili oil, honey, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, and the pasta water.  Taste and adjust – if you want it to be saltier add a little soy sauce, if you want it to be sweeter add a little honey, if you want more heat add more chili oil.  You are looking for a balanced flavor.
- Toss the noodles and sauce together.  Garnish with the remaining sesame seeds before serving.

I had been sitting on this recipe for a while now.  It’s been hanging around my pinterest board for a bit.  I have also had these lovely somen noodles that I procured on a trip to Hong Kong, and had been meaning to use.  So it made sense to pair one with the other.  I decided to use the egg somen (the others in the photo are perilla and yuzu…I can’t wait!) because I felt this creamy nutty sauce would go well with it, which it did.  I’m thinking of trying this with the original soba called for though as the somen is quite thin and delicate and this sauce could do with a more substantial noodle.  Although somen is still absolutely fine if that’s all you’ve got.

This will make two servings, which is exactly right for us as it was a hit with half of the family, myself and the little boy, while C and the little girl weren’t quite as sold.  Knowing my propensity for creamy dishes, and C’s typical indifference to them, I am not surprised.  It is interesting though to see our little ones develop their own personal tastes, and to whom one will be similar.  If you like Asian-style peanut sauce, and creamy sauces in general, you will like this as well I suspect.  Add as little or as much chili as you’d like.  I added about half a teaspoon and this was fine with my almost-two-year-old.   

I walk home from the coffee shop and market yesterday reinvigorated and primed to make the most of the weekend.  Sometimes all you need is a quick reboot, nothing fancy or involved, just a little exhale over some coffee, short unplugged moments taking it all in, at your favorite neighborhood haunt. 

Hope you all had a wonderful Valentines weekend, spent loving everyone who you love most, including yourself!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Quick Blueberry and Chia Seed Jam

Did I ever tell you that my father was a photographer?  If not by profession then definitely by heart.  Long before the arrival of digital cameras, he lugged his (what seemed to me then) huge camera everywhere.  I had to pose for so many photos.  “Look up…look left…look down…chin up…”  I obeyed like the dutiful daughter that I was (still am actually).  And then there were the photos that weren’t posed…which where much worse.  Did I ever tell you that I am an ugly sleeper?  Well, we have the photos that prove it.  As we do the “just about to take a bite of food” photos and the “in the middle of disagreeing with someone” photos.

I remember thousands (or what seemed to me then like thousands) of flower photos, many of which looked exactly the same to me.  I remember the old school slideshow viewer that he was so excited to get.  The meeting of the slideshow viewer and the (thousands!) flower photos was a purgatorial day for my brother and me.  Click-shuck, click-shuck…flower # 784.  My father pointing out minuscule details for my brother and my untrained eyes.

I remember our first European holiday as a family, with my brother winning the dubious honor of being my dad’s photographer’s assistant.  He carried heavy bags and tripod without too much complaining.  Difficult to complain when you are in Europe.  Even with my dad lying on his back beneath the Eiffel Tower so he could get a photo from under her “skirt”.  Our whole trip was soundtracked with his shutter release button. 

I remember when I whined to him how my little digicam couldn’t produce the same kinds of photos on other food blogs…and pretty soon a D-SLR appeared on my doorstep.  And this blog got a facelift in the photo department.

That very same DSLR suddenly decided to go on strike last week.  Something or other jammed and a part now needs to be replaced.  I don’t really understand what this entails except for the part where the replacement could take a couple of months to arrive.  I looked at the guy at the Nikon service center, lips pursed, trying not to let the overly dramatic words out of my mouth – “But my blog!!!

Well…did I ever tell you that my father was a photographer?  His cameras and other photography paraphernalia have been sitting at my brother’s flat, waiting for a good moment for us to go over them.  Had I been putting it off?  I’ll never know.  But this was as good a time as any, I thought, I do need a camera.  So we gathered over five and some bags filled with cameras (some still film!), and lenses, flashes, and other odds and ends of which I don’t even know the use.  Then there are the tripods and lighting equipment.  At the end of it all there were around a dozen lenses standing like soldiers on my mother’s bar, and I had a new/old camera on my lap.  But not just any camera.  My dad’s camera.  As I put my fingers on the worn rubber pads, I think to myself, I hope I can do this justice…not just in skill, but also in passion.  Because my father was passionate about the things he believed in, about the things he loved.

He also made jam.  Did I ever mention that?

Quick Blueberry and Chia Seed Jam
  • 150 grams blueberries
  • 100-120 grams sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 4 tablespoons water
- Place all the ingredients in a small pot.  Place over low heat and let simmer, stirring now and again, until it thickens.  This won’t take long, about 20-25 minutes.  You want it to be thick but still pourable.  It will gel further as it sits.
- Place in a clean jar and, when cool, store in the fridge.

This is one of the easiest jam recipes ever.  You just dump everything in a small pot and let it bubble away until it turns into jam.  For me, this was just a little over the time it took me to make my morning coffee and yogurt bowl, and wrestle with my littlest one a bit.  It makes one small jar, which you then store in the fridge.  Easy to make, easy to enjoy.  This jam is perfect in a cream cheese sandwich or dolloped atop some yogurt, as pictured here.

