The Grove: Expect

What a rich week we’ve had and I expect today’s post to be no different (wink!). Highlights of the Christmas season include treats and parties and gatherings with those who are dear to us. But as we know from expectations, if they are unmet, they can be a source of great disappointment and sense of isolation. Both of which can lead to seeds of bitterness.

We don’t want that! We know you don’t either. So, we thought we’d start by creating space at the beginning of the month to talk about expectations we have around holidays and foods. AND hopefully help you come up with a game plan that gives you enough time to think through and prepare for holiday baking and cooking. The goal being, not perfection, but connection.

Hui Causby and her husband Gordon have been on the field for four years (joined by baby Eva a year ago). They are currently in the U.S. on a study leave while Gordon earns an M.A. in math education. Hui is one of the most amazing cooks I’ve met and hides it in an unassuming and calm personality. I told her I was going to call this interview “An eater talks to a cook.” What I hadn’t anticipated was that I’d be inspired to want to touch raw meat!

imageHui

Hui, let’s just jump right into the topic of expectations. When have you had expectations that might have been too high for the holidays?

I don’t think I have. I was talking with my sister in preparation for this interview about coming from a Chinese American family. My folks came to the States 30 years ago and they had their Chinese holiday traditions and they also learned the American holidays. There was not this feeling of huge expectations – there were not set traditions. Maybe every third year we’d get a Christmas tree. One thing I knew for sure …we’d have a feast and there would be fellowship :).

Even though I didn’t grow up with many holiday expectations, now that I have a family I want to make traditions. Even now, as Gordon and I make traditions for our family, we’re a bit casual about them. It doesn’t matter to us if we celebrate on the 27th or 25th.

How have you seen cooking unite people at the holidays?

Food is what connects people. Why? Everyone eats. So much talking about food around the holidays. What can I fix? Where can I buy this or that? Do I have space to prepare and store?

People are a little less stressed. As a kid we could wake up later during a holiday week and meals seemed to involve eating lots of good snacks! I remember waking up to smells on the day of a holiday. The exhaust fan is on full blast. You can just be lazy and walk around in your pjs. I love those memories.

Can you share a bit about food and holidays on the field?

Where we lived the first two years our team would cook dinner Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, so you only had to cook once a week. We could all eat together or just come and take a plate. We invited people into that and they’d get to see our community. During the holidays we invited closer friends and cooked a huge Christmas meal for them. It was a great way to invest a bit more in people who were dear to us.

The next assignment we lived in a place that had 10 days of break so 5 days of that we were cooking and hanging out. Our routine was a bit like this: plan, buy, cook, clean, hang out, and we just relaxed and related, not bound by obligations. We had already done the work at the beginning of building our team so we could reap the benefit at holidays. Christmas is a great way to deepen those relationships and kick start the next semester.

Do you have a few go-to recipes at holiday time?

I’d say I have go-to for every day, but I would make them for a party because they’re good! I have a flat bread recipe and a yeasty bread I really like. Roasted vegetables are easy and a big hit. I’m a fan of things you can dip – I would make my own chips out of tortillas and dip. For brunch, maybe monkey bread or crepes {This is Amy, I notice she didn’t say my go-to meal … peanut butter toast :)}

I have go-to cookies and a great Raspberry streusel bar. Oh, and I think flan and custardy things are fun for holidays too. (See below for some of her go-to recipes.)

OK, Hui, I can tell watching you, you really enjoy cooking and thinking about food and this is energizing you. Which is fun to see! What tips do you have for someone who is new to the field or feels a bit overwhelmed and aren’t energized by the thought of cooking? 

I’m trying to be empathetic – I grew up with my mom cooking everything from scratch. I don’t want that to be discouraging to people who are not used to cooking from scratch.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s about the fellowship. If you see a new vegetable and you don’t know what to do with it, ask people at the market what they do with it. Be open to asking and talking. If you have teammates – work together (good for bonding). I used to be very closed about my kitchen. “This is my kitchen” but I had a teammate who would come and wash my dishes and she did a great job with them and through her serving me I began to lower my walls.

And I have two secret weapons. The first is a notebook I started my first year of all different recipes that are keepers.

