How fried rice drove me insane (Part 2)

May 30th, 2010, 11:20 am PST by Kat

My mom is in town, so Greg and I went to have dinner at my Ama’s house. Inevitably the conversation turned to food, which led me to ask about my Ama’s fried rice for the 100th time. This time there were more people around, and everyone had an opinion about what went into Ama’s fried rice and how it was prepared.

Me: My fried rice still doesn’t taste like Ama’s even though I added sugar.
Aunt X: Oh yeah, of course you have to add sugar!
Aunt Y: Ama adds a little bit of sugar to everything. Didn’t you know that?
Me: *eye twitch* No, nobody tells me these things!!!
Aunt Y: Did you scramble the eggs? Ama scambles eggs and adds them in.
Aunt Z: No she adds them in raw and then they cook with the rice.
Me: She’s done both. I know. I’ve asked and tried them both. I’m okay with the egg. I need to know what else I’m doing wrong.
Pam: When we added sugar it tasted more like Ama’s rice, but the flavor faded.
Aunt Y: Oh, it’s garlic! Did you add garlic?
Me: I used garlic powder. Did Ama use fresh garlic?
Aunt Y: Yes! Ama uses fresh garlic in everything. If you use fresh garlic the flavor won’t fade.
Me: Okay, I will use fresh garlic. (see phone conversation below)
Aunt X: It will taste good if you add adobo sauce.
Me: NO! Ama’s rice is very pale. There’s no adobo sauce!
Aunt X: But it would taste good with adobo sauce!
Me: *eye twitches*
My mom: When I make fried rice…
Me: NO! I know how to make your fried rice! My fried rice IS your fried rice! I want to make AMA’s fried rice!
My mom: I know how Ama makes her fried rice. I’ve cooked with her before.
Me: Then why does your fried rice taste totally different?
My mom: Mine is the simpler version.
Me: Okay, how does she make it?
My mom and aunts combined: You cook the sausage. Set it aside. Then you can use that oil from the sausage to scramble the egg. The you chop that up and add the garlic and rice. Then salt and soy sauce and sugar, and you add the sausage back.
Me: You’re sure there’s soy sauce? Ama’s rice was very, very pale!!
Them (without my Aunt Daisy, who had left the room): Yes, yes there’s soy sauce. It’s light soy sauce.
Me: I’ve tried that – even the smallest dash turned it very, very pale brown. Ama’s rice was never brownish. *eye twitch*
Them (without my Aunt Daisy): Yes! Yes! There’s soy sauce! (see phone conversation below)
Me: That’s it, then, that’s all of the ingredients. Nothing else?!?!
Them (without my Aunt Daisy): Yes, that’s it. It’s so easy.
Me: *eye twitch*

So by then I was willing to try it again. Fresh garlic and the oil from the sausages may be the key, I thought. I was still not convinced about the soy sauce. There was no freaking way that there was soy in there – the color would be all wrong.

Later that night, I was saying goodbye to my Ama:

Me: Bye Ama.
My Aunt Daisy: Wait, you know the liquid that comes off meat when you roast it? We collect that, skim off the fat, and then freeze it. Ama puts a bit of that in.
Me: INTO THE FRIED RICE?! *eye twitches*
My Aunt Daisy: Yes. That might be the flavor you’re missing. You know, the stuff you make gravy from.
Pam (who had just walked into the room): What gravy?
Me: *eye twitch* Ama adds roasted meat drippings – you know, the stuff you make gravy from.
Pam: TO FRIED RICE?!
Me: YES! *eye twitches*
Pam: Crap, we don’t have that!

The whole time my Ama is sitting there smiling all cute and nodding her head yes.

The drippings from roasted meats.  They may or may not be an essential ingredient of my Ama’s fried rice. I say may or may not because sometimes she puts it in, and sometimes she doesn’t. *eye twitch* Apparently my family does not want me to learn how to make this damned fried rice. After 5 years of being assured “yes you have all of the ingredients”, a couple of months ago I was told there was a little bit of sugar. Then from the above conversations that there is also fresh garlic. And now meat drippings!?! The problem: too many people think they know what is in the rice, and they don’t.

The entire way home, in between eye twitches, I must have been muttering “garlic”, “sugar”, “chicken juice?!” because Greg was laughing the entire drive home. Surely, this must be the end to the story, right? If you think that, you don’t know my family.

