Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mixed Plate: For Mom

It started and ended with a simmering slow cooker. The week my mom came for a visit, I had put together a smoked ham, andouille sausage and split pea soup. You could stick a flagpole upright in it, the soup was so thick and rich. I knew Mom would be cooking nonstop during her stay, but I wanted there to be something for a quick lunch, and it made our fridge look less empty. The morning my mom left, even though the sun was barely up, she woke up extra early to put together a big pot of Portuguese bean soup in the same slow cooker, so that night, even though she was long gone, we would have a home-cooked meal. Moms are amazing, aren't they?

The slow cooker that started and ended it all - Photo by Wasabi Prime
It's a big deal when Wasabi Mom comes for a visit. She came last year with her sisters for a fun visit, but this time she came solo, and it was really good to see her. It's an even bigger deal when Wasabi Dad comes for a visit -- we always have to crank up the thermostat because even in the heat of our Northwest summer, Hawaii Dad insists, "Too cold!" But Dad opted to hold down the Hilo Homefront. As all parents do, Wasabi Mom swooped in like a superhero when need arose. It's not important why she came, just that she was there when I needed her. She arrived with stacks of saved recipes, both old and new, ready to help out and cook up a storm.

Of course she spoiled the Mister and I completely rotten, making something new every night. She kept the oven busy with baked goods, had all the stove burners crowded with pots and pans of sizzling, simmering ingredients. The kitchen chaos was a reminder of how true the saying is, that food is love. A giant bowl of ice cream is dandy for Homer Simpson's homemade Prozac, but this visit revealed something rather telling about family. My mom insists she's not a good cook, but I argue otherwise -- she's a great cook, and a smart one who knows how to get something on the table with perfetct timing. She organized the week's meals like a finely-tuned machine, a first-class restaurant at home. When someone needs help, people arrive with aid in the best way they know how, and Mom came armed with Food TLC and kitchen ninja skills.

Dueling prep work in Wasabi Kitchen Stadium - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It was also revealing to see how similar our Wasabi-minds work. It was dueling Vulcan Mind Meld going on with Mom and I. She always has oatmeal every morning for breakfast. We only have steel-cut oats, which take a little more time to cook, so I tried par-cooking a few days' worth before she came. Adding boiling water to some steel-cut oats in a jar kinda-sort-of-not-really works. The water-to-oat ratio was clearly off, because I wound up with waterlogged oats. FAIL! But we were able to recover the batches by draining off the excess water and finish the cooking in a pot. Microwaving the sticky oats and adding milk or water to loosen them up for a single serving worked out fine, but I remain quietly disappointed at the failed oats-in-a-jar attempt. Grumble. But I did have time to make two batches of ice cream: coffee chocolate chip, in honor of her favorite Kona coffee flavor from Lappert's, and a strawberry balsamic ice cream, because I knew she liked the fresh strawberry ice cream I made on her last visit. But of course, Wasabi Mom's powers trump my mere Grasshopper Wasabi skills. She came armed with her old-skool recipes and made a delicious apple pie with a crumble crust, gigantic buttermilk blueberry muffins, and just for the heck of it, a lemon pound cake or two. The pound cake was impromptu -- she had a surplus of lemons and decided this was the best solution after seeing the recipe in the Grand Central Bakery cookbook. Kitchen overachiever status, confirmedAsian Tiger Moms, tremble in the presence of Wasabi Mom!

Lemon pound cake, flowers and Hawaii-style Chex Mix makes it all better - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Food made by other people always tastes better. This isn't scientifically proven, I can't explain it, but I just know it to be true. And it has its own theraputic powers, even if it's all psychological. Wasabi Mom used this trip as a chance to try out new recipes -- all the things she knows my dad won't eat. If it's not meaty and doesn't go with rice, he's not having any of it, The EndSo Mom had the chance to try some new things like a pasta dish with asparagus, Irish stew made with beer, grilled spicy pork with stiry fry chicken and bok choi -- everything was fantastic. We're still eating like kings from all the leftovers. And I think Mom kept a few recipes that she'll be able to make for Dad without him saying, "Where's the Beef?" Win-win for everyone. One of the things she made is a Hawaii favorite, a sweet-salty version of the classic Chex Mix, but with an Asian twist, since it's flavored with nori furikake, which is just a salty mix of seaweed, sesame seeds and salty-salt galore. There's several versions of this snack in Hawaii-based cookbooks, this is just the version we like best. This is my cousin Julie's recipe, which she submitted to the Flavors from a Plantation Town cookbook last year. The snack mix recipe makes quite a bit -- this is a halved version of the recipe because the original asks for two boxes of cereal and that's enough to feed New Hampshire and the secret alien colony on the outer rings of Saturn.

Cousin Julie's Totally Addictive Party Mix (adapted/halved from original Furikake Party Mix recipe in Flavors from a Plantation Town cookbook)
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon shoyu/soy sauce
1 box of Crispix or Chex cereal
1/2 bottle (about 1/2 cup) nori furikake with sesame seed (can find in Asian grocery store, in seasonings aisle)

Melt butter, corn syrup, vegetable oil, sugar and shoyu over low heat until sugar is dissolved. In a separate bowl, drizzle syrup over cereal and mix until well coated. Sprinkle furikake over mixture and mix well. Bake at 250 degrees in large roasting pan lined with foil for 1 hour or more, mixing every 15 minutes. Lift foil onto table and cool. Add arare/rice crackers, peanuts or pretzels if desired. Store in airtight containers.

Flowers to brighten the days - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I was spoiled. Downright CSI-late stage-decomposition rotten. Yep, it was that good. Sweet snacks, savory meals, all the favorite things I love, fully accessorized with the necessary stretchy-pants. And it was punctuated with a lot of sweet gestures by friends, as it was also a birthday week. Having fresh flowers do wonders for the soul, and there's nothing more cheer-inducing than waking up to a bouquet of tulips right in your bedroom to greet you for the day. Joy comes in many forms, and I can't thank everyone enough for sending birthday wishes and good thoughts this way. If they could put that magic in a bottle, Keith Richards would surely mainline it and burst into a glitter rainbow. 
It was relaxing to be so fully cared for. Almost startlingly so. It was probably a reminder how much of a workaholic I am, and rarely take time to just chill out. It's no wonder I was an emotional heap at the thought of getting back to work, as well as the thought of Mom heading back home -- this was days before she even left. Oy, what a baby I can be, my girly-weepyness makes myself cringe! But I'm not ashamed to say I'm close with my mom. Anyone who has a strong relationship with a family member, or even a good friend, knows this. You feel like your whole world is set upon the foundation of that relationship, and even when they're not there, you always feel supported. When they are with you, it's like you can live in that bubble forever, and when they leave, you wonder how you ever lived apart, and there's a bit of sadness. But even when they go, and you're back to phone calls and letters, that foundation is still there -- strong, stable and always present. Thank you, Mom, for being there when I needed you, especially when I am too stubborn to ask for help. Which is pretty much all the time.

For all the moms and special caregivers out there, have a very special Mother's Day, and know that you are loved beyond words.

A very happy and thankful Year of the Dragon - Thanks, Mom - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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