Saturday, May 30, 2015

Heritage Recipe #4: The One About Stew

When I was younger, my mom tried to teach me how to cook. She'd show me easy recipes, talk me through processes, and ask me to help her with meals. As much as I tried not to be bored, I could never focus on the lessons, and I was much more comfortable with clearing the table and washing dishes at the end of the meal.

When I moved away from home, my mom sent along nicely typed lists of simple meal ideas and grocery items to stock the kitchen with: lentils, canned tomatoes, frozen peas, chicken stock. Still, I ate mostly Tuna Helper, scrambled eggs, pasta with canned sauce, and pesto sandwiches (oh yeah and chocolate croissants...).

On my dad's side, any member of the family, male or female, including my younger cousins, could make a perfect pot roast for a large family dinner. I, however, am still not totally sure what a pot roast is. (Is it beef? That you bake in a pot?). I somehow didn't get the chef genes, and my family's all-American traditional Sunday dinners, while lovely, are foreign and mysterious to me.

You could say I'm a late bloomer when it comes to cooking. It wasn't until I got to know Isaac that I started really learning about food. On Maui, I watched his mom and uncles bustle around the kitchen, pulling out jars of home-pickled okra, wrapping pork and fish in ti leaves to make lau lau, stirring eggplant or wild ferns in a sizzling wok. In our apartment, I watched Isaac mimic those fluid movements, saw his confidence as he handled a cleaver and swirled oil around a frying pan and tossed seasonings into dishes without measuring or looking at instructions.

At first, I was simply relieved to have found a man who could do all the cooking. But gradually, I found myself drawn in and slowly gained confidence in my own abilities. And I became interested in good food, curious about meals from my childhood and those things my mom had tried to instill in me, excited about trying new recipes.

Because of Isaac, my repertoire leans heavily on the Asian side. One of the first things I learned from him was how to make stews. I discovered how easy they are, how hard to mess up. I branched out from boneless, skinless chicken breasts and braved bones, thighs, fatty porks--the things that provide the flavor for a broth. A good Asian stew is a staple for us, even during the summer months, and I wanted to share these two that we make quite frequently.

Kimchi Jigae 

Because he grew up eating fermented foods and spent a few years in Korea, Isaac loves kimchi. For a long time, I couldn't bring myself to even be in the same room as him when he ate it because, well, it smells awful. Eventually, though, he got me to try kimchi jigae, a stew that cuts down on the potency of the kimchi and includes bacon (YUM) and tofu (yum). The first bite of it sold me on kimchi forever (which is good because fermented foods are sooo good for you), and now I will even eat it plain with dumplings.


1/2 pound high-quality, thick-cut bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces
half an onion
4 cups chopped kimchi (the cabbage kind)
1 package firm tofu, cut into one-inch cubes
2 green onions
2 tablespoons sesame oil


In a large pot, saute bacon and onion until the bacon is a consistency that you like (I like it browned but still a tiny bit flabby). Add kimchi and enough water to submerge all the ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. Uncover and add tofu and green onion; simmer for another 5 or 10 minutes, until the tofu takes on the flavor of the broth. Add sesame oil at the end. Serve over rice.


There are a lot of variations of this Filipino dish, but this is the version Isaac learned from his mom--smoky, rich, and slow-cooked.


1 lb bone-in ham hock
fish sauce
an onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
a few 1/2 inch chunks fresh ginger
a large can of diced tomatoes
3 bay leaves
1/2 bag frozen lima beans
1 bag frozen okra (cut or whole)
2 or 3 Asian eggplants
(other good veggie options include zucchini, squash, green beans, and--if you're feeling really Filipino and can find some of it--bitter melon)


Heat a little oil in a large dutch oven or pot, add the entire ham hock, and douse it with a couple sloshes of fish sauce to season and salt. Saute until browned. Remove pork and set aside. 

Add more oil to the same pot and saute onion, garlic, and ginger until onion gets translucent. Put the pork back into the pot and add tomatoes. Fill the pot with water until all the ingredients are covered. Add bay leaves, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until pork pulls apart, about 1-2 hours (it will be a dark pink in color even when cooked).

Before pork is finished, add vegetables in intervals. When 45 minutes are left, add lima beans. When 30 minutes are left, add eggplant and okra.

Serve over rice. Note that the way we make it, there are bones and fat left even at the end, and this is how we eat it. If that's not your preference, you could experiment with different cuts of pork or substitute shrimp or chicken (though you'd lose some flavor that way). I just pick out the weird bits and give them to Isaac. :)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Heritage Recipe #3: Mrs. Warner's Coffee Cake

My Grandma Dorothy's house in Vancouver, Washington, was one of the few familiar and comfortable places I had in the U.S. during my childhood. When we came back from Kenya on furlough, we would often stay with her for a while, and during that time I adjusted to American culture and got ready to enter public school for a year or travel with my parents to visit churches or do whatever else we happened to be doing for our season away from home. It was a good house to be in during the difficulty of transition.

