Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial hosts the In My Kitchen series, and it’s a lot of fun to read, so head over there and check it out!
This month I have been blogging in slow motion because I haven’t got the Internet at my new apartment, strictly speaking. So this month’s IMK has some things that were in my kitchen last week but aren’t there any more…
In my kitchen there is:
This beautiful and very effective ginger grater that my cousin Elaine sent me. I love how deep it is, and I have to concur with her opinion that it is the best one she has been able to find. Isn’t it nice to have good looking things in the kitchen!
In my kitchen there is:
This photo of my grandparents. I always hang this picture up in my kitchen, no matter where I am. I never met them; they died before I was born. But they have loomed large in my upbringing, like mythological figures. My mother has always told me stories about them, and one of my favorite things about when we would have family get-togethers was to hear my mom and my aunt and uncles talking about when they were all growing up together. I think of them a lot at this time of year because of the next thing in my kitchen this month:
Every year at Chinese new year, my kitchen becomes host to a little swamp of dried ingredients in bowls of water. Lily buds, tree moss, “tree ear” fungus, mushrooms, doufu sticks, lotus seed, peanuts — these are some of the building blocks of Jai, a Buddhist (hence vegetarian) dish made to celebrate the new year. Making this dish is an act that makes me feel the narrative thread between my life and the life of my grandparents in the most tangible and enjoyable way. The first time I made it, I was 22 and living in a tenement apartment in New York, on Allen St. I had a board balanced on the bathtub in the kitchen to host the swamp, I remember. Making Jai is just a “little bit of this and a little bit of that” process — you cook everything together and add fermented red doufu and slab sugar until you reach a balance that is pleasing to you. The fermented doufu has a very particular smell and a pungent and salty flavor. My kitchen was filled with familiar smells and as I looked up at that same photo of my grandparents, I knew I was smelling and tasting something very similar to something they had enjoyed themselves, long before I was around.
Making Jai is also something that joins the people in my family who are still around. My cousin Elaine sent me the ingredients to make Jai this year (by prevailing upon my long-suffering friend Meltem who was visiting NYC to take them back to Turkey and send them to me. Thanks Meltem!). And I can’t make Jai now without remembering the year that Elaine and I made it together at her house and she spaced out while we were gossiping and cooking and put a whole jar of fermented doufu into the Jai instead of one cake of it. We washed it out and started again (I kept the jar and use it to hold my chopsticks in the garden kitchen).
Happy year of the Snake, everyone!
There’s a reason that Chinese new year is also known as Spring Festival; in my kitchen there is:
a makeshift potting station that comes out after the boys go to sleep (you don’t want to know what happens when they get their hands on potting soil). I have been starting nightshade family veg (well, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, anyway) in black bags at the apartment; I thought the bags would be good since they are bigger than paper pots, so I can just let the seedlings grow in them until they are big enough to be planted out. I have paper pots in the greenhouse in the garden with some greens, and will start direct sowing a few things under cola bottle cloches. It is nice to have a bit of garden life in the apartment. I don’t keep houseplants here because I tend to kill them — I don’t know why it is, but I can’t look after indoor plants at all. I always thought I had black thumbs and was like plant kryptonite, but it turns out all I needed was a little bit of earth to plant my feet in and put my plants in and I could look after them just fine.