Sunday, September 6, 2009

Here's something I never do on this blog...

First, a tip of the, that's not quite right.

A tip of the, that's Bill Griffith's thing.

A tip of the hat to Sandra Seamans for mentioning "Jook And The Moth" in her post-

It's about trying to capture the flavor of a favorite dish cooked by someone else, in this case, his grandmother. I mentioned in the comments that I gave my sons recipes and he asked if I included all the ingredients or if I held back that one secret item that made it special. Which, of course, got me thinking about writing. Don't worry, my mind always takes side-trips that aren't always logical.

When I pass along recipes, I always copy the recipe from the original source, cookbook, newspaper clipping or magazine recipe. But the truth is, over the years of using these recipes, I do tweak them, adding extra sugar, using butter instead of margarine or shortening, little things I don't even think about when passing along a recipe. So what does this have to do with writing short stories?

There is a basic recipe for writing short stories. They all have a beginning, middle and end. Each genre also has its own little quirks that need to be followed for their basic recipe. It's how we tweak these ingredients both in the basic outline and within the genre that makes the difference, that gives our own "flavor" to a story. And if we're lucky, our story will be flavored with the ingredients of our lives that will make it different from other writer's stories. We want, and need, our stories to be like homemade soup not the Campbell's variety.

Next, I promised Pyzahn the recipe and I never talk about food over here, because I do that at Cormac Travels. Now, there are several recipes on the web, but I feel the one that I found that Shirley Fong-Torres gave Cooking Light, captures it best. Here is-


Creamy, slightly salty, and thick like porridge, jook is a popular Chinese breakfast. "Rice congee is comfort food with a capital 'C,'" Fong-Torres says. "It is one of my favorites--great when the weather is cold." Make a pot of congee, and set out bowls of condiments (chopped onions, parsley, ginger, and soy sauce) so diners can season to taste.

6 servings (serving size: about 1 cup)


9 cups water
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
2 teaspoons salt
1 fresh turkey wing (about 1 pound)
1 (1/2-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger (about 1/4 ounce)

Chopped green onions (optional)
Minced fresh parsley (optional)
Julienne-cut peeled fresh ginger (optional)
Low-sodium soy sauce (optional)

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large Dutch oven, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat, and cook 1 1/2 hours or until soup has a creamy consistency, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; keep warm.

Discard ginger piece. Remove turkey from soup; place on a cutting board or work surface. Cool 10 minutes. Remove skin from turkey; discard. Remove meat from bones; discard bones. Chop meat into bite-sized pieces, and stir meat into soup. Divide soup evenly among 6 bowls; garnish with green onions, parsley, julienne-cut ginger, and soy sauce, if desired.

Nobody on my maternal side of the family calls it "congee," but we are of Cantonese-Hakka descent and to compare our food to Hong Kong-style cuisine, can be like Manhattan Vs. Boston with those clam chowders. There is obviously some overlap, but different regions use different ingredients. Add the Hawaiian element as we tend to do, and virtually nothing we eat is 100% traditional.

I know for a fact that my grandmother used more rice than this recipe suggests, she like to make it thicker than what you get in restaurants in San Francisco. She also used the leftover Thanksgiving turkey, or one that was for a special Sunday dinner. This gave it the flavor that most restaurants lack, as they don't have the time or inclination to create a quasi-stock base.

She used enough ginger that you would know it was there, but it wouldn't overpower it. While this eaten year-round in San Francisco, you might want to wait until it gets a little cooler to try this in your neck of the woods, as the cooking process can really heat up the kitchen.



lakeviewer said...

Cormac, I didn't know that you wrote up recipes for your readers. And this one looks simple enough. I love Chinese food, but I'm intimidated by its special spices and ingredients. This is doable!

Cormac Brown said...


I usually don't and I rarely bring up food on this blog. It is simple and you shouldn't be intimidated by Chinese food. The majority of the difficulty and technique has to do with the prep work and not the cooking itself.