Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gado Gado, the Low Down and a Recipe

This isn't a food blog! Though it probably looks like one. It's just that Gado Gado is such a fun and funny sounding word, and a food many people probably haven't heard of or eaten before, that I wanted to include a visual, and a little info.

Gado Gado is a mixed veg plate which often includes big chopped pieces of potatoes, cucumber, tomato, tofu, and cabbage, as well as bean sprouts, egg, carrots, green beans, and whatever else the warung might have hanging around.

Warung basically means restaurant in Bahasa Indonesian. Often you'll also be able to find gado gado at a little street stall.. or at night, places by the river, or on the main drag of Jogjakarta, a street called Marlioborough, you can find vendors who have laid down big blankets on the sidewalk and you can sit and order gado-gado and a jahe (sweet ginger tea), among many other things. For midnight snacks, hot watery chocolate milk and instant noodles, like Ramen, whether fried or in a soup, are also favorites.

All for less than a dollar, always.

I became very choosy about my gado gado, having sampled it from many places from around the city. The ibu on the corner near where I lived- she made it in a small cart which she ran with her daughter, open only for lunch, and the favorite among local becak drivers. Hers had a spicy sauce and always fresh crunchy veggies, though I was also partial to the warung outside my school whose gado gado included packed clumps of steamed rice called lontong, which had been wrapped and soaked overnight in banana leaves. YUM.

Much of the success or failure of the dish depended on the consistency and flavor of the sauce, a peanut sauce with a lot of ingredients in it. I loved to watch the ibus make the sauce, grinding and mixing all the ingredients up with mortar and pestle, pinching a bit of this, tossing in a splash of that... I'm salivating just thinking about it.

I am on a mission to find the best Gado Gado in San Francisco, but the mission hasn't begun yet. It's a mission I just decided upon right now. I think there are less than five restaurants even in the running, based on a quick and cursory search on Yelp for Indo food in the area. I will report back on my findings. In the meantime, here's a recipe so you can make gado-gado at home!

Sambal Kacang (Peanut Sauce)

Makes about 280 ml / 1/2 pint / 1-1/4 cups of sauce

This is the best-known, most popular sauce for satay. It is also used for gado-gado, and goes well with any grilled meat.

If you like your satay sauce chilli-hot, there are several quite passable powdered instant sauces on the market. For making it yourself, there are various so-called short cuts, most of them involving crunchy peanut butter. Avoid these; the method described below is as easy, cheaper and much nicer.

112 ml / 4 fl oz / 1/2 cup vegetable oil
225 g / 8 oz / 1-1/3 cups raw peanuts
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 shallots, chopped
A thin slice of shrimp paste (optional)
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
450 ml / 16 fl oz / 2 cups water
1 tbsp tamarind water or juice of a lemon

Stir-fry the peanuts for 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain in a colander, and leave to cool. Then pound or grind the nuts into a fine powder, using a blender, coffee grinder, or pestle and mortar. Discard the oil, except for 1 tablespoonful.

Crush the garlic, shallots and shrimp paste in a mortar with a little salt, and fry in the remaining oil for 1 minute. Add the chilli powder, sugar, soy sauce and water. Bring this to the boil, then add the ground peanuts. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce becomes thick; this should take about 8-10 minutes. Add the tamarind water or lemon juice and more salt if needed.

When cool, keep in a jar in the fridge. Reheat as required for use with satay or as a dip for lalab (crudites) or savoury snacks. The sauce will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week.

The vegetables:

112 g / 4 oz / l cup cabbage or spring greens, shredded
225 g / 8 oz / 2 cups French beans, cut into 1-cm / 1/2-inch lengths
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
112 g / 4 oz /1 cup cauliflower florets
112 g / 4 oz / 1 cup beansprouts, washed

For the garnish:

Some lettuce leaves and watercress
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
1 medium-size potato, boiled in its skin, then peeled and sliced;
or 225 g / 8 oz of slices of lontong (optional)
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
1 tbsp crisp-fried onions
2 large krupuk, or a handful of fried emping, broken up into small pieces (optional)

Boil the vegetables separately in slightly salted water, for 3-4 minutes, except the beansprouts which only need 2 minutes. Drain each vegetable separately in a colander.

To serve, arrange the lettuce and watercress around the edge of a serving dish. Then pile the vegetables in the middle of the dish. Arrange the eggs, sliced potatoes or lontong, and sliced cucumber on top.

