Saturday, July 19, 2014

Grandma + Naked Janice

Some people are great at learning their lessons.

I am not one of those people.



Remember when I posted about walking around my house naked?

Guess what I was doing a few days after writing that?

Walking around my house naked.

I was in dire circumstances: I had no clean clothes left to wear because I'd procrastinated on doing laundry a little too much.

No pants, no underwear, and definitely no tops.

Since I was pretty sure going to work the next day naked would be in violation of company policy, I went downstairs to do my laundry.

I even took off the clothes I was wearing, 'cause, you know, if you're going to wash your clothes, you might as well do ALL your clothes, right?



So there I was, stuffing my clothes into the washer in my birthday suit, when I hear footsteps padding out of the next room. My grandmother's room is right next to the laundry room.

OH CRAP!

GRANDMA'S SUPPOSED TO BE NAPPING!
WHY? WHY WHY WHY?!

MAYBE IF I SCRUNCH MYSELF INTO A SMALL BALL,
GRANDMA WON'T NOTICE ME.

No such luck.

My grandma sees me and the first words out of her mouth are:

JANICE, CAN YOU HELP ME WRITE SOMETHING?
EH?


And, I was like: Sure, Grandma, er, let me put on some clothes first.

Gma: No, that's okay, just write this down for me.

And I obliged.

Now I triple-check before walking around naked.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Green Tea Cookies


I have a little story to tell you guys.

About a month ago, I was really excited to share a new recipe with you all.

So excited that I posted a photo on Instagram:


The recipe was done. Its yumminess was ready to be shared. I just needed some pretty photos to go along with the post.

But, for the life of me, I could not get these cookies to look green in my photos. They all ended up looking brown and lame. Not enticing at all.

I knew my photography skills weren't great, and I had a lot to learn, but still, it was getting absurd. I took hundreds of photos and deleted them all. Made batches and batches of these cookies because I kept eating them in my stressed out state.

In a determined attempt to get at least one useable photo, I spent hours on the internet, reading up on whatever I could about food photography, looking at other food blogs, and trying a bunch of different things.

Using a background color that will make the green pop:



Changing the white balance on my camera to get the yellowish-brown hues out of my photos:



Getting up close and personal with the greeness:


And then, before I knew it, four weeks had passed and I was still getting nowhere. I panicked, wondering how I let that happen.

Then I groaned at myself with frustration. Because: I was letting the pursuit of perfection defeat me again.

Anyone else familiar with this self-sabatoging enemy?

Sanity came back and I realized: Janice, people don't eat pictures. It doesn't matter how perfect the photos are. Just put the recipe up already!

So, here I am, in all my imperfect glory, sharing with you, a recipe for green tea cookies that I love.

I've made it for my family and I've made it for my friends, all of them love it too.

A note about this Green Tea Cookie recipe: it works best with a specific type of butter, European-style butter.

European-style butters have a butterfat content of at least 82% and it makes a marked difference in the taste. I've tested this recipe with regular American butter and my testers (ahem, family) weren't fond of it at all.

You'll need butter, sugar, flour, salt, baking soda, matcha, vanilla extract, and an egg.



Also, lemon juice.



Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy.


It's always at this point in the cookie-making process that I wonder if I really need to make cookies. 'Cause I sure would love to eat that sugar-butter by the spoonful.

But, so far, I've been able to convince myself that scarfing down a whole bowl of butter and sugar would be bad for my health.

If you've also convinced yourself of that, continue and add an egg.



Beat until smooth and pretty. As opposed to smooth and ugly.



Add vanilla, salt, and baking soda, and mix well. Then stir in lemon juice (which is not pictured because I forgot to add it until the end).


Add flour + matcha.



Combine until just crumbly, you don't want to overmix.



Scoop batter onto a lined cookie sheet using a 1-inch scoop.



Or, on a whim, use a mini-muffin pan.



Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.


If your cookies are puffy when you take them out of the oven (picture left) and you want to deflate them, slam your cookie sheet down on your counter (picture right) before letting them cool.


