one shot: Pluots in season


Years of slouching at the computer and frozen pizzas have finally shown in my belly. The realization came when I bought a dress the other day without trying on, and if I grew just another quarter of an inch, the button would fly (… could it just be poor design? T__T). In any case, midnight pizza will have to go. The problem: when you know you shouldn’t have something, you want it more. Every night, the hunger looms over me like a bright full moon…. The solution (maybe): pluots are in season again! YAAAAAAAAYYYY!!!! Pictured is 4 point something pounds of pluots. From darkest to lightest color: Flavor Royal, Eagle Egg, Tropical Plumana, and Golden Treat. (づ ̄ ³ ̄)づ

Non-baked avocado pie with nut crust

Avocado pie with gyokuro.

Avocado pie with gyokuro. Thanksgiving. Gatherings. I was asked, “can you make dessert?” “Sure, I can make dessert.” Yeah right. Five seconds later, “OH EM GEE. WhatcanImake!” It’s a Western party with Western people. I had never made a Western dessert before, not even chocolate chip cookies from dough that comes out of a tub (and then you just shape it into cookies and bake them, or not – one of the weirdest things about American people is that they love eating raw cookie dough like the Vietnamese like noodle soups. I don’t get it). So of course I did the same thing I do everyday at work – and also what I tell my students to do when they ask me homework questions: I googled. Continue reading Non-baked avocado pie with nut crust

One shot: Californian avocado vs. Peruvian avocado


On the left is a Hass avocado from Peru, on the right is a Hass avocado from California. Hass avocado is a cultivar of avocado, and it has a cute history. In 1925, Mr. Rudolph Hass, an amateur horticulturist, bought a small 1.5 acre avocado grove in La Habra Heights, Southern California. His plan was to graft old Fuerte avocado branches – at the time, Fuerte was the best avocado cultivar – with young saplings grown from some avocado seeds, which were sold at a local nursery. Those seeds were cross-pollinated many times by nature, and the grafting did not go well for one of the young trees [little stubborn sapling!], but per his grafter’s advice, Mr. Hass kept that sapling to see what would happen anyway. When the sapling was only over a foot tall (some time in 1926), it bore three fruits [d’awww!]. Normally, the Fuerte cultivar would take at least five years to produce fruits. Not only the odd stubborn young tree grew faster than the Fuerte, it also grew straight up and did not spread as wide, so it was more land-efficient (more trees per acre). Most importantly, its fruits tasted the […]

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Monkey diary – three days as a fruitarian

Plagued by the reality of industrial farming described by Michael Pollan, I’ve decided to try a fruit-and-seed diet, which would consist of only things that can be harvested without killing the plants. At first I thought it would be pretty restrictive, but a lot of vegetables are fruits: tomato, cucumber, bittermelon, bell pepper, chayote, green beans, eggplants, etc. Cereal is the hard part. I wasn’t sure if I should include corn, rice, wheat and other grains in my experiment because technically they can be harvested without killing the plants, but in reality the plants are killed after the harvest. The same goes for soy beans. Then I figure the industrial farms also kill tomato and cucumber plants after harvesting, and my experiment is geared toward whether I can survive on only fruits and seeds, so restricting to heirloom produce is “beyond the scope of our study”. Bought $29.72’s worth of avocados, navel oranges, blueberries, plums, cultured coconut milk (i.e., coconut yogurt), and bananas from Berkeley Bowl. – First day – Brunch: one plum, one avocado smoothie. Snacks: blueberries. Work from home. At about 4 pm I was doing ok, then I saw Continue reading Monkey diary – three days as a fruitarian

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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Chewy dried banana

They aren’t banana chips. Those are crunchy, not very sweet, and make you thirsty. These are chewy and packed with honey sweetness. They’re as addicting as soft-baked chocolate chip cookies and as healthy as dried blueberries. At least I like to think so when I nibble twenty of them in one go. Chewy dried bananas come in many shapes and sizes. Some were pressed into flat sheets (3-5 bananas to make a sheet), laid on bamboo panels and dried under the sun. Cà Mau is known for this kind of chuối khô, the main ingredient of the other 101 banana snack things in the South, e.g., banana candies. Other bananas are dried whole, and they turn into finger-long wrinkly banana fingers. Eurasia Delight sells two kinds: the normal chuối khô – more caramel looking, shinier, sweeter, shorter and chewier, the “organic” chuối khô – whiter, dryer, longer, not as good. Continue reading Chewy dried banana

Candied cà-na (white canarium or Chinese olive)

It’s not the black stuff they throw on your pizzas or the green thing they toothpick on your sandwich. How many of us city kids have tasted the tartness with a tiny sweet afterpunch of this Mekong delta fruit? It’s addictive like fresh squeezed orange juice on a summer day. Speaking street tongue, it’s nature’s crack in oblong shape. Eat ’em fresh with chilipepper salt, or candy them with sugar and heat, it’s how kids down South do it with the cà na they shake off from bushes on the riverbanks. And argue if you may, kids know tasty food. The shape is really the only link cà na has with the Western olive (Olea europaea), though it’s at least two times bigger. Does the name “cà na” mean anything? “Cà” is tomato, and “na” is the northern word for sweetsop, two totally unrelated species to this ovoid fruit. So “cà na” is not a compound noun. I’m no etymologist but here’s my best guess: “cà na” |kah nah| is a shortened vietnamization of the Thai word “kanachai”, from which cultigen taxonomists derive the the scientific name “canarium”, a genus with about […]

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Mom’s Cooking #1: Candied orange peel with pulp

Vietnamese *Guest post in Vietnamese by my Mom, translated by me* My daughter and her friends always like my fresh squeezed orange juice, so every time she visits home in the summer and winter break, we drive up to the Farm Patch Produce Market in College Station to buy navel oranges. The grocery stores have navel oranges too, of course, but for some reason Farm Patch always have the best. Their rotund shape, their bright color, their rugged skin similar to that of the Vietnamese cam sành, all promise a slender sweetness contained, not to mention the little twin at the apex, darling like a hidden Christmas gift. These oranges are so well worth the two hour drive that I regret throwing them away after juicing, so I thought, why not make “mứt cam“, candied orange peel? The simple ingredients: – 2 oranges – 10 tbs sugar or to taste – 1 cup water The simple method: – Wash and squeeze out juice from the oranges, then slice the peel (with pulp attached) into strips. – Mix 10 tbs sugar with water and simmer […]

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Spicy balls of fruit and salt

Let’s make it clear: ô mai |oh mai| is not xí muội |xi mui| (huamei), even if Wikipedia says so. The former is a cooked mixture of cut-up fruits, ginger, licorice and spices, the latter is a whole plum dried and salted. Now that’s settled, I got a bunch of ô mai from Vua Khô Bò & Ô Mai a while ago, all homemade or so the lady told. Guava, rose buds, sấu (no English name, it seems), mango, kumquat, cóc (golden apple), tamarind, and 5-fruit combo, 2 balls each at $6.99 per half pound. Sweet, spicy, chunky, velvety, gingery, tart, salty, it’s all there. The downside: they all have the same wrapper, so except for the guava one which is extra chunky, I can’t tell which is which if my life depended on it. Continue reading Spicy balls of fruit and salt