My parents are in town, so my diet has changed somewhat. The drawers of my formerly barren refrigerator are bursting with vegetables and bags of tofu (which seem to multiply as I look at them; I think that as I cook one type of tofu my mother comes home with two more) instead of abandoned hunks of plastic-wrapped cheese and packets of clam chowder. Oh, the vegetables. I have eaten more vegetables since my mother came home last week than I have in the four or five months since I last saw her. Or so it seems. There is Napa cabbage, to be shredded into soup or sautéed in a pan, eggplant to slice and steam in the microwave I didn't know how to use after four months of living here. This is a fun story.
When I bought my place the original kitchen counters had been replaced with thick slabs of white Corian (which, combined with the fluorescent lights, gives my kitchen the general ambiance of an operating room), and the refrigerator appeared to be relatively new, but the range and dishwasher and microwave all seem to date from about the same time, which is to say, 1981. The stove with its tilting coil (inconveniently, the largest burner) was not difficult to figure out, and the dishwasher only required the pushing of a button or two, a twist of the dial, but the microwave completely flummoxed me. It was not until my outraged father declared that not having a functioning microwave was completely unacceptable (in much the same tone as he told me failing algebra was unacceptable) that I pushed a few buttons that I hadn't known the function of, and lo and behold, I did possess a functioning microwave.
Anyway, here are the vegetables of my childhood, the baby bok choy with their pale celadon stalks sprouting deep jade leaves, with tiny buds at their hearts, which I trim and slice in half to stir-fry, the pale white limb of daikon radish (in Chinese, someone who has stocky legs is rudely referred to as having legs like daikon radishes), which I peel until I reach translucent flesh, slice it into half-moons and leave to simmer in the juices left over from pork braised with wine and soy sauce. I might slice the eggplant into quarters, lengthwise, and steam them in the newly discovered microwave. Usually I chop them into irregular chunks, sauté them with finely minced garlic and season it all with soy sauce before covering the pan to steam its seared contents.
My parents watch tv and read in the living room as I toss bean sprouts and matchstick-cut strands of dried tofu into a hot pan; I'm glad they're here, glad to be eating like a normal person and not a deranged singleton scarfing down M&Ms and a glass of milk for dinner (which has happened, not more than twice). No, that's not true; when I'm alone I make an effort more often than not. But this is a different kind of cooking, and a different way of life. I miss it, and I'm glad to have this brief time to go back to it.