Sunday, November 26, 2006

Near Parturition

Photo: Japanese candy for my sister Lisa on Halloween

I am preparing these subjects, riding on the axis of close thought, to be delivered in no sequence, but arriving as settlers do, blown sideways into space, finding themselves a new colony.

Persimmon Drink Recipes

Booking Signing with Christopher Kimball, Publisher of Cook's Illlustrated

My Mother's Birthday Tea in the Garden--6 tea sandwiches and 12 desserts!

Food as Medicine

Christmas Care Package

Filipino Noche Buena with Nancy

Japanese New Year

Manila Elementary School Sago

Winter Kimchis

Remix: Cathy's My Little Kitchen Sugar Cookies (although this is still a pending Maida Heatter's project for her) and Ivonne’s Cream Puffs in Venice Apple Turnovers

Persimmons: A Grove of Gold

I can remember my parents arguing about Moorpark: the pitched battles for equipment and road grading; the overthrow of avocados for persimmons; my little sister bent in irrigating and weeding. There were long days of coaxing the trees to survive and years of waiting for them to bear. Then one early spring, along their slender boughs, white flowers erupted. Bees gathered and spread pollen drunkenly. In the autumn the trees sagged heavily with their triumphant fruit. My parents had more than they could harvest alone.

To pick persimmons on my parent’s Moorpark ranch, is to bath and paint oneself in a country dream. Wilder instincts are inflamed. As they climb up the hill and walk through the green passages of the orchard, visitors report they are replete with persimmons and ecstasy. They can search and chose, then release from the boughs their own gilded fruit. This is the harvesting technique my parents employ for their little plantation, since this is a tiny enterprise of two.

My parents farm lies on a hilly knob of land that stands erect over the level land. The trees lay in serrated lines along the steep slope that spills radiantly onto the entrance at Hitch Blvd. From this elevated position the view opens to the remaining farming concerns and the tawny edges of the horizon. Hawks in long flight spin overhead. There is the clumping sound of horses being ridden and a suggestion of barnyard activity in the sporadic burst of braying and crowing. One does not have to be quiet to hear the whistle of unseen birds. The air smells delectably fresh.

Though my parents don’t live here, the neighbors treat them as if they do. They come and visit on their battered bicycles. They bring portions of their lunch to share. The little girl next door alerts them if strangers are seen advancing. All know they are lucky to enjoy the clean dome of the bright blue sky.

In the fall, if the surplus warrants it, caravans of family vans and practical sedans, troop up to this usually untrammeled part of Moorpark for an hour or so of pastoral bliss. They come from all parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego county. For years now great clans of persimmon fans have journeyed to the Ignacio Ranch. They come to stride up the gravel roads marked Lisa Court, Elizabeth Way and Yvonne Circle, to be cooled in the shadow of mature trees and to wander amongst the glimmering persimmons so bounteous in every direction.

Everyone is welcome to my parent’s farm on weekend’s from 9 AM to 4 PM every Saturday and Sunday from October through November or until the harvest holds out. This has been a boon year for the ranch, the trees are thriving as never before and the fruit is at its peak.

Visitors are only restricted by the amount they can carry or are willing to spend. At 70 cents a pound, customers routinely fill bags and bags of this precious cargo. No one balks at the price; everyone knows that this is a much better deal than the days old refrigerated ones in the stores.

People pick enough persimmons to supply their every craving. And persimmon lovers are not easily satisfied. The limited period these fruits are in season creates quite a frenzy, so many stockpile as much as they can. No other persimmons around provide such gratifying pleasure.

The other phenomena I’ve noticed is that my parent’s customers enjoy the process of fruit gathering so much, their enthusiasm becomes infectious. Not only do they come again and again, they bring along others to share in the experience. Neighbors, co- workers and long lost relatives either join their following excursions or form their own pilgrimages with their own line of kin and friends. All enjoy the exercise and each other’s company while snacking on the finest fruit of the season.

Children can pull them off the branches that sweep the ground. Glittering fruit can be gathered up to the adjacent darkness of the trunk. The most tantalizing ones extend to overhead levels nearest the sun. Eating while picking is encouraged. Licking up the warm and amber juice that seeps from those freshly snapped orbs is heady satisfaction.

Although my parents grow two kinds of persimmons, the Hachiya and the Fuyu , they grow more of the Fuyu because that is where the demand lays. The Hachiya is a larger fruit and must be complete soft to the touch or one’s mouth will shrivel. It is popular in baked goods, like breads and cookies and is the one Americans are most familiar. The Fuyu is small like a tomato, and is enjoyed eaten out of hand. It is crisp like an apple with even more heft. The flesh is similar to a peach but has more substance and concentrated flavor. People from Asian and Mexico crave this specialty fruit.

