Thursday, April 08, 2010

basket case

ok, so instead of giving you all the latest pictures of views from my desk -and there are a lot of them, since the fog is burning off and i've been taking pictures all morning- i think i threatened to write about last week's picnic baskets.

see, i have a lot of friends who are artists. and i was with one of them out in her studio recently and i was thinking about some things i've heard artists say about the basket lunches at the macdowell colony and i thought it would be a brilliant idea to make some picnic lunches and bring them to my artist friends when they're working.

and i have this friend who's trying really hard to do a lot of work in a hurry for a showing that's about six weeks away and she's kind of stressed about it. so when she said she was going to retreat to her workroom for a few days, i thought: basket time!

one thing you need to know about me, a thing you might already have guessed, is that one thing i can do (and there are a lot of things i can't do) is pack a picnic lunch. if you're ever road tripping with me, you would be smart to let me handle a lot of the refreshments.

and this artist friend of mine would have been happy enough (all right, overjoyed and overwhelmed) with a nice sandwich, but for the kind of money i'd spend on really nice cold cuts and a few amenities, i could "whip up a little something" that not only would give her several meals, but myself as well.

granted, it's time intensive, but one thing i have a lot of is time and if a thing is worth doing, it's worth overdoing.

one really great thing about chinese cooking is that a lot of the prep can be done way ahead of time, and aside from dishes that must be served NOW, fresh, there are a bazillion little side dishes and picnic foods that are simple to make (if you've got time, see above) and keep well for several days under refrigeration.

and they're only properly served as a collection of little dishes and not, say,  a big bowl of radishes, so when you make them, you have to make a lot of them, even if you're only serving up small portions of each thing. that's where the festivity is: the riot of tastes and colors and textures.

so i got to work.

if you can't follow the sequence of foods in the slideshow, bear in mind that in order to bring all the dishes off at once, there's a considerable amount of multitasking that needs to be done.


start three days ahead of time.

cut the cabbage and salt it, leaving it in the bowl overnight. same with the radishes.
partway peel and slice cucumber, salt it, and set it aside. salting may or may not include sugar. it's a verb.
cut the carrots, and simmer them for hours in that lovely rich master sauce that just happens to be around.
drain cabbage. squeeeeze out as much water as possible!
add the remaining ingredients to the cabbage, put it in a sealed container, and set it aside.
make radish seasoning. set it aside to develop.
unpack and drain tofu. it needs to be pressed before it goes in the soup.
add seasoning to radishes. seal them and set them aside in with the cabbage, in the fridge.
remove carrots from sauce. put 'em away. you know, in the fridge.
strain sauce.
turn right around and simmer the mushrooms in the sauce. let them steep a loooooong time.
squeeze the excess water out of the cucumber slices. sauce them. put them away.
boil and cool eggs.
periodically return to the fridge and toss any dish sitting in a sauce to distribute the liquid evenly.
put the mushrooms away, strain the sauce, and return that to the freezer. you can use it again later.
crack eggshells; let eggs simmer three hours in tea mixture.
make the sesame peanut sauce. put it away to develop overnight.
make two kinds of custard (detailed elsewhere). let it set overnight in the fridge.
put tea eggs away to steep. eighteen hours, two days. whatever.
it's time to get going on the soup!
soak daylilly blooms
cut tofu, mushrooms, cabbage, whatever's going in.
soup is a process; some things go in sooner than others, but they all go in.
beat eggs, cut green onion (these are added to the soup last)
cook noodles. still warm, they go under the peanut sesame sauce.
assemble bean buns.
pack the cold dishes for transport.
simultaneously put the finishing touches on the soup and steam the buns.
pack it all up and out the door with you!


hot and sour cabbage
soy-dipped radish fans
salt cucumbers
carnelian carrot coins
master sauce mushrooms

peanut-sesame noodles
marbleized tea eggs

hot and sour soup

steamed red bean buns
banana custard with carmelized molasses sauce
dark chocolate coconut custard

black lichee tea


Jay said...

Wow! Usually when I do a picnic I just make PB&J sandwiches and take a bag of Doritos. And a couple of beers. ;-)

flask said...

jay, darlin', anytime you're out here, i'll make you a proper lunch.


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