Cook with Yuri Vaughn

She’s the person behind the mochi at Teance. She pounds the cooked sticky rice instead of using mochiko, chops up whole yomogi for the actual grassy freshness, grow her own wild blueberries because they’re denser in flavor than the bigger highbush cultivars at the stores, and makes fancy mochi fillings with seldom fewer than 4 ingredients. Every time I nibble one of her soft little piece of art, each costs a whopping 4 dollars, I wonder what she doesn’t make at home from scratch and how much more work it takes. Turns out, Yuri doesn’t make katsuobushi from scratch, that is, she doesn’t behead, gut, fillet, smoke and sun-dry the bonito fish herself, instead she buys the wood-block-looking karebushi and shaves it to top her okomiyaki, which goes without saying is made with grated nagaimo and dashi instead of premixed flour like when I did it. We made Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which doesn’t have egg in the batter, but we later added egg to brown the pancake more. Yuri told me to choose the fluffier cabbage instead of those with the leaves tightly packed together, […]

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Summer Festival in Concord

Clockwise from top left: Master Hideko Metaxas (in blue) and two assistants arranging an example of Rikka Shofutai; a free-style arrangement in honor of the victims and the philanthropists in the Tohoku Tsunami 2011; an Ikenobo sensei arranging a free-style display; Shoka (left) versus Rikka (right) Learn something new everyday. At the Japanese American Summer Festival in Concord this year, I absorbed an hour of Ikenobo ikebana art, which is really, really, really rudimentary, but at least now I know that the Rikka style involves nine elements, and the Shoka style three elements (heaven, earth and man). That day was also the first I’ve heard of the “Three Friends of Winter” sho chiku bai (pine, bamboo and plum), and this astonished me because 1. I’d never encountered any old Chinese things that my mom hasn’t told me about, and 2. it involves plum blossom, which is my name. There’s no way I wouldn’t know that my name is part of a trio that appears in Asian arts and folklores at lunar new year time. My memories must have been failing. 🙁 Anyhow, Nancy made a beautiful onigiri box […]

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Com tam at a tiny joint in Oakland Chinatown

A guy waved a bottle in front of me. “Nesquik?”, he asked. I shook my head no thanks. Five seconds after he walked away, I realized my stupidity. I missed a free bottle of Nesquik! I don’t remember drinking Nesquik for the past 15 years, or ever, but I know what it tastes like, and I like chocolate. Why did I say no?! Because I live in Berkeley. One thing Berkeley trains you very well for is saying no. Each time you walk pass a homeless man or woman, whether he or she asks for spare change or curses you off or shouts “nice dress”, you silently say no. Each time an activist steps up to you and says “Hi how’s it going? Would you have a minute to talk about …?” and you can barely tell what it’s about because he or she squeezes those two sentences in the hundredth of a second you lift your foot, you say no, usually with a smile because you feel bad. So you prepare this automatic respond when a stranger sticks something under your nose: No thank you. And you end up missing the free Nesquik. But Berkeley also […]

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The Duck Restaurant in Piedmont

Ever since the steamed duck at Shanghai Dumpling King, I’ve been haunted by the juiciness of a duck done right. When my friend Kristen and I walked down Piedmont looking for dinner, we passed several doors but like shopping for clothes, as Kristen pointed out, none “jumped out” to us. There was one sign that we read “Pork Avenue” and crossed the street all excited for, but it was “Park Avenue“. On the way was also the curiously crowded Fenton Creamery, to me their selections aren’t that interesting. When the street started to look devoid of both restaurants and humans and hope had dwindled from a tteok in tteok bokki to a strand of angel hair, we found Bay Wolf. The duck liver flan and roasted duck with polenta sold us. Bay Wolf specializes in duck. Their menu changes weekly but they always have two duck dishes, one appetizer and one entree. Both sing. Even the polenta was good, must be that honey-lavender gastrique that we had to wipe clean with bread after we ate the duck leg […]

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One Bite: Tteok bokki at Crunch

Thick sweet & spicy sauce. Soft chewy sticks of sticky rice. This is one heckuva tteok bokki. I can see myself going here for a tteok bokki takeout on movie weekends, and it’s only $7. Address: Crunch 2144 Center St Berkeley, CA 94704 (Downtown Berkeley) (510) 704-1101 This place used to be a sushi joint. I ate there once. I’m glad it has changed into something much better. Also, Crunch gave me a humongous plate of kimchi pork fried rice that was just three spoons above my limit and not enough to take home. What should I do? Cut down or increase my limit?

More Peach? Make Peach Sauce.

[…] now the hand is coming back. And I think that has a lot to do with food. Farming is gonna be hip again and people are going to think about the things they’re contributing to society. […] Hopefully what this is leading to is people learning to shop like all good chefs do: We go and get all the best [stuff] and come home and figure out what we’re gonna make. Italy became cool in the gastronomic world in the ’70s because people went there and the what-the-[stuff] moments or the holy-[stuff] moments were never based on truffles or super-intense technique. It was more like, “God, this is spaghetti and zucchini, and it’s this good?” It was because there was no noise in it. It was spaghetti and garlic and zucchini in season. – Mario Batali, Batali Beat, Lucky Peach Issue 3, 2012 – Continue reading More Peach? Make Peach Sauce.

For the Summer: Gyoza with Fruits and Flowers

What can you do with 24 squash blossoms? Twenty-four is too few for squash blossom canh, a clear soup that Mom used to make when I was little. The flower is the only thing of a pumpkin plant (squash blossom in Vietnam is pumpkin blossom) that I didn’t mind eating (I hate pumpkin). The flowers perish too quickly that American grocery stores almost never carry them(*). That scarcity, I can only guess, also raises them to the exotic level that makes the modern American restaurants include the word in their menu around this time of the year (summer squash blossom season) and feature a mere 3-5 flowers on a plate amidst the more common vegetables like zucchini and cauliflower. The craze has been around for at least a decade, Carolyn Jung said, and I don’t see it wilt away anytime soon. Although I dislike the place at first because it’s always too crowded, Berkeley Bowl gradually grew on me. It started when I realized, after many years away from Vietnam and living just a bit inconveniently far from the Asian markets, that I haven’t seen certain grocery items for ever, […]

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Ten-minute noodle and nectarine

It’s summer. Time for cold noodle. Refrigerated, ice-cold noodle. And all it takes is 10 minutes (that includes water-boiling time). Traditionally, the Koreans sweeten mul naeng myeon (물 냉면, “water cold noodle”) with sliced Asian pear and julienned cucumber. Asian pears are not yet in season (I don’t really know when its season is, but the tiny ones at Berkeley Bowl look too sad to slice), and when I want to cook my naeng myeon, like always, I never have what the recipe calls for, even if it’s just cucumber. So I did what everyone would. I ignored the recipe. Continue reading Ten-minute noodle and nectarine