Author Archive for Scott Lu

08
Feb
14

Cigarettes, Mangos, and Poop.

Who needs air fresheners?

Who needs air fresheners?

I’ve eaten so much fruit here. I’ve basically consumed an orchard worth of fruit and I’m not complaining at all.  It’s still winter here in Taiwan, so my access to fruit has just begun. When I was little, I never really understood the concept of seasons or regional fruits. Growing up in Southern California, I never really needed to know the gestation period of an orange tree or how it was possible to produce strawberries year around. Or even, why bananas couldn’t grow in the states, but we still had them year around.

Here, it’s different. Here, they understand the weather and the fruit that comes with the seasons. There isn’t a farmer

Wax apples only exist on roadside stands when there is a chill in the air and families start gearing up for New Year’s celebrations.

Wax apples only exist on roadside stands when there is a chill in the air and families start gearing up for New Year’s celebrations.

who is creating guavas out of season just to please a consumer from a first world country. Mangos aren’t showing up in the markets during the winter time, and wax apples only exist on roadside stands when there is a chill in the air and families start gearing up for New Year’s celebrations.

I’ve discovered that there is an integral role that fruit plays in Taiwanese culture. Without fruit, there is no aid in digestion after a filling meal. Some generations believe a meal isn’t complete without it, and some even travel to the south to ensure that they get the ripest and freshest of fruits. People buy it in bulk, specially packaged in gift boxes to send to family and friends. Whereas fruit baskets in the states are more of a novelty, here they are truly appreciated.

He was so proud of the mangos that he was growing.

He was so proud of the mangos that he was growing.

About a week ago I had the chance to visit southern Taiwan. My cousin graciously drove me and his family the six-hour trek to the southernmost tip of the island, and on the way home, we stopped by a vendor on the side of the road selling wax apples (莲雾). I was intrigued by his farm, and I noticed behind the steel shed that he and his wife sold fruit from, there was a field of mango trees. The owner offered to show me around. He was so proud of the mangos that he was growing. As he was showing me around, he began to tell me the story of his fields.

He planted his first tree 20 years ago. It was a wax apple tree. Then, about five years later, came the mango trees, with many more to follow. With my camera ready, we walked around and the farmer started pointing at various trees; he had a story for each.

“That one was the first one. I took it from a friend’s plot.  He let me have a few sprouts to start growing mangos because there was an opportunity for income, but also because my son likes them.”

*click*

“This one was planted with eight others.  For some reason, there was some tree rot going around that almost killed all of them, this was the only one that survived.”

*click*

"Do you smell that? That is the smell of real animal poop.

“Do you smell that? That is the smell of real animal poop.

“Do you smell that?  That is the smell of real animal poop.  It’s good for the trees, doesn’t have any of those weird chemicals.  That’s why my mangos are the best and are already growing. There’s the pile of poop over there, it also makes the mangos smell better.  Smell the air, take a big whiff.”

*sniff*

*cough*

*click*

I felt like I was on a tour of the Amazon, and the farmer was my naturalist guide

You can see the pride that he had in his trees and the fruit that came from it.  It was an insight into the business that many of us, or at least myself, take for granted.  I don’t think about the story of the fruit, the tree it comes from and the care taken into making it.  Mango season doesn’t start for another three months, so I didn’t really think about getting the chance to see the fruit, but my guide wanted to make sure that I got photographs of his prized possessions. So with cigarette dangling off his lips and the ashes curling down ready to blow off with the slightest gust of wind, he removed the wrapping around each mango and looked so proud of his accomplishment.

So with cigarette dangling off his lips and the ashes curling down ready to blow off with the slightest gust of wind, he removed the wrapping around each mango and looked so proud of his accomplishment.

So with cigarette dangling off his lips, he removed the wrapping around each mango and looked so proud of his accomplishment.

 From his off-yellow grin to the wrinkles in his face, you could see how happy he was to share his creation with us. It was something magical to witness.  Even more amazing, was when he let my cousins take some of his mangos, still early in the season, home.

