Waste

You know, it’s interesting to me that we often discuss waste, but not much in the literal sense.  More in the abstract sense of “waste of time, waste of emotions, ugh Trump is such a waste of space” that kind of thought.  “That boy is not worth my time,” the usual kind of relationship material featured on mainstream music like Taylor Swift. Maybe it’s more romantic than talking about actual, straight up, physical waste.

I don’t remember where I read this from, so forgive me if the forgotten source detracts from the credibility of my blog post, but Americans do waste 40% of their groceries on average.  When I came across this figure, I paid attention to the amount of food I unearthed in the fridge that had gone bad because it was shoved way in the back, or we simply ran out of time before it started getting inedible, and ashamedly I admit it was probably close to that figure that particular week.  After that, I tried to stay on top of things and remember to use up food while it was fresh, but this new mindfulness conflicts with my natural hoarder mentality to tuck everything away and save it “for next time.”  Especially during college, when I had the occasional frame of mind to focus on making food with real ingredients and not instant ramen, I would open the fridge and stare aghast at the over-aged, sad-looking, withered bok choy and the molded cheese and fruit (It had only been a week!)

I grew up in a household where a few grains of rice left on my bowl prompted my mother to warn me that the amount of grains remaining equaled the amount of pimples on my future husband’s face.  Even though some unused ingredients manage to slip through here and there, my parents had known a harder life than I had, and know the value of food.  I’m not saying it was helpful or fun to hear a voice constantly guilting you of all the African and Asian children starving when you couldn’t finish your noodles or felt unmotivated to eat the rest of the fried rice- I was too young to understand anything from it anyway except that it made me feel bad.  Regardless, the general rule was that until the food placed on your plate was empty, your butt was not allowed to leave the chair.  This plus my eating problems resulted in many nights of sitting at the kitchen table for hours.

In contrast, my friend and I talked about the occasional dinner to a white friend’s house, and finding it absolutely blasphemous when they couldn’t finish their dinners, instead of putting it in the fridge as leftovers, the simple answer to most things was to throw it out.  And while I am certain this was not the scenario for every white family, or even my scenario for every Asian family, there seemed to be a common theme for some differences, particularly for how privileged the family or generation is at the time as well.

Many other countries consider Americans lazy, pampered slobs. In many ways, they are right.  When other countries think of McDonalds and obesity first, that’s kind of upsetting.  Going to Taiwan and Japan, many parts of the culture revolves around the theme of moderation.  I find that every single napkin handed to me by the waiter in Japan is petite, and valued.  Place this image side by side to the food court at some American mall, where some dude walks by and grabs an unnecessarily large wad of napkins, all to jam into his face as he eats a burger and fries.  Sometimes, I get frustrated that I have to walk a couple blocks to the subway station in Taiwan just to find a trash can to throw a cup out, but you know what?  It works.  Furthermore, Denmark has transformed into waste-to-energy country, with a Zero Waste system in place.  I’m pretty happy to be an American, and I am proud to call myself one, but on the other hand, why is it that such a powerful, great nation is unable to achieve what many other smaller countries already have?

Another facet of waste that I see often that is a personal pet peeve of mine, is the waste of water.  Let me begin by saying that I definitely waste water- I am very guilty of taking long hot showers, especially when I’m having an off day.  It’s one of the best feelings in the world.  But what really gets me is when people take their time examining their face in the mirror and leave the faucet running for a minute or more.  I see this all the time in public bathrooms, and it BOTHERS ME.  Because well, at least the hot shower was contributing to someone’s happiness, but this is just well, plain waste for no reason at all except habit.

I love watching cooking shows.  But every time the judge takes one bite of food and then leaves the rest, I can’t help but assume that the remaining food is thrown away.  I cringe when I see Joe Bastianich throw the entire plate into the trash can just because it’s not up to his standards.  I mean, is that really necessary?  While I’m on cruises, I get excited when I know that I get to order as many things as I want, try and taste different plates, because well, the whole point of the cruise is to spoil yourself and get all glutinous, right?  A part of me says not to, but I still end up picking maybe two things and not finishing all of it.

