2/21/17

I'm Pretty into My New Wok + Thai Herb Fried Rice

I barely read the news anymore. Not that I ever really did. If I'm being truly honest, I bet you I read 567 headlines (probably via Twitter) and maybe four or five long-form political articles in their entirety in the year leading up to the 2016 election. I still get a lot of news via Matt (and Instagram). I'm bringing this up because Matt just sent me this article, Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds, which I read in full and which, almost certainly because of confirmation bias, has led me to believe that: YES, I AM RIGHT NOT TO BE READING THE NEWS.

Another reason I feel justified in not reading the news is because I read a book about one of my favorite poets Rainer Maria Rilke and learned that when WWI broke out, he essentially had zero idea. He was just traveling around Europe, existentially struggling over his poetry and shirking all parental responsibilities. (And then he got drafted!)

Point being, I've been cooking so much and really enjoying it. I've also been writing and reading a ton. Instead of feeling resentful (a favorite pastime), I've been feeling lucky to be a woman, to be a part of this long-standing culture of taking care of the home. I read this poem last week and nearly cried.

Anyway, here's a video of me (and Teddy) seasoning and then using my new wok! The recipe is pretty time-consuming but a good one for getting rid of herbs and vegetables that are close to dying in your crisper.


Thai Herb Fried Rice with Pork adapted from Lucky Peach
Serves 4

4-5 cups of cooked long-grain rice (Leftover/cold rice works the best.)
8 oz. ground pork
1 large shallot, minced
half a head of cabbage, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, thickly sliced
2-3 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. sugar
4 tbsp. vegetable oil
4 large eggs, beaten
2 tbsp. garlic, chopped
2 tbsp. ginger, chopped
4 scallions, sliced, white and green parts separated
1 cup, chopped herbs like cilantro, mint, and/or basil
2 limes
Sriracha and salt, to serve

Break up the rice so that it’s not clumpy. Set aside.

Put the shallot and pork in a bowl. Put the cabbage and mushrooms in a bowl. And in another bowl goes the garlic, ginger, and white parts of the scallions.

Mix the fish sauce and sugar together and place in a separate bowl.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wok or a heavy, nonstick skillet. Pour in the eggs and cook. Fold the egg up and over itself, kind of like you’re cooking an omelet. Cook until just set but still glossy—should take about 30 seconds if your pan is hot enough. Remove the eggs to a plate and set aside.

Add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the pan, then a moment later, the garlic, ginger, and scallion whites. Fry for just a few seconds and then add the shallots and pork. Go ahead and also add the cabbage and mushrooms. Stir-fry all of this until the pork is cooked through, about 3-4 minutes.

Dump the rice into the pan and mix. You want to spread the rice out so each granule gets some time on the surface of the pan. Stir and fold once a minute for about 4 minutes. (A sturdy spatula really helps here.)

Pour the fish sauce mixture over the rice and toss to coat.

Keep cooking and tossing until the rice is evenly colored. Return the eggs to the pan, breaking them up as you go. Turn off the heat. Add the chopped herbs and scallion greens, and juice of one lime. Taste for seasoning. It will probably need a few nice pinches of salt.

Serve with additional lime. 

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2/3/17

Video: Onigiri

Matt and I were stressing about how to get ourselves plus Teddy and Isaac to the L.A. women’s march in downtown Los Angeles. Should we risk the metro crowds and potential wait times with two small children and all of their gear? What about the bus? In the end, we decided to drive. (#LosAngeles) Our hope was to park somewhere nearby and then to walk the rest of the way.

The closer we got to downtown, the more energy we felt. People in small groups with signs were walking on the sidewalks. The cars next to us weren’t manned by a single driver but filled to capacity with people.

As it happened, we lucked out and found a $9 parking spot at the music center. We got the kids, the stroller, all their accouterments, and our signs and made our way to the street. We saw more people, more signs. The energy grew. We headed toward City Hall. We walked one block east and then, just as we reached the corner, down First Street, we saw a mass of people. I can safely say that I’ve never seen anything like it.

My eyes filled with tears. It was ten in the morning and all these people were already there. It was such an amazing, uplifting afternoon. None of us are alone in this fight! And I’m so glad that mom.me allowed us to include the short bit of footage that I think captures some of the emotion.

One of the saddest things and the thing that’s possibly the hardest for me to deal with in this Trumpian era is the way facts have been so thoroughly and effortlessly dismissed and disregarded. Oftentimes these “facts” that are being casually brushed aside are people’s realities, people’s history.

That Saturday afternoon, I felt heard and understood—maybe not by many of the politicians who are in office right now, but by my fellow Angelenos. It was so beautiful.