Heat the peanut sauce in a small saucepan until hot; add more water if it is too thick. Adjust the seasoning, and pour the sauce over the vegetables. Sprinkle the fried onions on top. Serve warm or cold. If you want to serve hot gado-gado, it can be reheated in a microwave oven. When reheating, however, do not include the lettuce and watercress, cucumber slices, fried onions, krupuk or emping. Add these garnishes immediately before serving.

Recipe from:
Indonesian Regional Cooking
By Sri Owen
St. Martin's Press, 1995
$18.95 Hardcover

You can use whatever veggies you want- this recipe doesn't call for as many as I'd use- I'd also toss in chopped cucumbers and tomatoes (raw) shredded carrots, etc. Bon Appetit! Or rather, Selamat Makan!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Just Go For It!

What would it be like to be that kid- to play the character of Max- in the upcoming film, Where the Wild Things? He's probably only 10 years old...and already, his life is taking on such magnificent proportions. I hope child actor fame doesn't mess him up.

I have never looked forward to a movie so much!!

I was sitting on the couch reading the NY Times magazine cover story about Spike Jonze, the director behind Where the Wild Things are, the movie. More specifically I was reading about him and Maurice Sendak, and the "leaky valve" they share.

John B. Carls (a Hollywood producer) said that despite their 42 yr age difference, Sendak and Jonze are "both still very much connected to that child self. There's a valve in all of us that shuts itself off between childhood and adolescence and adulthood. With Maurice, there's a leaky valve. Spike is the same way. He sees the world as a big playground."

I'm not saying that all life should be fun, or that we are only here to play. But what strikes me about this notion of the world being a big playground is that natural, effortless way we can perceive possibility. There is a mantra we hear as children, that Anything is Possible! It gives us so much reason for hope and so much to look forward to. Somewhere, reality starts becoming more evident, starker, with expectations, obligations, and failures with real consequences. Such is life, right? But it was amazing to read about people like Jonze and Sendak, who seem to operate outside this realm. They have an idea, they believe deeply in it, and do whatever it takes to see it come to fruition.

I have ideas. Tens, hundreds of them. Books I want to write, stain glass panels I want to create, entire collections of quilts I want to design; dances I want to choreograph, photographs to compose. At most, I make lists of these ideas for future projects. I am almost certain they will never get made. I worry about not having the skills, the resources, the time. My doubts and worry choke my creativity. My motivation wanes as I don't believe I have what it takes. What caused this Inability to Do?

I don't know what would ensue or result or splash off the page or canvas or bound in leaps across a stage, if I didn't feel this sense of needing to weigh the costs against the benefits, doing some kind of risk analysis (is it worth the time? the money?) Furthermore, I fear letting others down, letting myself down, embarrassing myself with bad decisions, asking for collaborative help for something that doesn't go anywhere.

A knotted tangle of reasons starts to build a strong case for Why Not To....the playground is more a labyrinth of tunnels with varying degrees of darkness, where things MAY be possible...At Your Own Risk.

In reading this article, I thought about my own childhood, and adolescence. I recalled feelings of being on the top of the world, and then a going through a period where I realized I was probably more mediocre than excellent, but unable to let go of ideas of greatness, and the dreams of forging my own path, but somehow too scared to take necessary risks that that kind of achievement and ambition require.

I am reminded of the importance to be brave. I remind myself that exploration and adventure are exhilarating- and it's overcoming the fear and seeing yourself do those things you didn't think you could do- that the same thing that makes it scary makes it exhilarating. And that's why I love to travel. And swim in the ocean even when it's rough, and struggle to write things that press beyond the bounds of what feels comfortable in my psyche.

And I'm not talking about verrry frightening things with really huge consequences either- yesterday I tried making lasagna for the first time, and I was mildly petrified it would turn out horribly. I was afraid I would've wasted $24 on ingredients, and two hours of time, only to humiliate myself in front of my friends, who had already begun salivating at the prospect of a meaty, cheesy, veggie-laden lasagna. By the way, just an important quick fact about me- the only cooking I do is heating up cans of soup.

