三杯雞 Sanbeiji (Taiwanese 3-Cup Chicken)

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from TimeOutShanghai.com, actually*

from TimeOutShanghai.com, actually*

If you don’t try to blog every day, suddenly you look up and realize it’s been a week or more since you posted anything. I’m still writing for a few projects, it’s just that they are not bloggable, I suppose. That, and I’m packing everything I own into 8 boxes or fewer in order to move countries. There is that, too.

I am preparing to leave Taiwan for my next adventure in Shanghai.

One of the signature dishes in Taiwan, and one of the first that was shared with me by a local Taiwanese friend, is Sanbeiji, 三杯雞, literally 3-Cup Chicken. It takes its name as the sauce is basically 1 part soy sauce, 1 part saké, and 1 part oil– just braise the chicken and sauce it, topping it all with a ton of fresh basil. That’s basically about it, super quick and easy and thus a favorite for college students who want to not eat at the 7-11 or Family Mart that day. I’ve found it’s best with a few other ingredients to help it along, too.

SANBEIJI

1 lb. chicken pieces, thickly sliced
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (or saké with 2 tsp. sugar)
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
4 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced

Steps
1. Sear the chicken in a dry pan until you can move the chicken without it sticking.
2. Combine the sauces together then add to the pan, stirring with the chicken.
3. Cover and stew the chicken for about 8 – 10 minutes.
4. Uncover and add the ginger, garlic, basil, and scallions. Crack some black pepper over everything.
5. Continue cooking until the sauces is reduced, another 10 – 12 minutes or more. In the last few minutes, add the tomatoes for brightness and sweetness but don’t overcook them.
6. Serve the chicken and basil over white rice, removing from the stew. If desired, use a flour rou or continue reducing the sauce to thicken it and top the chicken.

So on my way out the door, here’s one more, 3-Cup, for the road…

*The picture comes from a review at TimeOutShanghai.com, a Taiwanese restaurant that has whole garlic roasted with their Sanbeiji

 

“After All”

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husky

What is the speed of thought?

How much stuff can run through a brain in any given split-second? Say, for instance, in the space of the glance that Jason Kane chanced to give Husky? That moment was small, less than the glitch you’d see if it were some video that skipped a frame, the same moment Jason’s hand was about to grip the doorknob on his way out of Penny.’s apartment.

With just a dart of the eyes, the dog was seen and was also seen as more than just “dog.” Husky, in his wolf-like frame and mismatched eyes, was also the pride and joy of Penny. The reason for the compliment when Jason first met her. The companion on his morning jogs once he moved in, the source of warmth on cold New York winters during movie night at home.

A pain in the ass because he was always so rude to everyone, barking even at the neighbors, but never to Jason.

“That’s because you’re so much alike,” Penny would say.

“Wait. ‘A pain in the ass?'”

Penny would just smirk and shrug. Husky would pant and bark approvingly.

Once, Jason was staring out the sliding glass door to the balcony. He tapped the handle of the door, and his feet bounced restlessly, too. The kind of rapid leg movement you might see from a teenager in the middle of math class. Penny laughed at him and asked if he needed to go outside for a walk.

Not too long after that, Penny caught Jason in a more melancholy mood. He was resting his head in her lap as she sat on the end of the couch near the end table. ESPN was on but he wasn’t really watching it. She was more engrossed in her reading of something from Paul Auster. For some reason, it allowed them to talk about books.

Jason remembered the one story he really liked as a kid. It was one about a boy who lived in a small towns in some rural mountain area. One day, he took in a wounded owl, a baby that was still this wild thing but needed care. So he did care for it, loved it, and had a variety of adventures with it appropriate for any such fifth grade-level novel. And of course, came that ending. The one where the owl finally left. Despite the love and the life he shared with the boy, it was just … an owl after all.

Penny put down the book and turned her full attention to Jason’s head, continuing to brushing back his hair lightly. He still looked at the brightly flashing moveable type swirling over the figures scrambling on the field, and still wasn’t really paying attention.

“That story really resonated with me somehow. One of those you really like because it’s so cool but you also really hate because you can’t get it out of your head. I guess the best praise I could give it was that, at the time, I really wanted to be like those in the story. Who wouldn’t want to own a wild owl, you know?”

Husky barked, and both laughed.

Husky barked again, and Jason took a second glance as his hand reached the doorknob. With his other hand, he shifted the duffel bag strap to adjust the heavy weight.

“Sorry, boy,” Jason told the dog. “I just realized. That story with the boy and the owl? It really affected me more than I ever thought. Now that I think about it, I *did* become like those in the story. Over and over again. But the thing is, turns out, I’m actually the owl.”

