Yesterday, we hosted a homemade dumpling party in our garden to fundraise for our new nonprofit, China Residencies. The process of wrapping dumplings by hand is one of the most interactive and delicious forms of cultural exchange, aligning perfectly with our mission to help more artists experience China firsthand.
The kitchen is a windowless and narrow structure, an airplane aisle barely, with earthquake proof cabinets. But we fit easily, the women in my Japanese family are small, two hands can enclose my grandmother’s waist, and my mother was once called plancha in Argentina for her flat front and behind. We are in Tokyo, in the quiet residential neighborhood of Meguro, on the thirteenth floor, renamed 12A by my superstitious grandparents. We speak Spanish to one another, and if there are a few quibbles in Japanese between my aunts, everyone talks with a smooth argentine accent. My grandmother sits in a corner of the living room, her naked feet propped onto an electric foot massage. She stares at her many plants that have overtaken the balcony like a voluptuous jungle, while my grandfather rocks on his leather armchair and watches TV.
Brilliant Green Pesto
I have been searching for a pesto recipe, trying to find one that holds a vibrant green color and has a soft, balanced flavor. After a few failed attempts of my pesto turning dark as soon as I stirred it into a bowl of spaghetti, or when I opened my fridge the following day, I started buying jars of it, rather than making it myself. It was also a rather messy process: the unruly, voluminous basil had to be processed in small bunches. I never liked the spicy, strong aftertaste of raw garlic, either, but when I made pesto omitting the garlic, I could sense a flavor missing. The jars were convenient, though they did lack the essential fresh grassy taste of homemade pesto. And the portions were tiny for a steep price.
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New York’s winter was quite long, and the artic chills are finally starting to wear off. When the sun is out, reflecting off skyscrapers, New Yorkers feel compelled to engage in certain springtime activities: wearing sunglasses, shedding layers of clothes, picnicking in parks, riding over bridges, and most of all, drinking during the day, preferably outside, on a sidewalk cafe or rooftop bar. They also enjoy listening to brighter tunes while consuming those very drinks, tunes with upbeat guitar riffs or a synthetic loftiness that both compliment the sunshine, sandals, t-shirts, and dresses. So, with that in mind, I have provided you with a mixtape and some cocktail recipes meant to lift your spirits as the temperature continues to rise. Let’s hope it doesn’t get too hot too soon.
“Feelin’ Alright” by Joe Cocker
“Always Alright” by Alabama Shakes
“Line of Fire” by Junip
“Get Lucky” by Daft Punk (ft. Pharrell)
“Big Love” by Jamie Lidell
“Adorn” by Miguel
“Hang with Me” by Robyn
“Little Numbers” by BOY
Carrot Almond Cake
Breakfast: Banana Bread
(Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book)
I still remember when I first baked banana bread not so long ago in a west Philly kitchen. The recipe was from a Tyler Florence cookbook. I’d never tried banana bread before, but I had a handful of overripe sweet-smelling bananas that crumbled in my fingers as I unpeeled them and I didn’t know what to do with them. I’ve eaten bananas prepared many ways: chopped into fruit salads or Greek yogurt, caramelized with butter in a pan, poached in coconut milk. But it always struck me as strange to cook them in a cake. That is, until I tasted banana bread freshly baked, still warm from the oven, so moist its consistency was of challah French toast, with the occasional pop of a nut and pocket of molten dark chocolate.
A little while ago I bought a bag of rice flour with the ambition of baking gluten-free cookies for my mother, but along the way I was side swept by buckwheat flour. The rice flour sat in my kitchen in a glass recipient on the back of a shelf, untouched, until this weekend. The inspiration came two weeks ago. While visiting a Thai store in LA, I tasted these marvelous coconut sweets called Khanom Krok. They are crisp on the outside and warm and soft on the inside. The interior tastes like a smooth coconut rice pudding. The ones I had were small and bite sized, and I devoured them until my younger brother accidentally tipped our box of Khanom Krok onto the ground (we still salvaged a few). But I had tasted enough to feel hungry for more. The main ingredients in this recipe are rice flour and coconut cream. They are cooked like tiny pancakes in a skillet specially constructed and sized for these desserts. Since then, I’ve been thinking about rice flour and the creamy texture of those Thai pancakes, and as I flipped through my cookbooks, I wondered how I could make my own breakfast treats without the special skillet.
Then I found Salvadoran breakfast quesadillas. Close to the end of food52’s Volume Two cookbook (one of my Christmas gift acquisitions from a friend who noticed how obsessively I browse their website), this recipe intrigued me by its photo: muffin shaped, with a snow-white interior, golden crumbed edges, and sesame seeds speckling its top. I am always on the hunt for unusual breakfast treats. When I saw the list of ingredients, and spotted the Parmesan, I set down the book, slipped on my shoes, and headed for the grocery store. Any breakfast dish that combines a salty edge with a sweet base deserves my time.