June 20, 2010

To Ethan (The Men in My Life)

Dear Ethan,

Your father and I had a fight few days ago over the ever unsolved issue of him yelling at you ALL THE TIME.

There is no secret that your father has no patience for anything but golf. Ever since he's addicted to golfing, I hadn't seen him until you were born. Now, since your presence has drastically diminished his time spending on golfing, he has attached himself to Golf Channel, golf magazine, and golf session on Criagslist. Anytime you are left in the sole care of him, all I can think about is maybe you are now unplugging an electrical cord and putting it in your mouth because your father is on the couch rewinding the Golf Channel over and over again to study a specific swing position.

Not that your father is incompetent. He loves you very much. I believe he does more for his child than most of the fathers out there. Just he's a competent geek who loves golfing. 

I have my own system to keep the house in order in my own hands. After you came along, I had to involve your father simply because I couldn't do it all by myself. At first I had a hard time adjusting as he's always too slow to come to feed you, or he's not vacuuming the house clean enough. It's taken me a long time to accept that it's okay if he doesn't do things my ways even though my way is always the right way.

However, I can't really let go of his being impatience in terms of taking care of you. Whenever he forgets the fact that you are not a 30-year-old but a toddler who would not do anything he wants you to do, which happens all the time, he breaks down, loses temper and yells at you. Then you cry, and it breaks my heart. I was worried that it would not take too long for you to starting hating him.

Yet, the best part is you've never shown any sign of despising your father at all. You often call for him when you wake up in the morning. You enjoy being tickled by him. You run to the door once you hear the keys clinging sound as he comes home.

Your father and I have talked over this yelling issue, we fought over this. And I know that he's been trying very hard to keep reminding himself that yelling is not the only way to discipline you. And I can assure you, for what has happened between you and your father - the way you look at him now, the way you crawl up to him and kiss him on his lips, the way you touch his ear for comfort when you are tired - that alone is magnificent enough to push your father to become a more patient person than he thought possible.

On Father's Day, I want to let you know that this geeky, furious but loving guy is your father. He is your man. And you will be his.

Red Bean Chili

As much as I love this dish, I love this picture. It makes me consider to put chili on my regular cooking list now.

My worry of turning chili into a regular beef sauce has gone, because what makes this chili so different is I put cocoa powder, lime juice and most importantly beer. Yes, a whole bottle of good lager which I can't come up with a substitute.

(serves 4 - 6)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 large onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1-2 jalapeno, seeded, finely diced
Salt and pepper for season
1 bottle of dark beer
1 can whole or diced tomato
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 can red kidney bean
1 cup frozen corn kernel
Juice from 2 limes
Grated cheddar cheese, diced red onion and cubed avocado for garnish

Brown beef in a large skillet in 1 tablespoon olive oil until no longer pink. Set aside.

Add another tablespoon olive oil to skillet and saute onion and garlic until fragrant but not browned. Add carrot, celery and red pepper, cook for 2 minutes until soft. Add jalapeno and saute for 5 minutes. Return beef to pan and heat through, season with salt and pepper.

Add beer and scrape up any brown bits from bottom of the skillet.

Add tomato, chili powder, paprika, cumin and cocoa powder. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 hours.

Gently mix in kidney bean, corn and lime juice. Simmer for another 30 minutes. 

Garnish with cheddar cheese, red onion and avocado. Serve with cornbread, tortilla chips or rice.

June 10, 2010

To Ethan (Elma)

Dear Ethan,

The other day both me and your guu guu were texting about names for the new baby.

Guu: What about Taylor or Cadence?

Me: Nah, I know a Cadence who's a bitch. And I can't stand Taylor Swift, she just keeps showing her upper teeth for no reason.

Guu: Oh, I like Taylor Swift. Paige?

Me: I like Paige. Just your brother thinks his last name would let people make fun of her by saying, "Let's page Tam!"

Guu: Esme.

Me: Never heard of that. Acne came to my mind now.

Guu: What about Zoe?

Me:...... Elmo's girlfriend.

Guu: Good. Ethan will love it then.

Me: No. He will just call her Elmo or Momo.

Guu: You guys love Emma, right? Let's do Elma.

I had a sonogram yesterday. Though they couldn't see the penis, they were not 100% sure if this baby is a girl. I still believe my instinct - it's girl.

Now we may need to seriously think about naming her Elma.


June 7, 2010

Nutella Panna Cotta

When I figured Ethan was old enough to have food with nut, I bought a big jar of Nutella. I was all excited anticipating he would be as crazy about it as those kids on TV commercial.

In fact, that's what I do. When Ethan shows interest to some specific food, I will stock it up. Like those 4000 packs of yogurt, 2000 boxes of Cheerio, 5000 packets of sliced cheese......because you have no idea when he will start his hunger strike again. Have to stuff his belly when he has appetite in case it never happens again.

And it turns out he will have it for a day or two before he loses interest to it and wants to have our food instead. So, the chances are either I have Cheerio yogurt shake 3 meals a day for months or you come across with recipe like this where you put your stupid stock in good use.