I chopped carrots, celery, onion, a red pepper. I learned a smooth and efficient French technique for chopping, easy and effortless! Blanched the veggies, then sauteed the sauce- ground beef, stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce and paste, stirring in the vegetables... cooking the lasagna noodles, layering them, with the sauce, sliced zucchini, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, it became clear. There was no way this wasn't going to be success. And even if it didn't, I was having a great time. Cooking is creating, and I think it gets the endorphins flowing. Thirty minutes after baking, everyone dug in. Mouths stuffed, sounds of sumptious satisfaction came spilling out between mouthfulls of lasagna.

It was DELICIOUS! Somehow, I feel reborn. Breaking up the dams that keep me from trying things I am curious about. Letting the creative juices flow. Letting go of the fear! Cooking lasagna!

I had major help from a friend, which was essential. If it eases the transition into your new Go-Getter ways, I recommend a kind, patient and supportive hand-holder. If no one is around, I recommend reaching out to that part of yourself that forgives yourself easily, and holding your own hand, and then smiling, while you take the plunge.

Carpe Diem!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Living in the Mission

Yes, the Mission is hip. It's where the young people live. The artist types and pseudo artist types and lots of other people too. And still very Latino, though Gentrification's got a pretty good grip on the neck of this neighborhood.

I enjoy being spoken to in Spanish, assumed to be Latina, and I can keep the pretense of my faux racial identity by conducting a short grocery store conversation. At the cashier, the woman will tell me what I owe in Spanish, I process it as quickly as possible in my head, hand the bills over; I can say "no bulsa" and "gracias" and "adios" and feel like my gentrification footprint is a little smaller, or at least, a little less visible.

Of course, anyone who's even lived in this country for five minutes, or watched a Taco Bell commercial for that matter, probably knows "adios" and "gracias" but the key is- using them in conversation, and being in the US and participating in the framework where Spanish is the first language, the language of choice, the assumed language-- makes me feel like I am still traveling a little bit. And I enjoy that.

Neighborhood buildings are covered in amazing, vibrant murals. Neighborhood sidewalks are covered in pigeon shit.

In terms of having a "San Francisco Experience" I am happy I get to live here, and with such cheap rent at that. But if I ever ease my way into being a legitimate resident, with both feet in the door (a rare, rare thing for me), I am kinda looking forward to moving to a new hood.

Well, I'm looking forward to being by the water. I want to hide a little bit when I say it, but to be completely honest, I think I'm a SoCal girl at heart. Venice....I'll get to you, eventually. There. Written in the dotmatrix ink of cyberspace, perhaps it will one day become a reality.

Down with Potato Power

Oh, did I need to clarify? I wrote the below post, the review of the Scent Opera, which premiered at the Guggenheim earlier in the summer, in June.

It was published on a blog about NYC.

So, what else is new.

I no longer eat potatoes. Furthermore, I have a personal vendetta against them.

When I first found out I'd have to give up potatoes, I grieved. The doctor/nutritionist had drawn a prick of blood from my ear lobe, and did an allergy test. He determined I had an intolerance for potatoes- my favorite food. Aware that all things need to be kept in perspective, I allowed myself to be mildly devastated.

Of course, I questioned his credentials. But as he was very expensive, I decided to at least try out his advice. I told myself I would not eat potatoes for two weeks and see what that was like.

Anyone that has lived with me knows (boarding school roomies, college roomies, post-college flatmates) that I always keep a big box of instant Potato Buds at the ready. If I've had a long, hard or bad day, I can be found at the kitchen counter pouring a heaping mound of those dehydrated potato flakes into the deepest bowl the cabinet holds. Maybe I'm exhausted, maybe I'm fighting tears, but autopilot guides me. I boil some water, grab the milk from the fridge, the butter too, some cheddar cheese, and position the salt and pepper. I wait for the water to boil, and imagine taking my first creamy bite, and know the tension will already be falling from my shoulders.

The water boils. I pour it atop the mound of flakes, until they are three quarters submerged. Next, a few splashes of milk. Then the butter, slices of cheese, two pinches of salt, and many grinds of fresh black pepper-- stir it all together-- make sure it's evenly mixed-- and then, as I almost cannot stop the drooling saliva from streaming out of my mouth, I fork as much as the utensil will hold, into my mouth. My mouth rejoices at the familiar flavors and comforting, creamy texture.

If the day has really sucked, I will eat another bowl, and then another. I don't drown my sorrows with ice cream, pot, or booze. It's all about the instant mashed potatoes.

