Real Chinese food is nearly impossible to find anywhere in the central United States. There is plenty of Americanized Chinese food around, most of it deep-fried, oily, and swimming in sticky sauce. Superbuffets overflowing with deep-fried meaty bits in sweet red sauce, weirdly soft beef bits in brown salty sauce, unidentifiable pork bits in clear salty goo, or broccoli, peas and carrots with tofu in spicy sweet-sour sauce sort of sum it up around here. No wonder the food police are out to get Chinese food—all that fried greasy saltiness is just irresistible to Americans.
Lots of people I know are texturally sensitive eaters. They won’t eat anything slimy, bouncy, gummy, gelatinous, or spongy. Even the idea of tapioca pudding gives them the shivers. I once shared a meal with a friend who, on encountering a piece of sticky, chewy beef tendon in the soup, spat it out and spent the rest of the meal miserably shuddering while I ate the remainder of her pho.
Our growing season in Kansas is brief and violent. One month we have nothing but lettuce and radishes poking up through the snow and the next we are leaving giant baby-sized zucchini on the neighbor’s porch under cover of night. Eating seasonally in this area is challenging, since for eight months we have nothing at all and for four months we have too much of everything. Summer in Kansas is a tomato-basil-cucumber-pepper avalanche. It’s fantastic for salsa lovers.
For as long as I have known how to read, I have been obsessed with cookbooks. I read them everywhere, on the plane, in bed, and of course, by the stove. My best cookbooks are dog-eared, splashed with sauce, and broken of spine. They have a scratch-and-sniff quality that I find comforting. Here are a few of the books that inspire and teach me about cooking to this day.
This is the time of the year when my thoughts turn to gardening. It’s all about what I want to eat…not so much about the actual work of planting, weeding, tending, and harvest. I pore over seed catalogs, plan, order, and fantasize. It’s really mainly about the fantasizing. I am definitely not thinking about weeding when I place my orders!
I have mentioned many times my passionate love for all Vietnamese cuisine. I love pho, banh mi, fresh spring rolls, everything. I could eat Vietnamese food every day and be perfectly happy. Whenever I need comfort food I heat to one of many favorite places and immediately feel better. I have found lately that I go to one particular place more often than any other: Little Saigon.