I am a hypocrite, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve watched more documentaries (“Living On One Dollar A Day”, courtesy of Netflix, hop on it folks) on why and how people who count every drop and every bite of food, and I’ve had few moments when I was alone and had little access to buy a meal or go grocery shopping.  Of course, my spare moments are nothing to complain about, but I just mean that I had a very minor taste in what it could be like to be hungry and make every bit count.  I’ve walked by the streets and seen homeless people waiting to get enough for the next meal, or been asked to donate some money to organizations.  Listen, I know none of us are exactly able to dump out our pockets and just give it all away, because soon enough, one after the other there are more and more causes piling up, it’s endless.  The ongoing problems in our world rarely end, especially the common themes of war, hunger, poverty, politics, inequalities, etc..  But maybe I can honor the organizations and people a little bit by trying harder than I am now not to waste.  It doesn’t kill me to make that tiny choice of finishing the rest of the food for tomorrow, it doesn’t kill me to decide to research a few ways to use “waste,” such as using stale bread to make bread pudding, or overripe bananas into smoothies.  Even throwing waste into the garden patch is better than just throwing it into the can!  It doesn’t kill me to form the habit of remembering to turn off the faucet more frequently. I’m not saying, force yourself to eat the sad-looking, withered bok choy or the expired cheese.  Just being more mindful of little choices everyday is a great habit to have, despite our flaws and our desires to be less so.   We know there are better solutions out there, and it must be a goal to better our methods from the personal habits to society’s answer to waste and pollution.

 

 

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Foodventures: Cooking Chronicles

I had started a segment called “Food” on my blog, but never got around to it.  It still needs a lot of work in terms of organization, but for now I just want to get started on making a list of things I’ve tried to make over the years.  I grew up on Asian food my parents made, and that meant mostly fried eggs and stir-fried rice.  Now that I’m older, I appreciate the food more, but back then I always had eating problems and wasn’t a fan of some of the food I ate.  My brother, probably sometime during my freshman year of college, would occasionally make baked penne when he came home, and it was so delicious.  Our whole family was impressed, wondering how the magic of non-Asian cooking came into being.

It wasn’t until one day I was craving the pasta that I casually googled it, and a million recipes came up on the internet that I realized, hey, the ingredients aren’t that difficult to get, and although 40 minutes seemed a long time to spend on making dinner, it flew by.  One of my favorite websites is allrecipe.com, mostly because of its simplicity and its detail on serving size, total time, and exact ingredients laid out with precise steps and photos.

My style of penne vodka was a bit different from my brother’s, but I actually prefer my version because I think it’s less heavy and more healthy.  The real difference is using fresh produce, and the recipe I started off with called for 5-6 tomatoes cut up to be left on the pan for about 10+ minutes:  the point of this was for it to melt into juice, and then create part of the sauce.  At college, when I didn’t have access to tomatoes, I could only rely fully on tomato sauce, and that absolutely did not taste as good.

The second secret to penne vodka’s sauce, was the heavy cream.  This was a huge thing, as heavy cream is not a familiar ingredient in Asian cooking at all.  But really, the gist of good penne vodka is very simple.  You mostly need tomatoes, tomato sauce to compensate for extra flavor or viscosity, heavy cream, a splash of vodka (or rice wine), and some spicy sausage/chicken bits, and finally, the penne. That’s it, only 6 ingredients!  Salt and pepper to taste, but not absolutely necessary since the sausage and tomato sauce often adds salt and spice.

And ever since then, looking up recipes was a fun pastime, and when I had the energy, cooking new things became a hobby.  Turns out, apparently I am quite talented in spicing my food!  I am super picky about overcooked foods, so when it comes to pasta or meats in particular, I stand over my cooking food like a hawk.