He offered to sell us a few of the mangos, but they weren’t quite ripe yet.  Again, mango season isn’t until May and there was no way he was going to give us unripe fruit like what we get in the states.  He made a point to tell us that and looked straight at me, as if he had a sixth sense about where I came from.  So, with the mangos, he gave us explicit directions.  “Don’t let it out of the box.  I’m wrapping it with some blankets to keep it warm.  Once you get to Taipei, because it is so cold, find the warmest place in your house.  You have a heater?  Stick it there.  After 6 days, open the box and then let it breath for a few hours, then stick it back in the box and keep it warm for another day.  Then open it up and let it sit out to finish ripening.  Don’t let it near any cold or it won’t ever be ready. “

It was clear through his specific directions that he loved his work so much that he didn’t want us to not enjoy his products.  We then packed up the mangos and waved goodbye from the car, as he continued to remind us about the directions through the closed window of the car as we drove off.

I'm wrapping it with some blankets to keep it warm.

I’m wrapping it with some blankets to keep it warm.

We followed his direction to the T.  We had those mangos wrapped, re-wrapped, and heated.  We even added some extra heat just in case.  When it came time to finally cut into a mango,something was wrong.  It had completely turned black on the inside.  The mango hit too much heat and had spoiled on the inside.  From what I hear from my cousin’s kid, what she was able to taste (the two bites) were delicious.  I guess I’ll just have to wait until May.

I noticed behind the steel shed that he and his wife sold fruit from, there was a field of mango trees

I noticed behind the steel shed that he and his wife sold fruit from, there was a field of mango trees

But it’s ok.  If having to buy fruit from the side of the road will give me the chance to randomly meet a farmer again and hear his story and see the love and pride he has in the work he does, I’ll accept a few spoiled mangos.

If buying fruit from the side of the road will give me the chance to randomly meet a farmer and hear his story, I'll accept a few spoiled mangos.

If buying fruit from the side of the road will give me the chance to randomly meet a farmer and hear his story, I’ll accept a few spoiled mangos.

09
Jan
14

Squid and Celery Stir Fry

IMG_6229

Squid and Celery Stir Fry

You might be able to tell from my Facebook pages that I’m in Taiwan at the moment.  I’m here to take part in a mandarin program at a college in Taipei. I don’t start the “learning Chinese” part until March so I’m trying to do as much traveling and food experiences that I can while I still have free time.

The more and more I discover Taiwan, I’m starting to realize there is so much more to this place then just an island I visit for two weeks out of the year to say hello to relative. It’s an island full of festivals celebrated for years, history that is rich in color, taste, and emotions, and food that is equally rich as its history and traditions.  But what strikes me most are how people are proud of their land here. I’m not saying they are patriotic in the US Sense where flags are waved, bbq is eaten, and conservative pundits tell us what America is all about . But, instead it’s people who are proud of the dishes that they eat or the fruit that they raise. It’s the farmer who had been raising pigs for 40 years and has already passed on the torch after suffering numerous strokes.  It’s the story of why they chose this profession and why their children choose to continue it.  It’s through this realization that I’ve come to understand what I want my blog to be in the next couple of months.  I want to share the narrative of the individual (the vendor, farmer, home cook) and the narrative of the storyteller (me) as I figure out what it means to be Taiwanese at 30 and just realizing what the island has to offer.

So through out the next couple of the weeks, I’ll have posts dedicated to the people I meet on my journey.  But for now, a dish that sums up the cooking style of Taiwan:

One of the things that I’ve always know about Taiwanese cooking but never really paid attention to is that the flavors and methods are simple. It’s the thing I love about the cuisine: ingredients need to be fresh and there shouldn’t be anything to mask the flavors or why buy them at all.  No bullshit.

This dish is no bullshit. Squid, celery, chili pepper. My cousin’s wife made this for me the second day I was in Taipei. I hiked a trail with my cousin at 5 am, waited in line for breakfast (people like to wait in line for food here), bought a squid from a seafood vendor (who thought I was 22 years old so I paid for the squid out of gratitude), and this dish was cooked within two hours and in my belly soon after.

No bullshit. Fresh seafood, no time lingering in a fridge or thawed and then refrozen, and nothing needed to mask any stale tastes. I think I’m going to like Taiwan.

