Thoughts on Life

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I’ve been back from Taipei for over a month, but I’m finally getting myself together to write and to share some of the photos I took. I decided to shoot film on this trip, and I’m so glad I did. The tones of the film captured the atmosphere of the city so perfectly. I’d forgotten how satisfying and surprising it is to get your film back from the shop and look through what you shot.

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Honestly, the trip was a blur. A stunning, delicious blur. Our schedule was packed from morning until night. We got by taking naps in the car most days. We packed so much into a short time, jet lag be damned. It was unlike any trip I’ve ever taken.

This was my first trip to Asia, and my first trip to a country where I couldn’t decipher any of the language, written or spoken. Hello and thank you are all I’ve got in Chinese. It’s such a different experience to visit a place where your brain doesn’t work in the usual ways. It was freeing to give up trying to figure anything out and just let the experience of the place wash over me. I felt like a kid, eyes wide, taking it all in, amazed because everything was so new and unfamiliar and beautiful. It is truly lovely to just follow along, knowing you’ll be taken care of and whatever comes next will likely top what was before it. I enjoyed every minute of it.

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Taipei is a beautiful city. And food city. I’ve never eaten so well in a single week. We had soup dumplings, traditional Taiwanese food, mind-blowing sushi, modern Cantonese food, Taiwanese noodles, Japanese barbecue, hot pot, Taiwanese street food, ramen, and so much tea. Chaz, our generous host, knows how to eat and he left no stone unturned. We’d sit down at a restaurant and food would appear at the table, more food than five people could possibly eat, and we’d dig in. I ate it all, and it was incredible.

Taiwanese food is a very fresh, clean cuisine. The seasoning is simple, a little ginger, soy, green onion, maybe a little chili if it’s a spicy dish. The focus seems to be on letting the ingredient—the meat, the seafood, the vegetable—really shine. Not to mention the quality and diversity of the seafood is unlike anything you can get in the United States. I had a clam soup made with only clams, water, ginger and green onion, and it was perfection. And the noodles. Oh the noodles. It was an education.

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We also visited museums, museums of historical Chinese artifacts and modern art museums. There were food markets, night markets, tea houses and temples. I rode a gondola plastered with Hello Kitty stickers into the mountains, and the fastest elevator in the world to the 88th floor of Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings ever built. I went to a five story electronics market and sang private room karaoke. Don’t Cry for Me Argentina might have been my best performance. I took baths and watched Project Runway at 3 in the morning when I couldn’t sleep from the jet lag.  Even looking at the photos, proof that it all happened, it still feels like a dream.

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I feel incredibly thankful to have had the chance to take such a phenomenal trip. Not everyone works with such good people every day, and even fewer are treated to trips around the world. Such friendship and generosity is not lost on me. I’m sure I’ll share more stories from the trip as they come back to me, and as they work their way into my cooking.

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And, before you go take a nap or a shot of whiskey to revitalize yourself after finishing this epic post, happy holidays, merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah! I hope your days are filled sharing food you love with the people you love. There isn’t anything better.

Xo, Emily

tomato sauce, chicken broth and wedding plans

Saturday was the first weekend day I’d spent at home in a month—October really was an exceptionally busy month.  I took the day to catch up on home things, which mostly meant clearing 20 pounds of tomatoes and three chicken carcasses out of my freezer. Glamorous.

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While my sauce and stock were simmering, I started a new weaving. I’ve been pretty into this small-scale textile art lately. Like cooking, it requires just enough effort and concentration to occupy my mind, but not so much that it’s no longer is relaxing. On top of that, the states are low. If you make a mistake, grab a pair of scissors and you start again. Low stakes, moderate concentration, repetitive movements, reruns of Archer in the background—ideal hobby characteristics in my opinion.

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We’ve also began to really put our minds to planning this whole wedding thing. My mom has been a tremendous help so far, taking most of the dull tasks off my plate, like booking hotels and shuttle buses and tables and chairs, and leaving me with the fun stuff, invitations, food, flowers, photgrapher. It’s a pretty lucky setup.

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The more things we plan, the more real it gets. I’ve got our Save the Date cards mocked up, and Jordan’s favorite of those attempts is sitting on our kitchen table. Every time I look at it, I think, we’re really doing this thing, aren’t we?