The chia seeds not only add its super health powers, but also help the jam jellify.   I’ve used our local blueberries here (from Benguet), which are not as sweet as the blueberries of the West, so if you are using regular blueberries you may want to adjust the sugar.

My dad never made blueberry jam.  His specialty was mango, one of my favorite jams of all time.  He could wax poetic about his mango jam, and the making of it.  I think he would like this too though.  He loved all sweet things.

So here I am, with my father’s old toys.  I still need to go through the lenses, figure out where each one’s talents lie…and which lie in food.  I still have to fix up his camera that I will be trying my hand at.  I still have to go through the tripods.  And goodness knows if I’ll have the wherewithal to manage the lighting equipment.  Meanwhile my regular camera is in the hands of the Nikon service center.  So it may take a little longer to get a new post up.  Rest assured I intend that to be sooner rather than later.  As the trepidation and sentimental melancholy fade, it is replaced by an excitement in the knowledge that I’ll have something of my father’s with me, working with me on this thing that I am passionate about, that I love, which is this little space in cyberspace.

See you all soon!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Peking Pork Chops

If you are thinking that much of what we eat at home is Asian food, or at the very least Asian-influenced food, then you would be absolutely right.  My pantry is packed with everything from soy sauce (regular and dark) to sesame oil (Chinese and Korean), oyster sauce and hoisin, Shaoxing wine, rice wine, rice wine vinegar, mirin, fish sauce, coconut milk, various chili pastes (with and without soy) hailing for different Asian countries, plum sauce, sweet chili sauce, and probably a few other items that I can’t recall at the moment.

There are two very good reasons for this.  One, the most obvious, that I live in Asia, and am Asian.  And two, that I absolutely and unequivocally love Asian food.  All Asian food.  Yes, all.  And although I do love cuisines from other continents as well, none have a hold on my heart the way Asian food does.  I’ve said this one too many times that I am sure there is someone (or two or more) out there who desperately wants to shut me up (or whack my head at least).  But there it is.  I can’t deny it nor stop waxing obsessive about it.  Asian food is just this side of criminally awesome.  Nothing can match it when it comes to its crazy range of flavors.

The great I think I may be raising two more Asian food lovers as well.  My two gremlins are just as happy with their sabaw (Filipino for soup), adobo, and fish steamed with soy and sesame, as they are with fried chicken and spaghetti.  Little C in particular has recently discovered the joys of Korean food.  And don’t get me started on the excitement when she sees a whole steamed fish (almost at par with mine and C’s…almost).

So you will forgive me for having yet another Asian recipe to share I hope?

Peking Pork Chops
(amended slightly from Rasa Malaysia)

  • 250-300 grams pork steak or pork tenderloin, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • Oil for frying
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon plum sauce
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon chili paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon hoisin
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon black vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • A pinch of Chinese Five Spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
- Pound the pork with a meat mallet to flatten and tenderize.  I like to do this in between two sheets of baking parchment for easy clean-up.  Set aside.
- In a bowl, whisk together the egg, cornstarch, Shaoxing wine, and salt.  Add the pork slices to the mixture and turn everything to make sure all surfaces of the pork are well covered in the marinade.  Set aside and let marinate for 30 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients: ketchup, plum sauce, chili paste, hoisin, Worcestershire sauce, black vinegar, sugar, Chinese five spice, and water.  Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
- Heat a skillet or wok over high heat.  Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  When the oil is hot, add the pork slices in one layer.  If they can’t all fit then do this in batches.  Fry the pork on one side until golden brown, turn and repeat on the other side.  This should take about 5 minutes.  Don’t overcook the pork or it will be tough.  Set the pork aside and drain on paper towels.
- In the same skillet or wok, wiped down, bring the sauce to a boil and let this bubble for a bit, just a few seconds, and then add the fried pork.  Stir until the meat is well coated with the sauce.  Remove from the heat and serve sprinkled with the toasted sesame seeds. 

This recipe was adapted from Bee of Rasa Malaysia.  I love her recipes and her magical way of making all Asian dishes seem easy and within reach, even in my flat’s little kitchen.  I have her cookbook as well and last year it was one of my most used ones.  Hmmm…do I sense a giveaway here?

Anyway, moving right along, this dish was a success with my Asian-food-loving family…even with the littlest one.  I used half a teaspoon of the chili paste (a Thai brand in soya oil that was sweet as well) and that was fine with him.  If you have no small mouths to feed though go ahead and add more.  Serve this with lots of hot rice and some simple steamed greens and you will have happy campers.  I am imagining this would also be great tucked in a soft bun with some pickled chili and kewpie mayo...but that's just me.

Maybe next post I will have something different for us.  Maybe something from different lands?  Or maybe something sweet?  Or maybe we will see another Asian dish?  After all, this blog is about home cooking, and there are no rules when it comes to that…which is one of the things I love about it.

So, despite the lure of berries and figs and fresh truffles, of chanterelles and morels and the tempting produce of distant shores…I am totally and blissfully content right where I am.  And I hope you are too.