These past three months, I’ve been driving around with my Hillary bumper sticker still on. I’d considered making a few more stickers to add to it. Something like, “I’m still with her!” followed by another one: “And her: [image of planet earth].” But the other day, I had a moment of clarity, coming to a succinct conclusion I think many of us have come to: Hillary was never going to be able to save us. Only we can save us.

I’ve got a few ideas for ways to resist. I’ll keep you updated with them as they become more solidified.

All the best and with so much love,
Amelia
Onigiri adapted from Lucky Peach
Makes 6

2 cups short-grain white rice
sea salt
One 5 oz. can of wild, pole-caught tuna
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
sesame seeds, furikake (Japanese rice seasoning) or nori cut into two-inch strips

Rinse your rice. (This is one of those tasks that as a beginner cook I skipped but that I never ignore now, as I know it leads to better, clearer-textured rice.) Put the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water. Swish it around a bit and then, using your fingers as a dam, pour out just the water and repeat two more times.

If you have a rice-cooker, cook your rice in that. If you don’t, follow the package directions. Try to time this so that when the rice is done cooking, you are ready to assemble the onigiri. You want your rice to be hot.

While the rice is cooking, mix the can of tuna with the mayonnaise. Taste it. If it needs salt, add salt.

To assemble the onigiri: Arrange the pot of cooked rice next to a bowl with salt, the bowl with the tuna filling, and a bowl with a bit of water. Grab a ramekin or teacup and plastic wrap.

Line the ramekin or teacup with a sheet of saran wrap. Sprinkle in a bit of water and then dump out any excess. Next sprinkle in a few pinches of salt.

Fluff the rice with a fork. If you want to season the rice with furikake or some sesame seeds, go ahead and add a few tablespoons now. If you are moving forward with plain rice, just be sure to season it at the end or right before eating it.

Scoop a large spoonful of the hot rice into the plastic-lined ramekin. Press it into the mold and then make a little well for the filling.

Place 1 tablespoon of the tuna mixture into the hollow, then scoop another spoonful of the rice on top. Press it down with the plastic wrap that’s hanging over the edge. Once you feel like it’s nice and compact, pull it out by lifting up on the plastic wrap. Continue molding it, trying to get it into a nice little 1-inch-thick triangle. Don’t worry if your first one is a bit wonky. They’ll get better as you go. Leave them wrapped in the plastic wrapper until you’ve formed all the onigiri. [If you want to wrap these in strips of nori, you’ll have to unwrap them from the plastic wrap in order to do so.] Enjoy at room temperature, either right away or put them in the fridge to enjoy the following day—if you can, bring them to room temp before eating
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1/10/17

Video: Teddy, Ages 2-3 & Isaac, Ages 0-1

Well, it's early January, which in my house equals birthday season. If you remember, Isaac was born just a handful of days before Teddy's birthday. Not only does this make for perfect-sized hand-me-downs, it's also worked quite nicely for Matt's annual video project.

If you're new to the blog, here are the prequel videos to this one:
Teddy, Ages 0-1
Teddy, Ages 1-2

This past year was a hard one for many people, including us. But this video is a great reminder that some good things happened too. It's easy (almost second-nature!) for me to dwell on the bad. Three cheers for Matt and people like him, who typically do the opposite.

Sending much love and a wee bit of positivity to you and yours,
Amelia
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12/16/16

Holiday Oysters and Grief Rituals

We're packing up to spend a few days in Palm Springs with my mom, step-dad, and uncle. And while Teddy is at pre-school and Isaac at daycare (He started a few weeks ago, three times a week. More on that later maybe.), I wanted to pack up a few things I didn't want the kids to get into. I started with the stuff I'm going to need for the grief ritual I'm planning on leading.

If you follow this blog with any regularity, talking about grief rituals is clearly where I was headed, right? If you follow this blog, or read my book, you may also remember that I lost my grandma and my dad within weeks of each other in November of 2013. This November, we lost my Aunt Martha. At first I was planning the grief ritual solely for Martha, since I couldn't make it to her memorial service. But then I realized that I wasn't able to make it to my grandma's memorial service either. My dad's death kind of lives in my mind with my grandma's, so naturally he got pulled into it too.

I've never participated in a non-funeral grief ritual before let alone led one. I'm a WASP from a long line of WASPs. We don't excel at talking about our feelings. We don't excel at showing our feelings. We are stoic strivers! So, obviously, I am following the guidelines of a grief ritual as explained to me by Francis Weller in his book, say it with me now: The Wild Edge of Sorrow.

I think part of the reason I'm telling you all of this is to keep me to my word. I'm afraid to lead a grief ritual! I'm afraid to be vulnerable in front of my family!

The ritual itself is very simple. It involves a shrine, a bowl of water, and some stones. Weller uses the word "shrine" in passing, therefore, leaving it open to interpretation. I've decided some photos will work. I went through my wedding album and pulled ones of my grandma, my dad, and Martha. I'm also bringing David Whyte's book of poetry, Everything is Waiting for You, in case I want to read a poem. I’m going to play it by ear. In short: Look out, Palm Springs. Here we come!