Outside, I loved the rock garden, the willow tree, the grassy spaces for cartwheeling with my cousins, the little crooked woodpecker door knocker. Inside, my sanctuary was the yellow bedroom filled with treasures from my mom's growing up: boxes of dolls with stiff eyelashes and perfectly crafted homemade dresses, children's books with my aunts' names scrawled inside the covers, and photo albums.

Another favorite part of the house was the laundry room, because it was where Grandma kept tins of cookies and freshly baked coffee cake. Besides the Faasch smile (lots of gums exposed), one thing I inherited from my grandmother was her sweet tooth. Even in her later years, "what's for dessert?" was a common question. And truly, a meal does feel unbalanced without dessert.

When my grandparents were first married, my grandpa pastored a church in California. Mrs. Warner was an elderly lady in their congregation who took my young grandma under her wing and taught her, among other things, how to make a fantastic coffee cake, a recipe that's still in our family. Soft and lemony with crumbly cinnamon topping...oh my. Despite the fact that Grandma made it with stewed prunes on top, I loved it even as a kid.

Here's the recipe:

Just kidding, I can't read that either. Here's the recipe, with a few modifications:

Mrs. Warner's Coffee Cake


2 cups milk, warm to the touch
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 package yeast
1 egg, beaten
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
grated rind of one lemon
about 5 cups flour
1 cup raisins (optional - I opt not to use these)

For the crumb topping:

2/3 cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons cinnamon
6 tablespoons flour
6 tablespoons butter

fruit is an optional topping as well


Dissolve a pinch of sugar in 1/4 cup warm water and stir in yeast to activate. Let it sit about 10 minutes (the surface will be frothy when it's active).

Mix milk, butter, yeast, egg, sugar, salt, grated lemon rind, flour, and raisins in a large bowl. The dough will be very soft and sticky, so use a spoon rather than kneading it. Cover the bowl with a towel or saran wrap and let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, about two hours.

Grease three 9" round baking pans and put the dough in the pans. (I don't have rounds, so I used one 9x13 baking dish, as shown in the picture above. The dough kind of overwhelmed the dish, but the doughiness turned out pretty delicious in the end.)

Mix the topping ingredients to crumb consistency with a fork and sprinkle on top of the dough. I also like to stew dried apricots in a saucepan for about 10 minutes and put them on top of the dough before adding the crumb topping.

Then let the dough rise again, until it's roughly near the top rim of the pans, maybe an hour or so. Bake at 375 for 23-25 minutes.

It's good stuff. I'm sure Grandma D is agreeing with me from heaven. ;)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Heritage Recipe #2: Shoyu Chicken

This post is, in part, a way to say thank you again to our families and friends for all the incredible help and love that went into our wedding almost four years ago. I still can't get over how so many people jumped in generously and took things on, from decorations to photos to food, and made it a day of beauty, celebration, and fun. When we remember our wedding, we rejoice that in marriage we are not alone; we are part of families, part of family.

Thanks Mom for endless planning; thanks Mary for bringing plumerias vacuum sealed all the way from Maui; thanks Thiesens for grilling pork to perfection; thanks Minis for arranging stunning tropical bouquets; thanks Auntie Loretta for leading the army of aunties in weaving ti-leaf leis; thanks Lia and Cara and Cassandra for the pictures; thanks to Isaac's family who hosted rehearsal dinner and made insanely great salads for the wedding; thanks Maile for the cupcakes; thanks Erica for the perfect mango salsa; thanks bridesmaids and groomsmen for traveling on tight budgets to be there with us...the list goes on! Thanks thanks thanks--I seriously could never express my gratitude enough.

What was so fun about the wedding for us was bringing together our two very different families and their traditions. My family has a more "traditional" American approach, though there's an international flavor to their lives too. Isaac's dad's small family is mostly in Arkansas, and his mom and her nine siblings are concentrated in Hawaii and the West Coast and have big-family, Filipino/Hawaiian traditions that I was still very much adjusting to at that point. All of these differences came together smoothly and the fusion was fun, not to mention delicious, since the food was all made by our families.

It was such a DIY wedding that the groom himself was busy cooking the night before, mixing up a marinade for 40 pounds of shoyu chicken and sealing everything up in Ziplock bags. Fortunately there aren't too many ingredients in this delicious Hawaiian recipe:

Shoyu Chicken


5 lbs skinless chicken thighs
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
4 cloves minced garlic
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon oregano


Whisk together the soy sauce, brown sugar, water, garlic, onion, ginger, black pepper, and oregano in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add the chicken thighs, and toss to evenly coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Grill; discard the marinade.