(serves 8)
1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
3 tablespoons cold water
1 cup Nutella
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup almond slices or chocolate chips to garnish

In a medium bowl, whisk together the gelatin and 3 tablespoons cold water.

Put the Nutella and salt in another medium bowl and set aside.

In a saucepan, bring the cream and vanilla to a boil. Pour 1/3 of the hot cream mixture over the gelatin and whisk it well. Then pour the gelatin mixture back into the remaining cream.

Pour about 1/3 of the cream mixture over the Nutella. Whisk well to form a smooth paste. Add the remaining cream mixture and whisk well to combine. 

Whisk in the milk.

Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a big measurement cup, then divide it among eight ramekins, glasses or cups. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.

Garnish with almond slices or chocolate chips.

June 5, 2010

To Ethan (Superstar)

Dear Ethan,

I had a rough day at work few days ago. When I got home, it was a very special parcel laid on my desk that had my dull mind lightened back up.

This was from Josephine. In fact, we were not very close though we were working together at the radio station back in Hong Kong for quite some time. The only explanation is your mother was not a very friendly person, too much attitude, too thorny to get close to. You think it's cool to act like that when you are young. But when you look back as you get old, you will come to realize how many wonderful persons out there you have turned away for your stupid attitude.

Josephine wrote me a postcard too. By the time you read this, you may want to ask me what is a postcard. And I completely anticipate this question from you. Cause even nowadays, people don't write at all. They blog, email, tweet...... Only ancient people like us still pick up a pen to write with hands, and enjoy the warmth of it. She also reminded me we've known each other for over 10 years. And I completely feel bad about it. Over those years when we were within the same building, seeing each other, we barely talked.

Funny things happened after I have you and put you on internet. People stop by, read about you and leave me notes. I believe they are all confused why such a mean person like me would ever deserve to have you. It includes some of them whom I know personally, but not close. They initiate talks, ask me about you, share their lives with me, send you gifts.....and suddenly we've become friends again. Like Josephine.

The whole situation made me come to a conclusion: you don't have to be a nice person to make friends. But you have to give birth to a superstar.

Josephine mailed you this chic little back pack (and tons of kitchen gadgets  for me to make you food) of which I adore at first sight. I didn't realize how girly it was until I put it on you. And I completely understand cause apparently she, just like me, is still having difficulty figuring out if you are really a boy.


June 1, 2010

To Ethan (My Daily Medication)

Dear Ethan,

The first time you said MOMMY, though I wasn't sure if you actually referred to me or your potty, it felt like you had healed all the years of my life.

Now you are saying it with your eyes locking to mine......I have no idea how long I can live with my completely melted heart.


May 30, 2010

Macaroni, Mushroom and Cheese Bake

I would say this macaroni and cheese recipe from Jamie Oliver is one of the swear-to-god-ly easy recipe ever invented. No bechamel sauce is needed. Look at the short and clean ingredients list, you only need that few things to come up with a gigantic, delicious and comforting dish.

My previous mac-n-cheese attempts were always dry, not cheesy and most importantly the leftovers did not reheat well.

The cheese and cream melt-together sauce in this recipe completely solves this problem. I didn't 100% follow the original recipe, I omitted the cauliflower, added mushroom and I used gouda cheese instead of parmesan, and it didn't taste half-bad.

(serves 4 - 6)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups sliced mushroom
1 tsp dried herb (thyme, basil or oregano)
1 lb macaroni
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated gouda cheese
1 cup cream
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup breadcrumb

Heat pan with olive oil. Add mushroom and dried herb. Stir until mushroom is cooked. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook macaronia until al dente, not fully cooked. Drain in a colander. Reserve the pasta water.

In a sauce pan, gently melt the cheese with cream. Season with salt and pepper. Stir evenly until smooth.

Preheat over to 400F.

Transfer macaroni to a greased baking dish, pour in the melted cheese, mushroom and 1/4 cup pasta water. Stir to a silky consistency.

Sprinkle breadcrumb on top.

Grill macaroni on top shelf until golden and bubbling, about 10 minutes.

May 24, 2010

Chinese Style Borscht Soup

Apparently, being pregnant with this kind of sickness, plus being traumatized by Ethan's hunger strike are not tough enough to knock me down. Cause we've just bought a house......means God is going to manipulate my empty soul so I could start packing and moving.

(serves 6-8)
1 lb beef shin, cut into large pieces
6 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
4 tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 onion, cut into slices
2 cups diced celery
1/2 cabbage, thickly sliced
5 cups beef broth
5 cups water (or more to cover the vegetables when cooking)
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tsp paprika
2 tbsp freshly ground pepper
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
salt to taste

Boil the beef shin for 10 mins. Rinse it under cold water and drain it well.

In a large pot, put in beef and all remaining ingredients, except potatoes, brown sugar, white wine vinegar and salt. Boil for 20 mins. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, until beef is tender. 

Add potatoes, and cook until tender, around 15 mins.

Stir in brown sugar and vinegar. Taste to adjust the sweet and sour balance. Season with salt before serving.

