062: The Other, Other GrubStreet
It’s the interpersonal layer that feels off to us, readers
(SB) Dear readers, we’ve made it to another week and one of the most sacred times of year: Libra season. I hope that you’re all indulging in soft and beautiful things, ending meetings early, and sleeping in for as long as feasibly possible (JS: ok Cheryl Strayed). Go ahead, read that long form feature burning a whole in your browser tabs in the middle of the day. You honestly deserve it. For my part, I am once again attempting to institute some much-needed routines into my life – taking my synbiotic, meditating in the morning, trying to honor and rise to some deadlines. And, after leaning into a truly joyful and exuberant celebration of love between some of my favorite people last weekend, I’ve found myself with a renewed appetite for finding happiness and balance despite the current apocalyptic context of our lives.
With a little more breathing room, I’m once again looking for furniture in earnest (please text me if you have leads on friends who are moving and abandoning buttery leather couches and/or bookshelves) and online shopping for jeans. Like many of my Libra brethren and sistren, I have also begun the process of acknowledging my upcoming birthday and over-planning the best way to enjoy it. It is in this endeavor that I now enlist your help: do any of you have leads on an affordable way to get your hands on wholesale oysters? I’ve heard rumblings of a few direct-from-fishmonger services from Mass and Maine, but am curious if any of you have any expertise on the matter. Please write in with your bivalve intel!
Here’s what else I’ve been eating:
As mentioned, I spent most of my meals this past weekend feasting on wedding reception fare and bar bratwurst. Highlights included brussels and a very succulent salmon from The Milling Room, the softest pita and truly excellent zucchini / smoked salmon hash at Malibu Farm, and the kale salad at Spritzenhaus 33. All weddings should feed you this well, imho.
A very loosely Nadiya Hussain-inspired baked rice noodle dish cooked in the oven with coconut milk… it turned out well, and I’ll be writing it up shortly. Watch this space.
We’ve turned to a fair number of semi-homemade Trader Joe’s dinners over the last week. Last night’s entry into the category was a riff on Deb’s tortellini with peas and prosciutto using pre-made ravioli and some cauliflower.
(JS) Sweet readers: I think you’re all aware that I donated my kidney this summer. Right? I hope you’ve all had a chance to at least skim the most deranged story of the week, a harrowing tale of Facebook showmanship, grad school adjacent social circles, and narcissism masquerading as craft – personally I’d recommend the audio recording, if only because you can simultaneously subpoena some group chats while listening. How is everyone enjoying Libra season thus far? Lately I’ve made great strides in speaking my truth and asking for what I want, in ways that I hope but cannot say for certain are more Sonya than Dawn, but that’s enough cryptic and extremely temporally specific allegory for this issue.
I’ve been working remotely this week, thanks to a generous and spontaneous invite from friend of the newsletter Aly to post up at his place in Fire Island – a questionable destination for many in October but one which friend of newsletter Ian described as “on brand” for my cold, cold heart. Between my slightly chaotic grocery contributions (citrus, two thirds a bottle of Grady’s, radicchio, fennel, plum torte straight from the freezer) and the limited off-season hours of Pines Pantry, we’ve been mostly winging it for meals. But thankfully I have some more ~inspiration~ to share thanks to our new(ish) biweekly calendar.
A few hits included:
DIY bibimbap for chuseok courtesy of friend of the newsletter April
A lot of garlicky-herby-vinegary grilled fare, a half-hearted but always delicious attempt to stave off the fall (Aly’s shrimp skewers absolutely slapped)
“Cheeky baby martinis” (exactly what they sound like, an absolute steal for $6 a pop) with my co-editor and local friends of the newsletter at Altar (SB: They are a steal unless you, like me, have 4)
FULL STEAM AHEAD
(SB) One of the more telltale signs of my woo-woo adjacent Southern California upbringing is a mild distrust of microwaves. My parents are both self-preserving fans of this tool of modern magic, so I am tempted to attribute my radiation heebie jeebies to some combination of factors that almost definitely includes seeing a science fair project involving microwaved water killing a plant. (JS: FWIW I, of decidedly East Coast stock, have come to a later in life realization that such gadgetry is most likely the devil’s stuff.) In any case, our new apartment came with a microwave which has basically been a godsend in the frantic few weeks we’ve had and I was particularly pleased to see that the microwaved water theory has since been debunked on the internet. All this to say, when I saw Eric Kim’s recipe for microwaved steamed eggs in the New York Times this week, I was immediately intrigued.
