Life is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days

If you like nuggets of information presented to you in the form of daily entries for a good whole year, this might be wonderful for you. This book contains culinary wisdom, history, recipes, literacy pleasures and the authors’ own memories of successes and catastrophes.

Of course, you don’t have to read an entry per day for that will take you 365 days to complete the book. Instead, you could take a day or two, have a cuppa before you and savour the information that will delight your mind. I went ‘ohhh’, ‘ahhh’ and ‘I-see’ with the knowledge I have discovered and as the title of the book suggests, they are all related to the culinary arts.

Let me highlight one person who is mentioned in this book and who has made quite an impact on many chefs, especially in the US. While Julia Child and James Beard are worth mentioning, I am devoting this space to Alice Waters.

Alice Waters grew up in New Jersey where she “never tasted a perfectly ripe tomato.” On a trip to France in her early twenties, she experienced for the first time food straight from the garden or farm, simply prepared and eaten at rustic country tables. It changed her life.

She adopted that cooking style as her own, and the friends who gathered at her house in Berkeley often urged her to open a restaurant. The result was Chez Panisse, which opened its door in 1971.

Over the years, her enthusiasm, energyand insistence on perfection changed the face of American dining, first at her own restaurant and then through the chefs who worked with her, adopted her creed, and opened their own restaurants across the country.

An early advocate of organic food, she developed a network of more than sixty farmers and ranchers who supply ingredients to Chez Panisse. She has even created a special position at the restaurant, the forager, whose job is to make the rounds of suppliers and to seek out new ones. Rather than deciding on what will be served and then shopping for the food, the menu is determined each day based on the best ingredients that have been found.

She believes people need to renew a lost connection to the land. Of the few projects she is involved in, there is the Edible Schoolyard, started by her, where kids grow, harvest, cook, and eat their own food. She believes in starting early to teach children not only the wisdom but also the pleasures of eating healthful food. How cool is that!

Her beliefs led me to think about my role and belief in the kitchen. While it is important for me to be prudent in my expenditure, I hope not to do it at the expense of our health. Good food comes from good ingredients – that is a belief I want to hold on to. However, I do see myself compromising when I give in to saving on those costs…and then realise that in the long haul, I may be losing more.

Food for thought.

The Kueh Lapis Legit Experience

I need to manage your expectations.

This is not a successful Kueh Lapis attempt. Of the four elements – appearance, taste, smell and feel – it has failed in its appearance.

This is the third set of CNY goodies that I’m attempting, knowing how difficult it can be since Mel, a good friend has warned me about her failed attempt too. It could be rather discouraging having to throw away the concoction of 20 egg yolks (and you need to find other means to get rid of the egg whites), a whole box of unsalted butter, prunes, mixed spice, brandy and above all, not forgetting the hours you put in front of the oven, checking  every 7 minutes and having your face steamed (don’t get burnt!).

This is massive work. Failure will cause your heart to drop, for a while, and turn your most beautiful day into a storm. Be warned.

I woke up with full enthusiasm to attempt this traditional Indonesian layer spice cake. There were a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is a very challenging cake but I feel it is stil achieveable and secondly, Ken’s Peranakan aunties know how to make Kueh Lapis and I want to make sure I could do so before I return (in a bid to be a good wife to a Baba or maybe I want to be better = competitive. Hah!). As a good student, I did all the research and read up on the various recipes offered on the Internet.

Now, the practical aspect came in. And you know what? I had everything mise en place until I realised I bought the wrong mixed/all spice. @#$%^&. The dear hubs who had just woken up, was kind enough to offer to help me buy while I continue the preparation. How sweet of him!

The first part of mixing the ingredients went well and I was confident it would turn out fine but I had underestimated the true test of making Kueh Lapis Legit – grilling each layer until it turns a nice brown on the top. To be totally honest with you, I have this little fear of grilling or broiling ever since the bak kwa experience. It’s a method I have never used and being unsuccessful and dramatic on my first attempt at the method was good enough to destroy any confidence I have in the kitchen.

So, yes, I failed at the grilling again. How frustrating! The taste was there all right but it didn’t appear to be the Kueh Kapis Legit that I had in my mind. If you observe the closed-up picture of the cake, you would realise that each layer does not have the distinct golden-brown that it should have. A pity!

So, with that, I declare it a failure. It is fit for the stomach, nonetheless, just that it could not be presented as gifts to others. I guess I would try the second time but this, not until we could finish what we have now!

So, what do you do with 16 egg whites with the baking of Kueh Lapis Legit. Every attempt at this cake would require you to consider what other desert/pastry you need to bake in order to use up the remaining lonely egg whites. Well, you could make Italian meringue which you could store in the fridge until you want to use it or you could do Macarons or perhaps, Angel Food Cake.

 

I wanted to do macarons but realised I did not have the ground almond which is an essential for the pastry so it’s Angel Food Cake ( which uses 10 egg whites!) for me.

On Eggs
Nearly perfect in both nutrition and form, the egg is the food against which all others can be measured for efficiency. Loaded with protein, one egg contains about seventy-five calories, as well as all the amino acids; vitamins A, B, D, and E; and most of the minerals, including iron, essential for human life.

The colour of the shell and of the yolk have no bearing on the taste, nor is a white or brown shell or a dark or pale any indication of an egg being more “natural.” What can make a difference to its taste is what the hen eats.

Eggs should be stored unwashed with the narrow end down in the least cold part of the refrigerator. Generally, they’ll last for a month. Refrigerated raw egg whites keep for up to twelve hours; a yolk for twenty-four hours.

The white of the egg, or albumen, contains no cholesterol or fat. The yolk, which makes up about a third of the weight, has both.

Weight of the parts of an egg (for baking reference):
In shell – 57g
Without shell – 50g
Egg white – 30g
Egg yolk – 18 g

Reference: Life is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days by James and Kay Salter