So when the doctor told me it was a No Go on the potato, I began to panic.

Quitting potatoes, cold turkey, even for the first two weeks, when I promised myself it was just an experiment, was not easy. At brunch I'd stare longingly at someone else's homefries, hashed browns (the most painful for me, I truly love hashed browns, the greasier the better, like McD's breakfast ones and Waffle House franchises scattered across the south). It was the worst if the person I was eating brunch with didn't finish their potatoes and left them on the plate, and I had to watch them until the waitress finally would whisk them away. Going out to eat- all the things I would jump on- soup of the day is Potato Leek (YES!) now meant salad instead. Because I cannot bring myself to say "hold the potatoes" if the chicken or steak entree comes with roasted potatoes, or scalloped potatoes (another favorite), or mashed potatoes, I sigh and resign myself to the fish.

But before I knew it, I felt amazing. I had so much more energy than I used to- and my head felt clear. The usual battle against lethargy I had long waged, seemed to have struck a truce. My brain fog dissipated. And forgoing the potato was the only thing in my life that I had changed. The rest of my eating habits, sleep, or exercise regimens (lack thereof) had not changed.

I realized, all those years, when I had been so devoted and loving toward potatoes, they had been doing me wrong. Interestingly, or maybe not, the thing that was helping me cope, was making me feel like crap in the first place. I had been eating them up, and they had been keeping me down. I was furious! Ungrateful tubers! I vowed never to reach out to them again.

And so, to this day, my Potato Buds box sits unfinished, atop the fridge. My roommates have no interest in them, they cope with their bad days in other ways. I keep the box there to remind myself of not only my willpower, but the added determination I feel when giving the box the evil eye.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Skimmed Review of the Scent Opera (article published in a NYC blog)

Approaching the imposing Guggenheim on 89th Street and 5th Ave elicits a myriad of responses. Is it a staid fortress? Glorified toilet bowl? Gorgeous mammoth of sensual design? However you may feel about one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous designs, one thing is clear- programming inside the museum remains on the edge of contemporary art.

Next month kicks off a new season of Works and Processes, one of the most exciting and interdisciplinary performance series to be found in New York. Produced by Mary Sharp Cronson and billed as “groundbreaking and carefully crafted programs that provide unprecedented access to today's leading performing artists, choreographers, composers, writers, directors, poets, and minds,”
the performances often blur the boundaries between genres, pushing each art form into the avant garde. What makes the evening special, however, is that the performances are paired with an inside look into the conception, development and intentions of the works- with talks or panel discussions given by the artists prior to the piece. Rarely do we get to experience work with the creator’s insight, in a state of the art auditorium and intimate setting. At 285 seats, performances are often sold out.

Such was the case at the world premier of the Scent Opera, an operatic performance in which scents- yes aromatic wafts- performed the libretto.

The “olfactive libretto” was written by Stewart Matthew in collaboration with French perfumer Christophe Laudamiel
http://perfumer.s-perfume.com/christophe_laudamiel.html. New York-based composer Nico Muhly and Icelander Valgeir Siggurdson wrote a score so strange and beautiful it could be easily be performed as a work in itself. Capturing the imaginative whimsy and at times overwhelming visceral power of smell, the music was able to achieve an artfulness and nuance that surpassed the scents.
Each character in the opera was a smell- and the story arc- though seemingly convoluted- involved a cast of characters that were ensconsed in a struggle between nature and modernity.

During one half hour of music, scents that evoked nature tangoed with scents that evoked technology, each scent making its appearance in six second bursts. Earthy, dank and mulchy smells flitted and fought with metallic smells. There were twenty three scents in all. Often, it was too much for my nose and stomach to bear, and small waves of nausea pulsed through my body during particularly climactic moments of the opera.

How did we as the audience receive the smells? Enveloped by darkness, we sat with an interesting technological device- a microphone of sorts- at an adjustable length underneath our noses. Throughout the course of the performance, audience members either brought the scent-emitting microphones closer to their nostrils, or was often my case, pushing the device further away.

The scents came out in bursts, a stream of air with the odor riding in the vapor.

While unsure if I enjoyed the experience on a sensorial level, given the heavy olfactory barrage, I was awed at the innovation of the idea, and thus delighted in the opportunity to hear the creators speak about the work.