If you're not in the mood for grilling, sauté the garlic and onion in a saucepan, add all the rest of the ingredients plus an extra cup of water and bring everything to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and stew about 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked and tender.

Serve with rice, as any good Hawaiian knows.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Heritage Recipe #1: Coconut Beans

In 2007, I returned to Kenya for a visit 8 years after we moved to the U.S. My dad and I visited the village where I spent the first 10 years of my life, and I was sucked into this surreal vortex of “was this my life?” Everything was sharply familiar—the old road to Tanzania crumbling to a narrow trail beside our house, the massive mango and cashew nut trees, the same neighbors, though aged—but it was more like a dream that I’d had before, where it felt like everything only existed in my head in the first place.

One of those familiar and strange things was how pitch-black dark it was. One night we walked across the road and down a dirt path to visit friends for a meal, and the blackness was so intense my eyes hurt. All I could see was the skinny beam of light from one flashlight, critters flashing through it, and the bright stars.

My undergraduate capstone, which I completed not long after the trip, was a series of poems about returning to Kenya. I scrounged up this one, which attempted to capture this meal, these feelings, this darkness:
Tambukira (To Remember)

Fatuma sits on a low stool by the fire, her spoon rotating around a sufuria, smoke trailing into the palms. A yellow kerosene lantern softens shadows across her cheekbones as she looks up, greets me quietly. I sit on a mat, shifting my legs under a long skirt as speech halts, sentences break; I have no words for college, snow, freeways. She takes out an envelope of photographs. In one, a baby is tied snugly to her back. Years later, a girl plays with Kadara on a battered stoop. She looks like she belongs, I think, not sure I recognize myself in the space this small, white face filled. 
We eat cassava root boiled in coconut milk, pressing it around spiced meat. Dark sits heavy, blurs our shapes. Quiet, we search each other for memory. I want to hold this beauty, the endless face of the Kenya I knew. Black trees blot patches of stars flung like dust across the sky, folding us close, a small circle, dream in the midst of someone’s sleep. I cannot ask, What waits to be awakened?

I can’t get cassava here (although I bought tapioca recently to make pudding, and the bag says they are the same thing as cassava. Is this true??), so I want to share another Kenyan recipe that I make from time to time, coconut beans, called maharagwe ya nazi in Swahili. It is especially good with the flatbread chapati, the most perfect form of carbs in the world; done the Kenyan way, chapati turns out flaky, dense, tender, with just the right amount of soft chewiness and grease.

I try my best to soak beans from scratch (we're pretty good with soaking and then freezing chickpeas for Isaac's hummus), but I'll be honest: I use a lot of canned beans. Fresh coconuts are, uh, hard to come by, not to mention not worth the trouble, so I feel fine about using canned coconut milk.

So here's my Americanized and easy version of coconut beans (thanks for this, Mom):


1/2 a yellow onion, chopped
2 cans pinto or kidney beans, drained
1 can coconut milk
Cumin, salt, and pepper to taste


Saute onion. When nice and translucent, add beans, coconut milk, and seasonings. Simmer. Serve with rice. (See, I said it was easy. Too easy.)

Also, here's a link to learn how to make chapati. They're a little time intensive, so I don't do them often. If you want a veggie to go along with this meal too, I recommend sautéed collard greens (the equivalent to sukuma wiki in Kenya).

Friday, May 1, 2015

Heritage & Food

In one of those help-me-I-can't-stop-scrolling-through-my-Facebook-feed-and-clicking-on-sensational-articles moments a while back, I stumbled across this (or some version of it), which references a collection of National Geographic photos of what average Americans will look like in 2050. Basically, everyone has a tan skin tone and pretty eyes and is a mix of ethnicities. While I do find it quite sad to lose diversity in one sense (because really everyone will, supposedly, look quite similar), I also think there's something beautiful about so much diversity existing in each person individually.

If Isaac and I have kids, they will have German, Filipino, Swiss, Chinese, Spanish, Dutch, Welsh, and English roots. They will inherit bits and pieces of our Pacific Northwest, Hawaiian, Midwest, and Kenyan cultures, with a smidgen of Korean and other places that have stuck with us. This jumbling of blood, cultures, and histories is unique to us in its specific makeup, but that's pretty much the story of every American.

Our favorite and most natural way to celebrate heritage is through food. Our conversations with people frequently turn to food, and we love to hear what others grew up with and adopted and enjoy. Like our friend Laura's Swedish ugnspannkaka (think baked deep-dish pancake custard), which we've enjoyed at multiple breakfast gatherings.

So I thought it would be fun, over the next few weeks or so, to share several recipes that have sprung up from the varied pasts, homes, cultures, and families that Isaac and I belong to, food that we'll make our kids eat (and already make our friends eat, sometimes stretching them beyond their comfort zones ;)) and hope that they enjoy and embrace as their own.

Here's a preview of the "menu":