Hui's notebook

And the second is Cook’s Illustrated. You do need to buy a membership (maybe a gift idea for you?) The reason I like it, everything is awesome and they have tested all of the recipes. Online you see a lot of things that people say, “Oh I’d like to try it.” I have tried people’s recipes and they are often not as “awesome” as reviewers say. I saw a copy of Cook’s Illustrated sold in Thailand and bought it.  It’s scientific and tested. I love it! Maybe it’s my science brain. (At this point she held a picture of a pig up to the camera and continued.) Look it’s got pictures of all the related cuts to pork – I’m learning all kinds of things! The difference between stewing and braising! But I think everyone should know about Cook’s Illustrated.

Having flashed that pig at me, let’s talk about main dishes because it can often be the hardest part of the meal. And if someone has no idea to cook meat, what basic recommendations would you give?

Chicken, beef or pork are my main things. I do this to all my meat –I pan sear it and finish it in the oven. I have a thermometer that insures perfectly cooked meat! You cook it to the safe temp and then you are done.

Another piece of advice: taste everything, before being seasoned and after seasoning. You should season everything – how much is up to you. But it’s the seasoning that makes it good.

Don’t over cook it! Adjust as needed. Brown the meat and the bring the temp down. I prefer that flavor of caramelized meat.

Another secret – brine the meat {How do you do that?} 2 cups water, 2 T sugar, 2 T salt, splash of soy sauce. Soak meat in it for an hour (even over night) and then pan sear it and finish in the oven (400 degree) until done and then you’ve got this seasoned yummy meat! When I realized there was no lunchmeat, I made my own. {Yeah, that was my first thought too. HA!}

Hui, any final words of wisdom for us?

For the holiday it’s OK if it’s not perfect! I’ve learned to hold things more loosely :). I don’t care if the table is not picture perfect. You are cooking out of love, so cooking together and getting together is so much more important than what you have cooked.

Great words to end on. I know when I first got to the field there was so much we couldn’t get, but one or two small things made a big difference. And, as you said, we focused on the fellowship and joy in why we were celebrating. 

Hui’s open to answering cooking questions you may have. Below are a few of Hui’s Go-to recipes. Today let’s share recipes! You can either link up, share a link in the comments, upload a photo of you baking (or having help cooking!), or type in your recipe. This is like a virtual party!

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Concept for roasted veggies-toss on baking pan-cut up veggies (like broccoli, cauliflower) in drizzle of Olive oil, salt and pepper at 400-500 degrees Fahrenheit. I’ve used either temperature depending on what else I have in the oven. Roast 30 min at lower temp or 10 min at higher temperature. Turn the veggies when they’ve caramelized on one side and continue to roast until caramelized and tender. Secret to more even caramelization-cut broccoli and cauliflower into quarters so there is more surface area touching pan.
1 big head of broccoli ~1 and 3/4 lb
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (sugar helps it to caramelized evenly
3 Tbs Olive oil
Pepper

Hui’s go-to yeast bread
I sprinkle cheese on the top and on the bottom on a silipad or parchment paper to get that toasty cheese flavor all around the bread
Mix together dry ingredients (A)
2 c flour
1 teaspoon salt for sweet bread, 2 tsp salt for savory bread
3 Tbs sugar (sweet bread like cinnamon rolls or monkey bread), and 1Tbs sugar for savory bread
1 Tbs yeast

Mix wet ingredients. (B)
1 and 3/8 cup lukewarm water
3 Tbs oil

Combine A and B.
Then add about 2 cups of flour SLOWLY until no longer sticky. May not use all the flour-depends on your humidity where you live.

Knead 10 minutes.
Let rise 30-40 min

Form breads-

1) For monkey bread-roll into balls, dip in butter and cinnamon brown sugar and place in bundt pan. Let proof (rise last time) 40 min to an hour until doubled at room temp. Or about 15 min in warm oven. Bake 375F,190C about 15-20 min. until done-toothpick should come out clean.

2) Cinnamon rolls-roll dough in large thin rectangle. Spread melted butter on dough BUT one edge butter less so the dough will adhere to itself when you roll it up. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture on top. It looks like a lot of sugar, but it’s necessary for the sticky sauce to form and for the flavor to be right.
1 cup brown sugar
1Tbs cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 and 1/2 Tbs melted butter

-Roll up and cut with back and forth motion with sharp knife or bread knife to form rolls.
-Bake 375F,190C about 15-20 min. Until done-toothpick should come out clean.
-I have used cream cheese icing or to make it even simpler-just drizzle half a can of sweetened condensed milk in place of the icing

ICING RECIPE-drizzle on hot cinnamon rolls.
1/4 c soft cream cheese
3Tbs milk
1 and 1/2 c powdered sugar

3) Cheese bread-roll into balls or sticks. Sprinkle cheese on nonstick silipad or parchment and place dough on it. Sprinkle cheese on top. Bake 375F,190C about 15-20 min. Until done-toothpick should come out clean.