~stuff

1 tbs vegetable or coconut oil

2 c Chinese Celery, sliced into on inch pieces *if you can’t find Chinese celery, use regular celery…just cut it thin

1 or 2 chili peppers, seeds removed and sliced

1 medium whole squid, cleaned and sliced

salt to taste
~steps
heat oil in a saute pan on high heat until screaming hot

sauté celery and chili together until celery is slightly tender, about 3 min

add squid and toss until cooked through, about 2-3 min

season with salt to taste.

-serves 4-

01
Dec
13

Mom’s Gravy and the Start of a new Journey

IMG_4417

Perfect Thanksgiving combo: Stuffing and Gravy.

Today, I start a new chapter in my life.  I begin a 6 month trip that has been 10 years in the making.  Since graduating from college, I have always told myself that my back-up plan in life would be to pick up everything, get on a plane, and move to Taiwan.  If I didn’t get into grad school, I would pack all my things; if I didn’t get the job I wanted, I would find some stinky tofu; if I didn’t have the right house, I would work on the family pig farm.  But the thing is, I always found a reason to not use my back-up option.  I never admitted to myself that the back-up option was actually the dream that I wanted to have come true.  I always came up with excuses to convince myself that I wasn’t going to be able to make the trip. That I would fail. That I didn’t have enough money. That I would ruin something good that was happening in NYC, DC, or Oregon.

I’ve decided though, enough with the excuses.  I had to make a decision, and that decision was to have everything else be a back-up, and to just buy a ticket and go.  So, thanks to the people who reminded that I was turning 30, the visa requirements in Taiwan,  the understanding and support of my family, friends, and colleagues, and a drunken night, I will embark on a six-month personal adventure to discover food, family, and myself.  I’m scared shitless.

I don’t have many goals for this trip; I’ve been trying to convince myself to not worry about that.  It’s a challenge

Passport?  Check.  Vaccines? Check.

Passport? Check. Vaccines? Check.

that I want to try to succeed at.  Goals are not necessary for me right now.  I’m about to take a journey and I want to be as spontaneous as I can, without feeling overwhelmed.  So, as I write this, I am preparing for the first leg of my trip.  I’ll have limited internet access, but will post as often as I can, but I’ll be starting in South America.  I’ll be going up  to a lost city of the Incas, hanging out with pink dolphins, and checking out some blue footed boobys. But first, a trip home to have Thanksgiving dinner with my family.  This is the first time having Thanksgiving with my family in four years and it’s a great way to start a journey of a new chapter.  A return to something so familiar and so delicious: my Dad’s sticky rice and my Mom’s mushroom gravy.

 

~stuff

1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup (10.5 oz)

½ c turkey fat from drippings (or any animal fat)

1 c cremini or button mushrooms, sliced

½ c  scallions, minced

~steps

combine soup, fat, and mushrooms in a medium saucepan over medium high heat

stir until combined and heated through (about ten minutes)

turn heat on low and stir in scallions and cook for about two minutes

remove from heat and serve, especially over my dad’s stuffing

-serves 6 or 7-

 

17
Oct
13

Water Spinach Stem with Black Bean Pork Sauce

seasoned by pork...

seasoned by pork…

“Our friend is a pescetarian. She only eats seafood, so no chicken, beef, or pork. Especially pork.”

“Ok, so the daikon and ginger soup is ok?”

“No, there are pork bones in it.”

“So, if I take the bones out, then it will be ok? It’s just flavoring.”

I’ve just spent the last twenty minutes trying to explain to my relatives what it means to be pescetarian and the restrictions involved.

“Forget it, yes pork flavoring is ok, but I think tonight is the night I show them the night market instead of dinner at home.”

My parents grew up in a very traditional setting when it comes to food. Both of my parents grew up in the Southern region of Taiwan and both come from large families. In order to have fully flavorful and affordable meals at the table, both my grandmothers utilized meat to season vegetable dishes to ensure all 7 and 8 kids where happy. And to do this, they would buy pork and stretch it over a few dishes. It made sense to have pork as a flavoring agent; unlike chicken, pork has more fat and marbleization to flavor the vegetables. Beef would be too gamey and would compete against the other flavors, as well as being expensive and a waste of a work animal.

