Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tilapia and Rice Soup (Kao Tom Pla)

I wrote a while ago that I was reading Moby Dick. But Moby Dick is not the book that has been added to my list on the right. Why? Because Moby Dick was boring me, and I read Mary Yukari Water's short story collection The Laws of Evening for a break. It is a beautiful collection of stories. Her prose style is lovely. Many stories caught me off guard with their emotion. Mary's stories have been chosen for various big anthologies like The Best American Short Stories and O. Henry Prize Stories, and the such. I've since been reading more Moby, and it is getting so much better.

As for my own writing, I've been working on a new short story tentatively called "Two Halves" about a chemistry professor who hires a young liberal arts major to help publicize his work. Scott and Michelle, this attempt is fully equipped with outlines and character sketches!

I recently made Kao Tom Pla, which is the Pla variation of the Thai dish Kao Tom. For those of you who don't know what Kao Tom is, it's boiled rice (Kao = rice and Tom = boil), and Thai people often eat it for breakfast or a midnight snack. You get a bowl of the boiled rice and there are toppings you can add to it like pickles and sweet pork and eggs and what have you. "Pla" means fish in Thai.

To make the dish, you need:
  • A potful of vegetable stock (3 cups per person)
  • Tilapia or other mild white fish (1 filet per person)
  • Rice (1 cup of cooked rice per person)
  • Cilantro
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Oil (Corn or Olive oil works)
  • Fish sauce

For the prep:

1. Start with a pot full of vegetable stock made from celery, carrots, onion and possibly lettuce. I strain the stock and salt it up with several dashes of fish sauce. Go ahead and make it a little salty since the rice and the mild fish will counterbalance it later.

2. Make some steamed rice like you normally would. I like to use jasmine rice, but I sometimes use short grained rice too.

3. Make some shaved garlic in oil, which is something that my mum always made vats of. Just chop up several cloves of garlic until the pieces are small (bigger than salt crystals, but not by much). Then, cook them on low heat with constant stirring in a pan with enough oil to cover them until they are golden yellow (they will get a little darker even after you turn off the heat, so don't go too long). Save both the garlic bits and the oil in a jar; it's good for a long time and you can also use it for stir fried vegetables and stuff.

4. Cut up fresh ginger into thin, needle like shavings (2 or 3 tablespoons worth), thinly slice some onion, and wash and pluck some cilantro (again 2 or 3 tablespoons worth).

5. Prepare your tilapia or other white fish by simply cutting into large chunks. I usually just cut each filet in half.

6. Then, right when you're ready to eat it, bring your broth to a boil, drop in the tilapia or other white fish and cook until it's just done (a couple of minutes, don't overdo it).

7. In a bowl, put in the steamed rice and top it with several ladelsful of the broth and 2 or 3 pieces of fish. I like to leave the level of the broth just low enough so that the fish sticks up above it to serve as a little island for the toppings.

8. Top it with as much ginger, cilantro, onion and toasted garlic as you like. (Go easy on the oil that the garlic is in for a lighter dish.)

There you have it!

What's Peanut eating? Still a lot of treats. But, he finished in the top of his class! He sat, he lay, he walked without pulling on the leash, he walked by a shoe full of treats without eating any, he came when I called his name, and he was the only dog in the class to stay for 30 seconds on the first try.  I was very proud.

Does this fix his ear eating problem? It does when I can convince him that he'd rather eat a treat than an ear.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Jonathan Safran Foer's book Everything Is Illuminated is one of the most delightful books I have ever read. He was inspired by Helen Dewitt's The Last Samurai, which is a book I tried to read back in 2008 whilst on a trip to London and didn't get through. Recently, I tried it again and not only got through it, but loved it. It is a beautiful book full of innovation, and I can see why Foer would want to use some of DeWitt's tricks.

<Alert: spoilers throughout>

First, I should say that Dewitt's The Last Samurai was not the inspiration of the 2003 movie The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise. Dewitt's TLS is the story of a mother, Sibylla, trying to raise her autistic/genius son, whom she calls Ludo, even though his birth certificate states that his name is David or Stephen...she's not sure which. The samurai come into play because Sibylla loves Kurasawa's 1954 movie Seven Samurai, and considers the seven samurai and the seven actors to be 14 ideal role models for her fatherless son.