The Fuyu persimmons my parents offer is smaller than its store bought cousins, but more concentrated in its sweetness. Even the least mature specimen fills the mouth with succulence and ambrosial gratification. The skin and core equally are considered a sugary food.

My mother has a long lingering cold that is not helped by exposure to the elements, but she works these weekends anyway when the public comes to buy. My father, who labors on the ranch from frosty morning until the night blocks his sight, grumbles that the result of his exertion are gotten too cheaply, yet he still clambers up his hill tidying up for the next wave of visitors.

The farm exist for my parents as a bridge to another world, a fantasy of self sufficiency and plenty. Certainly as an investment, it has sucked up more surplus than has ever generating such. It is a constant drain on their resources and energies. Blight, frost, thieves, and the vagaries of fertility make this an unsecured venture. No one of their acquaintance has dared to work at such a toilsome endeavor. Even those with the least business acumen realize there are easier ways to turn a buck.

However the result of those long ago arguments, the winters, springs and summers of preparation, are these green and shining times, when the persimmons are honeyed and ripe. I have seen people flourishing smiles and glad words as they leave, waving jubilantly, their hands still sticky from their luscious haul. All are struck by the farm’s lyrical beauty. In Moorpark my father is the hero at the end of this tale, my mother, the queen at her court. What they have earned is dearly bought. My parents are known for their many accomplishments but are adored for their persimmons. They stand unique and glorified in their fields of gold.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Thai Rad Nah: Fresh Rice Noodles with Pork Gravy

This is my first participation in a blogging ensemble. The event is entitled “Foods of Comfort”, hosted by Orchidea and Cream Puffs In Venice. It slides away from the sweet side of my blog into the savory, but I have kept the hemisphere oriental to remain apropos. This is so much fun. I hope to contribute more to these activities. I have just made it under the wire for the Nov. 15 deadline.

There is only one subject indisputable to discuss with girlfriends, and that is our love lives. We are like surgeons before a forum, dissecting, exhibiting, entertaining questions from the gallery about matters of the heart and soul. I have met regularly and often with Hilary, Nancy, Janet and Nora, hugging each other as we meet in front of restaurants, complimenting each other on our choice of bobbing earrings, or bags of the season, arms clasping each other in bakery soft arms, leading each other to tables that we will occupy throughout the afternoon or night in order to feed each other our latest stories of love in limbo.

Most times we go to Noodle World in Pasadena, and pass around our dishes family style. Once the modest sampling is done, we dig in to our own, mine most likely the same every time, rad nah, a Thai noodle dish, soft in texture with a gravy of hushed toned flavors. The sensations in the mouth gives no challenges or chides; it is rich and springy, salty and hot, the perfect dish to nurture an anecdote of love.

In Thailand, I walked along a street that had tiny rad nah restaurants the size of our coffee kiosks, side by side, each selling a particular kind of rad nah: rad nah with pork was one establishment, shrill with the sound of metal spatulas scraping the fresh noodles against the pan; rad nah with beef was his competitive neighbor’s work, the pieces of meat tossed highly in the air.

In Los Angles, on the menus, they signify shrimp as an option, and that is always more expensive, and the one I get with nothing else. The waitresses always ask if I know that this is the thick, white noodle, using their fingers to demonstrate its large width, because most American patrons prefer their noodles thin and transparent or yellow and skinny. The plate comes too often with too much china at the edges. There is never enough for me. I sprinkle garnishes of fresh chili in vinegar and a little red pepper flakes. I have spied other patrons use sugar before they mix everything together. I speak little while I am eating. This dish, like a lover whispering, requires close attention.

I look up to see my girlfriends, their eyes misty with redoubtable hurts, their cheeks pale with too many sleepless nights, and know if I could only offer them another bite of my rad nah, they would feel better. But I don't. As every veteran of romance knows, others can never sample the singularity of our experiences, however beneficial or fulfilling it would be to share them.

Rad Nah: Thai Fresh Noodles with Pork Gravy

4 tablespoons oil
½ package fresh wide rice noodles 8 to 9 ounces
3 cloves of garlic
¼ lbs. pork, sliced thinly (a thick pork chop from the shoulder is good)
1 lbs. Chinese broccoli, but I mostly use bitter greens, mustard, kale, etc. which is more available to me
1- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4- 1/2 cup cold water

· Pull apart the fresh noodles and separate them as best you can without tearing off their length. If they have been in the fridge a few days, I cover them with cool water to re-hydrate them slightly. Drain after five minutes.

· Heat nonstick skillet. When it is hot, measure out 2 tablespoons of oil covering the bottom of the pan. Add the noodles over medium high heat, letting the edges of the noodles get brown, but keeping the whole assembly from sticking to the bottom and edges. After about three minutes, turn out into the serving platter or bowl. Scrape the bottom clean.

