What’s next.

I took a nap on the couch.  I woke up to my nimble and softly fragrant mother holding my hand.  Her skin is the color of porcelain, and she smells like candied ginger, and mandarins with a bit of baby powder.  She nuzzles my hand.  “Something is different.”  she says in Vietnamese and walks away.  I vacationed (if you call it that) for a brief weekend at my mother’s home last year in April.

It was a simple and honest forward…Before I told my mother that I started to cook full-time,  she tried to steer me clear from the wonders of the kitchen.  Especially the heat of cooking.  I remember having chores like picking herbs but when it came to being close to the heat, flames and blood and guts of the kitchen my mom would shoo me away from the moving images that I snuck in as a child.  Oh how I loved to taste the finished result of my mother’s  proper cooking and seasoning.

So now what? What after all this hoopla of pursuing my passion…what now?   Right now I am still on the line.  I don’t know whats next…there are no grandiose ideas of becoming a celebrity chef.  I just want to cook.  And that I am…

I have so far experienced some ailments, but nothing too alarming.  The stress, the tense, the anxiety, but then again there is a wee bit of calmness there.  Even when all the wheels are spinning and the plates clammering and ringing like bells, its that constant momentum that excites and actually alerts me.  Even though my feet ache, my calves get tight,sore wrists, my shoulders hard and tense sometimes even a bit of numbness…repetition repetition… I still just go. Sometimes I want to scream, my forehead wrinkles with focus, the look of distress is well a mélange of emotion.  That formation of the furrowed forehead is an aching and need to release an immense amount of  intensity! I only feel the sigh of relief when items become plated properly. Then WHOOOOOOOOOOOSH its released. But, you see I also gain so much.  I told a co-worker the one thing that I have learned is that in the kitchen “I have learned that each and everyday you lose patience but you also gain patience”. Pat myself on my back…it’s so true.  Stamina, strength, resilience…and learning to breathe.

Sure I don’t know what’s next.  Day by day I say.  I just focus on my daily tasks, whatever it consists of for that day.  I can’t alarm myself with other worries because we all have to pay our dues.  I’m still there though.

So when I finally proclaimed to my mother (I actually whispered it to her) that I have been a full-time cook for a while now, “UH OH” I thought here it comes.   She does this thing ever since I could remember where we makes a ticking sound with her tongue where the quick inhalations of breath and the momentum of her tongue click to form a sound.  click click click click click…. a very classic 5 clicks then an “Oh God no”.  It’s her classic sound of disappointment.  “I knew it..” she said, “Mom knows when something is wrong and new with you, your hands they seem to have aged and have hardened.”  What a relief…finally she knew. 

She felt the slight callous forming where the base of my blade meets the shaft that meets my forefinger and thumb.  She saw the burn marks, and noticed my dry hands. Moms know.  “Are you still cooking?”  She will normally call me up to ask me along with, have I grown out my hair, do I eat fried food or too much butter, have you eaten anything?  Same answers,  Yes…No…yes/no, yes/no. My answers to your questions are simple, my thoughts to her questions are a bit more complicated.  The aftermath of a conversation is usually an exhalation of relief because the questions have stopped.

When my mother finally became a guest at the restaurant where I cook, she walked in with an air of unfamiliarity that quickly turned to sweet wonder.  I think it relieved her to see that I wasn’t just in a kitchen filled with pirates and rag tag scallywags,  I think it comforted her to see that it was a busy and bustling restaurant that was well oiled and beautiful with an open kitchen.  I think it made her proud to eat the food, to taste the quality, it’s cleanliness as well as it’s execution, and most importantly it gave her a piece of mind knowing that her daughter is surviving still in this city pursuing what she loves.  And as hard as it is some days, I just have to tell myself that well, you enjoy it.

So what’s next?  Gosh…like I know. Lets just welcome and champion whatever happens next! Whatever the next step or chapter will be!  I can no longer be fearful…Come on let’s go…

Dressing a Salad. Moms way.

I absolutely love making vinaigrettes!  Since I started working the pantry station I have had to produce my own vinaigrettes as part the daily prep for my mis en place.  My mother once in a while calls me up and asks me tips on how to make a vinaigrette. My mother!  Now, when she does this it truly validates why I love to cook.  This recipe is really inspired by her and taken from her.  Mamma Dang  is starting to  appreciate my understanding of food , as well as my western influenced palate.

My lovely mom

My mom would use canola oil, rice wine vin, white onions and pepper.  I’ve added a bit more to enhance and adapt the recipe to my own contemporary palate but none the less the true essence of this vinaigrette is all KimLan’s.  Mamma Dang would use this as a dressing over butter leaf lettuce, and pan seared beef.  It was so good.  The multiple players of tartness from the vin, and the warmth brown savory goodness of the onions would emblazon the unadorned beef fillets

It is also very important to note that the onions be cut a certain way so that they can retain their flavor and their texture, because having the partial bite without the harshness of the raw onion is key.  Otherwise the nature of the pickling process would be lost.

Warm Pickled Red Onion Vin
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 Small red onion (cut into 1/3 inch wedges) or 3 med Shallots
2 T Dijon Mustard
3 T  Red Wine Vinegar
1 tsp med course ground black pepper
1/2 tsp Salt

Directions:

Cut your onion in 1/2 from tip to tip not from the middle part (the fattest).  Taking 1/2 that onion now continue to slice along the grain, meaning again from tip to tip. So that you produce smaller wedges.

Put 1/2 your cup of olive oil into the pan add your onions and on your lowest heat, let the onions sit and perfume the oil.

Add all of your vinegar into the pan.  Let the onions pickle in the same pan. When onions have taken on a slightly pink hue and have pickled through but still have their bite (they will become a transparent but will not wilt) remove the mixture from the heat.

Add your mustard into a dry medium sized bowl.  Slowly whisk the room temp mixture into the mustard. Whisk vigorously in order to not let the oils seperate from the mustard.

Add the rest of your oil, add the salt and pepper.

The secret to this warm and inviting vinagrette is that the great aromas of the onions are slowly released into the oil and the vinegar to produce a truly delicious and savory tasting salad dressing.  It is STRONG yet balanced.

This dressing works great with strong chicories, and would also work really well with pork or poultry and yes even BEEF.  If using this for fish I would suggest a fish that is not too delicate.   The pepper and the mustard and the onions really work well drizzled over grilled meats.  I’ve also tried this dressing over roasted cauliflower, and it adds a wonderful level of pickled and savory flavors to cauliflower, which would make a great side dish.