Chewing: A Necessary Part of the Digestion Process?

Well, sorry folks. The Summertime series got put on temporary hiatus while I prepped for and am now recovering from oral surgery. That’s right, my wisdom teeth are no more. While the elusive mission call is still (annoyingly) not  in my hands, I have happened upon something else.

Good food doesn’t have to be solid.

I, like so many other normal, functioning human beings always considered soup synonymous with Fall. Y’know… leaves change color, temperature drops, cute jackets and scarves appear, and hands wrap around a warm bowl of… well, you get the picture. Unfortunately, I left my surgeon’s office with strict instructions and ran straight into a wall of 93 degree heat and humidity. Really!? Soup?! The thought was less appetizing than surgery in the first place.

Scouring the internet, I was pleasantly reminded of a few facts: soup is not always served hot, puréed fruits totally count, and a blender is NOT considered “heavy machinery.” So here are some recipes that’ve been keeping me alive this week:

Green curry is my favorite thing in the whole world (thanks to a couple excellent Thai restaurants in Provo and a particularly cute Home Teacher who served in Thailand). Minus the solid bits, it was quite the treat.

Strawberry Soup | delish.com

  • 4 cups fresh strawberries
  • 1/3 cup ginger ale
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tbs lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • sliced strawberries for garnish

Place sliced strawberries in blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add ginger ale, sugar, milk, lemon juice and vanilla extract; blend. Pour into mixing bowl and whisk in sour cream until smooth. Cover and chill for 2 hours. Garnish soup with sliced strawberries, if desired. Serve.

Gingered Carrot Soup | epicurious.com

  • 2 (7- to 8-oz) firm-ripe California avocados
  • 3 cups fresh carrot juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
  • Pinch of curry powder

Quarter avocados, then pit and peel.

Purée 1 avocado with carrot juice, salt, 4 teaspoons lime juice, and 2 teaspoons ginger in a blender until very smooth.Cut remaining avocado into 1/4-inch dice. Gently toss with remaining teaspoon lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, curry powder, and a pinch of salt. Serve soup garnished with seasoned avocado dice.

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::DISCLAIMER:: all images shamelessly pulled from Google Images. There is nothing photogenic about slurping soup with a numb mouth.

V.

Summertime Series: A Virtual Four-Course Meal

Summer in Houston is hot.

And in a bad way.

By mid-March, the air feels so close you could touch it. A man’s heavily starched shirt collar wilts faster than a woman’s neatly coiffed hair-do. Muggy at best, unbearable the rest of the time Summer in Houston is the antithesis of its oft romanticized, idyllic portrait.  Streets are bare. Playgrounds are empty. Swimming pools are silent. The sound of A/C units churning echoes eerily throughout suburban neighborhoods.

But wait. Didn’t 2.6 million people show up for Rodeo Houston last month… a primarily outdoor event? That’s just about half the population of Houston. Two reasons for this, really: food & entertainment. But not just any food. World Championship Grillmeisters, armed with their best cuts and secret sauces. And not just any entertainment. Rodeo happens to be the State Sport of Texas (naturally) , and in a place where everything is bigger… what better venue than Reliant Arena for the Nation’s best riders to test their mettle? Add a star-studded list of  music superstars, and you end up with two expectations which must be met and (if possible) exceeded before any self-respecting Houstonian would brave the Summer swelter:

  1. Undeniably great food
  2. World-class entertainment

Miraculously, this blog post sprung from dirt I found myself sitting in, waiting for Tim McGraw to take the stage. If I were writing a noob’s guide to Houston, “things to do in Summertime” would really only have four subheadings. Nothing else is worth it, really.  Like peanut butter and chocolate, these pairings were meant to be and are always met with  unanimous approval when considered for forays into the outdoors:

  • Crawfish & Zydeco
  • Barbecue & Rodeo
  • Bratwursts & Baseball
  • Burgers & Beaches

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Houston happens to sit at the perfect crossroad of American, Creole, and Texas cultures required to sample each pairing. Over the next four days, we’ll go on a virtual tour of Summer festivals and sample a few classic recipes (fried ‘gator, anyone?).  Mostly to satiate my cravings for Summer to get here already (Spring is such a tease), but I hope it also serves as a guidepost if you ever find yourself stranded in Houston during the season affectionately known as “Hell.”