With time for another heartbeat or two of infinite thoughts, Jason finally broke his pause, turned the knob, and walked out the door.

Drunk Chicken Curry

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I don’t drink a lot of beer, and it’s never my go-to choice if I ever visit a bar or a dinner party with friends. However, there are some foods that are just so much tastier when paired with a beer. I’m not sure if it’s blasphemous or not, but for me, a beer with spicy Indian curry just makes the whole meal taste better. Sorry, purists, if that’s somehow not traditional or if it’s downright sacrilegious. Just pretend I’m talking about a British curry, and I think we’ll all be fine.

So I wondered, what would happen if you added the beer as a part of the cooking process?

Drunk Chicken Curry

1 can/12 oz. beer
2-3 chicken breasts
3-4 bay leaves
2 tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
Curry spices:
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp curry powder
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp tumeric
- 1/4 tsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp ginger powder
- 1/8 tsp star anise powder
1 can garbanzo beans
1 can tomato paste
1/4 cup plain yoghurt

Steps:
1. Steam the chicken breasts with hot water, 1/4 can of beer, and bay leaves.
2. Fry the onion in melted butter until translucent.
3. Add the garlic and curry spices, stirring constantly, for just a few seconds.
4. Add the rest of the beer and deglaze the pan if necessary.
5. Add the chicken (removing the bay leaves!) and beans, cover, and stew for about five minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
6. Add the tomato paste, stirring until well incorporated. Continue cooking uncovered, stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes or until most of the liquid is evaporated and the curry is saucy but not soupy.
7. Add the yogurt and adjust the seasoning if needed.
8. Serve over rice or with naan. As always, if you can let stand for up to an hour, the flavors will meld better.

I like to steam the chicken in my microwave steamer, as it takes less time to make the dish overall and it does seem to be flavorful without overloading on oils for frying. You can fry the chicken directly, after the onions, if you want that seared chicken taste.

The verdict overall? Well, the taste doesn’t really change that much from a “regular” curry, actually. There’s both a sweetness and a sourness, perhaps even more sourness than other curries I’ve made but it’s not overpowering. It makes the beer you drink with the curry even more tasty, though! And if you want a more vegetarian option, you can surely leave out the chicken with no problem.

Cheers!

Sketches – Disney’s Rocket Raccoon

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by Danny Wall I was hoping to have a bit more time at the end of the week to through some color on this, but I have to juggle a bit more Life Stuff than usual, so here you go:

Who’s to say that Rocket won’t be the new mascot of the Disney/Marvel collaboration, especially once The Guardians of the Galaxy hit theaters this summer?

Movie Discussion – The Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

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edgeoftomorrow_taiwan“If at first you don’t succeed, respawn, respawn, respawn.”

As an action-packed, special effects-driven, sci-fi blockbuster, The Edge of Tomorrow is pretty entertaining. It’s not as groundbreaking as it thinks it is, but neither is it outright dismissible. On a scale from “Yay!” to “Nay!”, it’s a solid “Sure!” In fact, I was prepared to not really like it, but as I will usually give any potentially mind-bending psuedophilosophical movie a shot, I trudged along inside and I was pleasantly surprised.

It’s a Fine Line Between Sci-Fi and Horror

Ever since The Twilight Zone, or heck, even the birth of the genre with things like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the best of sci-fi blends with what we expect from horror stories. In EoT, that’s true as well, with a variety of suspenseful shots, such as purposeful silence and surprises or pop-atcha moments. Interestingly, like many monster movies, it’s hard to actually get a good look at the creatures, and nothing is even hinted at in the first 15 minutes of the film, making their initial appearance more suspenceful (even if I was a bit disappointed in the design overall.)

The true horror of the film, perhaps, is the existential horror of sympathizing with the lead character as he must re-live the events of the same day over and over. If you haven’t heard, it’s Groundhog Day made into an action shoot-em-up. But whereas the Phil Connors/Bill Murray in Groundhog Day gives the audience pathos and humor and ultimately warmth and redemption, Major Cage/Tom Cruise gives us resignment, desperation, and escalating tension. I kept thinking about how horrible it would be to be trapped in this cycle, as Cage seems an intractable victim way more so than Connors ever does. In the same way, the tone just continues to spiral downward, since every sequence must end with the main character’s death, which may require shooting the hero in the head point-blank; it gets downright nihilistic (which isn’t to say it isn’t a bit darkly humorous– but it’s weird to hear an audience of movie-goers laugh when the lead gets purposefully shot in the head.)