The recipe is extremely simple and – shockingly – I followed it to the letter with great success. Start by making a cup of dashi (I used instant Hondashi, but there’s a recipe for kombu dashi linked in the recipe; others in the comments seem to have used chicken stock, better than bouillon, veggie stock… choose your fighter.) Let the dashi cool and beat it together in a shallow bowl with two eggs for at least 30 seconds, skimming off any bubbles. Here, I added the tiniest dash of sesame oil as per the recommendation of a commenter. Cover the bowl with a place and place in your microwave, cooking for about five minutes at half-wattage or fifty-percent or “5”... whatever the vernacular employed by your brand of ~nukebox~ is, really. After the first five minutes, check on your eggs to see if the center has solidified. Mine needed an additional minute, which I granted in 30-second segments. Remove the eggs from the microwave and, if you’re feeling traditional, top them with a little soy sauce, maple syrup, and a handful of chopped scallions or chives. I also added a spoonful of chili crisp.
I found these sumptuous wobbly eggs to be close to perfect: warm, comforting and quick in the lead up to the inevitable darkening of winter mornings. They almost reminded me of a savory flan. Paired with some rice, they’d sate me easily through lunch.
TMYK: HOT AND SOUR NOODLES
(JS) Though my co-editor and I often wax nostalgic about dishes thoughtfully misremembered from our undergrad years in Morningside (SB: bagels at Absolute, white wine at Columbia Cottage…), today I come to you with a decidedly undecorated college food memory: hot and sour soup from Ollie’s. It was a running joke in the Columbia Chinese curriculum that the spot on the corner of 116th and Broadway was categorically bad, but their suan la tang – extremely run of the mill, as American style Chinese versions go – was a dependable, if not especially exciting lunch. While I’d always enjoyed these predictable versions, my tastes were truly awakened when I first tried the aromatic and vinegar-forward version in Lucky Peach, a remarkably quick dish to throw together inspired by Joanne Chang’s genius recipe. I was hooked on hot and sour anew, and eagerly sought out more versions of this classic flavor pairing.
My sophomore crush came in the form of suan la fen, aka hot and sour (glass) noodles, often served as a soup, blending spicy, sour, and umami flavors with chewy noodles and your choice of crunchy condiments, both preserved and fresh. Judy Leung over at The Woks of Life takes a build-your-own-bowl approach, starting with aromatics tempered in hot oil, then adding liquid ingredients and hot stock, cooked noodles, and a slew of toppings. Traditionally served in the summertime, the piquant soup is meant to make you sweat, a tasty TCM remedy for dampness that can stem from too many cooling treats and drinks. While I think it’s no secret that I could stand to release some shi qi, my truth is that sometimes I crave hot and sour tings but simply don’t want to wait on stock to defrost.
Woon Heng’s easy spicy and sour rice noodles cuts back on the liquid to noodle ratio, blending the flavors of Chonqqing suan la fen with elements of liang pi. If you have dried noodles on hand, I’d go so far as to call this extremely easy spicy and sour (rice) noodles – a cook with more patience might try her video tutorial for rice noodles, but as I am famously a homemade noodle novice, I skipped straight to the sauce, a simple mixture of garlic, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, black vinegar, sugar, pepper, and hot water. I tried this with rice, wheat, and sweet potato starch noodles and am happy to report all were a success, though I’m personally partial to sweet potato, if only for the bounce factor. Dedicated readers will also recall my anxieties about saucing, and for this reason I’d recommend tossing your noodles and sauce in a deeper bowl or skillet prior to topping, but otherwise the DIY approach is quite nice. Chopped cucumbers and cilantro are cooling and fresh, while toasted peanuts and lao gan ma offer extra crunch. I’ve also been finishing mine with a bit of Sichuan preserved mustard greens, rounding out the acidity while adding a healthy dose of MSG. Woon’s recipe is entirely vegan, but if you care to gild the lily I suspect these would also work with shredded poached chicken, or even a jammy egg.