V.

photo by Vanessa

Chinese New Year: The 2011 Rabbit

The first week of February found me down at the Chinese Community Center in Houston, TX. Decided to be a complete 外国人 and use my official-looking DSLR (that’s really just a Nikon D60) to give myself access to all kinds of places.

Dragging my sister, L, out of her shell was more of a challenge. She’s currently the photo editor for her high school yearbook, but wasn’t blessed with the pushy gene that I landed in spades. Needless to say, the first hour was a drag. But once she realized that Asians are more flattered than annoyed when you snap a few photos in their direction, she relaxed.

Smells of a Chinese street market coaxed us outside between “lion dance” performances. Tents lined both sides of a narrow parking lot, facing the crowd between with the difficult choice of which line to brave first. L and I found the crawlspace behind the vendors and set about maxing out our memory cards.

The whole event left me craving my favorite street fare — chuanr— for weeks. So, here it is. Straight from the streets of Xi’an to your suburban backyard grill:

Ingredients:

  • meat*, cut into thin strips against the grain
  • cumin, fresher the better
  • red pepper, flakes or crushed
  • table salt
  • sesame oil (optional, if meat is really lean)
  • flat bread, like naan or Navajo bread; flour tortillas will work in a pinch

Utensils:

  • clean bicycle spokes (trust me on this one), sharpened on one end
  • open flame, preferably from hard wood or charcoal but a typical American grill will work

Directions:

  • light charcoal / heat up grill
  • thread strips of meat on bicycle spoke, leaving about four inches on one end and one inch on the other
  • be sure to add at least one chunk of fat to the middle or ends of each spoke
  • place a few raw chuanr over open flame, keeping your spices nearby
  • season to taste while rotating to ensure even cooking
  • be careful — spokes are made of metal and conduct heat!
  • grab a piece of flat bread; treat it like a plate to transport finished chuanr
  • … and repeat!

How & Why:

  • *meat — this dish originated in the West with the Uygurs and (for obvious reasons) usually uses lamb. Beef is what my parents used when I was a kid, usually a tenderloin or a top sirloin cut. Try to get something with a prominent ring of fat still in tact. For this reason, I’ve never used chicken or leaner meats. If you’re watching your girlish figure, you are welcome to use sesame or olive oil…. but you’ve been warned: the flavor will be completely different. If you have a butcher you trust, tell him what you’re up to and he can recommend a good piece of beef.
  • bicycle spokes — in a city where the population density doesn’t lend itself to everyone owning a full-sized sedan, bicycles run rampant. Which translates to a stockpile of replacements for parts that bend easily… spokes. Cheap, reusable, easily sharpened.
  • flat bread — to collect all those juices, of course! When I’m in a hurry or didn’t have access to a grill (… college dorm, anyone?) I found the quick and dirty way to get my fix of that distinct chuanr taste: flank steak and a sauce pan. At the very end, I cleaned the pan with a couple tortillas, mopping up all the sauce. Turned out to be my favorite part of the entire experience.
  • social —  every so often, you’ll run across a true craftsman behind a chuanr stove. He’ll only be cooking 8-10 spokes at a time over a box stove no more than 14 inches across. That’s how these should be done at home — buy enough meat for 100+ spokes and invite the neighbors over. Chill your favorite drink and grab a patio chair or blanket. Get everyone involved in threading the spokes, take custom orders for the spices. If you’re lucky, the evening will feel suspended in a slice of perfect space and time.
  • outside — remember, this is currently popular street fare in all major Chinese cities. Its the kind of dish a man from the West could come into the city with, buy ingredients for cheap, and sell to starving students just outside the University gate.

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