Green Tea Cookies
Makes 36

Ingredients
  • 1 stick unsalted butter = ½ cup = 8 tablespoons
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 teaspoons matcha
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Or alternately, line a mini-muffin pan with mini cupcake liners.
  3. In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Try not to eat this mixture with a spoon.
  5. Add in egg and beat until well-combined.
  6. Admire the pretty yellow color.
  7. Add vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Incorporate well. Stir in lemon juice.
  8. Mix in the flour + matcha until just combined. Be careful not to overmix, dough should be a little crumbly.
  9. Scoop cookie dough onto baking sheet or mini-muffin pan with a 1-inch scoop.
  10. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
Notes
Butter should be at least 82% butterfat. European-style butters work best.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My Thinking Room

I've been going to my Thinking Room a lot lately.

Probably because I've been doing a lot more writing than usual.

Whenever I feel stuck with my writing, or need to let a first draft sit, I head to my Thinking Room to let my thoughts percolate.

It seems to make the juices in my brain more potent.

More so than when I'm at my desk. For some reason.

Maybe because my Thinking Room is comforting.

There's no pressure. Just me and my thoughts, whatever they may be. Marinating together.

After awhile, a few thoughts might start sticking together to form some brilliant, coherent sentences.

The brilliant part might be an exaggeration.

Then I get excited and hope I remember everything when I'm done and back at my desk.

Because this is what I do in my Thinking Room:


It's not the best setup for remembering my thoughts.

Cause, you know, other business is happening at the same time.

But I'll take it.

Sometimes, though, the toilet is not enough, and I have to go to phase two:

I don't know why I drew myself looking cute in the shower.

I am vain even when cartoonizing myself.

This is a much more accurate depiction:


And if all goes well, by the end, I am chanting a litany of keywords to help my brain remember my stream of consciousness.

Because my memory is a faulty box. It is extremely unreliable and doesn't know how to do its job well.

Grumble grumble.

Anyway.

Enough about me.

Where do you do your best thinking? Do you have a Thinking Room?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Fun with a 4-year-old

I babysat my 4-year-old cousin this past weekend and it reconfirmed something for me.

She's the cutest thing on this block, the next block, the block after that, and the world!

I mean, just look at her in this video:


Here's one of the many conversations we had:

Munchkin: Let's talk about silly things.

Me: What kind of silly things do you want to talk about?

Munchkin: Let's talk about chicken poop.

Me: Chicken poop? Why do you want to talk about chicken poop?

Munchkin: Because it's funny and makes you laugh.

Who can resist that?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Love, Now and 芝麻糊 Zhīma Hú | Black Sesame Porridge


Earlier this year, I watched a Taiwanese drama called Love, Now | 真愛趁現在 Zhēn Ài Chèn Xiàn Zài starring George Hu 胡宇威 and Annie Chen 陳庭妮.

I'd heard so much about it that I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

George and Annie reportedly had amazing chemistry in the television series and it was such a ratings hit that Sanlih E-Television, Love Now's production company, immediately paired the two together in another collaboration, Love Around | 真愛黑白配 Zhēn Ài Hēi Bái Pèi, that aired a few months later.

I didn't enjoy Love, Now as much as I was expecting to. George and Annie did have great chemistry together but at 72 episodes, it was a bit long. I enjoyed the first half of the show but the storyline got a little thin towards the end and I grew impatient with it.

However, what the drama did do was make me nostalgic for some 芝麻糊 or Black Sesame Porridge.


In the drama, whenever Annie's character was feeling down, she would eat Black Sesame Porridge to feel better. I don't remember 芝麻糊 being THAT magical, but watching Annie eat bowls of it made me long for a taste too.

芝麻糊, romanized as zhīma hú, is a traditional Chinese dessert made with black sesame seeds and rice. It's said that black sesame seeds are good for digestion, relieving constipation, and keeping hair black and glossy.

A dessert that's good for you? Bring it on!

I have to confess, I probably only finished Love, Now because George Hu's face was so pretty to look at.


I have my shallow moments.

I have another confession to make: I was nearly defeated by this Black Sesame Porridge.

I tried the traditional way of soaking the rice and blending it with water but my porridge always ended up with rice bits. Not reminiscent of the smooth texture I remember 芝麻糊 being at all. I also couldn't get the sesame seeds to be fine enough and the result would be a graininess that did NOT make my mouth happy.

But, last weekend, after starting this 芝麻糊 adventure in April, I finally, FINALLY, came up with a Black Sesame Porridge that I'm happy with.

This 芝麻糊 better have magical qualities after all the experiments-gone-wrong that I've ingested for the past two months. I hope my hair stays black (really, dark brown) and shiny for a long, long time.

Who wants to know how to make some 芝麻糊?

