“IN 2012, IN A FORM OF SELF-ABANDONMENT, I STARTED THIS FOOD BLOG. SEVEN YEARS LATER, I AM ABOUT TO PUBLISH A BOOK ABOUT THIS JOURNEY.”
I sat here for hours struggling with how to begin the sentence. Stranger things have happened in this world I’m sure, I mean I could swear I saw a sea creature that looks like a glowing condom on the internet, but from where I stand, it doesn’t get more inexplicable than what I’m feeling right now.
It began in 2012. It was just about two years into our miserable six years-long residence in Beijing. In a form of self-abandonment almost, I started this food blog.
With no enthusiasm or objectives, setting out more to be a concession than a declaration, I did what I thought was throwing the white flag to all my other grander ambitions in life, that I was going to be that person, “a blogger”, a non-job made up by people whom I judged, past tense, to be minimally interesting that they had to put themselves on speaker. It wasn’t brave. It wasn’t inspired. It was never expected to arrive anywhere. I was standing on the edge of a cliff. And I took the extra step.
The least of what I saw coming was that seven years later, I am to publish a book about this journey.
So yes, a Lady And Pups Cookbook. The Art of Escapism Cooking – A Survival Story.
This book is about my time in Beijing, what started it all. If you are kind of new here, then yeah, no, I didn’t enjoy that. This book is an self-reflective examination of how I retreated to my kitchen as a place to evade from my unpleasant realities. What was wrong, what wasn’t, and answers that I am still unsure of today. It’s honest but also contradictory, opinionated but nonetheless a personal truth. An internal monologue, despicably self-serving and personal, almost to a fault. Because for me this is more than a cookbook. It’s therapy. It’s closure. It’s my attempt to draw a conclusion to what was a very difficult time of my life, to put the unsettlement to rest. You may find it funny. You may find it bitter. You may even find it obnoxious at times. But it was what I had to say in the way that I had to say it, screaming and kicking, uncensored, crude, to boil my emotions down to something better than the ingredients of its making, a consommé of the nasty bits of my experience. If you find that it resonates, I’m glad that you know you are not alone. But if you don’t, then there are 80+ really fucking good recipes with it.
The book will be officially published in October but pre-order is available now. Here is a recipe preview, of page 288 if you want to be precise. I formulated the recipe list when I was still living in Beijing, but most of the book and recipes were written and shot after I left. It is spoken in retrospect, a memoir if you will, where I am better equipped to find humor in past tense. I know I have been away from this blog for quite awhile, but from now on I will be posting more regularly again and continue to share sneak peeks.
I know I should be beating the drums right now. But really, I just want to say Thank you. You’ve made a very strange thing possible in my life. Now go buy it, too.
COOKBOOK RECIPE PREVIEW P.288
Tofu is bland. Don’t let its supporters, including me, tell you otherwise. Flying solo, it carries a subtle but offbeat taste that comes from soy milk, which, depending on whether you grew up accustomed to it or not, could either be a very good or a very bad thing. Having said that, I love tofu, perhaps in the truest sense because I wholly embrace it for what it is, but more important, what it isn’t.
Tofu is not about taste. Tofu is a texture thing.
Hard, medium, silken like panna cotta–think of tofu as a mere vessel, an empty field of impending dreams. It’s like Mars, if you will, in that any exciting thing about it has to be outsourced, like Matt Damon. This will open up a whole window of promise.
Tofummus, for example, is what happens when you turn the least popular end of the spectrum of tofu, the firm variety, into a silken, creamy, luscious bed of hummus-like substance that begs for company. In this case, its soulmate, if you know what I’m talking about.
This is mapo tofu, the quintessential icon of Sichuan cuisine, one of its most successful exports across the world, numbing with Sichuan peppercorns and fiery with fermented chile bean paste, turned into a dip (an overdue development, if you ask me). The tongue-stinging, blood-red chile oil and deeply savory pork bits are immediately cooled down by the silky smooth touch of the pureed tofu, the most delicious reconciliation on the taste buds. And if you’re feeling kinky, make it a threesome with chewy scallion and garlic naan.
- 3.2 oz (90 grams) ground pork or beef
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp potato starch or cornstarch
- 3 tbsp canola oil
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tbsp sichuan douban/chili bean paste (see pantry)
- 1 tsp mushroom powder (see pantry)
- 1/2 tsp finely minced fermented black bean, or 1 tsp the darkest miso you can find
- 1/2~3/4 tsp Korean chili flakes
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 2 tsp grated ginger
- 1 tsp ground sichuan peppercorns, plus more to dust
- 1/8 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tbsp shoaxing wine or sherry wine
- 1/4 cup store-bought chicken stock
- 1 1/2 tsp apricot jam
- 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
- 5 drops rice vinegar
- finely diced scallion to serve
- 14 oz (450 grams) firm tofu
- 2 tbsp garlic confit puree (recipe follows)
- 1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1/3 tsp salt
- MAKE GARLIC CONFIT PUREE: Smash 35 cloves (about 2 1/2 heads) of garlic with a knife and remove the skins. Set inside a non-stick pot along with 4 fresh bay leaves, 1/2 cup (120 ml) of canola oil, 1 tbsp fish sauce and 1/4 tsp ground white pepper. Cook over medium-low~low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlics are evenly golden browned on all sides, about 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and transfer the rest into a blender (or you can do this with hand-held immersion blender), and blend until the mixture is smooth. Keep in an air-tight jar inside the fridge for up to 2 week. Stir before use.
- MAKE MAPO SAUCE: Mix ground pork (or beef) with 1 tsp toasted sesame oil and potato starch (or cornstarch) until even.
- In a small pot, heat canola oil and toasted sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground meat, breaking it up as finely as you can with a wooden spoon, and cook until evenly browned. Add douban paste, mushroom powder, fermented black bean (or dark miso) and chili flakes, store and cook for 1~2 minutes until the chili flakes have turned dark maroon in color. Add grated garlic, grated ginger, ground sichuan peppercorn and ground cumin, and cook until just fragrant. Add shaoxing wine, scraping any caramelization that is sticking to the sides and bottom of the pot, and cook until the alcohol has evaporated, then add chicken stock, apricot jam, ground white pepper and rice vinegar.
- Turn the heat down to low, and simmer until the liquid has reduced by 1/2 and slightly thickened. Can be made a couple days ahead of time. Reheat until warm before serving.
- MAKE TOFUMMUS: Tofu is made from boiled soy milk which makes it technically “cooked”. But if you’re not a fan of the taste of soy bean, boiling the tofu again will make it taste more well-rounded. But it may also make the puree slightly grittier. If you decided to boil it, cut the tofu into marshmallow-size chunks and cook them in boiling water for 5 min. Drain well, and let cool on top of a clean towel, then transfer into a food-processor.
- If not boiling, simply pat the tofu dry with a clean towel, then set inside a food-processor. Run the processor for 1~2 minutes until the tofu is smoothly pureed. Add garlic confit puree, toasted sesame oil and salt, and run again until incorporated. The tofummus should still be quite tasteless at this point.
- Serve the tofummus covered in warmed mapo sauce, topped with finely minced scallions and dustings of more ground sichuan peppercorns. Serve with chewy scallion garlic naan (recipe in the book).