NAUGHTY FUSION: HOBAJUK
(SB) Those of you who have the unique pleasure of being in text communication with me have surely received a Tik Tok video or two in our correspondence (and for those of you who reply: “I don’t have the app!” I say: grow up and download it please.) Several nights ago, the algorithm spoke to me in the form of a hype reel for the (apparently) rarely available and quick-to-sell-out pumpkin porridge at H-Mart. Characteristically fascinated, some googling led me to a host of recipes for hobajuk, usually made with Korean sweet pumpkins (though, kabocha and butternut squash are often substituted in the States), adzuki beans, and thickened with a sweet rice flour slurry. It can be topped with small glutinous rice balls made from sweet rice flour, pine nuts or jujubes. My very light internet research also led me to the intel that it’s often prepared in the late autumn or early winter, frequently served to those who aren’t feeling well, and oft cited as a restorative food for people recovering from childbirth.
Before making my own, I consulted recipes from Maangchi, Kimchi & Basil, Chow Divine, and My Korean Kitchen and spent a lot of time on Hobajuk YouTube but want to be transparent that I’ve never actually tasted a traditional hobajuk and therefore... have no idea if my version stacks up. The primary differences between the recipes have to do with the steaming method for squash, the amount and type of sugar one might add, the form of the sweet rice (flour in a slurry, pounded, or cooked), and the inclusion and type of beans (adzuki or red kidney).
For this version, I steamed a kabocha on the stove top, scooped out the flesh and blended it with two cups of water, then returned the mixture to the stove. I opted out of the sugar question entirely by adding in a distinctly South Asian amount of jaggery (one small brick) and a simple sweet rice flour slurry. While the mixture cooked, I assembled the dumplings by combining about half a cup of sweet rice flour and a scant 3 tablespoons of water. I found that the balls cohered best when I pinched them with my fingers to shape, rather than rolling them between my palms. I chose to cook the dumplings directly in my porridge, so I dropped them in and let everything simmer in the molten volcano way squash based soups do for about five minutes. This is where one would add in their red beans, if they were using them, but I only had some sweetened red bean paste and opted out.
After letting the porridge cool off for a few minutes, I am happy to report a naughty fusion success: even with my heavy handed jaggery addition, the porridge is definitely mildly sweet and completely appropriate for breakfast. It yields quite a bit, so I’m planning to freeze half and perhaps add some red bean to my leftovers.
PERMANENT ROTATION: Meera Sodha’s pumpkin, black eyed pea, and coconut curry (olan); warm, nourishing, and just adaptable enough for most pantries (like, sub in Maille wholegrain and habanero hot sauce to no ill effect; serve with leftover chimichurri and call it naughty fusion).
(SB) It feels like an appropriate time to buy a calendar for 2022 (and what an act of hope, a calendar, right?) and have had my eye on this one from Hyperlink Press, featuring a series of gorgeous illustrations to mark the Year of the Tiger by Taehee Whang. As a bonus, pre-order proceeds go towards paying for an anonymous gender affirmation surgery!
(JS) Am I officially entering my ergonomic mat phase? Consider this another official call for anti-fatigue recs to aid my ailing spine, whether for the desk or the kitchen.
(SB & JS) Though they are delicate and notoriously difficult to sustain in this harsh winter climate, we’d both like to turn our green thumbs towards stewarding a young Curry Leaf Plant. Frankly, fresh tadka on demand might be just the thing to keep our wintertime blues at bay. Do you have one or leads on a nursery that grows them in the tristate? Please let us know.
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