I’m not quite sure why I’m writing about my supper of roasted potatoes, but I will.
I wasn’t feeling well today. I really didn’t feel like making my daily trip to the market to purchase fresh food for supper. I surveyed the contents of our kitchen, and I noticed that, for once, we have all the ingredients to make really good stuffed spuds. I had found and purchased eight Idaho-type baking potatoes last week. Then, over the weekend, David found some sour cream in the foreign market and bought two containers. Plus we have butter, shredded cheese, sweet peppers of various colors, some onion, some tomato, and some hormel brand sandwich meat ham slices that I can cut up. It’s sounding pretty good!
I always cook supper myself. Our family is pretty messy, and we keep Song Ying plenty busy just doing laundry and ordinary cleaning (there is no clothes dryer, no dish washer, etc).
But since I wasn’t feeling well, and since she had some extra time, Song Ying offered to wash the potatoes for me. Although there are only three of us home (since C is on a Habitat trip), I always bake extra potatoes and use them leftover for hash browns and things. Great idea. I tell her I want to cook them all. And while she’s at it, I tell her, it would be great if she could cut up the vegetables. There is a half each of a red pepper, a yellow pepper, and a green pepper, half an onion, and one tomato. We agree that she will dice them small. I explain in Chinese that I put the veggies on top of the potatoes. We eat spuds often enough that I’m sure she’s seen them before and sampled them. So, I have no doubt about communication, it seems very clear. It’s one of our "comfort foods," you know? American food that you get from home. Sounds great on a day when I really don’t want to spend a lot of effort on supper. So then, I go and take a nap.
When I come back downstairs to cook the potatoes, I can smell the aroma of diced vegetables before I enter the kitchen. Song Ying has already left to go home, but I’m greeted by a lovely plate of perfectly chopped tomato, onion, and peppers. And then I see it. The other dish. Every one of my wonderful baking potatoes has been diced into bite size pieces and placed into a broiler pan.
Okay, so we had roasted potatoes for supper. Song Ying knows this recipe, too. I taught it to her, as it’s one of our favorite accompaniments to roasted meat. I learned from my friend Anne many years ago. First, I coat the potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle over some wine vinegar, some rosemary, salt and pepper and minced garlic. Stir well to mix. Then I broil them slowly, stirring them whenever they brown so that they get nicely browned all over. I often mix other veggies, like peppers, to add flavor. And, yes, they were good. But, they weren’t BAKED POTATOES! They were ROASTED POTATOES! And unlike stuffed spuds, roasted potatoes are just a side dish!
On a philosophical note, I was thinking tonight about how really, the ingredients are almost the same, and how hard it must be for a Chinese person to get their mind wrapped around the many different ways we bake things. Obviously, when I said "baked potatoes," she had in mind what I would call "roasted potatoes." In my mind, these two ideas are very different, but not necessarily in hers. In the Chinese language (or at least the vocabulary I have learned) the word for "baked" is "kao." The word for broiled is "kao." That’s right, same word, same pronunciation. Chinese don’t bake or broil, as a rule, because they don’t, as a rule, have or use ovens or broilers. The difficulty for her to learn the difference between "bake" and "broil" must be similar to the difficulty I have in learning the difference between "waigong" (maternal grandfather) and "yeye" (paternal grandfather). And, you should see me trying to figure out all the different monikers for first cousins descended from various elder and younger brothers, elder and younger sisters. Because in English language and culture those distinctions aren’t important, but in Chinese culture they are.
Well, I was so disappointed, emotionally, not to have the baked potatoes that I had dreamed of all day, that at first I refused to eat any supper. David (sweetie that he is) even offered to go out and buy me some more potatoes so that I could have my baked potato tonight, with butter and sour cream and "the fixins." Of course it would have been ridiculous of me to send him out at 7 PM for a potato when there were cooked potatoes sitting right there on my table! And why did he offer to do this, I asked later? He says, "because I can understand the disappointment. . . . I try not to let it show, but sometimes it’s pretty rough."
Eventually, my common sense regained the upper hand. I ate my roasted potatoes for supper, still puzzling over just why I was so disappointed by a recipe that was essentially the same ingredients, and still roasted, but just a different cooking method. And feeling a bit guilty and spoiled for having felt that way.
An hour later, we all had sliced xiang li for snack. "Xiang" is the word for fragrant, and "li" is the word for pear. (When something smells nice, you say "hao xiang" which means "good fragrance.") Xiang li is a type of small, green pear whose skin is often tinged with pink. But often, it is green and hard to touch, so that even when ripe it looks like it’s not. It has a very firm, crunchy flesh, is very sweetly fragrant, and has a very mild, sweet flavor. If you see them in the USA, try them sometime. Anyway, in the psychological sense, ending the meal with this wonderful little fruit helped me feel not so deprived by merely having roasted potatoes for supper.