Even though we’ve been together for ages, marriage still feels like a big step. I have no doubts it’s the right one, but hitching your wagon to someone else’s forever, it’s hard to imagine that not feeling pretty huge, even when you know it’s exactly right.

-Emily

Ps. Tomato Sauce Recipe & Canning Instructions, and Chicken Stock Recipe.

 

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off to a wedding!

Posted on October 9, 2014

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This Saturday, my cousin Katie is getting married, starting a new chapter with the man who is her perfect compliment. And as a fringe benefit of celebrating their love, I get to spend three whole days off in a row with mine! I’m feeling so much excitement going into this weekend, most especially to celebrate Katie and Scott, but also to see our family and get our groove on on that dance floor. Jordan on the dance floor is one of my favorite things. It’s going to be a wonderful weekend.

Mostly this is to say, since I’m not making the cake for this wedding, the recipe blogging will be sparse for a week or two while we celebrate (and recover from said celebration). I hope you have a beautiful few weeks. Tell someone special you love ’em, and tell them why. You can never do that enough.

Xo, Emily

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give me your answer true

Posted on July 17, 2014

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Jordan and I met when we were 17 years old. I remember the day I decided Jordan was cute and that I should probably do something about it. We were hanging out at our friend Brian’s house making signs for our friend Aaron’s Modern Socialist Club protest of the local Wal-Mart. The girls were drawing signs, the boys were horsing around and playing guitar.  And in that silly, clichéd way of every high school movie ever, I looked up from my sign and there was Jordan with his floppy hair and skater t-shirt, playing guitar and cracking jokes, and I was smitten.

Over the past eight years, we’ve grown up together. The eight years between high school graduation and ‘real life’ are big ones, and we’ve navigated them, somehow sticking together through a hell of a lot. There’s been stuff that felt really big and tough at the time, as things often do when you’re 19, and stuff that legitimately is big and tough no matter how old you are, and so, so many good times too. Having that shared history, those shared eight years of highs and lows, it feels even better than I could have anticipated.

I don’t think I’ve ever doubted that Jordan was a good egg, that he was exactly my kind of guy. There isn’t anyone who can make me laugh harder or comfort me better, often both at once. He’s funny and smart and strong, this unique blend of mellow and intense that I absolutely adore. He is just so good.

He also pushes my buttons, just enough to keep things interesting, and when I look up to give him a piece of my mind, he’s got this sweet, mischievous twinkle in his eyes. A good reminder not to take life too seriously, one I sometimes need.

Jordan also lets me do my thing, and I’ve taken him up on that plenty. It’s quite the trick to give someone the space they need to grow, while still being so intimately involved in their life. Jordan has never failed to rise to the occasion, steadfast in his support and trust, silly puns at the ready.

I would not be the person I am today without our relationship. A fact that is probably obvious, but deserves to be said nonetheless. And what this all brings me to is some happy, happy news. Jordan and I are engaged.

We got engaged in a parking lot on a street corner in San Francisco. Franklin and Page streets. Like we’ve approached most big life things that we’ve been through over the past eight years, we decided this one together. And then we went to our favorite izakaya to celebrate with bacon-wrapped mochi and a beer. Perhaps not terribly romantic by some standards, but very, very us. I can’t imagine life any other way, and couldn’t be happier.

My sweet Jordan, I love you.

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Bacon Wrapped Mochi 
3 pieces kirimochi (savory Japanese glutinous rice cakes), cut into thirds after boiling
5 slices of bacon, cut in half

Bring a pot of water to boil. Unwrap the kirimochi and drop them into the boiling water. Boil for just a minute (or microwave for 20 seconds), until they become tender. Remove from the water and cut into thirds. Wrap each piece of mochi in a piece of bacon and secure the bacon with a toothpick. Grill the mochi over high heat or cook in a cast iron pan over high heat, until the bacon is brown and the mochi is oozing. Enjoy hot from the grill with a bit of soy sauce. The bacon is smokey and salty, the mochi is chewy and strange—it is a wonderful combination!

-Emily

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Ps. Our rings were made for us by our friends Rachel and Andrew, who kept a great secret for a few weeks.

