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On cooking, cleaning, and learning

4 Jul

Pi Wen prefers eating at home to dining out. Eating out is a social event and a chance to enjoy time with friends. Her default fast meal at home is stir-fried vegetables with Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce, steamed rice, and maybe a side of protein–most likely chicken or grilled shrimp.  Marcus typically goes for fish tacos or pizza instead.

How times have changed. Marcus still eats fish tacos sometimes, but he’s discovered a new passion in cooking, gourmet no less.  Of course Pi Wen is very happy that Marcus likes to cook and explore recipes from the Sunday Chronicle. Since we moved to our new apartment, we’ve followed the recipes and made a few yummy meals at home.

First was the southwest salad with couscous. Alas, we didn’t have couscous at home but did possess a box of red quinoa. So we substituted quinoa for couscous and Pi Wen added some grilled shimp to make it look pretty. Marcus took photos and posted on Facebook. Our friends cheered and we were encouraged by the applause. This made the culinary journey easier to continue.

When Pi Wen was out of town for a business trip, Marcus made a corn-crusted lingcod with summer vegetables, courtesy of Lynne Char Bennett of San Francisco Chronicle. But the corn nuts proved to be quite a challenge. Tonight, we tried this recipe again. With the help of a blender, we were able to crush them to much finer texture and the cods got a nice coating of corn nuts.

Marcus, fueled by his newfound passion and with a practical eye toward cooking enough for two nights, added corn chowder to tonight’s meal. This recipe is from the Earthbound Farms cookbook Food to Live By, which Pi Wen recently bought as a gift for Marcus. The bits of bacon and just enough half-and-half made this a flavoful soup without being too greasy.

Pi Wen mostly cooks from what she knows and by improvisation using whatever is in the fridge. She uses recipes but always changes the ingredients, preferring a free flow format to sticking strictly with the recipe. Nonetheless, this joint cooking adventure has led Pi Wen to learn more about food and to develop an appreciation for proper cooking techinques. Before, Pi Wen only knew about cod fish and didn’t know there are so many kinds of cod. Likewise, she only knew squash as squash, but now she knows there’s a kind of squash called crookneck.

Marcus also didn’t know about crookneck until a few weeks ago.  But he is now becoming such a foodie that he smiled with delight upon discovering crookneck squash at the Oakland Whole Foods this morning.  (The first time he made this dish only the vague “summer squash” was available.) Another foodie moment was the realization that the stalks of fennel–called for in the cod recipe–could substitute for the celery stalks required in the chowder.

Despite these gourmet pretensions, Marcus is still learning some basic fundamentals of chopping, slicing, and apportioning.  His home economics training was decades ago, and he has not had much inclincation to hone those skills since.  Cleaning up afterwards can also become a heavy chore, particularly if–as was the case tonight–the recipes call for numerous ingredients.  Over the weekend Mark Bittman claimed that cleaning up after a home-cooked meal only took him 10 minutes, a speed that aroused great envy and suspicion in Marcus’s mind.

So there is a gap between skills and aspiration.  But Pi Wen is a patient and informative teacher, and the pleasures of a home-cooked meal seem ever more obvious as time goes on.  Our friends like the pics when they see our food photos online, and there is indeed a better connection to the land when you cook.  Watch out! Before too long Pi Wen and Marcus could do a full Michael Pollan and kill their own food. (NOT!)

Pollan is from Berkeley, which is not too surprising.  Aside from Pi Wen’s wise counsel about the virtues of a homecooked meal, the Bay Area is the epicenter of “farm to table,” “slow cooking” cuisine. Sometimes the food scene here feels a bit precious, but there is some glory to it.  That’s what Marcus has learned. Now, if only he can learn how to clean up more efficiently.

Quinoa Shrimp               Cod Chowder

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Date Night at Barlata

23 May
Tapas

Image via Wikipedia

We just moved so we have every excuse to eat out since we have not fully unpacked yet. Tonight we were at Barlata for some tapas. Pi Wen loves Barcelona and she’s always up for tapas. Marcus loves patatas bravas, so he’s always game for potatoes.

As we dined we eavesdropped on the young couple next to us. This is not as obnoxious as it sounds, because the tables were very close (of course, Marcus always uses that excuse when he observes people on a date.)  Over the din of Billy Joel and the Beatles, we discussed whether it was their second or third date.  Marcus said second, Pi Wen third.

Pi Wen’s ears perked up when she heard the lady recount her previous dating experiences. As Pi Wen pretended to take a long, focused stare at the basketball game on the corner TV, she tried to make out the details of the couple’s conversation, when suddenly Marcus asked “number two or three?”

Pi Wen instintively knew what Marcus was talking about, she said three because it seemed a little too fast to disclose dating experiences on a second date, which is usually just the first dinner date (after a first coffee date) and the couple would still be checking each other out. The lady would probably not reveal too much so she could maintain some sense of mystery…of course, this is the point of view of Pi Wen and probably influenced by her Asian upbringing.

Marcus was not attuned to these dating subtleties. He did notice that the guy was very gentlemanly and sweet, and that the woman was graciously polite.  Suddenly Marcus recalled a brief excerpt from an essay by Phillip Lopate he read long ago, about how men and women both play their roles in the courtship dance.  This couple–probably in their late 20’s–seemed to have some experience of disappointment in love, but were still very hopeful.

As we were preparing to leave, the couple–sipping wine from their fashionable Temescal glasses–discussed their Myers-Briggs types. The guy, “loves the Myers-Briggs!”  She does too.  This was all said a bit too eagerly, but that made it touching.  During early dates, the couple always agrees with each other. As time goes by, agreement is good but having mutual understanding and respect is even better.

We wish them well and hope they’ll make it to their 3rd or 4th date, and far beyond.

What’s in a name?

23 May

Marcus and I are keen observers of our surroundings, but we sometimes focus on different things. For example, I remember places by landmarks but he recognizes places by street names and addresses. I know a song by its tune but not its lyrics. Marcus knows the words very well but may not necessarily appreciate the rhythm. So, between us we do a pretty good job covering the continuum of words and images, letters and numbers, tunes and lyrics.

Just to let you in on a little secret… psst… we both wear glasses. Hence the birth of our blog Four Pairs of Eyes.

In this blog, we will write joint blog posts on what we see when we are out and about or when we inadvertently eavesdrop on others in cosy restaurants or cafes.

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