Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why Do We Cook? (Plus a recipe for Chinese Tea Eggs)

This summer was long.   The days were hot and filled with activity.  There were highs and lows in both life and temperature.  100+ degrees outside.  Gorgeous mornings for running along the Hudson.  Hurricanes.  Rainbows.  Hail.  My daughter gained a sense of confidence when it comes to sports (something I've yet to manage).  We spent time with friends filled with food and fun. We were lucky to be able to spend another vacation on the Cape. 

But the lowest of the lows came when my father had a health scare which sent him to the hospital and me on the next plane out of town to play my least favorite recurring role:  The Daughter From New York (TDFNY).  Medical professionals in Florida who deal with patients of a certain age dread TDFNY.  She sweeps in (generally wearing all black).  She takes control.  She demands attention.  She asks pointed questions.  She challenges.  She subtly provokes.   In other words, TDFNY gets shit done.  Luckily this was just a temporary hospital stay and my father was home within 48 hours.  I got the chance to spend some quality time alone with my parents without the associated responsibilities of a husband and a daughter.  Refreshing lemonade out of what could have been some extremely sour lemons.  

So what did I do?  I cooked.  And cooked.  And then I cooked some more.  Watermelon and cucumber salad with feta, mint and lime.  Grandma's brisket with homemade mashed potatoes.  Bite sized chocolate chip cookies.  Biscotti with toffee and chocolate.  Fluffy omelets.  Homemade hot fudge sauce for ice cream.  Baked ziti with garlic bread.  I can't fix what ails my father.  I can't make it better for him or my mother.  I can't be there every day.  And I agonize over what I can't do.  But while I am there I can make sure they are nourished by my food and my love. 

Ever since that trip I've been thinking a lot about why we cook.  There are the obvious reasons:  we need to eat; it's healthier and less expensive than dining out, etc.  But for those of us who love to cook it goes much deeper.  For me I can show someone how much I love them by cooking their favorite dish.  I can make their day a little brighter with a small treat.  I can make them feel taken care of and tended to for even just a little while.   And it's also a little selfish.  I relish nothing more than seeing someone enjoy something I've made for them.  Everybody wins.

This past weekend a dear old friend and her mother came to visit me.  They were in town to mark the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  On that day they lost a firefighter brother and son when the South Tower collapsed.   Their resilience amazes me.  And while I couldn't take away their pain, the sense of loss and their sadness there was something I could do:  I could open my home to them.

 And cook.

My Mother-In-Law's Tea Eggs
Yield - 1 dozen

My mother-in-law is an amazing Chinese cook.  Born in China and raised both there and in Taiwan before coming to the United States in her 20s she has a mind-boggling command of Asian technique.  These eggs were a favorite in my husband's home when he was growing up.  I don't recall the first time I ate them but I do remember my sense of awe at how 3 simple ingredients could transform a hard-boiled egg into something so resplendent.  

1 dozen eggs, rinsed
Enough water to cover the eggs in a heavy bottomed pot
2-3 tea bags (plain old black tea will do - I prefer loose leaf teas and usually use oolong)
3 star anise
1 cup soy sauce

  1. Place the eggs in a heavy bottomed pan and cover with cold water by an inch.
  2. Bring the water to a boil.
  3. Cover the pot and remove from the heat.  Allow the eggs to sit in the covered pot of hot water for 8 minutes.
  4. Remove the eggs from the pot and set aside.  Measure out about 1 cup of the hot water and discard.
  5. Add in the teabags, the star anise and the soy sauce.  Allow the mixture to steep.
  6. Carefully roll the eggs to crack the shells all over but do NOT peel them.
  7. Return the eggs to the water/tea/anise/soy mixture and allow the eggs to steep in the mixture for 30 minutes while it cools.
  8. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
  9. When you are ready to eat an egg simply remove it from the liquid and peel it.   You will delight in the gorgeous marbling that has taken place.
The eggs will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.


DLee said...

Melissa, your writings make me laugh out loud,
and yet, are simply touching. I'm inspired.
And how UNselfish of you to post a recipe
for Chinese tea eggs- a longtime favorite of
husband's too.
-Donna (am i supposed to sign a blog post?)
ugh. i'm old.)

Melissa said...

Thanks, Donna! Let me know if you make them.