Our recent trip to Honolulu found Desmond, my four and a half month old son ready for food.  He was so absorbed in what everyone else was eating, no wonder, our family reunions are serious food experiences.  My Grandfather’s 95th birthday celebration brought Wong family relations together from all over the globe.  Large round tables of raucous conversation and group cheers for each new course as it was brought to the table, all this focus on community and flavor my baby boy started yelling for attention.  I think once you discover how great eating is it’s hard to just watch from the sidelines.  He would literally holler until someone put something in his mouth.  Little man doesn’t have any teeth yet and most of what the grownups were eating was too rich, greasy and/or chewy for a brand new eater to handle. Good thing almost every Chinese restaurant has some Jook bubbling away somewhere in the house.  Jook is a thin rice porridge that is often served with peanuts and shavings of sweet pork jerky on top. (I would much prefer to have Porkfloss on top of jook than these doughnuts I found on an incredulous expatriate’s indiosyncratic Mainland China blog.)

porkfloss on doughnuts?!

It has long been used as a food for infants and convalescent adults and is pretty much ubiquitous throughout Asia.  Known as congee in India and Cambodia, as Jook in South East Asia and Korea, and Zhou in Putonghua speaking China.  Common ingredients mixed in this simple rice and water porridge include lean pork and preserved duck egg, chicken, squid, kimchi, green onions, ginger and just plain for little ones or for troubled digestion.

I used the opportunity of having so many aunties in one place to ask for tips on how to make the perfect Jook.  My attempts at home seemed to differ quite dramatically from the smooth perfectly seasoned offerings one finds in restaurants.  It takes a little bit of practice and filtering to understand what five sisters have to say across an enormous table speaking in very close and overlapping proximity and cancelling one another out with volume and hand gestures.  It’s always a good time watching my mom and her brothers and sisters in action. I imagine all nine of them as young adults, calling on one another (unabashedly) to pull their own weight and heartily creating fun at every given opportunity. Gravesweeping is a common family gathering.  Food and drink are put out for the hungry ghosts and the general area is cleaned up, weeded and tidied.  Our family doesn’t just light incense, we take our expression to a whole new level – Auntie Lo did an interpretive dance on my Grandmother’s grave (she studies ballroom dance) and Uncle Tony put a lit cigarette in the ground near the headstone. My grandmother was pretty much pregnant between the ages of nineteen and thirty three, you’ve got to figure that she was always alive to the possibility to have a little party whenever she could.

So what I could discern from the kerfuffle that followed my question – great jook can be made following these guidelines.  Mix a little salt and oil with your rice.  Add 12 cups of water per one cup of rice.  Restaurants and Jook Joints use broken rice for a finer texture, one can always duplicate this by running rice through a food processor very quickly before use. Add rice, oil, salt mix to already boiling water.  Cook as slowly as possible.  Use broth for a deeper flavor or when making chicken or turkey jook.

I added some Konbu (kelp) to my version for extra mineral goodness, and a teaspoon of flax seed for some of those good omega fatty acids.  I also used the crock pot to make the whole endeavor easier than pie.

Dessie’s Chow


1 cup Brown Rice; 12 cups Water; piece of konbu rinsed in the sink; 2 tsp Ghee; 1/2 tsp Sea Salt; 1 tsp flax seeds.

Mix all ingredients except water, add water.  Put on High in crockpot til bubbling (1hr) then turn down to low.  Let it go for at least 4 hours.  I let it cook overnight.  Salt to taste.

Some great serving suggestions…  chopped up leftover meats.  Zuké :), furikake (seaweed, salt and sesame seeds), you can even make a sweet cereal by adding dried fruit, cinnamon and maple syrup.

Come Thanksgiving I assure you this is what I’ll be doing with the leftovers, boiling turkey carcass broth then making some slowcooked brown rice goodness.  Sleepytime happy turkey triptomine jook has got my name all over it.

Haute Brats


Today was just one of those days. Locked the keys in the car etc. etc.  There was work and school and soccer and by the time we got to dinner we wanted it FAST. So: Brats (if you are brave enough to make your own, here is a little tutorial) buns, our Ozuké dill,caraway and fennel kraut, some pickled peppers, mustard and done. Dinner was a hit, the probiotics even out the white buns and everybody goes to bed full and happy. You can make your own mustard too- fun and easy (on a day when you don’t have much else going on.)
Homemade mustard:
* 1/4 cup yellow mustard seed
* 2 Tbsp. black or brown mustard seed, heaping
* 1/4 cup dry mustard powder
* 1/2 cup water
* 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
* 1 small onion chopped
* 1 tsp. salt
* 2 garlic gloves, minced or pressed
* 1/4 tsp. ground allspice (optional)
* 1/4 tsp. dried tarragon leaves
* 1/8 tsp. turmeric

In a small bowl, combine mustard seed and dry mustard. In a 1- to 2-quart stainless steel or nonreactive saucepan, combine remaining ingredients. Simmer, uncovered, on medium heat until reduced by half, 10-15 minutes. Pour the mixture into the mustard mixture. Let mixture stand, covered, at room temperature for 24 hours, adding additional vinegar if necessary in order to maintain enough liquid to cover seeds. Process the seeds and mixture in a blender or food processor until pureed to the texture you like –this can take at least 3 or 4 minutes. Some prefer whole seeds remaining, others a smooth paste. The mixture will continue to thicken. If it gets too thick after a few days, stir in additional vinegar. Scrape mustard into clean, dry jars; cover tightly and age at least 3 days in the refrigerator before using.
Makes about 1 1/2 -2 cups.


