After spending the past week in the Bay, I have once again returned to my little suburban hometown in southern California. It's always a bittersweet journey when transitioning between the almost-too-familiar setting of my permanent residence and the increasingly-familiar-but-still-novel-and-certainly-dynamic setting of the more urbanized environment in which my sister and various friends reside; while I enjoyed my week spent with some of the dearest people in my life and am developing a growing fondness for and comfort with the general geographic location they occupy, that attachment also makes departure that much more difficult with each visit. And with another one of my close friends having just moved to Oakland (the same city that houses my sister and her boyfriend), I continue to find more incentives to travel in a northerly direction. I'm already hoping for another return trip by the end of the year.
While out of town, despite having my sister's approval for cooking in her kitchen, I primarily dined out with a friend and a few times with my sister and her boyfriend. A high proportion of restaurant dining, rather than cooking and eating in, is always to be anticipated on out-of-town excursions, considering the convenience of having food prepared by someone else and the Bay Area's particularly vegan-friendly array of eateries. I had, however, originally planned to try to cook more often during this visit--bringing along an absolutely massive summer squash my aunt generously gave me the day before departing for northern California--with the intention of eating at least a few relatively healthy meals during my stay at my sister's house, while also saving some money. The plan didn't quite work out, as I never got around to using the entire squash and still ended up spending most of my budget at various eating establishments in the vicinity. However, on the few occasions I did actually cook, the dishes were simple, each containing a handful of ingredients (whatever was on hand) and requiring only a short amount of time on the stove or in the microwave.
I could not discern the specific type of squash my aunt had given me, so based upon superficial examination, I assumed it was merely a very large, pale green, zucchini-like squash. Upon cutting into the thing, it appeared to be more eggplant-like, but with a thicker skin and white flesh that didn't oxidize upon exposure to air. I was a little perplexed by all of this, but proceeded to treat the squash as if it were indeed akin to zucchini. Inspired by Maangchi's Zucchini Pancakes (Hobakjeon) and David Lebovitz's Korean Scallion Pancakes (Pajeon), I used a hybrid version of the two recipes, using only a quarter of the mysterious squash; basically, I prepared the pancakes according to Maangchi's recipe, added green onions and red pepper threads called for in Lebovitz's recipe, and adjusted the amount of flour and water to achieve what I deemed appropriate pancake batter consistency. I also added a shredded carrot and minced garlic for extra heartiness and flavor. To cook the pancakes (it ended up making two large ones), I heated a little bit of canola oil in a large, nonstick pan, spread a layer of batter onto it, and allowed it to cook until golden brown on both sides. I wasn't too fond of the interior softness of the pancakes--the moisture from the veggies is the likely culprit--but the crisper exterior supplemented that textural issue well enough. A dipping sauce of mirin, sriracha, and shoyu was the perfect accompaniment for the mildly-seasoned snack.
Sticking to the Asian-inspired dishes that comprised the extent of my cooking while out of town, I prepared a simple tofu dish by pressing a block of extra-firm tofu, cubing it, then marinating it in a blend of shiro (white) miso, water, mirin, and sriracha. After draining and reserving the marinade, I pan-fried the tofu in a lightly oiled nonstick skillet, finishing with freshly chopped green onion.
By the end of the week, I still hadn't prepared most of the sea tangle noodles I purchased at the beginning of my trip, so I assembled a noodle dish similar to the one I made a few days prior, as a side for the tofu. This time, the sauce was composed of chunky peanut butter, some of the reserved tofu marinade, mirin, almond milk, orange juice, sriracha, and finely shredded carrot. Rather than just rinsing the noodles in warm water, I simmered them in the sauce. I added a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach, cooked them until just wilted, then tossed in chopped green onion. The sweet, savory, spicy, chunky sauce was flavorful and pretty tasty, and the texture of the noodles (like that of al dente wheat pasta) was perfect.
Because I cooked the tofu and noodles the night before departing from the Bay, I left any extras in my hosts' fridge. My sister has developed a taste for fried tofu, so I hope she'll also enjoy the leftover miso tofu. If only she and her boyfriend can find time and motivation to make something delicious from the rest of that gigantic squash!