I think the other reason I'm telling you all of this is because I want to remind myself to: Arrive curious, without the armor / of certainty. Those lines are from a poem by Rebecca del Rio called "Prescription for the Disillusioned." Ever since the election (and, sure, since well before then), I think I've been afraid to let go of my anger. If I let go of my anger, how will people (read: my mom) know that I'm not accepting the things I don’t accept, like the misogyny and hate that the results of this election represent to me? But then, as I was packing these things up, I came across these lines from T.W.E.O.S.: "Letting go is not a passive state of acceptance but a recognition of the brevity of all things. This realization invites us to love fully now, in this moment, when what we love is here." This is one of those things that is easier said than done. But I will try. (I will also forgive myself if I fail!)

And now it's time to go pick up Isaac from daycare.

All our love and grief and everything in between,
Amelia, Matt, Isaac, and Teddy

p.s. Happy holidays! Here's a video of me and Teddy making oysters.

p.p.s. Here are a couple of links to combat hopelessness!
1. "It's Easier Than We Think: Ralph Nader on How We Can Change Society"
2. This song, on repeat, really loud, while dancing: "Rough Going (I Won't Let Up)
3. This song, preferably while driving, maybe on a highway.


Holiday Oysters (with a Lemon-Parsley-Shallot Butter)
serves 2-4, depending on how much you love oysters

18 oysters
kosher salt or rock salt
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ cup well-chopped parsley
1 shallot, minced
1 lemon, both the zest and juice
pinch of salt

Get a large, broiler-safe (not glass or ceramic!) pan and fill the bottom with a layer of the kosher salt or rock salt. (If you don’t have a big enough pan to fit all 18 oysters, you can do them in batches, which is what I did.)

Mix together the butter, parsley, shallot, lemon zest, and pinch of salt. Set aside.

Shuck the oysters, removing the top shell and leaving them in their bottom shell along with their liquor and then place them in the pan atop the salt, one by one, as you go.

Preheat the broiler.

Place a nice dab (about a half teaspoon or a bit more) of the butter mixture on top of each oyster. Broil about 3-4 minutes. Serve on the half shell with lemon wedges.
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12/11/16

Bon Appétempt + Sut Nam Bonsai Gift Guide

Sometime in October I decided to make this year’s gift guide consist entirely of books. Probably because I’ve read some real stunners this year. Probably also because I’ve been into this idea of starting a cookbook review website where none of the books featured are new releases. (Because, apart from The Believer, I'm not sure anyone else does this with regularity.) My next thought was to get my friend Kara involved because I love reading about her epic reading life over on her blog. So, without further ado, here is your 2016 Bon Appé-Sut Nam all-book gift guide.

Kara’s Picks (written by Kara):

1. Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott

I feel silly recommending this book, because it feels like recommending the dictionary. Anyone who has ever expressed the most passing interest in writing might already own this book. Still. Lamott is so funny and dry-witted and her advice to writers is so generous and gentle, it could steer the most panicked writer from the ledge and have her typing sentences by noon.

2. Truth and Beauty, by Ann Patchett

Another love song to writing, this book tracks the friendship of Patchett with Lucy Grealy, late author of Autobiography of a Face, from their days rooming together at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop to the heartbreaking turns their adult lives take. Its pages feel like giddy summer camp days, promising first dates, and the most tender elegy all at once.

3. Astonish Me, by Maggie Shipstead

The title of Astonish Me lives up to its word. I read it a few years ago, having once stumbled on Shipstead’s first novel Seating Arrangements, which I greatly admired. Prepared to be disappointed or worse, annoyed by the subject of ballet, I was once again gripped by Shipstead’s prose, evocative characterizations, and flawless scenes, and haven’t stopped thinking about the book’s ending since I finished it.

4. Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff

I fell in love with Lauren Groff when her story “L. DeBard and Aliette” was published in Best New American Voices, and have basically read everything she’s put out since. Fates and Furies takes Groff’s ability to land on an image and flex her florid writing to new levels. It is cunning, and crafty, but most importantly, crammed full of beauty in every line.

5. Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs, by Dave Holmes

Dave Holmes almost won MTV’s first Wanna Be a VJ contest in 1998 and went on to host a number of sweet shows on MTV but because I live under a rock, I had no idea who Dave Holmes was before I picked up his book. I can’t even remember how I found this hilarious memoir, which details growing up gay in suburban St. Louis, MO, going to college at a preppy, conservative school, and stumbling into a promising career despite many steps in the wrong direction, but I’m so glad I did. It’s layered with side-splitting insights into pop culture and does the magic trick of taking the reader through Holmes’ growing ability to see and love himself, all while making you laugh your face off and nod in recognition at the painful, memorable stages of growing up.