So, it’s no wonder why everything I ate growing up had some sort of portion of the pig in it: belly, foot, ear, loin, etc. It’s been sliced, ground, chopped, and cured.

This dish is one of those two-out-of-one-ingredients-money-saver-frugal dishes . It utilizes the stems of the water spinach. If you’re not familiar with water spinach, it’s also known as “morning glory” and “Chinese water spinach”. If you want to make this vegetarian, you can use extra firm tofu. If you can’t find water spinach, I might skip this dish. It’s hard to find a substitute for the water spinach, and you’d be missing the whole point. It’s not for the pork. That’s just seasoning.

~stuff

1 tbs vegetable oil

½ lb ground pork

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbs. fermented black beans, rehydrated (can use jarred sauce)

1 tbs. soy sauce

1 tbs. Chinese rice wine

2 c water spinach stems, minced

~steps

heat oil on high heat in a large saucepan or wok

brown ground pork in oil until the meat is no longer pink

add garlic, black bean, soy sauce, and rice wine to pork and sautee until fragrant, about 2 min.

add stems and stir until cooked through

season to taste and serve with rice

-serves 4-

14
Jun
13

A quick update and Happy Duanwu Day!

Hi friends,

I’ve had some personal things happen in my life the last couple of months that have been inspiring, trying, and eye opening.  Within a short couple of months, I’ve had experiences and challenges that I have only had to deal with, if ever, once or twice in 30 years.  All of these events have been hard as a friend, sibling, and loved one but nothing compares to what each person who is experiencing the event is going through.  I’m in awe of their courage.  However, this is not the reason for this post.  

It’s the year of the snake.  A year that allows for shedding of old skin and becoming a stronger self.  From these events I’ve been able to reach out to family members and friends for advice, laughter, and company.  So, although I’ve been missing from the blog the past couple of months, I’ve not forgotten it.  As part of my moving forward, shedding all the old skin, and coming into my new self I’m re-doing my blog.  I’ve had the same blog design for the last four years, and it makes sense to change the design as part of the year of the snake.  This transition isn’t going to be instant.  But I hope, by August 1st, the first day of my 30’s, that you will be looking at a newly designed blog.  

Also, it was Duanwu Festival, or Dragon Boat Festival yesterday.  So in honor of that, I’m pulling up an old post about Zong Zi, or Taiwanese Sticky Rice Dumplings, from a year ago.  It’s important to note, this was definitely a video of firsts:  First time I did a video post.  First time I made this dish.  First time I edited a video.  First time I filmed a video.  So, lot’s of firsts.  But, in my defense it was a year ago, and I feel like I’ve improved.  As you can see, it takes a long time to prepare everything and put it together, so if you decide to just buy it, that is ok, I won’t judge.

端午節快樂!

~slu

1 of few that made the cut.

1 of few that made the cut.

 

~stuff

10 cups Sticky Rice, uncooked and soaking for 3 hours

1 cup dried salted shrimp, rehydrated

2 cups whole dried shitake mushroom, rehydrated

1 cup raw peanuts

2 cups of water

4 star anise pods

1 tbs salt

1.5 lb pork belly, cubed into 1 inch pieces

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup rice wine

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 large cloves garlic, peeled

35 bamboo leaves, soaking for 3 hours

~steps

Boiled Peanuts

~place peanuts, water, star anise, and salt in a small saucepan and boil on high heat until peanuts are soft, 15 minutes

Braised Pork

~places garlic, brown sugar, rice wine, soy sauce, and pork belly in a large dutch oven and turn on low heat

~braise pork until fork tender, about 3 hours (can be done ahead of time)

Cooking the Zong Zi

~simmer 3 cups of water in a large pot on medium low heat

~place zong zi in pot until just covered by water (use the string to hold it up so they don’t float around)

~simmer for about 45 minutes or until the rice is fully cooked

-makes 15-20-

09
May
13

Japanese Curry with Ground Pork and Apples

Japanese Kare

Japanese Kare

“Did you put apples in that?”

 

“Yes, the image on the box has a picture of an apple, so I figured I would put some of it in the curry.”