Hui’s go-to Naan/flatbread recipe-I throw this together an hour before I want to eat it. Never have to buy it again!

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 tsp each: yeast, salt, sugar
2 Tbs oil
2 Tbs yogurt
3/4 cup warm water

Yields: approx. seven 6inch round naans

Directions
Add flour, yeast, sugar, salt in mixing bowl
In another mixing bowl combine water, oil, yogurt

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir to form dough ball.
Knead until smooth (add a little flour if too wet)

Let rest at least 30 minutes. Can rest in fridge overnight for even more developed flavor.

Don’t have to knead again, don’t need to punch down, just roll into thick snake and make naan into desired size/shape.

Roll 1/4 inch thickness (or if you want it thinner, it is quite versatile)

Heat pan (no oil) med hi.
Pan bake 1 side until you see bubbles, flip. It should puff up

NOTES:
-I have used this recipe as a bread recipe as well.
-If you want to toast them and make chips, cut THIN naan into triangles – bake/dehydrate at ~120 degrees C until golden brown on both sides and very crunchy/not soft at all. ~at least 30 min
-I also make fried chips by cutting the thin naan into triangles.
Optional. add spices/herbs/garlic, or ghee on top

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This is what we call The Grove.  It’s where we all gather to share our thoughts, our words, and our art on our weekly prompt.  So join us in the comments.  Show us your art work by adding an image. And link up your own blog posts on this week’s prompt.  Click here for details and instructions.


Photo Source

6 Comments

  1. Danielle Wheeler December 5, 2014

    Such a fun interview!  Thanks for sharing all your tips, Hui!  Also enjoyed getting a glimpse into your family growing up.

    This is my go-to SUPER easy bread recipe.  http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifehack/kitchen-hack-one-minute-ciabatta-bread.html It’s called One-Minute Bread, because you can make it in… one minute.  Ok, minus the rising and baking time.  But seriously, you stir four ingredients in a bowl, let it sit all day, dump it on a pan and wa-la!  Amazingly good bread.  Haven’t served it to a person yet who hasn’t asked for seconds.

    You’ve inspired me with your brining and searing of meat.  And I can’t wait to try the naan!  Thanks so much for sharing with us, Hui!

    1. Amy Young December 8, 2014

      I know! It truly had never, ever occurred to me I could make sandwich meat :).

  2. Cecily Willard December 6, 2014

    Last year at Christmas I baked like there was no tomorrow–giving away PB cookies (a brand new taste for the locals!) and banana bread (another new concept here).  I had access to free New Testaments, so I wrote a letter to introduce people to the Bible and the story of Jesus’ birth, put the letter in the New Testaments and wrapped them in Christmas paper (also not a common thing here).  I took the treats and wrapped New Testaments to most of the place where I do business throughout the year.  People were quite surprised, but I trust that the sweet treats helped direct them to the sweetest Treat of all.

    Here are the two recipes:  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/best-peanut-butter-cookies-ever/

    http://allrecipes.com/recipe/janets-rich-banana-bread/

    1. Amy Young December 8, 2014

      OK people, I have written and hit “submit” twice and I CANNOT get my comment to post. A bit frustrating :). Suffice it to say, the local businesses in our area looked forward to our Christmas caroling (group of expats and locals) each year and would start asking in November when we’d come.

  3. Kristina Krauss December 7, 2014

    What a fun interview! Thanks for sharing Hui!!!!  I loved your comment Amy, “But as we know from expectations, if they are unmet, they can be a source of great disappointment and sense of isolation. Both of which can lead to seeds of bitterness.”

    I’m working on a plan now to combat the bitterness that I accidently let build up over the years. Just gotta make NEW traditions! Maybe I’ll try one of these recipes from Hui today. 🙂  Thanks!

    1. Amy Young December 8, 2014

      Thanks Kristi 🙂 … I’m glad that you’re stopping the build up of bitterness and looking for new traditions! Feels so much more life giving, doesn’t it? I’ll be curious to hear what those new traditions are!!!

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