Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Eat to Live, Live to Eat

When I was a kid, Uncle A lived with us for a little while when he was in college studying architecture. We called him "Kau Fu". In Chinese "Kau Fu" means mother's brother. He used to pretend that he was a big monster chasing us. One time he said, "I'm so hungry, can I just eat one of your fingers?" "No!" I said, "But you have 10 fingers now. You'll still have 9 if I eat one of yours", he said while he reached his big arms to my tiny body. "I was scared and went to mom. Mom said jokingly with a smile, "Okay! I won't make dinner for kau fu, and let him die!" I protested, "I don't want Kau Fu to die!"

Even now, I still want to protest that I don't want Kau Fu to die. But I don't know whom to go to. God? Or some kind of higher power? Kau fu got diagnosed for nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC), and passed away 9 years ago, at his age of 47.

When Kau Fu went through a lengthy treatment he lost his sense of taste because of the radiation. Food to him had a whole different meaning, to pack in the most nutrients whenever he could. Afterall, it was still comforting to sit together with family to share chicken, fresh vegetables, soups, and chat about odds and ends. I cannot imagine food without taste but I guess our will to survive is so strong, especially for someone who had a wife and 2 kids, that he kept fighting. He traded his sense of taste in order to see his kids grow up, even if just for a few more years.

The week before I left to start a new job in the Bay Area, Kau Fu and Kau Mo (Chinese word for wife of mother's brother) took me to a Japanese restaurant. While we ate sushi, I was thinking to Kau Fu sushi must tasted like rubber, no flavour only texture. Despite what I thought, he was having sushi with a smile and said it tasted really good. Even though his taste buds were useless he could taste through his heart. Although I saw Kau Fu a few more times after I moved away, but I'd like to think it was my last memory of him. He had sushi with a smile and sending me off.

After I started working at an animation studio in the Bay Area, I became a good friend with a character designer, D. I learned later we both coincidentally lived a few city blocks away from each other in a suburb of Toronto in our teenage years. We actually went to the same high school and the same college. But D was always a few years ahead of me so we didn't know each other back then. What I liked about D the most was his sarcastic humour and his love for food. You know a lot about a woman by the content of her purse. You know D by what he watched on TV. He loved the Food Channel and he got me hooked on Futurama. D used to have cooking nights at his place. Each of us would make a dish in his kitchen and share it with each other. One time D and I made Peking duck from scratch. We poached the duck in a soy sauce molasses mixture for a few minutes, stuffed the cavity with ginger, orange peel and scallions and rubbed Chinese 5 spice over the skin, then we hung the duck right next to his TV with a fan close by to blow dry it for a day. A Victoria secret commercial was playing right along side the dead duck, it was quite a sight to see. It was all worth it until we saw some Chinese restaurant serving the same thing as special for $9.99.

Besides food, D also liked biking. Then biking got upgraded into motorbiking. D had a classy looking BMW F650. One day he dropped his bike and injured his back. Then slowly he developed a reoccuring cough. The doctor told him that sometimes a back injury could cause coughing. But who would think at such young age, 33, he was coughing because of lung cancer. When D was going through his treatments, he still loved his junk food, KFC, chicken wings with shake and bake, and ate mostly meat. Food became his main source of happiness. His sister made him healthy smoothies to offset his not too healthy diet but whenever D had a chance, he would get his hands on some junk food.

When D had the appetite and the energy, we cooked dinner together at his place. One of the popular dishes was Chinese poached chicken with ginger and scallion dipping sauce over rice. If it was a night we decided to have steaks, there was no compromise the way we'd liked our steaks. He cooked it the D's way; broiled in the oven till medium, served with HP sauce. I cooked it the Carmen's way; marinated with salt and pepper, or with garlic, brown sugar, and soy sauce, pan seared both sides till medium.

No matter what we did, highschool, college or career, D was always ahead of me. This time, he left this world before me. After D passed away, I looked at all of our pictures. They were mostly taken in front of restaurants, at a dinner table, or in a kitchen. He lived such a rich life; traveling, animating, designing many memorable animated characters that will live on forever. But the thing I'll remember most about D was that he loved to eat, as if he lived to eat.

We eat everyday. Eat to live, or live to eat? I'd like to think that I live to eat. The ability to taste is a gift. Ironically, there are lots of people who are perfectly healthy but do not care to taste anything, neither through the taste buds or their hearts.

Chinese Poached Chicken with Ginger and Scallion Dipping Sauce


1 4 pounds chicken
3-4 slices of ginger
2 tbsp salt

2 tbsp grated ginger
4 tbsp chopped scallion, both green and white part
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 minced garlic
1/4 tsp salt

1. Wash chicken from the inside out. Pat dry. Put chicken in a pot, breast side up, and fill it up with water to cover the entire chicken. Add salt and ginger slices. Cook chicken in low heat for 45 mins. Turn off heat and cover with lid. Let chicken soak for another 30 minutes. Rinse chicken under cold water for 1 minute. Pat dry.

2. To make dipping sauce, heat vegetable oil in a pan until medium high heat and starts to smoke. Add garlic, ginger, scallion and salt.

Rib Eye Steak (D's way)


1 rib eye steak
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

1. Preheat broiler. Grease broiling pan with vegetable oil.

2. Pat dry steak. Sprinkle 1/2 salt and pepper on both sides of steak. Broil steak for 4 -5 minutes each side for medium rare. Transfer to cutting board to rest for around 5 minutes. Serves with HP sauce.