 

“Wait, is that a pear you just put in, too?”

 

“I had an extra Asian pear lying around and thought it would be a good idea.”

 

This is how my mom cooks.  She is always inspired by whatever seems logical to her at the time, and then it is a crapshoot as to how the dish actually tastes.  The above conversation took place while she was cooking Japanese curry.  Our Japanese curry always came from a pre-packaged spice mix.  It was the additional ingredients that made it my Mom’s “special recipe.”  To me, she was the original Sandra Lee (but Taiwanese and less intense when it came to “tablescapes”).

 

IMG_4534

Is that the fruit section from the grocery store in the curry?

“I think you put too many apples in this, I can’t tell if I’m eating a potato or an apple.  Wait, is this a salted plum?”

 

My mom’s cooking style is an adventure and a journey.  She starts at a certain idea, picks up characters and ingredients along the way, and finishes with a complete story with a happy ending.  I’ve learned to appreciate her creative focus and now use it myself when I come up with the recipes for this blog. This in-the-moment creativity that defines my mother and my own cooking style is one of the things that my brother always criticizes me for.

 

For him, if it’s the first time that he is cooking a dish for friends or family, he will research a recipe and measure everything out with precision.  It makes sense.  Me, however, I will look at a recipe or two for inspiration and ideas.  I then grab ingredients that I think would taste good and run with it.  My brother gives me crap for it all the time, until he takes his first bite. The complaining then ceases.

 

I’m glad my mom taught me how to cook.  I credit my creativity to her.  If there was an ingredient she liked, something she wanted to try, or a dish she enjoyed from a meal out with the family, she would attempt making it at home.  Even today, she’ll still call me to chat about a dish she just made and how proud she is of the final outcome.   She’ll go into detail about it and I’m usually caught off guard from one or two ingredients.  But in the end, she is happy with result and it sounds like it would work.

 

I now make my Japanese curry with apples in it.  It gives it a subtle, sweet flavor without tasting too sweet.  The blend of spice and smoke go well with the apple.  But, you won’t see me putting a salted plum or pear in it.

I need more curry.

I need more curry.

 

Notes on the dish:  This is Japanese curry or “Kare”.  It was introduced to Japan by the British because of their colonial rule over India.  It’s much milder compared to Indian curry, and delicious with rice.  I made this from scratch, but you can make it with pre-packaged Kare.  I like both versions of the curry.  It’s kind of how I feel about homemade mac and cheese and the Kraft version.  Sometimes the packaged stuff is just as good in its own way.

~stuff

 

2 tbs butter

1 tbs garam masala or a milder curry powder (if you want less hot)

1 tsp tumeric

1 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp coriander

1 tsp fresh ginger, minced

1 c onion, chopped

1 lb ground meat of your choice

1/2 c carrot, chopped

1 c vegetables, chopped (mix it up with squash, celery, chayote…)

1 medium potato, chopped

1 medium apple, chopped

1 c broth, vegetable or meat

½ c water

salt to taste

 

~steps

 

heat butter with curry powder, tumeric, garlic powder, cumin, and coriander and slightly toast the spices on high heat

 

add onion, ginger, and meat and stir until cooked through

 

stir in all the vegetables and fruit, add broth and water, and turn heat down to medium heat

 

simmer  on medium heat until fully incorporated and curry begins to thicken, about 30 to 45 minutes

 

season to taste and serve over rice

 

-serves 4-

 

30
Apr
13

Browned Chicken Broth

Browned Chicken Broth

Browned Chicken Broth

I believe that it’s important for everyone to know where their food comes from.  It’s one of the things I value, especially when we talk about how food gets from vendor/farmer/producer to kitchen to table.  I’ve learned that if I know where things come from, the impact of their production on the environment, and their impact on our bodies, then I have a deeper understanding, appreciation, and respect for the farmers, the factory workers, the vendors, and the animal.  Most of my education around vegetables and seafood came at a much older age when I graduated college and entered my “responsible” age.  It wasn’t really until the push for organic and local fare that I started to educate myself around food culture, food politics, and general healthy living.  Meat, however, was something that I learned about at a young age.  Thanks to a childhood memory from a trip to Taiwan, I didn’t need to be taught about meat or where it came from …

