Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dinner for three.

Once in a while I spend my day at work thinking about what I will cook that night, with a menu firmly in mind based on things I know I have in the fridge or plan to buy on the way home. This rarely happens. Usually I stand in front of the open fridge wondering how on earth I will manage to make a meal out of an assortment of random ingredients. At this point, if I am alone, I give up and have scrambled eggs on toast, but there are two other people counting on me, and I have to come up with something. I begin to realize how my mother felt, having to produce dinner every night for five or six people, three of them teenagers. Ungrateful sods we were, too. There were always one or two meat dishes, and another couple of vegetable or tofu dishes, perhaps some fish or other seafood, and soup to finish the meal. We took turns setting the table and clearing up, doing the dishes and making rice, and perhaps I might do a little prep work here and there, but otherwise it was all just my mother cooking.

Tonight I pull out the corn someone (probably my father) bought the other day, shucking the husks away from the tightly packed kernels and putting a pot of water on to boil. Thinking ahead, I figure I can probably boil the corn first, then quickly cook the asparagus in the same boiling water. (No sense in wasting time and energy there). There is some ground pork in the fridge; if I cook it all, I can use some tonight and the rest in a different dish, some other night. (Again, planning ahead). It goes on to cook while I dice two squares of dried seasoned tofu and trim the asparagus spears. The pork-and-tofu looks kind of bland. I wish I had something else to throw in, like those leathery long beans that come in neatly tied bundles that look like lengths of dark green rope, which I often chop up and stir-fry with that dried tofu confronting me on the cutting board. I rummage around in the fridge and find a foil packet of some sort of pickled vegetable, and inspiration strikes.

Quickly now, because everything else is ready to go, I chop up the pickles (I can't read Chinese, so I don't exactly know what they are) and throw them in with the ground pork and tofu, sprinkle it all with a little soy sauce and stir it together. It goes well with the steamed rice, the pickled vegetables adding a tart zing to the sweetly bland pork, the salty seasoned tofu. Everything else is ready, the boiled corn, a plate of asparagus spears, the pork stir-fry. I put some smoked fish on a plate, a last dish to round out the meal, and we compare the two, sturgeon and cod. The sturgeon is drier and firmer, more delicate; the cod is softer and fattier, a little sweet. I think it is a good dinner, and hope that my parents agree.

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