Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Show Me the Asian!

While many of my friends and family would swear that I'm from another planet, I'm actually Asian-American, having been born to two people who hail from mainland China. I think if you turn my parents upside down, you might see the "Made in China" stamp imprinted on the soles of their feet.

There are some Asians who try to downplay their heritage and act as "white" as possible. They're called "bananas," which means they're white on the inside and yellow on the outside. Needless to say, this is usually not a term of endearment.

I believe there were probably phases in my life during which I was banana-like, as I tried to navigate the social hurdles that many children of immigrants go through as they try to find their place in a new society. But one of the benefits of being in your 30s (okay, 40s, dammit) is that, as I get older, I JUST DON'T GIVE A RIP about what other people think of me.

Being Asian is actually kind of fun now. In addition to all the obvious stuff, like being able to order off a Chinese menu, you can get away with telling certain ethnic jokes and pretending not to speak English if you don't want to bother with those pushy kiosk people at the mall. Rest assured that I am very selective about playing the Asian card. I haven't used it to get out of any legal scrapes, nor do I pretend to be good with math and computers. But I might do both, if necessary.

I've been enjoying some awesome sites that discuss being Asian. One of them, Disgrasian, is thought-provoking and funny. The others just make me laugh my butt off. I hope you check them out. You don't have to be Asian to you enjoy them. But if you ARE Asian, you get better service and fresher postings. (Shhhh ... Don't tell the non-Asians.)

kevjumba - The video shown above is from kevjumba, a site in which thoroughly American Kevin and his thoroughly Asian dad share their cultural and age differences. There's some good-natured trash-talking between the two, but the obvious affection (and bemusement) they have for each other is very sweet. BONUS: They are also a team competing in this season's "Amazing Race!" When they introduced this team during last Sunday's season premier episode I nearly screamed like a little girl-groupie.

Disgrasian - Jen and Diana, the creators and co-authors, blog about current events and culture. Learn more about the Asians they like (musicians, civil rights leaders) and the Asians they boo (Tila Tequila). It's relevant and really funny. When I grow up I want to be like them.

The Busy Dad Blog - Okay, this isn't really a blog about being Asian. But creator and author Jim is Asian-American and is way too funny with prose and video as he highlights the adventures of parenting. Non-parents would enjoy this blog, too. The night I nearly fell out of my chair laughing as he demonstrated how to determine the trajectory of flying poop in his daughter's crib using forensics techniques commonly seen on "CSI" was the night that I realized that this was a blog I MUST bookmark.

My Mom is a FOB and High Expectations Asian Father - Yes, I can relate! This is what Asian-Americans discuss when complaining about their parents. You MIGHT have to be Asian to find the humor in these two sites, but maybe I'm wrong. Non-Asian peeps, let me know.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Magical Mochi

Before photographing my homemade mochi, I had planned to artfully arrange the pieces on a pretty platter and set it somewhere with great lighting before taking a shot. Then I left the room and, when I returned, the mochi fairies had taken off with nearly half the batch, so I was left a few lonely pieces in a Tupperware container. And the constant battle between aesthetics vs. real life continues.

For the unfortunate few who don't know mochi, it's made of rice flour mixed with some type of liquid and has a slightly chewy, sticky texture. In Japanese culture people will get together for mochi-pounding rituals, which can take hours and is quite physical. A lot of places that sell mochi commercially roll it into balls with sweet bean filling in the middle, while other bake it. My niece and her fellow Seattle Pacific University co-conspirators have even found a way to microwave the stuff and roll it into their own creations.

I can't get enough of the stuff, having grown up eating it in Hawaii, where the mochi supply is plentiful and you can even buy packages of it at some drugstores (next to the sushi and Spam).

With all respect to all those crafty college mochi-nukers, I believe I have the easiest mochi recipe EVER, which I got off the Aloha World Web site. Simply titled "Coconut Mochi," submitted by Keoki (mahalo, Keoki!) it involves very basic ingredients mixed together and a quick bake in the oven. The hardest part is waiting for it to cool off so you can cut it into pieces.

You can find the recipe here. For my batch, I also added a few drops of green food coloring for the pretty-factor. Also, if you've never used mochiko (rice flour), check the Asian-foods aisle of your supermarket (or your closest Asian supermarket, if you're lucky enough to have one) and look for it in a small box.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Kaiten at the Mall

There aren't too many decent culinary selections at your typical suburban mall. I could get a greasy slice of pizza or a hot dog on a stick. Or, as I live near an upscale "destination village-style" mall, I could also pay for overpriced, badly cooked, faux-Chinese fare, flanked by a bunch of stone soldier that the corporate offices purchase by the boatload.