Both Sibylla and Ludo have learned dozens of languages using books and highlighters, and Sibylla explores the idea that stories shouldn't be written in one language, but should freely draw from several languages independent of the characters speaking them or the location where the stories are taking place. The languages, instead, should be thought of as instruments in an orchestra, and writers should be able to draw on whichever language fits the tone he or she is trying to create.

The book also talks about things like teachers who teach that a good student of literature should be able to see any word on a page and think of twenty other books that use the same word and has lines like "heroes are people who are yet unformed while villains are people who are already formed." That's not always true, of course, but it's an interesting idea to think about because it's true a lot of the time.

The ideas in the book are great, and the writing in the book is full of energy and creativity:

There are 60 million people in Britain. There are 200 million in America. (Can that be right?) How many millions of English-speakers other nations might add to the total I cannot even guess. I would be willing to bet, though, that in all those hundreds of millions not more than 50, at the outside, have read A. Roemer, Aristarchs Athetesen in der Homerkritik (Leipzig, 1912), a work untranslated from its native German and destined to remain so till the end of time.

I joined the tiny band in 1985. I was 23. 

The first sentence of this little-known work runs as follows:

Est ist wirklich Brach- und Neufeld, welches der Verfasser mit der Bearbeitung dieses Themas betreten und durchpflugt hat, so sonderbar auch diese Behauptung im ersten Augenblick klingen mag.

I had taught myself German out of Teach Yourself German, and I recognised several words in this sentence at once:

It is truly something and something which the something with the something of this something has something and something, so something also this something might something at first something. 

The book also made me hungry to learn and to read, which is a wonderful thing.

To celebrate, Red, who I will now call Red, made us millet for dinner, which is the food that the peasants in Seven Samurai are forced to eat instead of rice because they are giving all of their rice to the seven samurai. The millet was not very photogenic, nor did it taste very photogenic, and now I feel like I need to figure out a recipe for millet that makes it taste less like peasant food (in case I should be on an episode of Chopped and millet should be one of the basket ingredients). That will be a nice challenge.

Scott, I think you would like this book, and I'll send you a copy if you don't already have it.

Jennifer, this book made me cry.

What's Peanut eating? Samurai food. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday Frlistcipe

First things prematurely: I finished reading The Last Samurai by Helen De Witt, and I think it is a brilliant book. I will have to give it a proper post soon.

Seconds things first: The only thing I've really cooked this week that's worth talking about is a peach cuppa cuppa cuppa cake, which I love because it's a recipe that's easy to memorize: a cuppa self-rising flour, a cuppa sugar, a cuppa milk (and a little bit more), a stick of butter melted, and a can of peaches. It's not a very photogenic cake, but it's a comforting treat that makes me feel homey.

Now to be on time again: I have wanted to make a list of beautiful descriptions I've heard from people over the years, so I'm going to make that list now. Of course I can't actually include the descriptions because they were so beautiful, and I really couldn't do them justice.

List of beautiful descriptions I have heard from people over the years

1. Andreas, a postdoc in my lab when I was in graduate school, described making eiswein (ice wine), when a little village in Germany waits for their wine grapes to freeze and then spends the night crushing the frozen grapes.

2. Elaine, a writer in a long-ago writer's group, described the release of the Wizard of Oz and going to see it. She said when the first section played, the audience was very disappointed because movies in color looked just like movies in black and white. Then, they went to Oz!

3. George Rossman, a Caltech geology professor, described how the earth made gemstones.

4. Jesse, my closest friend when I was growing up, described getting the courage to ask someone out on a date.

5. My aunt described the last two days of my maternal grandmother's life and the moment of her dying.

What's Peanut eating? More treats. This week lesson was on getting your dog to not pull on the leash. One day, Peanut pulled like crazy as I tried to teach him. The next day, he stopped pulling. It was quite remarkable, and it's all thanks to the G.F.-less Bailey.