新年快乐！Happy Chinese New Year! Today marks the beginning of the year of the horse. Having spent the last several years in China, I am desperately craving all the treats that normally mark this occasion, especially the assortment of candied fruits sweet enough to make your teeth ache.
Returning to the U.S. and returning to cooking and eating American cuisine has been a struggle. When it’s cold, all I crave is 担担面 (dandan noodles), a plate of steaming 饺子 (jiaozi – or potstickers), or 乾煸四季豆 (dry-fried string beans) from my favorite Northern Chinese restaurant. After a long week, I want nothing more than to while away my Friday night at 小肥羊, eating hot pot accompanied by bottle after bottle of cheap Chinese beer with my nearest and dearest.
When I feel lonesome or sick, I crave 番茄鸡蛋 (fried eggs and tomatoes), which I ate the first night I arrived in China, and in almost every city I visited, not only because the regional variations were fascinating, but because it reminded me why I went. In times of boredom, I have the urge to mindlessly snack upon pickled plums, crispy Chinese fish, or decadent Beijing duck. And when my throat starts feeling scratchy, I instantly make a cup of hot pomelo tea.
And now, in the bone-chilling cold of my first Chicago winter in several years, I think of a vacation to escape this cold. Of a trip to my friend Rebecca’s farm in Yangshuo. Of the strawberries, pomelos, and oranges fresh from her family’s farm. Of spicy 桂林啤酒鱼 (Guilin beer fish), capable of heating one’s innards to near inferno level.
Every person and place I remember is tied to a memory of a culinary adventure or mis-adventure, I had the great fortune of embarking upon. The downside of having the loveliest memories of fascinating friends, unique places, and deliciously unidentifiable food, is that I am stuck in a rut. It seems I have forgotten how to cook most foods that would appeal to an American palate. Except maybe bacon – who could forget how to make that?
However, I am in no way alone. This weather encourages us all to carry on in the rut we are accustomed to. Given the cold weather, short days, and general weariness winter inspires, it seems logical to return home after a long day and eat something frozen, premade, ordered out, etc., and hibernate. While it may be easy, giving in to our natural inclinations is rarely beneficial or healthy. Instead of spending a cozy night on the couch, spend a cozy night in one of The Chopping Block’s kitchens, drinking wine and expanding your cooking horizons. Meaning, if you’re a pasta connoisseur, mix it up and try something different. If you missed making your cooking resolutions come to fruition after New Year’s, today marks the start of your second New Year’s chance.
What would break you out of your rut? What sort of food intimidates you? Fascinates you? Confuses you? That’s exactly the kind of food you should be cooking.