My mom doesn’t drink alcohol so I can’t toast her with champagne love this coming Sunday, when we celebrate Mother’s Day in the United States. However, she cooks. A lot. She inspired my learning and work in the kitchen. Every year, I pause to think of how my mom has impacted what I do in the kitchen. How I cook, create, and eat.
You may have remembered last year’s homage to Me (Vietnamese for mom, pronounced “meh”) in which I revealed her kitchen quirks. A number of people divulged that their moms were like mine, doing strange things such as covering their kitchen counters with plastic. For 2010, I’m focusing on Me’s obsession with using the ice cream scoop and industrial-size cooking projects.
We never had ice cream scoops in Vietnam. But when we came here, my mom discovered the ice cream scoop. She got one to scoop up portions of one of her favorite American discoveries – Thrifty’s pineapple and coconut ice cream. Then she discovered that the scoop was a great cooking tool for evenly portioning sticky rice flour dough for Vietnamese specialties such as banh gio rice pyramid dumplings.
And when she engaged in industrial quantity cooking, which seems like quite often from all the cooking chores I was given, she reached for an ice cream scoop. The scoop allowed her to quickly distribute ingredients. The photos above show her prepping French coquille Saint Jacques (scallops in cream sauce). With the ice cream scoop, she is facile with her fingers, able to fly through cooking repetitious cooking steps without minimum minimal messiness.
Which brings me to why she scoops so much. Her obsession with using the ice cream scoop is related to a desire for industrial cooking. Why cook for a village when you’re just feeding a family?
A lot of old world cooks like to tackle big cooking projects. They’re undaunted by Costco-quantity cooking. They buy storage containers at Costco so they can pack up and store all the food they make. Perhaps it is because they can feed and shower a crowd with culinary love. Or, they are used to banking their culinary efforts. ‘Putting food up’ by canning, drying, or freezing is routine.
For my mom, industrial cooking winds down to this: She finds a deal on an ingredient and buys big time. Most recently, she and my dad bought 102 pounds of over-the-hill bananas from a Turkish market in Mission Viejo, a town near where they live.
“They were really good bananas, just slightly bruised here and there,” she said. “These Turkish people know how to find cheap fruit at the Los Angeles produce market. They bring it to their store and we benefit! They have better stuff and lower prices than the Asian markets.”
You must understand that when I was young, my parents scoured American supermarkets for bags of cheap bananas – old, black-spotted ones. I was embarrassed at their frugality but my misgivings melted away at the first bite of Vietnamese banana bread (banh chuoi) made from those bananas. (Our family recipe is in the “Sweets” chapter of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen; see page 292.) Nowadays, supermarkets don’t sell those spent bananas so my parents hunt them down at ethnic markets.
She spent days dispensing with the bananas, dehydrating 80 pounds of them. Her yield was 14 pounds of chewy, intensely sweet bananas. (My mom makes careful notes of her industrial food experiments. That’s how she remembers that she purchased 102 pounds of bananas.) My mom owns 2 electric dehydrators, purchased at bargain prices at local yard sales, of course. She sent a box to Wisconsin to Mr. McMahon, an old friend of my father’s. (Her tip for mailing food: Stuff as much as you can in a post office priority mail envelope. The price is the same!)
With the remaining 22 pounds of bananas, she made the Vietnamese banana cake. “It’s basically mostly bananas and is so healthy, Dad and I eat it for breakfast,” Mom said. “Would you like some to take home?”
We were traveling and didn’t have space to take her banh chuoi with us. My sister, Tasha, a busy corporate attorney and mom, took a bite and said, “I’ll take it!”
That’s my mom’s way of spreading good food love. Find a deal, make a bunch of food, then gift it to others. We can all learn lots from that.
What kinds of cooking obsessions does your mom have? Oh, do tell!