Fortunately, our mall also has a Blue C Sushi, a local chain (Yes, I said chain!) that offers sushi kaiten-style, on a rotating belt. You just grab the dishes that you want when they reach you and, at the end of your meal, they tally the number of dishes and colors (each color indicates a certain price) to determine the damage. Servers will bring you special items such as miso soup, beverages and anything that's on the menu but not available on the belt. I'm sure it's not "authentic," but the chefs yell out greetings and the food is tasty, quick and reasonably priced. And personally, I find that a lot more appetizing than that hot dog on a stick.

Today I ordered miso soup (note the big western-style bowl with a SPOON), pretty standard stuff, a little salty but very warm and comforting on a rainy Northwest day. To its left is a shrimp tempura roll, very nicely done with the shrimp still retaining its light and crispy tempura coating and the rice cooked and cooled to a really good texture, one that has enough stickiness and tenderness but also has a bite to it.

One of my favorites, the eel nigiri. A great thing about kaiten is that you can eyeball the food before you decide whether to select it. Is the eel size to your liking? Is it grilled to the proper brown hue while still retaining a slight sheen of moisture? Then, yes, I shall select you today, for here at the kaiten, I make the decisions, damnit!

Behind the eel is spinach gomai, two compact towers of cooled blanched spinach sitting in a nice shoyu and sesame glaze. I like to break up the spinach towers with my chopsticks and just dredge it all in that delicious, slightly thick sauce.

I tried a new dish today, the flying fish roe gunkan, which was comprised of a big serving of roe on top of rice. You can't tell from this photo, but the roe was bright bloody red; it was so beautiful I decided to call it dessert. While I loved the contrast of textures (the crunch of fish eggs with the chewy stickiness of the rice), the roe didn't have the clean briny flavor I've become accustomed to with roe. It was a kind of muddy briny flavor and tasted like a combination of salt water (good) and dirt (bad). I'm still glad I tried it, though.

Do you ever eat at the mall? If so, what do you like? Be honest!

Monday, September 6, 2010

My Favorite Holiday

This coming Wednesday, you'll find me celebrating my favorite time of the year, a day so anticipated by many that it even beats Christmas and even the annual February white sales: Back-to-school time!

Our district's summer vacation begins and start late, so I know there are many parents across our great nation who have already commemorated this special day, swept up their tinsel and returned to their normal lives.

Every summer begins the same way: Miss Thang and Junior Rocker (who, at 13, is now old enough to shed the moniker of Pre-pubescent rocker) are overjoyed by the much-needed break from busy school and extracurricular activities. They are full of plans to hang out with friends, learn new hobbies and use the time for improvement. Junior Rocker announced he planned to go for a run every day.

Soon the plans fall by the wayside and I end up trying to get my part-time work done while also wearing a variety of other hats, such as:

Food-Chain Supplier -- (Them: "We have nothing to eat." Me: "I just shopped at Costco." Them: "But I don't like any of these foods.")

Julie McCoy, Activities Director -- (Me: "Time to get off the computer/TV/iPod touch/DS." Them: "But there's nothing to do." Me: "You have a ton of friends who live in the neighborhood and it's a nice day. Go get them and play." Them: "But that's too haaaaaard."

Pushy coach -- (Me: "Weren't you planning to run every day?" Junior Rocker: "It's too hot/cold/rainy/looks like rain. And I haven't practiced trombone yet." Me: "So when are you practicing trombone?" JR: "As soon as I'm done with this game."

Less you think of me as an unfeeling workaholic who dumps her lonely children in an attic for several months and forces them to find entertainment in a piece of string, I will have you know that I drop whatever I'm doing to take them places. I buy water balloons. I offer to chaperone small parties of children while they run around the back yard, screaming, dripping Otter Pops and irritating the dog, and by the end of this magical time, all kids are ACCOUNTED FOR and STILL ALIVE.

It's not all dark clouds and complaints: I've enjoyed having my kids home. Truly. No trip to Vegas could overshadow the joy of a lazy afternoon spent with my kids while eating ice cream, swimming, or going berry-picking. It's been FUN, FUN, FUN, but I'm ready for a break from all that fun now.

If you'll excuse me, I have decorations to put up before Wednesday and maybe bake a celebratory pie. I wonder if Hallmark has any event-appropriate card I can send to other parents. While I'm sure they don't have anything for back-to-school festivities, maybe a card stating "Congratulations on your parole!" or "Hope you find peace" could be appropo. Thoughts?