Had a wonderful day in Napa yesterday, culminating in a picnic at V Sattui Winery in St. Helena. This morning I was inspired to bento with some of the leftovers. It’s been ages, and is forgotten how fun packing a lunch could really be.
In September 2010, I was lucky enough to visit French Polynesia. I stayed on the islands of Tahiti and Bora Bora. The fanciful cuisine of the former — particularly the long-standing food truck tradition — was certainly a favorite memory. But it was only off the shores of Bora Bora that I got to scuba dive. And I do love nothing more than being underwater. Whilst immersed in the almost too perfect turquoise seas, I swam with pregnant manta rays and big fat lemon sharks. Gifts from the gods, to be sure.
I hadn’t completely forgotten about the dives, but almost two years later, they were far from my mind. And then, about a month ago, I got a message from an old dive buddy — a Frenchman who lives near Avignon.
“I was watching a documentary about mantas in French Polynesia and I saw you,” he wrote. “Did you see this documentary? I can try to capture few pictures for you if you want.”
And then it all came back.
It so happens that a French film crew was on my dive boat that September, and they were making a documentary about the manta rays in the motu. They filmed the briefing, the dive and then interviewed me afterward. Miracle of miracles, I made the final cut.
The film, “Les reines du lagon” (The queens of the lagoon”) is by Dominique Martial. Mon ami francais sent me a screen shot and some video clips. Apparently, I sound way more sophisticated in French! The parts I saw were magical. Hope I get to see the whole documentary one day.
I had saved some cookie tins from the resort in Bora Bora where we stayed while diving. They were the tastiest tropical butter cookies I’ve ever had! I poked drainage holes in the bottom of the tins, filled them with soil and then planted a trio of succulents in each.
Now, whenever i water them, I will be thinking of Bora Bora and my magical moment with mantas, en francais!
Not much of a bento …. More like a glorified snack box. But I’m sharing it anyway because it’s not about perfection, right?
For a while I was making bento that were rather time consuming. There’s nothing wrong with that unless, of course, higher standards keep you from making a portable and healthy lunch when you have less time.
I tossed together this snack of leftover samosas, fruit and pastries in less than five minutes, and they’re in a re-used Chinese take out container to boot. So here’s one for the imperfectionist in all of us. Cheers! And happy snacking.
PS: The madeleines and financiers were made by my dear friend from SweetMue.com. She’s been blending Asian flavor favorites, such as taro, red bean, green tea and black sesame, into traditional French pastry recipes. Her green tea cream puffs (not pictured) are a personal fave. I am also a big-time fan of her black sesame puffed pastry balls! You can follow her baking adventures on her blog, sweetmue.wordpress.com.
My dumpling kick and my try-to-waste-no-food kick continue to overlap. I had a bag of boiled new potatoes from Krabbefest 2012 (a Dungeness Crab-lovers delight) and a big bunch of cilantro and leftover tamarind concentrate after from my Taste of Southeast Asia dinner party. (Guests had to dress up as a tourist, local or otherwise. We had a lot of “backpackers” in fisherman trousers and beer brand T-shirts show up!)
Eureka, Indian food! I decided I’d attempt samosas, but this would require some serious improvisation.
I didn’t have any garam masala handy, so I made it. Peeled and toasted the cardamom pods that had been languishing on my spice rack for god knows how long and toasted the seeds on the stove top with a half stick of cinnamon, some whole cloves and black pepper corns. Then I dumped these in my “spices-only” coffee grinder and gave them a good whir. I cheated for the final ingredients, adding store-bought ground coriander seed and ground cumin to the mix.
I could have made the flaky pastry dough required, but this seemed a lot of effort for experimental, reconstituted leftovers. I opted for store-bought spring roll wrappers instead. The only problem — they were square, and I needed round. Placed a bowl upside down over a stack of skins, traced it with a knife, removed the edges and cut the results into imperfect semi-circles. Tada!
I was using frozen boiled potatoes that I’d thawed in the microwave. As anyone might imagine, they were a big watery mess. I think, in the future, it would be best to dice the potatoes and freeze them on a tray before tossing them into an airtight bag. Alas, I had not been so prescient. So I had to squeeze out my messy pile of sad potato bits in paper towels. But, you know, it worked. The rest was inspired by recipe I found in Andrea Nguyen’s lovely Asian Dumplings cookbook. But more about Ms. Nguyen later …
Real samosas, while ever-so-tasty, are a fried-food binge waiting to happen. I have an upcoming trip to Hawaii, which will require much more skin exposure than my usual SF wardrobe, and cannot afford to put on another pound. (Alas, bikini, you love me no longer…)
I was determined to bake instead of fry my little pockets. I’m sure this borders on heresy for some, but there you have it. Fit not fat, right? Fortunately, there were directions on the skin packets on how to bake. So I went with those …
Wow, these actually tasted quite good! I’m sure a less-abused batch of potatoes would have made a bit of a difference, but my leftovers still managed to turn into a crispy, tasty, Indian-like snack! Success!