Amelia’s Picks (written by Amelia):

6. An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Graceby Tamar Adler

At the end of this summer I was at the library picking up another book when I saw this one on the shelf and decided to grab it too. I remembered it coming out in 2011 with great fanfare and had since noted Adler’s writing several times as it popped up in Vogue and The New York Times.

My initial response was mixed. I found the writing a little too romantic and the recipe ideas introduced in a way that presented them as practical but when you got down to it, required those ingredients that elude me most: time and space—both physical and mental. For example, I can see how Adler believes that buying whole heads of lettuce and then washing and drying them is simpler, but I know that if I followed suit, we might never actually eat (clean, dry, chopped) lettuce again. Even still, there was definitely something there. I read on.

A few chapters later, I was in the kitchen making a standard dinner—not one choreographed by Adler—and all of a sudden I could hear her words in my head: she was encouraging me to boil the potatoes that had been sitting on the counter for days even though I didn’t really have a plan for boiled potatoes. I heard her at the grocery store too—telling me to pick up that knob of ginger. But for what? She didn’t say. I also bought a giant tub of spinach. And some parsley. (I hate wasting food, so I typically only buy items for which I have definitive plans.) But then the next day, while prepping dinner, I cubed up the boiled potatoes and was frying them in hot olive oil with cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and slivered ginger. We didn’t eat them for dinner. I just had them on hand. And then the following day, Isaac and I both ate them for lunch along with some scrambled eggs. (The spinach and parsley had less interesting fates, but we did eat those too.)

To put it simply, this book is inspiring. And not just in terms of food. Adler’s precise sentences and decisive, commanding point of view inspires. She has reminded me that domesticity doesn’t have to be docile. It can be ingenious. It’s reminded me of the kind of domesticity I used to practice more of before children and the kind I hope to practice again someday soon: throwing dinner parties, planning over-the-top menus, and baking cakes at a moment’s notice.

I’ve since bought myself a copy, but if you’re reading this and know me and want to get me a gift, you could opt for a delicious olive oil. Adler mentions good olive oil so frequently that you almost wish you had a room-temp glass of it nearby, just to sip on, as you turn the pages.

7. At Home with Madhur Jaffrey: Simple, Delectable Dishes from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, by Madhur Jaffrey

If you read my recent essay in The Millions, you already know that I was in a fairly deep cooking rut. What you may not know is that Madhur Jaffrey basically, single-handedly pulled me out of it. (OK, other factors contributed, like getting a babysitter, Matt’s positive attitude, and when Isaac finally started sleeping through the night.)

This cookbook makes Indian cooking both enchanting and accessible. It also allowed me to approach dinner with a sense of adventure and curiosity instead of a sense of: When will the chores stop? It makes me laugh now—in terms of idioms and Spice Girls’ songs—that in order to see outside of my own particular brand of domestic resentment, I literally needed to spice up my life.

8. Old School, by Tobias Wolff

True story: back in 2012, Kara and her husband visited us here in L.A. and Kara left with our paperback copy of this book. (Neither Matt nor I had read it.) Kara mailed it back, after having read it. And some four years later, I finally opened it up, thinking I might read a few pages. Well, I’d soon read the whole thing, most of it with pen in hand, underlining sentence after sentence. It’s such a beautiful book about books and reading and writing. If you haven’t read it, get a copy for yourself or, since this is a gift guide: get a copy for a good friend who might be willing to share.

9. Prep, by Curtis Sittenfield [I take issue with the lame cover of this book, so opted for the above photo of the author.]

This book combined with Old School (as both take place at boarding schools) would make for a sweet holiday fun pack. Prep came out in 2005 and there was something I so appreciated about its pacing—kind of slow and wandery—which I feel like you don’t get as much of in today’s must-advance-the-plot! storytelling culture. Sittenfield also manages to capture so many of the complicated truths of high-school life and that weird but strong compulsion to fit in somewhere, anywhere.

10. Where’s Warhol?, by Catharine Ingram and Andrew Rae

I got this book for Teddy on a whim and mostly out of love for its forebear, Waldo, but when we were in Pittsburgh in August, we visited the Andy Warhol museum and I got so inspired by Warhol’s life and art that I came back home newly invested in this book, which really is for all ages. Teddy likes finding Warhol and I like learning about him and his contemporaries. One of the scenes takes place at Studio 54—one of Andy’s favorite hangout spots—where the club owner, Steve Rubell once “gave Warhol a trash can full of money” for his birthday. “Warhol said it was the best present he’d ever received.” Point being, if none of these books sound like good gift ideas, you could always go with a trash can full of money.

11. Bon Appétempt, by Amelia Morris

In the words of Teddy, “Cuz, yeah!”
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