A Nice Change of Pace

This past weekend was completely unlike the one that preceded it. For a ton of reasons. But let’s first state the obvious, most polarizing difference: this past weekend, Chris was on his way to China for a week (yes, without me – again!), and the weekend before it, we were both in the country.

Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s move on.

The other big difference is that two weekends ago, Chris and I took our first overnight backpacking trip into the Ventana Wilderness near Big Sur, going “balls to the wall” and hiking a round-trip 23 miles of bonkers up-and-down trail, where we saw mountains, redwoods, waterfalls, pretty greenery, the ocean, and at the final point for the night, a campsite right near natural hot springs. Which means we also saw hippie naked people, our own stinking dirty clothes, and freeze-dried food that didn’t taste half-bad.

It was pretty amazing, to say the least. Amazing and really, really hard. I’m pretty proud of us for roughin’ it out there, and can’t wait to do it again. (Here’s the pics, if you’re interested. There aren’t many since we were more focused on things like not toppling over from the weight of our packs!)

This weekend, I was left to my own devices, and I definitely didn’t go backpacking. Instead, I painted my toenails and fingernails (purple!), I got a massage, I went for a run and a couple of small bikes rides, and I survived my first hot yoga class. Just barely, though.

I also managed to sit out in the sunshine and soak in some Vitamin D. Ironically enough, I watched the “new” Twilight movie and read plenty of ‘Salem’s Lot, too. I did not sleep in a coffin, in case you were wondering, but I did wake up to my second memorable earthquake since living in San Francisco, which is noteworthy.

It wasn’t the same as my usual weekends around here lately – hiking and such – but it was certainly a nice change of pace. And it kept me from sitting in a quiet house with two lazy cats staring a me.

And while I could have easily procured a few microwave dinners to get me through the week food-wise, I had some produce leftovers from last week, and I decided that I couldn’t go one more day without making one of my very favorite dishes, bibimbap. I can’t put my finger on it, but the combination of flavors in bibimbap something that I seem to crave every now and then, and the taste isn’t comparable to anything else I know of. It’s the mixture of veggies with soy sauce and sesame oil, the Korean chili paste, the textures of all the different, individual cooking of ingredients, and the runny, fried egg on top that I absolutely can’t resist. I made enough for 2 servings this time (the recipe below is still scaled to 4, but it does half easily) and I ate leftovers so quickly that I almost poked myself in the face with my fork.

I took a picture with my phone and texted it to Chris, thinking he’d be totally envious and ready to come home right away. But then I remembered he was in, well, China. There’s good food in China.

And then I licked the rest of the chili paste right outta the bowl. I mean shoot, no one’s watching, anyway. But would I care if they were? Prolly not…

Bibimbap, previously: Beef & Asparagus Bibimbap
Korean, previously: Korean tofu tacos

Vegetarian (or not) Bibimbap
Adapted from Cooking Light, March 2012; serves 4 

time commitment: 1 hour

printable version

ingredients
1 c uncooked short-grain brown rice
8 oz extra-firm tofu, drained (or sirloin, chicken, or pork)
1/3 c water
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
2 t sugar, divided
2 t garlic, minced & divided
1 t fresh ginger, minced & divided
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1 c carrots, julienned
2 T lower-sodium soy sauce
3 T dark sesame oil, divided
1 c fresh bean sprouts
5 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced
9 oz fresh baby spinach (usually a large bag)
4 large eggs
4 T gochujang*
1/4 t kosher salt

*gochujang is Korean chili paste. You can usually find it at Whole Foods (the Annie Chun brand) or other brands in Asian markets

instructions
Cook rice. Bring 2 c water and rice to boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until water is absorbed. This can be done days in advance to cut down on cooking time.

Meanwhile, cut tofu into 3/4-inch-thick cubes. Place tofu in a single layer in between a kitchen towel. Let stand 30 minutes, pressing down occasionally.

Combine 1/3 c water, vinegar, 1 t sugar, 1/2 t garlic, 1/2 t ginger, and crushed red pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add carrot, and remove from heat; let stand 30 minutes. Drain.

Combine remaining 1 t sugar, 1/2 t garlic, remaining 1/2 t ginger, soy sauce, and 1 T oil, stirring with a whisk. Remove tofu from paper towels. Place tofu in a medium bowl. Add 1 T soy sauce mixture to tofu; toss gently. Let stand 15 minutes.

Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over high heat for 4 minutes. Add 1/2 T sesame oil; swirl to coat. Add rice to pan in a single layer; cook 1 minute (do not stir). Remove from heat.

