Food Writing, From my Perspective…

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own


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What I think makes a good food writer…

Writing comes naturally for people, you just need to sit down and write what is on your mind. Personally, for me it is hard to sit down and write because I have so much that I want to write but I don’t want to take the time to write it down. Just plain laziness, but honestly, I believe that we all have the confidence, passion, and drive, we just have to bring it out when we start to write.

“How to Fix Everything” by Heather A. McDonald, this personal story shows how easy it is to express your feelings through writing without getting too personal. With such a personal story like this, not everyone can exactly relate, but they can have an idea of what the person felt and what they went through. By saying things like, “ My mother cleaned each one slowly in scalding hot water. We had a dishwasher, but she did each one by hand, methodically scrubbing each spot of burned cheese or the odd potato straw hardened against the side of the dish” McDonald really made you felt like you were there watching her mother wash these dishes, with description and imagery like this, it can pull any reader into your story. This specific quote pulled me into her story because I used to watch my mom wash the dishes and it reminded me of when I used to do that. Simple things like relating to your own life can make the reader interested in your own story. Another quote I liked in this story was, “ One day, I would have my own kitchen, I told myself, and I would make and eat whatever I wanted”. I liked this quote because everybody has that “One day…” moment and that made me think of what I wanted to do one day. When writers make you think, it makes the reader more interested to read more.

“Just because you grow up on bad food, it does not follow that you lack nostalgia for it.” This quote in “Food” by Tony Judt was such a good opener for the article because everyone has their guilty pleasures of eating bad food every now and then, which made me feel like it wasn’t all that bad to eat bad food once in a while. That is what a good writer needs, a good opener. The opener is what the reader is going to go by to see if what they are going to read is going to be good or not, it will either make them want to read it or to put it aside. The one thing that left me cold in this article is the lack of emotion that was put into it. Yes, Judt talked about is family, about how his mother tried to cook and how his grandmother was a magician of cooking. Reading it was all interesting, but it was like I was just learning about his family and what they ate, not really feeling what he really felt when he ate the food.

In “Henry James: Vanilla Ice Cream with Brandied Peaches”, he wrote with a sense of urgency, he made the readers realize that he cherished summer, but that it went by too fast. “Around the middle of August, when vacations are past and sunset creeps up noticeably earlier every evening, end-of-summer anxiety sets in. How could I have let this happen? I didn’t have nearly enough picnics! Or take enough strolls through the park! Or eat all the corn, cherries, and peaches that summer demands!” With this kind of expression of his feelings, it makes the reader feel like this writer really cares about what he is writing about and that there will be emotion throughout the entire article.

For my family story, I plan on including my personal feelings and experiences; I will also include lots of imagery. I want to make the reader feel like they are really there. Making the reader feel like they are living the story will make the reader interested in what is really written, and realize the deeper meaning of things. When writing about food I believe that the reader should feel like they are with you cooking the food along side of you. When you talk about cooking the food you should talk about a background story, to make the reader feel that they are related to the same topic. Talk about why the dish is significant, if it is made only on special occasions or once a week, who do you make it with, and what makes the dish so special to you and why it should be interesting to the reader. Writing with vivid imagery will really make the reader feel included and they will really want to smell or taste the food that is being prepared. You should make the reader want to eat this dish and make it right after they read your piece. I feel like including the reader is the most important thing because it is what makes your writing important and helpful. In order to include the reader you must make them enjoy your writing by adding in personal stories, imagery and humor. I feel like if you don’t include some kind of humor, then your reader will get bored and won’t enjoy reading it as much as you intended.


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My Family Story, Our Family Recipe: Wontons

Oshogatsu. Literally meaning New Year or new month. It is plainly the most important celebration of the year in the Japanese heritage. People in Japan celebrate this wonderful day for all three days you are supposed to celebrate it, but my family only celebrates New Year’s on the actual New Year’s Day, January 1st. We start the early morning with helping my grandma cook the Ozoni, or good luck soup and we continue the day with rigorous cooking for an exotic, family style dinner. Ozoni is an important part of this celebration, but it is not my favorite dish of them all. By the time dinner comes around, so many dishes are prepared that every year it seems impossible to get done. But we always find a way.

As we wash, rinse and dry the expensive china soup bowls from our delicious morning Ozoni, the tension and stress starts to build from the amount of cooking that is ahead for all of us. Even though there are mainly three people, my Grandma, Mom and I, there are still family members around to help us out throughout the day. First thing is first, we all put our hair up and wash our hands thoroughly, otherwise we get a scolding from Grandma. With the Rose Bowl Parade on in the background, we start to prepare the many delicious dishes. At the sink, Grandma starts to peel the smelly, slimy shrimp so it can be seasoned and boiled. At the kitchen table, my Uncle starts to cut the fat off of the raw chicken wings and legs for my Grandma’s homemade Japanese style fried chicken wings. With the sun shining through the window at the counter, my mom has started to cut and peel the Gobo, a family favorite and there are never any leftovers of that.