I do.

Who's excited?

I am!

Who's a nerd?

Me!

Okay, okay, I'm stopping.

Let's do this.

We start with 4 tablespoons raw black sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon white rice.



Wash your rice in a sieve or a cup or a bowl or whatever floats your boat. But a sieve is easiest.



Pat your rice dry and scoop into a coffee grinder.



Grind until the rice grains are really really fine. Like powder. Or snow.



When in doubt, keep grinding. We are essentially making rice flour, so if you're looking for a quicker way to do this, buy some rice flour.



Pour the rice powder into a pot so that it looks like you're about to cook up something illegal in your kitchen.



Add a cup of water and stir to make sure everything's evenly distributed. Let soak for 15 minutes.



Meanwhile, pour the black sesame seeds into a pan and toast over high heat, stirring the seeds or shaking the pan a couple of times. Toast seeds until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.


You can wash your seeds before toasting, if you're ambitious like that, but the seeds will need a few more minutes in the pan to dry out and toast.

If you're like me, and get bored easily, feel free to make drawings in your pan while waiting for your sesame seeds to toast.



But, be careful not to let them burn or you'll end up with bitter-tasting 芝麻糊.

Ahem, do you see my subliminal message?

When you're done playing with your food, pour the seeds into a bowl to cool. Listen to the sounds of the seeds crackling. Try not to plant your face in the bowl.


After about 5 minutes, pour seeds into a coffee grinder and let it rip!



When I first tried to make this recipe, I stopped grinding the black sesame seeds when it reached the powder stage, which was my first mistake. If your seeds look like the photo below, you need to keep grinding because we're only halfway there.



After the billionth attempt, I realized that I needed to make sesame paste in order to get the seeds fine enough to get rid of that sandy texture. So, your final stage should look black like this:


This is the stage right before sesame butter so, if you'd like to know how to make sesame butter, this is how you do it: lots more grinding action.

Scoop the ground sesame into your rice mixture and grab some rock sugar.

I use rock sugar because it's the traditional way to make it - and because it reminds me of my childhood - but if you can't find any, 1½-2 teaspoons of sugar (more or less, depending on your sweet tooth), or any sweetener of your choice is fine.


Add the rock sugar to the pot and place on high heat, stirring constantly.



You really must stir constantly or your porridge will get lumpy and burn. After 2-3 minutes, the mixture will start to thicken up.



Keep stirring! You'll see that your porridge will start getting darker.



Around 3-4 minutes, the mixture will start to simmer and boil. Reduce to medium-low heat and keep stirring because the porridge will continue to thicken.



Cook for another 4-5 minutes until the porridge is black and shiny.



Pour into a bowl and serve. I made two servings because my mama wanted some too.



Still a little bit lumpy but I'll take it! My mom said she'll try to borrow a traditional grinding machine from her friend to see if we can get the rice and sesame grinds even finer - that would be fun to play with but in the meantime, I think this is pretty good!



I can feel my gray hairs turning back to black already.



This is a basic recipe for Black Sesame Porridge. My mom suggested adding nuts and oats, or whatever else you'd like, but I prefer my 芝麻糊 to be simple. Feel free to experiment!

If you try this, let me know what you think in the comments! Or, if you have any tips, feel free to shout that out too.


Black Sesame Porridge | 芝麻糊
Makes 1 serving

Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons black sesame seeds
  • 1 heaping tablespoon white rice
  • 1 cup water
  • a few pieces of rock sugar  or 1½-2 teaspoons sugar
Directions
  1. Wash rice grains, drain, and pat dry.
  2. In a coffee grinder or spice grinder, process rice until powdery.
  3. Add to a small pot and cover with 1 cup of water. Add more if you would like a thinner consistency. Let soak for 15 minutes.
  4. In a large pan, toast sesame seeds over high heat until fragrant and nutty. About 2-3 minutes. Make sure you do not burn the seeds or they will not be usable.
  5. Transfer to a bowl and when cool, grind seeds in a coffee grinder until paste-like.
  6. Add to the rice mixture and set pot over high heat. Add rock sugar and stir constantly. 
  7. The porridge will start to thicken after 2-3 minutes, make sure you do not stop stirring the pot or the mixture will clump together and burn.
  8. When the porridge boils, reduce to medium-low heat and stir for another 4-5 minutes.
  9. When the porridge is black and shiny, turn off heat and serve. Enjoy!