Turn on oven just enough to warm and then turn off. Keep the following components warm by putting them on a baking sheet and keeping them in the oven until all pieces are sautéed. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 t oil; swirl to coat. Add 1 1/2 t soy sauce mixture and bean sprouts to pan; sauté 1 minute. Remove sprouts from pan; keep warm. Add mushrooms to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 t soy sauce mixture; sauté 1 minute. Remove mushrooms from pan; keep warm. Add 1/2 T oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add tofu to pan; sauté 7 minutes or until golden brown. Remove tofu from pan; keep warm. Add 1 t oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add remaining 1 t garlic and remaining 1 T soy sauce mixture; sauté 30 seconds. Add spinach to pan; sauté 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Remove spinach from pan; keep warm.

Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining 1 t oil to pan, more if desired. Crack eggs into pan; cook 4 minutes or until whites are set. Remove from heat.

Place 1/2 c rice in each of 4 shallow bowls. Top each serving evenly with carrots, sprouts, mushrooms, tofu, and spinach. Top each serving with 1 egg and 1 T chili paste. Sprinkle evenly with salt.

All Grown Up

I hope you all had yourselves a lovely weekend. Over our way, it was a perfect June Saturday and Sunday (maybe even a little atypical for us, from what I’ve heard). We kept busy on Saturday by having a tasty dim sum brunch with new friends, shopping for layers (key here people, key!), and hanging with more friends over food and wine.

Sunday involved the regular grocery shopping and farmers’ market events, and then a challenging bike to the Golden Gate Bridge, at which point Chris drove over and met me where we proceeded to have a nice lounging hour looking at our gorgeous new city. Of course, Sunday also included a nice conversation with my Pops.

I’ve talked about my Pops quite a few times, from tales about his old-fashioned habits to bonding when Gramma died to cutting up chicken. But my favorite blogstory involved a discussion about one of his best meals – breakfast. Every Saturday & Sunday, the ‘samich’ would surface: plain, white untoasted bread, extra-crispy bacon, floppy American Kraft cheese (only the best, friends), and a heavily peppered fried egg left out at room temperature on that cream colored plate with the brown rim, a chip on its edge. It was my very favorite breakfast, for a lot of reasons.

Breakfasts around these parts are generally nothing to write home about – a bowl of cereal or oatmeal, a smoothie, or maybe a homemade granola bar if I’m feeling motivated, is about all we muster up. If I ever do become one of those people who like to be awake at the crack of dawn though, you best believe we’d begin our day with these samiches, French toast, pastries, egg casseroles, and fresh coffee, maybe even some homemade juice from the juicer I’ve yet to buy.

This week was a little different, since I’ve been craving something that included the words “cheese” and “bacon”. It seemed that there was no better time than Sunday to make my own version of the sandwich I woke up to every weekend morning of my childhood. This one is a little bit fancier, a little more mature, in way – loaded with all the local Bay Area ingredients I could find, including a new addiction of mine, sourdough bread (where has it been all my life?!). Also, the bread is crunchy, a total no-no according to my Pops, at least in the way of breakfast samiches.

Bells and whistles aside, at its core this samich is nothing but pure comfort, through and through. It’s crunchy, it’s cheesy, and it reminds me of those samiches I used to eat so often, only it’s a little bit different. Nonetheless, I doesn’t change my memory of them; it just makes it even better.

I would say these same things to my Pops when talking about our relationship. Sure, I’m much older now and yeah, you could say I’m more mature than I used to be, for the most part. And of course, I’ve moved away not just once but three different times, each a little further away than before, but knowing those facts doesn’t change too much. At the end of the day, I’m still his little (grown up) girl, no matter where I am.

My Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Sandwich
inspired by my Pops; makes 2

printable version

ingredients
4 pieces of thick-cut bacon
2 eggs
salt & pepper
2 T butter
2 slices of sharp cheddar cheese
4 slices of sourdough bread, ~1/2″ thick
small handful of baby spinach

instructions
cook bacon in a large saucepan until nice and crispy; let drain on paper towel-lined plate. remove some bacon fat from the pan, if it seems like a lot.

over medium-high heat, crack both eggs into the same pan; sprinkle with salt and pepper. cook on one side for a minute or so, then flip and cook on the other side another minute or so. remove and set aside.

wipe down the pan, and over medium-high heat, melt butter. on one slice of bread, add a slice of cheese, an egg, then 2 pieces of bacon; top with another slice of bread. once butter is melted, put sandwiches into the pan, pressing down on them with a spatula. after a couple of minutes, use spatula to flip sandwich and cook on the other side. remove from heat and plate; place spinach between top slice of bread and bacon.