Laudamiel, Stewart, Muhly and Siggurdson spoke of the relationship of scent to music, with Laudamiel noting, ‘Perfumery should be the same kind of discipline as music or visual art,’ (The Wall Street Journal). Muhly explained how perfumes are like chords, with a series of notes that are released to varying effect. Matthew discussed the future of scent as an artistic medium, and all shared quirky anecdotes about sending vials back and forth across continents as the libretto’s “characters” came to take shape. Beyond the fascinating look into the evolution of this project enabled by the panel discussion, the creators were available to chat during the elegant reception following the performance.

Tickets for Works and Processes performances are $30, $25 for members and $10 for students.
Refer to http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/education/works-and-process/events-schedule
For the Fall 2009 schedule.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

read in reverse

Hmm, so if you're interested in the Alaska story in terms of flow or chronology, you should read the last two blog posts in reverse order.

First read "Lost Cats in Noe Valley" and then read "Losing Time Means Losing My Mind"

Losing Time Means Losing My Mind

Another excerpt in working on my Alaska story. I am not sure what form this story is going to take- only that I know I want to write about my experience in Alaska and I'm just posting these as I go. I will tighten it up hopefully sometime later. I think it will help to just get my words out there. Releasing the pieces, as unpolished as they are, helps take the pressure off the delusionary quest for (personal) perfection....better just to write and move on and keep writing and keep moving on.

On my arrival in Nak Nek Alaska:

I got off the plane and looked around. I like small airports, one baggage claim, one airstrip. I feel like my arrival matters, I will not be lost in the mayhem. I collect my bag easily, but there is no indication for where I should go. There is a huge yellow school bus with a man holding a sign, “Trident Cannery” and almost everyone from my plane starts filing onto that bus. I want to go with them. Safety in numbers. Before climbing up the steps of the bus, the man I sat next to on the plane turns back and gives me a sad smile and a thumbs up. Suddenly I feel my only friend is leaving me. The school bus pulls away.

The parking lot, if you could call it that, is clearing out. A woman jumps out of an SUV with a big shaggy golden retreiver and asks if I’m LuLing. Yes…just like that? I'm the only one to pick up? I don’t know what to think, so I think nothing.

We drive. The dog calms me as I reach over the back seat to pet it. I let it lick me generously. I let it lick away my salt and my fear. There are endless fields of wildflowers. We make easy small talk about the weather up here, the population (300), what kind of wildlife roams (bears, moose, caribou, foxes, wolves), and after about twenty minutes, we’ve pulled up to a compond with some rusty boat hulls in a gravelly parking lot and shanty-looking clapboard buildings dotting a sprawling uneven acreage.

(Note to self: It hurts to go over this in my head. Do I need to recall the details? Can I just talk about the stuff I want to talk about? Do I have to tell the story with any kind of narrative cohesion? I only want to recall some, not all, of the memories. But will it make the story patchy?)

My dorm is called Waldorf Hysteria. I think it’s funny for the first day and by the third, I resent anyone making light of the shit we suffer through.

The only thing that can preserve my sanity, that can run its fingers over the fissures beginning to crack across the surface of my body and mind, is time. Time is the panacea, the caulking. Time means sleep, getting to eat, dialing the phone to the one voice out there who can soothe me. But time is always one step ahead, taunting me, as I chase its slithering tail. I cover my ears, and blot out its laughter.

We work sixteen hours a day, every day of the week. That leaves eight remaining hours that should, arguably, belong to me. But there is a line for the shower. There is a line to do laundry. There is a line to get food. There is a line at the payphone. I swat mosquitoes, exhausted and aimless, waiting. I wait to turn on the hot faucet and wash the sick stench of fish off my skin. I wait to dump my clothes in the washer. I wait til the Polish girl is done yelling at me because I have removed her clothes from the washer and some have fallen on the floor. I wait with my plastic tray to lift a lifeless heap of cafeteria grub.

For those of us desperate for time, waiting is the tax we pay. With pain, I watch my minutes pass. The first second of a new minute is a seed. The subsequent seconds build around the seed, packing around it, morphing and coalescing into a ball. After sixty seconds, a new seed forms, and the seconds pack around it, and each minute becomes a round hard unit, like a marble. As I stand waiting, hungry, tired, sweaty, itchy, longing, dirty, I watch as a big hand reaches into the last stash of my equanimity and pockets my marbles. I am losing them, and I feel my undoing.