A Truly Reluctant Hero

Of course, part of the horror of Cage’s situation is the death and destruction all around him. If Connors had to see the same people being dismembered every day on Punxsutawney’s knoll, we’d expect a much different heroic journey. But Cage is ham-fisted so forcibly into the plot of this story that it almost destroys the narrative before it can even be built. His character is literally dropped into a situation that he is not even prepared for, so much so that I thought this was going to be the “hook,” that Cage was the victim of some virtual reality and would wake up outside the matrix, so to speak. But no. In this world apparently the war is so crucial to be won that they will hijack completely untrained personnel and put them on the front lines. Perhaps K Troop was actually made up from the secretary pool that week.

What it does is to make it hard to take the main character seriously. There’s no reason to see his attempt to win the war as genuinely striving for a personal or sacrificial goal– and the end of it all he’s still just trying to get out of combat duty, even if he has to blow up the Big Bad in order to do it.

Yes, there is a little bit of camaraderie between Cruise and Blunt’s characters, which thankfully is not necessarily a romantic lead kind of interaction but is moreso a very real partnership/friendship forged by wartime. It’s a credit to the screenwriters (Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, & John-Henry Butterworth) since it stays true to the fact from the perspective of Rita Vrataski/Emily Blunt, the events she experiences are really all in the space of 24 hours or so. It’s an easy fact for the audiences to overlook, as “we” grow with Cage in his understanding of the world and of his partner, but her character has a completely different experience.

A Matter of Time

Both Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow have very limited points of views they share with the audience– there is never a sequence or scene where the point-of-view hero isn’t there. But what EoT does do that G-Day doesn’t is play around with this set up. There’s a key sequence between Cage and Vrataski in the fourth act, when the two of them share some (relatively) intimate quiet time in the field. That’s when the audience (and Vrataski) learns that we *haven’t* always been there with the hero, that Cage has actually been on many more of these time-loops, ones that we didn’t see and where the heroes still continually fail. That’s a nice narrative touch and keeps the audience on its toes.

Other sequences work beautifully because of the time-loop, such as Cage and Vratraski’s infiltration to White Hall, which is choreographed with perfect timing. It’s fun to see the heroes in control over what’s arguably a “narrative” they are already a part of, something very metatextual. And it raises the stakes immediately once the hero announces that he “doesn’t know. We’ve never made it this far before.”

Still, time travel will always have it’s share of wonky “rules” that if you think too hard about them, then it will fall apart. Did Cage “steal” the ability to reset time, or do the aliens still have the ability to do that? How does it just “go back” to the aliens once Cage or Vratraski loses it? And if the aliens reset to beginning, does it just reset with Cage getting the ability again? Maybe there are others also resetting things in this weird Moebius strip of changing and not-changing…

Audio-Visual Blitzkrieg

The sound and visuals in this movie are great. The battle scenes, especially, are more vibrant and visceral for the intensity of sound, and there is movement on almost every part of the scene.

That said, making the aliens nearly robot-like was perhaps not the best decision, as it makes them less interesting, visually. Are they robots or are they organic, since blood is a central component to the story? Look, no one wants a repeat of Starship Trooper’s swarm of bug-aliens, but we also don’t want still more Transformers. The designs are intricate and seem to involve many moving parts, but we can’t appreciate them when they are jump-cut and flash-panned so quickly that it doesn’t matter if you didn’t render the frame in postproduction. Most of the memorable horror-aliens like, well, Aliens (and Predator) still manage to get in a good close up every now and then.

So, Basically…

I guess the design doesn’t really matter, though. We’re given no real reason why the aliens are attacking (“minerals,” some pub-goer speculates) so there’s no real reason to invest wonder in these monsters. They really are just robots, after all, then. Or perhaps they’re zombies, as they simply attack with base-level ravenous instinct. Or maybe, like the original War of the Worlds, we’ll never really know, because they are, in fact, “alien” to us.

And is that the takeaway here? That we humans will be caught up doing whatever takes, over and over again, until we finally achieve our goals over whatever faceless enemy is overwhelming us? I suppose that’s affirming on one hand, but on the other, that’s a horrible slog to have to go through. So we’re back to the existential horror I mentioned before– just keep doing your daily routine, until you finally get it right and can stop doing it anymore. Yay, us!

A Father’s Day Batman Story

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brucealfred

“It’s Father’s Day, you know,” Alfred informed Bruce in the mansion’s back garden.

“And?” Bruce broke his stance to lunge at the hedge, neatly clipping but one leaf from the left side with his rapier.

“Traditionally, one does not spend the day trimming the shrubbery.”

“Hmph,” was said in his breath moved from form to form.

“You haven’t touched the gift left by Master Grayson?”

Bruce broke his stance, literally taken off guard, before recovering almost immediately, holding his sword above his head with bent arm and two fingers pointed upward with the outstretched other.