To Ethan (Raising a Hippie)

Dear Ethan,

We have been having hard time convincing you that your food is not going to burn your stomach. It's been 3 days, each time I brought food to your mouth, you whip your head around or block it with your lips sealed like I am going to force a pair of scissors in to cut your tongue off.

Your father believes it's because you are teething. AGAIN! Like you have 900 teeth to be grown for the rest of your life that the sole purpose of having teeth does not apply to you. By the time your 900 teeth are done growing, you die.

On the rare occasion that you do eat your father and I become very still and silent, afraid that if we ever breathe, the direction of air in the room might be altered, and it will completely change your mind and turn away the fork from your mouth. However, we cannot control everything. And you always change your mind. The situation has become so maddening that sometimes I just let it go and leave food there in front of you before I bang my head into the brick wall. And all you want to do with the food is to create art on your face, hair and the hardwood floor - a hippie protesting with body art on a hunger strike.

Usually both your father and I run out of words to describe our pain. We simply read each other's mind - if I decide to throw you out with a plate hanging on you saying "Super Cute Baby FREE", your father will stop doing anything and go warm the car.


May 21, 2010

To Ethan (19 months)

Dear Ethan,

You turn 19 months old tomorrow.

Although you are improving a lot adapting to the new daycare environment - you cry less when you father kisses you goodbye and you don't nag that much during the day, you are still referred by the teachers as STUBBORN since you are not acting as happily as other kids are. The other day your father told me your teacher's comment followed by "He's so having your gene." I confronted him, "Tell me who is the one in this house who insists to have THREE computers to work with altogether all the time even for a simple weather check?!"

When I was thinking if we have sent you to a wrong daycare for their strange "No Bare Foot" policy and now ridiculous comment on a kid, we found that you have picked up a new habit. You used to just drop whatever you had in your hands on floor before you moved on to take another toy or got prepared to go out. Yes, leaving the house and staying outside all day without coming back is your favorite activity now. You will go all crazy and get your socks, shoes and jacket when you sense a bit that we may be going out. Now, we have to hide all keys and shoes from you, so you will not just grab it, treat it like some magic key, go direct to the door, bang the door knob with it, and yell to get out. Now you don't just let go of what you have in your hands when you don't need it. Instead, you put it back to where it locates. If this is what the daycare taught you, you are definitely staying. I've never been the daughter my mom wants, I ran away from home before college. Why? Remember you don't ask me questions like that before you wipe my butt? I've never expected to raise a disciplined child of my own. The first time I saw you putting back your toys, I looked around the house wondering if someone was joking with me. The other day, I asked you to put the clock back to my bed table after you were done playing with it. Initially, you placed it facing down before you looked back and realized it's not right. You took countless attempts to put it upright even though I told you that you've done a great job and it's OK to go. YOU WERE STILL NOT GIVING UP, NO WAY! When I had to take you away after I came back from peeing, I know I'm ready to accept the fact that you ARE stubborn.

Turn out that you've started to recognize some numbers and alphabets. One afternoon we were in the middle of the living room floor playing blocks together. I randomly picked up a block with a "6" on, and told you it's SIX. You looked at that block and said out loud NINE! Yesterday, I showed you a promotional pamphlet with a "Give the Gift" slogan on. I pointed and read you letter by letter G-I-V-E-T-H-E-G-I-F-T. When I tried to repeat starting with the first G in GIVE, you pointed at another G in GIFT! After showing you off to your father, we concluded that one of the explanations for this is that you pay close attention to "Sesame Street", that you thrive to learn despite your lazy parents. But we also agreed that we would take full credit anyway by telling people it's because of our superior genes.

Over the past few weeks, you've been absorbing the news that come October, life as you know it is going to be over. You will no longer be the most spoiled kid on the planet that all you do is complain, be it for not given the TV remote, or not taken out to park. By the time the new baby comes, you'd be assigned to do diapers. You've been shown how for 19 months already now, aren't you experienced? Yes, got to put you to work early!

We brought you to my last sonogram appointment. When the doctor found the wiggly baby in my belly, you shouted, "Baby! Baby!" While everybody in the room was amazed, I felt so relieved that you were not able to ask me where did I get that baby from, because I was not prepared at all to talk to you about your father's penis.

But most importantly, I'm glad that you are not up to the thought that you might be neglected as the new baby comes. Ethan, this is NOT going to happen. We love you. We adore you. You will always be our first born, our special child who first changed our hearts, and nothing could ever take that away. Very soon, you will be the big brother of this baby. Surely, there will be moments when you both will try to kill each other emotionally or physically. Also I do think you will need each other to call to complain about the fact that your parents are nuts. But I know that at some point this baby will look up to you one day and be proud that she has the coolest brother in the world.

I can never figure out the magic behind siblings relationship. But I do know the bond is still here even though I screwed mine. And over these years since I've joint your father's family and witnessed the relationship between your father and his sisters, I do hope this is the relationship you will have with this baby - a bond so strong that it doesn't matter if they have nothing but parents in common. They are lifelines, people who were there witnessing everything that made their kids who they are. Is their relationship perfect? No. But I'm sure they would sacrifice anything for each other, and one of the many reasons we decided to have another child was to give you the possibility of that friendship.