Parents' Weekend, Part 2. sketches of dim sum

Pop, Morgan made the trip out to Ton Kieng for a Dim Sum lunch. Sketches and images follow.

I like the luck of dim sum. The small plates. The mystery. I like trying things I’ve never had before, returning to dishes I’ve forgotten and finding the familiar flavors I’ve come to expect. The little, non-commital tastes encourage trial, and even if you can’t fully understand what the lady has under those steaming tin containers, if it looks good, it just might be. We tried silken tofu nests each with a tender shrimp centerpiece. A whole host of steamed dumplings and shu mai. There was a long noodle folded over and back on itself with morsels of BBQ’d pork nestled in the pockets of soft dough. Vibrant green pea shoots brightened the table and of course, every time the steamed pork bao lady came by, we took her up on her goods.

I wonder about when the dim sum servers get their assignments for the day. Does the girl who picks the ‘chicken feet’ cart sigh sadly, knowing that she’s going to be turned down again and again? Or does the girl who proffers steamed baos anticipate her feet aching at the end of her shift, knowing that she’ll have the most popular item.

I like the pace of the meal, that you start right away with no attention to menus or what you’re in the mood for. You’re in the mood for whatever’s in front of you, and maybe something you’ve never heard of before.

Whenever I go, I try to have something new. Push myself beyond the baos and shu mai and anything that contains BBQ pork. A woman came by and offered little doughy disks in shattered English. Before the guys could wave her off, I said yes, and brought them in front of me. I broke open the warm stretchy dough to reveal a bright yellow custard inside. It was just like mochi, but warm and immensely comforting. Rice pastry pulling across warm vanilla custard. I tried and I tried to share my giddy revelation with the guys, but the brother was in pork bun bliss and pop wasn’t feeling the want for sweet. It always makes me a little sad when I have a moment of gustatory excitement that try as I might, I can’t share with the people I’m with. Really, after all the times I’ve forced bites of this or that on them, they should know better.

I’m still craving those custard things, but I know that if I return to Tom Kieng anytime soon, I’ll try and fail at ordering them. That they won’t have them that day, or that I’ve missed the description entirely. It’s fine. Each time is adventure and next time I might discover something even better.


CSA interlude

The cornucopia of produce continues to spill into my fridge every week, and I'm struggling to keep up. I was hoping that all the good raw goods would inspire me to try new things, and it has once in awhile. And then there's nights like last night, where in anticipation of another greengrocer's delivery, I boiled, roasted and prepped everything I had. There was a bit of ingenuity too:

Western salad rolls: organic fennel and basil with shrimp and vermicelli salad rolls with a lemon-garlic dipping sauce. Eastern style meets western flavors

Reconstructed caprese: Roasted white beets with burratta mozzerella, crisped basil leaves and a balsamic glaze. I had this for lunch and, had there been a prize for Best Lunch of the Office, I would have won.

Here's the rundown of the rest:

Four ears of fresh corn: boiled and de-cobbed. Destined for salads. Maybe soup.
Three red peppers: eaten raw. like sushi.
yukon potatoes: roasted with shallots and mashed. This recipe is now perfected.
Broccoli: steamed and doused with lemon butter
lemons: in the butter above., also in an failed aioli (faioli?) that went alongside the salad rolls
Romaine: tossed in a kick-ass salad last week with feta, red peppers, cucumber, olives and garbanzos. Organic lettuces are ridiculous.

All I have left to tackle is the cantaloupe and a half waiting for me in my fridge. I've been tossing around the idea of making a chilled cantaloupe soup with basil oil and crispy procioutto, but last night my mini-prep chopper thing wouldn't co-operate.

On the block this week:
red and yellow peppers
red leaf lettuce
romaine lettuce
yukon potatoes

Also picked up some grass-fed organic chuck to keep the grass-fed organic short ribs in my freezer company.

recipes welcome....

Parents' Weekend, Part 1. All the tea in China

When I was a visitor to San Francisco, I’d always end up hitting the Tourist Triptych: North Beach, Union Square and Chinatown. I would marvel at how close all these things were to one another, get confused with the labyrinthine streets, drift from one trapping to another. I’d end up walking to the point where I started shopping for new shoes to give my feet some relief, meandering hungry and pained until I finally gave in to a steamed pork bao at any random dim sum place or a scoop of gelato at a corner cafĂ©. As a resident, I’ve moved beyond that experience of the city. If I want dim sum, I head to clement. If I want Italian, I’ll head to any one of the pasta joints around the city. I’ll drop by Union Square a couple times a month for a shopping trip, but I do it cursing and quickly passing all the tourists eating up the sidewalk and mindlessly ogling at the streetcars.

When my mother and brother came to town for marathon weekend, I hoped that we’d be able to avoid the Triptych. Cumulatively, my family has put in a lot of time to the city, and I didn’t think they’d want to be such tourists in the town. Besides, it was race weekend, and I was supposed to be hydrating, carbo-loading and resting. So climbing the steepest streets in the city in pursuit of a souvenir wasn’t on my list of pre-training good things to do. I wasn’t the happiest camper to hear that after I picked up my race packet, we’d be meeting up in some tea shop in Chinatown.

When I walked in, I still had quite a skeptical look on my face. My mom, cousin and brother seemed really into it. Sucked in by the animated young host behind the counter. He brewed and poured tea after tea, going through his shtick and sure, why fight it, I had him set me up with a cup. Tea was water and I did have to hydrate, after all.

And then it happened. Maybe around the third cup, where I was comparing the subtle tannins of the jasmine tea with the first black tea he poured, or when I discovered I knew a little more about white tea than I thought, I found myself actually having a good time. I was learning, I was tasting, I was laughing. I wanted to find a green tea I really liked, and before I knew it, I was exchanging restaurant recommendations with the guy behind the counter and chatting up the family next to us.

We tasted over a dozen teas, learned how to brew them for flavor, had our friend behind the counter mete out small packages of us to take home and recommend the best teapots, strainers and cups. Before long, each of us had a full set-up to take home and continue the tea-stravaganza any time.

Where usually a tourist experience is spent wandering and observing, and not really understanding, we had the opportunity to dig deep, to drill down into one central aspect of the culture. To take a daily ritual and take it home with us. Instead of postcards and pagodas, we got to have a real, genuine experience. I was surprised, I really was. Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ll wander into when you’re a tourist in your own town.