· Pour in last 2 tablespoons of oil into the pan, and when warm, sauté the chopped garlic until golden. Toss in the pork and fry until they change their color and become slightly brown.

· In succession, stirring well after each to incorporate, add the broccoli or other leafy vegetables, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and cornstarch dissolved in water. Let this bubble excitedly to let the gravy develop. When vegetables wilt, the dish is done.

· Now this is my bastardization of the dish: I add back the noodles and let them simmer for a minute, instead of the traditional way, which is to place the gravy on top of the noodles, letting the individual mix everything in at the table.

Out of character for the theme of this post, I served it last weekend to my parents, between customers at our U-Pick persimmon ranch in Moorpark, California. I brought it over in an amber-colored glass casserole dish, and served it on money pod plates with chopsticks. It had cooled by then, and the pliant and tender noodles had time to absorb the marine sauces, condiments that eluded them, but intrigued their palate.

“Is this Chinese?” they asked.

With the patis, which we call our fish sauce, it could have been one of our Filipino dishes, but the oyster sauce and fresh noodles showed its Sino- strains and origins. How this has become a quintessential Thai dish, I do not know. Maybe love was involved; the way a girl falls in love with a boy, and from then on, she becomes his.

Vietnamese Sweet Taho (Tofu) with Ginger Syrup

When I am locked out of the chamber of sleep, I move from beside my drowsing dog deep under the covers, and make my way to my fridge, to eat Vietnamese sweet taho ( tofu), glacial white, softer than ice-cream, nourishing like nursery pap, dressed with floating treads of ginger in an accompanying syrup, to feed the pit of my stomach, awakened because of fractured dreams and dislodged thoughts.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Thai Sweet Potatoes in Ginger Syrup Picture

Matters are, that I do not seem able to adjoin this picture to the recipe it serves. Still here it is, the premier dish photographed for this site, gay in its autumnal colors, a very simple devising.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thai Sweet Potatoes in Ginger Syrup

The look of her is pure nectar. Catherine was raised on only green growing things and the beguiling offerings of vine and stem. She cooks with the sensitivity of a delicate orchard fairy, taking only the purest items from an agricultural display, into her kitchen that has never been touched by the cold rub of meat. She is beautiful because she does beautiful things, borne of her beautiful and loving heart.

I had sent an array of Spanish vegan dishes, to be served at her dinner table without me, but in the company of my boyfriend Chuck and his daughters. These were the food stuffs of that high plateaued country where her family vineyard faces west. But when it came to dessert, I packed incongruous items from distant Asia, because it was the easiest and best way I knew, to end the meal sweetly and lightly.

This dessert of sweet potatoes in ginger syrup has no correlate in the west. It looks like an opaque golden soup, thickened slightly with sugar, livened with ginger, and spotted heavily with sweet potato chunks, orange and majestic. Knowing only this tuber as a savory dish, Catherine nestled it between a bowl of eggplants and a tray of stuffed peppers, not aware it belonged separately, as the conclusion of their repast.

It is a nutritious dish, the rich color suggest it is so. It falls cleanly on the tongue, the sugar is modest in its abundant broth, the ginger sharp to cleanse the palate. It is delicious standing at the stove, taking in the medicinal quality of simmering ginger, cold out of the fridge eaten with a mug and fork, or as I had planned, waiting at room temperature to be the last taste of the meal.

It was the dish most memorable to my boyfriend in that array of eleven.

Thai Sweet Potatoes in Ginger Syrup

2 lbs. sweet potatoes (Depending on the size, this usually equates to two medium tubers.)

8 cups of water

3” of unpeeled ginger, sliced thinly

1 1/2 cups sugar

  • Peel the sweet potatoes and wash well. Carefully cut them into chunks, being very mindful of your hands, because this vegetable is very dense, and you will have to apply strong pressure to get the knife to sink through successfully. Each chunk will be irregular, but try for a 1” cube. Let them soak in a bowl of cold water as each section is finished.

  • Bring water to a boil. Strain the soaking water and add the sweet potatoes to the pot. When the water has been brought back to a boil, add the ginger. Simmer with a lid slightly ajar until the sweet potatoes are tender and give no resistance to a fork piercing through. About 20 to 25 minutes.

  • Add sugar and bring once again to a boil. It is done, when the sugar has dissolved, which happens almost immediately. Stir.

  • If the flame is on when you try to taste it, watch it, because it will be very hot on your tongue and lips, but it will be so delicious, you won’t want to stop tasting how well sweet potatoes enrich their own piquant broth.

Serve in bowls with handles or lips, to slurp up quickly this bubbling sweet.

This would be good on an afternoon when the leaves are thick on the lawn as the wind picks up an impending chill. Or to give to an ethereal friend your earthly regards.

***Note: I will post a picture of this dish as soon as I learn how to upload pictures from my new camera. Thank-you.