Flavors at Home: Laska Memories, Brunch for One and an Ode to Winter's Oranges

For those who have the time and ability, shelter-in-place is about conquering kitchen fears.  (Urmila Ramakrishnan)

In light of the shelter-in-place order, many of us have resorted to cooking at home, revisiting old recipes and getting creative with our pantries. Instead of our usual Flavors Worth Finding column with recommendations from restaurants, KQED staffers are sharing the meals they’ve been making at home to find some comfort and grounding during uncertain times.

Laksa Memories

For me, Laksa symbolizes both childhood and adventure. Every summer growing up, my family and I would go to this one particular vendor in Port Dickson, Malaysia to order curry laksa in the dead of summer. Sweating from the 100-degree heat and the complex broth made from prawn heads, lemongrass, coriander, turmeric and other spices, we’d sit in the semi-outdoor cantina with a fan slowly whirring overhead and slurp up rice noodles and fish cakes until we reached the bottom of our bowls. 

I’ve never been able to find a restaurant version in the Bay Area that tasted as good as that one food stall in Malaysia. I’ve always been afraid to make it. What if I don’t get the right flavor? What if I put in all of this effort and end up defeated? It always felt too difficult and time-consuming. But now, there’s time. Curry laksa, or laksa lemak, is all about patience and slowing down. The process is as layered as its flavor. It all starts with the paste made from pungent dried shrimp, red chiles, turmeric, garlic, coriander roots and seeds, shimp paste, ginger, galangal and dried red chiles and other spices. Then, there’s the stock, made from frying shrimp heads and shells that are later strained out. It’s a series of stir, simmer, add, repeat until you finally pour in coconut cream and top your bowl with noodles, a soft-boiled egg, sambal oelek and a squeeze of lime. This soup is comfort. It’s memories. It’s joy. And now, it’s something I can proudly make at home.—Urmila Ramakrishnan, KQED Food Editor and Social Strategist

 

Though you can't be out on the town for brunch, you can turn it into an occasion at home.
Though you can't be out on the town for brunch, you can turn it into an occasion at home. (Nastia Voynovskaya)

Fancy Brunch for One

I’m sheltering in place alone at my apartment, so getting creative with food has been a way to break up the monotony. The other day I thought to myself, I should surprise myself tomorrow by making eggs for breakfast instead of oatmeal. Then the realization hit me that I can’t actually surprise myself because I’m me. Duh. So that’s been my level of boredom.

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Though it was not a surprise, I did manage to make my Sunday morning special with a brunch for one. Check it out: toast the bread of your choosing (I had some whole wheat sandwich bread handy); mash up some avocado on top. Season your avocado with a little salt and your favorite spices (Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute—which has onion, black pepper, celery seed, bay leaf and a bunch of other ingredients—is my jam). Optional: I added some feta and sprouts on top. Also recommended: a little bit of salad with a vinegar-y dressing. 

And, to my excitement, I successfully poached eggs for the first time. The trick is to heat water in a pan (I eyeballed it, just deep enough to cover the eggs) and get it to the bubbling stage right before it boils. Make sure you add some salt and a couple of splashes of white vinegar. Gently plop your eggs in there, turn down the heat to medium-low and close the lid for 4 minutes. 

Once you get your eggs on top of your souped-up avocado toast (gently!), cut into the whole thing and watch the yolk ooze. Though I can definitely improve on plating and presentation, the combination of the tart cheese, fatty and flavorful avocado and saucy yolk hit the spot and transported me to the better days of brunching out on the town.—Nastia Voynovskaya, associate editor

Spring means the last of the sweet oranges like Cara Caras and Sumos but there's plenty to do with them before they're gone.
Spring means the last of the sweet oranges like Cara Caras and Sumos but there's plenty to do with them before they're gone. (Ruth Gebreyesus)

The Last of the Sweetest Oranges

Though you can find oranges practically year round in California, the sweetest ones are born in winter. Cara Cara, its most famous, more goth cousin, the blood orange, and the delightfully easy to peel and eat Sumos are making their last appearances at farmers markets and produce sections. The bursts of Spring warmth coupled with the appearance of strawberries and blueberries at the market have moved me to buy these sweet oranges in bulk before they disappear until next Winter. I juice them in the morning. I eat them after a big meal, my family’s preferred post-meal digestive. I throw them with my sanitized hands to friends who are paying me a physically distant visit.

Last week, I decided to make a cake with them, specifically, an orange cornmeal cake with plenty of olive oil, orange juice and zest. I’d been craving Market Hall’s orange olive oil loaf when a friend shared a photo of her cornmeal orange cake. It was fate.  She sent me a Martha Stewart recipe she loosely followed and I followed suit reducing the sugar, eliminating the wine by upping the orange juice instead.  It was nice to find a recipe whose cake batter that incorporated cornmeal not depleting my pantry of the now hard-to-find all purpose flour. What came of it was an ode to the orange in cake form textured with small bits of cornmeal and moist through and through from the orange juice and olive oil.

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In this moment, where a public health crisis has disturbed the rhythms of life, it’s a wonder that the sun keeps shining, the orange trees push out their last fruits and farmworkers and farmers get them to us in one piece. It's labor always worth celebrating and these days have made it even more so true. —Ruth Gebreyesus, Food Reporter and Visual Arts Columnist

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