 

goodbye 2013

Posted on January 2, 2014

I was more than ready to say goodbye to 2013, I think I’ve been ready since July. 2013 was a bit brutal and I’m glad to be rid of her, to be quite honest about it. But, seeing as I’m sick in bed with a head cold and my consumption of TLC trash tv is getting embarrassing, I decided to give the year a closer look.

Though the lows of this past year were by far some of the lowest, and the trials some of my toughest, there is also so so much goodness in our lives. For our loving families, for our wonderful friends who feel like family, and for the silly hounds that fill my heart with joy, I am tremendously grateful. I’m also pretty dang proud that this little family of mine, Jordan, Willow and I, weathered this storm of a year. So, feeling sappy and full of snot, here are some of my favorite moments from 2013.

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Onwards and upwards. 2014 we’re ready for you.

-Emily

alice waters and chez panisse

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For our fourth anniversary, Jordan and I went to Chez Panisse. We were in college and I know he saved for months to take me out for that meal. It was pure magic. The restaurant was cozy, beautiful and warm. A big bouquet of wild flowers and branches sat on a small table next to an assortment of gorgeous produce and loaf of fresh bread, a few slices missing. We snuggled into a corner near the kitchen and ate the most perfect four courses of my life. Everything tasted like the best version of itself. The love and care and respect that went into each and every part of that meal was palpable. It was how food is meant to be.

Our dinner at Chez Panisse was the first nice meal we’d ever been to together. My love affair with food had really started to get serious at the time and it felt so special to eat at the restaurant that changed the way we eat in the United States so completely. It warms my heart to look back on that meal and feel the earnest excitement of that night all over again. I left Chez Panisse so inspired to learn, to cook, and to get closer to my food.

Alice Waters changed I think about food and cooking more than anyone, outside of my Nonnie, my Mom and Jordan. From Alice I learned to cook simply and with the seasons, to respect my food and let the qualities of each ingredient shine. I learned to care where my food came from and how it was produced, to acknowledge the environmental impact our food choices make on the earth. I learned that there was nothing more precious than sitting down for a meal together, and that the kitchen and the table are where I am most at peace.

I like to think that I cook with Alice every night. Her philosophies inspire the way I shop, I cook and we eat. Because I feel so close to her in my kitchen, and because I have tremendous respect and admiration for the amazing work she does for children’s education, for the environment, for growers, ranchers and producers, for food and cooking in the United States, it was a dream come true to meet her tonight. I was starstruck, like you are when you meet one of your heros.  I aspire to have a fraction of her guts, vision and grace. Here’s to making that happen and eating well along the way.

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-Emily

Ps. If you’re not familiar with Alice Waters, Chez Panisse and the slow food revolution, I’d recommend reading this wonderful book. You can’t read it and not fall at least a little in love with Alice. Chez Panisse Vegetables is also a favorite around here and a wonderful place to begin cooking more seasonally.

and it’s december

This past week was quiet, aside from several lovely, family-filled dinners. I had a few days off of work, Jordan was on break from school, and we took it easy. We surfed, we watched back to back episodes of The Mind of a Chef, we ate risotto.

Our schedules are such that it’s rare to have more than a day off in a row to spend together and so these few days were especially lovely, just the two of us. It’s nice to have a bit of a break from the pace of a normal week to really remember why you like someone, to steep in all of the good the things they bring into your life, to appreciate them a bit more deeply.

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Willow is now happily resting her head on my keyboard, which is convenient because all I really mean to say is that Jordan is the butter to my bread, and I’m tremendously grateful for him.

These photos are from Ocean Beach. I shot them on Thanksgiving Day before heading down to dinner at my grandparents. Instant film really captures the colors of the Sunset beautifully. (Maybe one day I’ll get a film scanner and stop taking photos of photos, maybe?).

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I hope you had a restful Thanksgiving full of family and friends and good food. It’s hard to believe it’s already December, but I’m glad. I’m ready to buy a tiny Christmas tree, bake a ton of cookies, and say goodbye to 2013.

-Emily

on life and cooking

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I don’t often write stories this long, or this personal. But, I know that one day I’ll wish I had, so here goes. Be gentle.

