Sunday, January 11, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

My sole resolution this year is to resume my food writing. Though maintaining Piggy Heaven is one of my creative outlets, blogging is (surprise!) a lot of work, a task that does not fit smoothly into, as Andrew and I call it, our “robust lifestyle.” But nothing important comes easily, and hence I pledge to make room for climbing, cooking and blogging. Oh, and by the way—I like activities that begin with letters at the start of the alphabet. Note that “W” (which happens to lead off work) is not at the beginning of the alphabet—yet I find that this tricky word fills much of my time. (Don't get me wrong. I actually really love my work. It's just hard to fit everything in!).
Classic lemon rosemary parmesan pasta
Farmer's Market salad
Butternut squash soup with roasted squash seeds

Another skill I’ve masterfully developed—in my opinion, this one signifies a good cook more than any other—is using whatever we have on hand to create something—I’ll alter a recipe or pull from experience to craft an occasionally unconventional rendition of a particular dish. This cooking style suits me for two reasons: one, zero waste—and I mean zero waste. Family and friends often joke that once I’m finished with a plate, no washing is required because I’ve thoroughly picked every stray morsel of sustenance and mopped every ounce of sauce. I knew I should be concerned when my Chinese grandmother, who may as well have invented the term zero waste, laughed at my ambition to avoid the trash. (To be fair, I was eating the skin peeled off of her Jerusalem artichokes). Of course, all this applies to the actual eating part—but I promise you that my cooking reflects these same sentiments.
Sweet potato macaroni and cheese
Homemade pesto with spinach ravioli
Hot pot preparation + apple-pear oat bars

I’ve become a [self-proclaimed] master at preparing a semi-gourmet meal in half an hour or less. On any given day, I’ve got to fit both of my C’s in. After a couple hours of climbing and an exhausting ascent over the Presidio hill buried beneath a gargantuan backpack, I have little time or energy for cooking. Fear not, however: I could be on my death bed and could still summon the energy to create nourishment for the body and (more importantly) the taste buds.

 Second, using whatever I have on hand and produce shopping only at the farmer’s market—or on my parents’ property—means that I am always cooking in season. After reading Barbara Kingslover’s memoir Animal, Miracle, Vegetable, I became highly motivated to sustain Andrew and myself on local, seasonal ingredients. When I asked Andrew to vet the idea, we both noticed after some scrutiny that we actually already mostly adhered to the principle (mainly because, as Kingslover points out repeatedly, produce out of season is not flavorful or fresh). I point this out not to give myself a pat on the back—it’s a hell of a lot easier to eat seasonally in Paradise, Northern California than it is in Appalachia, and we’re not actually growing our own food anyway—but to acknowledge that Kingslover’s trials and tribulations made me more intentional about eating in season and more aware of what this actually means for us as eaters (I do now think about “food miles” and the fact that consuming a spring vegetable in fall means it came from the Southern hemisphere). I relish our habitual Sunday morning outings to the Clement Street farmer’s market; I beamed with pride when my favorite vendor referred to me as “one of our most loyal customers.” After some trial and error, I’ve zoned in on the ideal weekly purchase amount—there were a few instances in which minimal vegetables appeared in our Friday and Saturday meals, but I was too stubborn to succumb to the supermarket. Right now, I’m pretty happy about eating “in season” because all it means is that I can binge eat root vegetables with impunity.

Green onion and red pepper cream sauce
Andrew with butternut squash salmon lasagna
So, what have we been eating? I now present a selection from this past fall and winter, September onward. I’ve gotten a bit more creative with our pasta dishes and a bit more confident in my learned intuition. Some pasta highlights include butternut squash and salmon macaroni and cheese in which I blended two recipes and taught myself how to make a rue, cream sauce with green onion and red pepper, butternut squash lasagna in which I made the Bolognese sauce from scratch using some beef generously donated by my father and learned that simmering a parmesan rind creates a magical richness. Lots of other pastas, many with butternut squash.

I’ve also gotten a bit more adventurous cooking Asian cuisine. After braving New May Wah a couple of times I now possess basic ingredients which I’ve used to make numerous Japanese hot pots with different broth variations like dashi (dried bonito flakes), dried shitake stock with mirin (Japanese cooking wine) and soy sauce, and simply kombu (dried seaweed), water, and mirin. The process is comfortingly similar each time: I carefully cut vegetables and place them in neat piles on the bottom of the pot atop two sheets of kombu, pour the broth over the colorful mounds, and bring to a boil and eventually a simmer. Served with rice noodles or rice, hot pot is an instant infusion of flavor and health. Using a pork shoulder from one of my dad’s pigs, I made Shanghai Style Pork in my beloved slow cooker. We ate it with vegetables and coconut rice for a week, and I never tired of the tender meat and rich five spice flavor.
Shanghai pork shoulder with roasted butternut squash and romaneco and coconut rice

And finally, I’ve been baking a bit too! My craving for pumpkin bread and realization that on this coast, coffee shops don’t automatically have pumpkin tea bread just because it is fall left me no option but to make it myself. My recipe—the CafĂ© Beaujolais “Mom’s Banana Cake” with pumpkin rather than banana and a cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and all-spice ratio perfected by my meticulous mother—makes two loaves and so my colleagues got lucky. At one point during the fall, my parents brought us a few boxes of apples. Despite my heightened level of consumption, we couldn’t seem to get through them quick enough (remember, no waste!) and so I began making apple-pear oat bars that I found on this blog. Simple, relatively healthy, and fruit-heavy, these bars turned out to be the perfect pre-climbing afternoon snack. Hearty snacks and late dinners work well together. 
Pumpkin bread
Happy 2015—here’s to more frequent updating and the notion that working, climbing, cooking and blogging can coexist peacefully.
Tomato sauce made with parmesan rind


  1. I've been missing reading about your culinary adventures, so I'm glad you're back at it. And you DO lead a robust life!

    1. Thanks! Happy that my food photography coach is reading... :)

  2. Celeste! I found your blog :) I was wondering if you ever share your recipes or where you found your recipes?

    1. Hi Rachel! I'm so happy that you found it :) I have sporadically shared recipes in the best but one of my goals this year is actually to incorporate recipes into most of my posts, so stay tuned--this next week I'll be posting about five spice Vietnamese chicken!