When I got home, I called my Ama’s house to ask what brand of Chinese sausage they buy (it’s Wing Wing). I’m not taking any chances this time. I have to roast a chicken to make this right – I’m not buying the wrong kind of sausage and have that be the problem!

Aunt Daisy (who had left the room when others said that my Ama used soy sauce and fresh garlic): You know, Ama never used garlic in her fried rice.
Me: Are you sure?!?! *eye twitch*
A. Daisy: Yes, the last few years that she made it, I was the one helping her make the fried rice.
Me: Okay, so no garlic at all?
A. Daisy: No garlic at all. But she did marinade the meat with garlic before she roasted it. You know the marinage recipe, right?
Me: YES! I do know the marinade recipe! She only has one, right?
A. Daisy: Yes, there’s only one marinade. Oh, and she never used soy sauce in her fried rice.
Me: YES! I knew it! Are you totally sure?
A. Daisy: Yes, there was never soy sauce.
Me: Okay, how much of the drippings? (for reference, my Ama often cooked for 10+ people daily, making enough food to have an additional leftover meal – for all 10 people!)
A. Daisy: I don’t know, a bit.
Me: *eye twitch* Okay, that’s fine. I’ll figure it out. So if I cook the sausage, use the sausage oil to scramble the eggs, chop up the eggs in the pan and then add the rice, “a bit” of the meat drippings, salt and sugar, and no soy sauce or garlic, I should get Ama’s fried rice?! *eye twitch* *eye twitch* *eye twitch*
A. Daisy: Maybe…

So today I have chicken defrosting in my fridge. I have to marinade it overnight in THE marinade. Tomorrow I will roast the chicken and collect the drippings and skim off the fat. I also have to go out and buy the sausage today (My Aunt Daisy phoned me back 30 minutes after the above phone conversation to say that they were on sale at Superstore this week for $3 something. My entire family knows all of the weekly grocery sale prices every single week, but they have no clue what goes into fried rice!!! *eye twitch*) On Tuesday Pam, Greg and I will try this again. Seriously, in the fall it’ll be 6 years. 6 years!!! *eye twitch*

The saga continues… *eye twitch* *eye twitch* *eye twitch* *eye twitch*

How fried rice drove me insane (Part 1)

May 29th, 2010, 10:32 pm PST by Kat

For the last ~5+ years I have been attempting to make fried rice. Not just any fried rice though, my Ama’s fried rice. I have wonderful memories of visiting Vancouver in the summer and for Christmas and having my Ama’s fried rice for dinner, usually with an accompanying soup of some sort. The combination of my Ama’s fried rice and black (seaweed) soup would be one of my top picks for a “last meal”. My Ama is in a wheelchair now and doesn’t cook anymore. So, if I ever want to have this dish again, I figured I should learn how to make it. If you look at the fried rice, it looks pretty plain: slightly yellow rice, often with (but not always) thin slices of Chinese sausage. “How hard could it be?” I thought. 5 years later I am no closer to the correct recipe than I was when I started, and I now have the urge to kill my entire family.

To really understand my pain, we have to go back to the beginning of my epic rice journey. I started out making fried rice the way my mom makes it with oil, rice. egg, garlic powder and mixed frozen vegetables, and sometimes shrimp. My mom didn’t use the Chinese sausage because I don’t actually like it. When I took out the vegetables, it still didn’t taste the same as Ama’s rice (when there wasn’t any sausage in it). I figured I’d just ask my Ama, and she’d tell me how she made the rice, and all would be yummy. I didn’t asking her in the beginning because in the past she always said that she didn’t measure anything – she just cooked, so she couldn’t tell me how much of anything she put in. Fine. Whatever, just tell me WHAT is in it, and I can play around with it. At this point every family member pipes in with totally random things that my Ama may or may not have ever used in her fried rice at one point or another: egg, Chinese sausage, shrimp, pork, adobo sauce, soy sauce, salt, etc. etc. the list goes on. I tried to clarify that I just wanted the ingredients for her simple fried rice: the yellow rice with or without sausage – that’s it. It was like yelling into the wind. “You need shrimp!” “She used light soy sauce.” “She never used soy sauce, she only used salt.”