I was on my way back from work one evening in May. My phone rang, it was my mom. I talk with my mom a lot on the phone, and I could tell the second I picked up that something was wrong. She told me she had found a lump in her breast and had gone to her doctor for a scan and a biopsy. She said it was most likely nothing, probably just a cyst, and she’d know for sure in a few days. I told her that I loved her, that I was sure it was just a cyst and that she should call me as soon as she knew anything more. I hung up the phone and cried, sitting in traffic on Highway 101, waiting to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

The next day I was walking home from work. I was expecting a call from my mom and it came. The lump in her breast was not a benign cyst, it was cancerous. Just like the day before, I told my mom I loved her, that we would make it through this. When I hung up the phone, I cried. Screaming profanity on the the streets of my San Francisco neighborhood isn’t out of the ordinary, but that day was the first time for me.  As much as I wanted to, grasping onto the possibility that this was just scare, a scare ready to fade away into foggy memory wasn’t an option anymore.

My mom was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. We were shocked and devastated. My mom was the healthiest person I knew, she never stopped moving for a second, her biggest heath complaint was the occasional headache. With the benefit of the passage of time, it’s now clear that a positive cancer diagnosis is always a shock and always devastating, regardless of who it affects. But at the time, it felt like such a personal attack, on my mom and on our family. To say that my faith in the universe was shaken would be an understatement.

The irony of my mom’s diagnosis (if you can even find irony in such a thing) was that just a week earlier my mom and I had been talking about how we were so lucky, that our family was healthy and that health is something that’s easy take for granted. Though things might be tough—and it hasn’t been an easy few years for a variety of reasons—we at the very least could rely on our bodies to get up and do the things we needed them to do each day. My mom’s unexpected diagnosis felt like the universe was punishing us for speaking too soon, in the harshest possible way.

With a positive cancer diagnosis, your life is no longer yours. You go from the independence of normal adult life to an onslaught of doctors appointments, scans, surgeries, treatments. My mom never visited the hospital aside from her yearly mammogram, and now she was spending most of her time there. Trust me, it’s enough to shake a person. When you’re young and healthy like my mom, the doctors waste no time. Your cancer is treated aggressively, no holds barred. This is a good thing, it means your chances of making it though the other side cancer-free are high, and obviously that is what everyone wants. But while it is happening, you’re at the complete mercy of doctors, nurses and the body that turned against you. Brutal is putting it lightly.

There are more bad things about cancer than I could possibly name in a single blog post, but the worst for me was that cancer robbed me of any control. There was nothing I could do to make my mom better, there was no way I could make the coming months any less difficult, there was no way I could ensure a happy outcome. Knowing that you would do anything you could, but being powerless to meaningfully change anything, that is one of the worst things in the world.

Desperate for some relief from the sadness, anger and frustration that I couldn’t seem to shake, I turned to the thing that had helped me through tough spots in the past—cooking. Cooking once again became my therapy. I’d spend entire days in the kitchen, lost in recipes, sometimes making four or five new things at once, all available counter space covered in mis en place and open cookbooks. I would fall apart while mixing a dough or whirring my food processor, worrying about my mom, my family, the future. Everything felt uncertain, our lives outside of our control, and I wanted desperately for that to not be true. Still, cooking was a comfort. Hours would go by and I wouldn’t notice, absorbed in my work. It felt good. It felt constructive.

When I’d sit down and write about what I was cooking here on the blog, the worry that usually hung over me fell away. I’d get sucked into the story of the dish, transported to an alternate universe where cancer wasn’t torturing the people I loved most and we just happened to eat delicious things. It was a really lovely place to be, even if it was only for a few hours.  And I don’t think I could have made it through the past few months without it.

I know that by diving into my cooking and my writing over the past few months, I’ve pulled away from friends and family who were there to talk, who wanted to help me through this tough time. The thing was, I didn’t want to talk, it didn’t seem to help at all. I’m sure this hurt, and I’m sorry. Those epic days alone in my kitchen were healing, and writing recipes on this little corner of the internet helped me find some light in the darkness of the past few months, which I couldn’t seem to hold onto any other way.

My mom had her final dose of chemo last Monday. Her prognosis is looking good and we’re extremely hopeful. But, if the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that this journey isn’t over yet. For the future bumps in the road, I’m grateful that I’ve got recipes in the waiting and a blog to fill.

As always, thanks for reading.

Love, Emily