 

The main form of short distance transportation in Taiwan is done via scooter – slow speed vespas with the shell of motorcycles.  Because of their slow speed, you commonly see parents using them to take their children to school, the local store, or the farmers market down the street.  And since I saw a bunch of kids riding around on them, I too wanted to do that.  It was fun, exhilarating, and free.  Plus, I felt like I was speeding down the country roads of Taiwan, until I saw the jogger next to me run by the scooter that my Aunt and I were riding.  I didn’t care though; it was fun to be able to ride around on a scooter and I found any excuse to get on the back of one of those machines.

 

 

I like to keep dead animals in my freezer...

I like to keep dead animals in my freezer…

One year, my Aunt asked me if I wanted to go with her to run some errands for dinner.  I knew she was going to take the scooter, so I jumped at the chance.  We went to the farmers market and picked up some vegetables from various stands and after a few stops, ended at a vendor who had a bunch of chickens in cages.  “Wait, we are buying a new animal for our farm?  A pet!? awesome!”. I was so excited to see all the chickens; although they were not the baby chicks that I would have melted for, these chickens were still cute in their own way.  In my limited Taiwanese, I was able to understand that she wanted me to pick out a chicken; I assumed that she wanted me to choose our new pet.

 

I inspected each cage carefully.  There were three to four chickens in each cage and I wanted to make sure that

each one had its chance to show off its greatness.  I wanted to make sure I made the right choice so that on future visits to Taiwan, the chicken I selected would be waiting to greet me at the door upon my arrival to the farm. Finally, I picked out the chicken I wanted, pointed to it and said, “那個.”  She leaned over to the man who owned the shop and told him which one I had chosen and with a quick thrust, his hands grabbed my chicken by its legs and pulled it out of the cage.  I had a feeling that something got lost in translation, especially when I saw him pull a sharp blade out of his pocket I knew that I the fate I had pictured for little “Wilmur” was no longer the happy ending I had planned.  Within minutes the chicken had its neck slit and was thrown into a large barrel to quickly go to “sleep.”  I was in shock.

 

Once the chicken stopped moving in the tub, I thought the nightmare was finally over.  But I was wrong.  The vendor then reached in and grabbed the chicken and put it in a tub that I can only describe as a giant washing machine with an exposed window on the top.  In went the chicken , the machine was turned on and around went the chicken.  Every cycle of the tumbler I would see the chicken through the opening and with each turn there seemed to be less feathers on the body.  Six turns later, the chicken was naked, and ready for the final stage.  I think my Aunt finally realized what was going on, it was probably obvious; my mouth was wide open, no more color in my face.  She distracted me (although too late) as the vendor cleaned the chicken and packed it up.  She then put me on the back of her scooter and we rode back to the house and that night I ate “Wilmer”.

 

Events like this have taught me a lot of things.  I learned that day that “Scott, let’s get a chicken” has many meanings.  I also learned too have a better appreciation for animals now. It has even taught me to respect the animals that we eat and all of the parts of the animal.  It has taught me to respect the work that butchers and farmers go through.  It has also taught me that I need to learn Taiwanese better.

 

~stuff

the bones of 1 chicken

1 tsp thyme, dried

2 tbs canola oil

1 tsp oregano, dried

2 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper, ground

1 tsp rosemary, dried

1 tsp thyme, dried

1 head of garlic, split

2 medium carrots, rough chopped

3 celery stalks, rough chopped

1 medium onion, rough chopped

4 whole shitake, dried

3 qt water

salt and pepper to taste

 

~steps

preheat oven to 375°f

toss bones with thyme, oil, oregano, salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary until fully covered

roast bones on baking sheet until fully browned, about 30 minutes

transfer all contents into a large stock pot and cover bones with water, about 3 qts

add carrots, celery, onion, and dried shitake and turn the stove on low heat

cook broth for at least four hours, until the flavor comes out into the broth

season to taste

**note:  for clear broth, skim off the top of the broth and run through cheese cloth when completely cooled

 

-makes about 4 cups-




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