The last rose of summer

Well, school started last week and there is always that feeling at the end of the summer… I call it the “squirrel gathering her nuts” mood. There is lots of canning, preserving and fermenting to be done at the end of the summer growing season. This moment, this gathering, this bridling of the abundance is really at the core of what we do at Esoteric Food Company. Our products aim to capture the goodness of the garden and keep it coming all year round.

This is a great piece I found on NPR about the tradition of kraut making after a bumper crop of cabbage. Whether it is from your own backyard, the farmer’s market or from a zuké that we are making for you, we hope you partake it eating some of this summer in a jar.

Miraculous Fruit

My most unforgettable fruit experience was one summer in Fujian Province, China.  I had not planned to go there.  Eighteen years old I was based in Shanghai learning Chinese for a year and my friend Beth had gone on a side trip and had gotten very sick.  She was stuck in bed on an IV drip and I spent the mornings wandering the sweaty Fuzhou streets.  The Chinese word for Loquat is Pipa.  Synonymous with the word for the Chinese Lute I had eaten this teardrop shaped fruit many times before in a traditional cough syrup but the fresh fruit was an unparalleled experience.  Big bunches of orange fig like clusters with thick crooked branches holding it all together.  They were being sold spread on blankets on the street and their season was notoriously almost magically short.  The flavor was something like a cross between a cherry and a peach with a soothing cooling effect on your throat.  I still dream of digging in to that massive bunch of chin dripping goodness.  I only ever had the privilege to eat fresh Loquat one time and not to belie my age here that was close to twenty years ago.  I hear from my friend Tres that they grow like crazy in the Carolinas – I can’t wait to get my hands on this tremendous fruit again.  Perhaps I would take a hint from the classic medicine and play on a pairing with mint or liquorice.

Hami Melons are named after a town in Northwestern China’s Xinjiang Province.  I traveled to this area during that same year of study abroad.  The streets of the town and most public gathering areas were lined with grape vine trellises and many hundreds of years ago the clever silk road merchants had built underground tunnels to preserve and transport water through this arid desert town.  Like a sweet and susserant secret in the shade of a blistering day Hami melons are delicate, perfumed and somehow both yielding and crisp at the same time. The flesh is a pale pinkish orange and as pretty to look at as it is to eat.

Numbers three and four on my list are like yin and yang, lychee and longan.  Lychee have pink patterned skin, gentle and generous sweetness they have a floral femininity and a slight tartness that adds a dimension of coyness to their perfection.  Beauty that yields too easily would never be worth the pursuit.   Longan (means dragons eye, and they do have a very eyeball like gelatinousness) has a distinct maleness compared to lychee’s femininity.  The outer skin is a dull brown and leathery, the flesh is coarser and its perfume is reminiscent of leather chairs and tobacco.  They are still sweet but their sweetness is muted in comparison to the lychee, self assured, they don’t feel the need to hit you over the head with their charms.  I was thinking about fruit lying in bed this morning and as you can see these two took on a very distinct personification.  Lychee and Longan are qipao (“chee-pow”) wearing fruit.  Qipao were worn by both men and women in China all the way until the fifties and sixties.  Maggie Cheung is the perfect example of the skill that is needed to affect this amazing costume, high collared and slim waisted with that tantilizing slit up the side.  I remember watching her win runners up to Miss Hong Kong wearing this very same traditional chinese dress.  Suzie Wong’s universe managed to ingrain itself on our collective consciousness.   It was inevitable, how could we resist her feminine whiles.  Meanwhile I feel as if the male version of this costume is often forgotten.  Often deep brown and sometimes shiny black made of crisp black silk; always always with the white cotton undershirt.  Donnie Yan wears the men’s qipao beautifully. Understated and suave as per his portrayal of Bruce Lee’s master in Ip Man.  That kind of strength in character waits for its adversary to approach and keeps a centered kernel of calm no matter what kind of wild and charged fisticuffs might be flying nearby.  The longan definitely has this same kind of refinement, as if it has within itself a little bit of a vacuum.  It’s stillness and subtlety draw you closer.  I love this idea of a qipao wearing fruit especially as I’ve often felt like peeling one open there is a redolent suggestion of unzipping or unbuttoning.  Knowing that one might be imprisoned forever in Hades makes the fruit all the sweeter right Persephone?

Who am I trying to fool.  I haven’t really ever met a fruit I didn’t like.  I’ll chow down on some Durian and have a gay old time, although I would love to learn how to effectively get the darn things open without risking life and limb. Mangoes, grapes, watermelon… fruit is nature’s most current newscast.  “Early Equatorial Spring and all is well”… “Mountain Valley Midsummer in full effect” etc.  There really is little improvement to be found for fruit.  Jam, Liqueur and Wine are our best attempts to preserve that oh so precious Now.  That’s why I find the latest trend of fruit shaping more than a little redundant.  Watermelon, triangle or square?  Really?  And the Buddha Pear?  Could it taste any more divine having spent it’s ripening encased in hard plastic?  I truly doubt it.