That said, I tried a bunch of things and tweaked or changed a lot of the recipes I made, sometimes improvising.  If they tasted bad, I completely dropped the dish from my list of foods to keep (such as avocado chocolate pudding, white chocolate pudding, and a weird lemon chicken pasta).

Here are another two basic cooking tips besides fresh produce:

  1.  On the fiscal spectrum, stock up on versatile ingredients you make often from Costco in bulk:  for example, the steak at Costco is amazing, and usually can be used for 8 meals for an average of $30 total, which comes out to roughly $3-4 per piece. Just freeze them.  Same thing for salmon, or chicken stock
  2. Foods taste best when there is a balance of flavors and textures (maybe I learned this from the multiple cooking shows I watch like Chopped):  Generally, food tastes great when you have a component of
    1. Acidity, sourness (Lemon juice, vinegar)
    2. Sweetness (Honey, sugar, mango, caramelized onions)
    3. Saltiness (salt, soy sauce)
    4. Others
      1.  Spiciness (chili flakes, sriracha, hot peppers)
      2. Spices (cumin, sweet or smoked paprika, chile, garlic powder, a little nutmeg, salt/pepper)
      3. Oils (sesame oil, coconut oil, vegetable oil)
    5. Textures- Creaminess/softness (avocado, mayo, mango  vs. Crunchiness (alfalfa sprouts, red peppers, raw onion, cucumbers)

NEVER OVERCOOK. You can never go back and fix something overcooked.  Never.  The only times this is acceptable is if it was meant to become mush, like porridge or bread pudding.

  1. Penne vodka
  2. Mango Rigatoni
  3. Asian-inspired Stir Fried Linguine with soy sauce, sesame seeds, broccoli, peppers
  4. Shrimp Linguine with butter and wine
  5. Pad Kee Mao (Thai)
  6. Avocado pasta with black bean and salmon
  7. Oven-cooked spiced salmon with honey and lemon juice, accompanied by vegetables (kale, bok choy, peppers, broccoli)
  8. Tortilla Wraps with variations on steak, salmon, mango, red pepper, onions, tomato, lemon juice, cilantro, avocado
  9. Chicken Thigh Burgers
  10. Halal Guys imitation attempt with turmeric
  11. Popcorn Shrimp Sandwich with cucumbers, mayonnaise, avocado, honey, lemon juice, arugula, alfalfa)
  12. Alfalfa-Avocado and Cream Cheese Sandwich
  13. Grilled Cheese Sandwich (Colby Jack, cream cheese, and butter)
  14. Crab Creole
  15. Crab Cakes
  16. Lobster Salad (layered in a martini glass, avocado, lime mayonnaise, red peppers and mango, cilantro, lemon mayonnaise, topped with lobster pieces
  17. Lobster Bisque
  18. Pumpkin Soup
  19. Hummus and Guacamole
  20. Sweet Potato fries
  21. Panna cotta (vanilla with strawberries or blueberries, low-fat almond extract with red bean topping, orange, green tea, and attempting mango with fresh mango nectar and pieces soon)
  22. Creme Brulee
  23. Sabayon
  24. Mango-Strawberry smoothie
  25. Lychee-chocolate milkshake (learned from Lindt)

 

My favorite foods I would say are:

Taiwanese-

  1. Beef noodle soup via my dad
  2. Ba-wan (taiwanese meatballs) when the outside is all wobbly and fresh with the sauce
  3. Oyster pancakes
  4. Coffee black tea with vanilla ice cream and bubbles
  5. Kong Xin vegetables

Others-

  1. Jia-jiang noodles via my mom.
  2. Penne vodka, because that’s the signature dish that I first made, and the one that inspired me to continue trying other things.
  3. Korean food, particularly the banchan dishes along with their BBQ.

Next, I want to attempt not just the mango panna cotta, but also buy an ice cream maker and try out some recipes I’ve come across.  What are your top three favorite foods?