I’m constantly thinking about how everyday life has changed since the Stay at Home orders. We are doing so many things on a daily basis that we otherwise wouldn’t be doing. If you’re lucky enough, you’re maintaining your professional roles. Dumped on top of that is picking up the role of teacher, full-time caregiver and chef. The multiple hats are too many to manage, impossible to be all at once. It is a heavy load, but if there is a silver lining to all this, I align with what Dave said to me a few weeks ago, “Our house feels homier.” It’s true. It does. The kids go back and forth between best friends and mortal enemies, but when it’s the former, their feet pound the hardwood floors as they chase each other around filling our house with screams and laughter. Miles’ room, which used to have the main purpose of sleeping and diaper changes, has now become a nightly gathering place where we all have one last cuddle before we put our heads to bed. The backyard, in the past few weeks, has gotten more use than it has in the entire three-plus years we’ve lived here. Tessa screaming, “This is amazing!” keeps repeating in my head, her response to the sprinkler making its debut. Homework has been carefully considered and reviewed in the dining room which has gotten extra love with all the family meals and arts and crafts sessions. And, lastly, the kitchen is where I’ve found myself spending an inordinate amount of time. In this season of restriction, where escape from the home isn’t truly possible, the kitchen has allowed me to break down the walls of confinement delivering me to memories of seasons passed, all made possible through food.
I’ve never identified as a creative. Though I have loosened up over the years, my nature is to process robotically. Things are black or they’re white, wrong or right. Slowly, over the years Dave has shown me the beauty in the gray, spontaneity and all the fun it brings. But, still, most days I live in spreadsheets that require an absolute answer. The closest I get to gray is forecasting which is still largely built on hard facts and figures. While this is a predominant aspect of my personality, COVID-19 is responsible for a slowdown in life. Like everyone else, I’ve been adjusting to this forced-upon-me "new" way of living. When I stop thinking about all the things COVID-19 has curtailed, impeded, and interrupted, I become thankful for what it has brought me. Not only have I received more time with my family, but I’ve also uncovered creativity I didn’t know was hiding underneath the hustle and bustle of our old everyday life. I always thought I hated cooking. It turns out I didn’t love cooking with all the time pressures that surrounded our daily life. Rushing home to whip together a half-assed meal was never any fun. Putting together a carefully thought out meal that I actually have time to execute has been a gift.
My food often doesn’t look Instagram ready or have the precision of French cuisine, but I hope I am delivering a sense comfort to my family. Much of what I’ve cooked over the last month and a half has been because the dish has nostalgia attached to it. A couple of weeks ago, I made a simple, Cantonese dish I’ve never made before – Tomato and Egg scramble. It tasted so good I’ve made it several times again improvising with the ingredients adding more sesame oil and white pepper to give the dish a deeper savory punch. Pleased that my eggs remained fluffy and not overcooked, my secret weapon has been to add milk to the egg mixture. Not what you find in the recipe or how any true-blooded Cantonese person would make it, it is my own. And when I set it on the table, I travel to any one of the Cantonese diners littered all over Hong Kong. A cacophony of sounds hits my ears, customers conversing loudly in Cantonese true to the stereotype. The waitstaff are taking orders and dishes are clanging as they're cleaned up for the next customer. Every so often I hear the whoosh of the door opening, a jingle simultaneously sounding coming from the bells attached to the door with a red rope.
Last Friday, I undertook a labor of love and produced Scallion Pancakes. These savory, flaky, chewy yet crunchy scallion filled pancakes have been a fabric of my life as long as I can remember. They were quite the undertaking, substituting for an arm workout I intended to do that day. They were worth the effort. The whole family loved them. I could not keep up with their demand as I rolled and fried the dough as they ate. Five Spice Powder sprinkled into the dough was the secret ingredient. Scallion Pancakes was never a dish we had at home, only to be enjoyed when we were dining out at restaurants with menus that specialized in dumplings and noodles. In these joints, you could count on Scallion Pancakes being on the menu, a trusty sidekick to a dumpling. Setting the pancakes on the table, I found myself transported to Rowland Heights at the plaza where there is a 99 Ranch Market. All through my childhood, we frequented a restaurant that was opened by a man that was friendly with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plastered on the walls were photos of the restauranteur and Arnold, smiling outside in the bright sun, both clad in white polo shirts.
A few times over the last few weeks I’ve made ribeye steak. I’m liberal with the salt, sprinkle the black peppercorns and coat the cut of meat with garlic and onion powder. Super simple but oh-so-flavorful. Growing up, Dad worked in a restaurant six days a week. Wednesday was his only day off. On those days, we’d frequent Outback, Chili’s, Black Angus or make our own American steak dinners at home with salad, baked potatoes and corn as sides. For the kids, I cook the steak more well than I’d like and it instantly brings me back to a piece of steak delivered to me as a child with no hint of red juices on the plate.
This slowdown in life has made me realize with clarity that I show love through the acts of service, feeding my family a major one at the moment. Much remains unknown about what the new few months will hold. How will we adjust to the new normal, whatever that is? There are no crystal balls here, but I’ll enjoy this while it lasts. That said, I can't deny I'm looking forward to defaulting to my first creative passion, expressing myself through my wardrobe. Do my jeans even fit anymore?