I mainly use cookbooks for inspiration and then “off-road” after surveying whatever’s in my fridge.
A note on dumplings and cookbooks:
The Asian Dumpling cookbook, out on Ten Speed Press, is pretty darn awesome. I bought it at my favorite local bookstore Omnivore Books, which, as its name implies, concentrates all its stock on food-related reads. (Nice puns, eh?) The store also hosts free, fun author lectures all the time! Ngyuen has also put out an Asian Tofu book, also for sale at Omnivore, which I am itching to get a hold of as soon as my self-induced austerity measures expire.
You can go dumpling mad on her aptly named web site, www.asiandumplingtips.com.
When making recipe mash-ups for dumplings and other fare, I also turn to some fave cookbooks, such as Indian: Deliciously authentic dishes, A Korean Mother’s Cooking Notes, Dok Suni: Recipes from my Korean mother’s kitchen and Martin Yan’s Asia. (I know many Asian Americans question Yan’s authenticity, but he is so much more than his cooking show implies. This book has awesome recipes from Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines. I use it all them time, especially when I get nostalgic for my backpacking days!)
Went to Tahoe this past weekend and had, by far, the best snow of the season. Of course, it hasn’t been much of a season this year. But it dumped from Saturday night all the way through Monday afternoon, when we headed back down the mountain.
Got home late in the evening, and it’s been go, go, go ever since. Haven’t made it to the grocery store, much less cooked up a decent meal. So this bento was all about improvisation.
Had some leftover rice from the week before, and the remains of the salad ingredients we brought up to the condo, including a vinaigrette I’d hauled there and back in a mason jar.
With the help of some vegetables and ginger out of the freezer, the fried rice got a little color and a pop of flavor. I cooked the frozen shrimp in leftover bacon fat and fresh garlic and then squeezed lemon juice over them at the end.
The cookies, I confess, are not homemade. But the oatmeal raisin cookies I made for the trip were too big for bento fare. Overall, not too shabby for the remains of the other day.
When I make dumplings, I think of Christmas. I am transported back to my childhood and my grandparent’s house in a Florida golf community. My halmoni, mom and aunties are sitting around the square table in the breakfast nook, chattering in Korean and folding tasty fillings into doughy pillows. Later, the dumplings will be steamed, pan-fried or boiled.
I fold along with them, though my versions tend to be over-stuffed and a little sloppy. Still, it’s great to be the kid amongst the grown-ups. Most of what they say sweeps over my head, but I can usually get the gist by interpreting the tone of their voices. If they are speaking in whispers, chances are the subject is one of the men sitting over in the living room in front of the TV.
I still love to make and eat mandu. It’s the tastiest of nostalgia, Christmastime or not … These were made with beef, kimchi, zucchini and tofu, a little twist on our old family classic.
It’s important to get rid of as much liquid as you can. So salt the zucchini for 10 minutes before rinsing, and squeeze out as much juice as you can from the kimchi. The former should be chopped small enough not to make big lumps and possibly tears in the skins. The latter can be whirred up in the food processor, quick and easy.
I had the honor of writing an article about Kei Fischer, an Oakland-based activist, for KoreAm Journal’s February issue. (Read article.) In 2008, Kei and her friend Miho Kim founded Eclipse Rising, an organization for zainichi Koreans in the Bay Area.
Zainichi Koreans, with a population of more than one million, are Japan’s largest minority group. Though they trace their roots back to the early 1900s, they are still discriminated against socially and politically. Many zainichi choose to “pass” in their everyday lives by using Japanese names. Sometimes they even hide their identities from their own children.
Eclipse Rising, named in reference to Japan’s emblematic Rising Sun, aims to create a community among zainichi Koreans living in the States. Its members also work to improve the treatment of zainchi Koreans and other minority groups in Japan.
In concert with the Japan Pacific Resource Network, Eclipse Rising has been raising funds for the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in March 2011. The Japan Multicultural Relief Fund aids underserved minority communities that have been overlooked by mainstream relief efforts. These include zainichi Korean schools, Korean comfort women, migrant workers, single mothers, and children and adults with special needs.