So, I went away and tried again on my own with no more knowledge that I had before. But whatever, I persevered. I learned to ask specific questions:

Me: Ama, did you use MSG, salt or soy sauce?
Ama: Yes.
Me: All three together?
Ama: No.
*silence*
Me: *deep breath* Which one?
Ama: I used to use MSG, but that was a long time ago.
Me: So recently did you use salt or soy sauce or both?
Ama: Yes.
Me: You used both together?
Ama: Yes.
Me: [thinking we’re making progress] Okay, but how is it that your rice is really pale yellow? If I used soy sauce, my rice turns brown-ish.
Ama: I used light soy sauce.
Me: So did I. How much did you use?
Ama: *smiles*

I don’t think she used soy sauce. There’s no freaking way. Even the slightest dash of light soy sauce turns the rice a light brown. Damn you old woman!

Me: Okay, how about the egg.
Aunt X: She scrambles eggs and then cuts them up into small pieces and adds those to the rice.
Aunt Y: She adds raw egg to the rice and it cooks as the rice was frying.
Aunt X: You should add pork or shrimp. Do you have shrimp?
Aunt Z: Or adobo sauce! It tastes good with adobo sauce!
Me: No! I’m asking about eggs!! Ama, did you cook the egg with the rice or add cooked egg to the rice?
Ama: Yes.
Me: You’ve done both at different times or together?
Ama: I used to put it in raw, but then I started cooking it first and adding cooked egg to the rice.
Aunt X: Yes, adobo sauce is good.
Me: *eye twitches*

Now imagine 1-2 conversations like this every year, and you can begin to feel my pain. Honestly, I’m not sure how we’ve talked about this dish so many times and yet I still can’t seem to make it. It should be so simple: yellowish (from the egg) rice with or without small pieces of egg (yes, I remember both versions), without or without Chinese sausage! What the hell?!

Reality started to sink in a couple of months ago. My cousin Pam was over for dinner, and I was trying to make Ama’s f*$&ing fried rice. We called Ama’s house again, and had a conversation fairly similar to the ones above. After the fried rice was cooked, we called back and told them exactly what we put in.

Ama: You need to put in sugar.
Me and Pam: WHAT?! Sugar?!

My Ama puts a little bit of sugar in a lot of stuff, so I wasn’t that surprised. What was aggravating was the fact that nobody in the last 5 years ever bothered to mention the sugar.

Me and Pam: How much? We started with 3 cups of uncooked rice.
Ama: A little bit.
[For reference, my Ama used to cook for ~10 people every day and still had enough food for a leftover meal for all 10 people! We needed to know how much to scale this down.]
Me and Pam: A tablespoon?
Ama: No! Too much! Just a little.

We put in a pinch. Didn’t taste any different. We put in a tablespoon. It tasted a little more like what we remembered. YAY!

However, I was still doing something wrong because the addition of sugar, while making my fried rice better, didn’t make it my Ama’s fried rice.

The events of Saturday, May 29th, 2010, as they pertain to my epic fried rice journey will be Part 2 of “How fried rice drove me insane.”

How to not attend a lecture

May 28th, 2010, 12:06 am PST by Greg

I teach at a university. That comes with certain parameters: most of my students are in their late teens or early twenties, the average student is reasonably bright but occasionally unmotivated, and I don’t really have any way to compel students to come to lectures.

I do my best to give interesting, informative, and entertaining lectures. I’m successful enough that most students come most of the time, and that’s awesome.

Sometimes students don’t come to lecture. They don’t need a good reason, and they don’t have to tell me about it. I’m okay with that too: part of being at university is being responsible about that kind of thing and I’m happy to assume that whatever reason they have is a good one.

But what really annoys me is when students feel the need to email me, tell me the stupid reason they didn’t come to lecture, and then ask me to tell them what I covered.

I already spent an hour (or three hours) of my time giving the lecture and they had an opportunity to attend. I put a great deal of time and effort into explaining the material in the best way I can and pointing out the things that I think are important. I did all of this because I think I can actually do a decent job of getting material across in the lecture format and I think the material I’m talking about is important.

These emails leave me with two choices: (1) reduce a carefully-prepared lecture to a pointless list of topics and thus implying that I might as well have read them the textbook, or (2) spending another hour repeating the lecture in email form. Neither one of those is very attractive, but there’s also the third option that I have started to avail myself of: telling the students to shove off.

I’ll say here what I said to my CMPT 165 class last semester: if you miss a lecture, you ask a friend in the class for their notes. If you don’t have a friend in the class, ask the person sitting beside you; if at all possible, try to do this when you are sitting beside someone who you find attractive and offer to buy them coffee in return.

Seriously… do I have to explain everything?

cf. entitlement generation.