“There was no gift.”

“Well, I don’t know what else to call the brightly colored wrapped object found on the kitchen counter. I know the young lad has only been here a few months, so perhaps he doesn’t realize that you don’t regularly visit the kitchen, preferring instead the hobby of topiary.”

Snip! This time, the stance went a little deep, and a whole branch fell to the ground.

“Or perhaps,” Alfred continued in Bruce’s silence, “he means to mark the six month anniversary of the final paperwork that made him your legal ward?”

Bruce brought the hilt to his chest, ending his series of forms with a rest position. Closing his eyes, and with a deep sigh, he asked, “I suppose I should open it and thank him.”

“It would seem the appropriate course of action.”

And yet Bruce didn’t move toward the house. He sat to sheath the sword, then busied himself with a towel. “But I guess I should wait for him first? Does he want to see me open it? I don’t have to get him anything, do I? I’m not sure I know what I’m doing here.”

“I dare say.”

“The boy is my ward, I am his guardian. That’s all.”

“Bruce. There is more in that ‘all’ than you seem to understand,” Alfred said. He noticed that Bruce had knicked his left forearm during his practice, and he immediately lifted the arm to inspect it, wiping away a thin stream of sweat and blood with his thumb. Bruce flinched his arm away.

“Every day that goes by includes me questioning that decision. What made me think I could do this?”

“You mean, to take on a ward? To bring a young person into your life?”

“To be a trainer, a mentor, I can do that. I am a guardian, a protector.”

Alfred sat next to Bruce, who stared at the mansion that was his boyhood home. “What was I thinking?” Bruce asked the air, “When I saw that young boy, his parents killed right before his eyes– I just wanted to… protect him. That’s all.”

“Again with the ‘all,'” Alfred said. “Remember, I was here when you brought him home. I saw it ‘all’ in your eyes. Yes, you wanted to protect him, but not to shelter him. You wanted to help him understand the world. To equip him, to watch him grow. To help him rise above and to become something truly great.”

Bruce turned to look at Alfred and found a softly smiling face gazing back at him with warmth but stern concern.

Alfred continued, “I also remember what you said that night. You said your heart went out to the boy. Now, far be it from me to remind you that you have such an organ in the first place, but every day that goes by includes you giving your heart more and more, bit by bit.”

Bruce considered. “Do I really have a … ward?” he chuckled in spite of himself.

Alfred stood. “Not if you don’t go in there and appreciate a gift.”

Inside, young Dick Grayson was slumped back on the couch in the rec room, playing a handheld video game. He never heard his guardian enter, so when Bruce finally said “Hey,” Grayson snapped to his feet in surprise, sending the game clattering to the floor with the electronic beeps dying in decrescendo.

“S-Sir?”

“Relax,” Bruce said, although smiling did not seem to come naturally. “I just, well. Uhm. Thank you.”

With one sudden left roundhouse, his arm enfolded the boy in a mighty hug. Bruce slapped his back with the appropriate two, staccato slaps, then released. “I mean, a tie, though? Really? Still, I suppose it’s the thought that counts.”

Alfred’s voice came from the doorway as he entered, “I’m sure as you get to know each other more, that his gift next year will be more… appropriate.”

Bruce chuckled, then left to go change.

bruceanddick

Dick turned to Alfred, “What was that all about?”

“Don’t worry about it, lad. You heard the man, though, we will have to do better next year.”


See also: A Mother’s Day Superhero Story

 

Bourbon Soy Chicken & Mushrooms

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Rainy monsoon days during the weekend means trying to clean out the cupboards … which can lead to playful and interesting results.

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BOURBON SOY CHICKEN & MUSHROOMS

olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 shittake mushrooms, diced (1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp rosemary
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp 5-spice powder
2 – 3 chicken breasts, thickly sliced
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp cup black vinegar
1/4 cup bourbon

Steps
1. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add onions, until just starting to brown.
2. Add the mushrooms and continue frying until mushrooms have shrunk and browned, about 2-3 minutes
3. Add the garlic and the spices and toss for 30 seconds.
4. Add the chicken and toss, allow the chicken to sear a bit.
5. Mix the liquids together then pour over the chicken. Mix, cover and cook while the sauce is bubbling for 3-4 mintues.
6. Uncover and allow the mix to reduce for another 5 minutes or so, tossing the chicken one or two more times.
7. Serve over white rice or buttered noodles.

The whole thing is quite tasty without being too rich. It’s like a chicken marsala, really, which is just a mushroom-wine reduction, but this adds a bit of Asian flavor and is slightly more sweet. Next time I might try for more extremes, such as adding some pineapple or raisins for even more sweetness.