My favorite dish that I get to make every year is my family’s fried Wonton recipe. I learned how to make this dish when I was about 13; of course I had help back then. But after a couple of years I was able to handle doing it all on my own. I love to make this dish, not only because it is fun and easy to make but also because it is everyone’s’ favorite thing to eat. My family’s Wontons are like the warm, fresh out of the oven bread to everyone’s meal. It is a necessity.

Wontons are a dish that is shared among the Asian communities; there are all types of wontons that can be made by the Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and all the other kinds of Asian out there. Although I cannot say that I have tried all that are out there, but I can say that the ones that my family prepares is better than any other wonton any restaurant can make. They could be made into all sorts of different shapes and sizes. They could be made with all meat, meat and vegetables, or just vegetables. They could be eaten plain or they could be dipped in a sauce. The kind that my family makes for New Year’s is chicken fried wontons, they have vegetables in them also and they are the shape of a triangle, but no matter what it looks like, it is the most delicious dish you could eat all night long.

As I start to prepare the ingredients for the wontons, I guess I should tell you what the ingredients are:

For the filling:

-2 lbs of ground chicken

-I can of sliced water chestnuts (drained & chopped)

-1/4 cup chopped green onions

-1/2 cup chopped shitake mushrooms

-1 Tbs sugar

-1/4 cup of soy sauce

-1 tsp cornstarch

-1 tsp salt

-1/2 tsp pepper

-1/4 tsp Chinese seven spice

For the making of the wonton:

-1 package of wonton skins

-Beaten egg with a little milk mixed in

First, I start cooking the ground chicken in a large skillet (since chicken takes a while to cook). I pour some cooking oil in the medium-hot pan and plop the raw chicken in and start separating it and pounding it up into little ground bits. As the chicken is cooking, I can start chopping up the water chestnuts, green onions and shitake mushrooms. I chop all that up into tiny bits and pieces. The worst thing to cut up is the green onions, once you start chopping them up you get that sting in your eyes with that onion smell and there is no way that you or anyone else could hold back a tear. Once all that is chopped up you mix it in with the cooked chicken and sauté it until everything else is cooked just about the same. Then you add in the sugar, soy sauce, cornstarch, salt, pepper, and Chinese seven spice to bring the most fabulous flavor to pep up the filling of the wonton.

fried-shrimp-wontons6

Making the Wonton. Photo Credits: userealbutter.com

After the filling has cooled down a bit, you can get your stack of powdered wonton skins that are shaped like squares, a cookie sheet with a sheet of wax paper laying on top, and your egg and milk mixture and sit down at the table with a spoon and some major patience. This part is the most difficult part, putting it together and actually making the wonton. First you lay out the wonton skins a couple at a time and take about one spoonful (depending on how big the wonton skins are) and you put it in the middle of the square. Then you dip your finger into the raw egg mixture and lightly coat the edges of the square and meet the edges together to make a triangle. Once you make the triangle, don’t seal it closed yet. You must get all the air out of the inside, otherwise when you fry it there will be air bubbles and it will pop and there will be no more wontons. Just sad, empty fried wonton skins. (How to fold a Wonton). Once you make them all, you can start frying them and it takes about 2 minutes on each side, or when one side turns a golden brown. When they are finished I get to plate them on one of our exotic serving dishes. And once dinnertime comes around, I get to take them out of the oven (for heating purposes) and put them on the table for everyone to eat.

The Final Look.  Photo credit: easyhealthycookingtips.blogspot.com

Watching everyone take that bite into the crispy wonton makes me so happy inside, and it makes me truly realize what family gatherings are all about, it is not all about the food. But it is the food that brings us together to share the special celebration of New Year’s Day. Without this holiday I don’t think I would appreciate my family as much as I do. And for that, I thank my Grandma for always working so hard every year to make this day possible for the entire family. Without her, the kitchen would be a chaotic mess. But with her, our family comes together as one to realize how lucky we are to have each other as a whole.


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“King Corn” & “America Revealed: Food Machine”

Watching both “King Corn” and “America Revealed: Food Machine” helped me expand my knowledge of food. They both taught me things about food economically and socially. But in my opinion, “King Corn” was more effective in teaching me things about corn and food production I never knew I would learn.

 “King Corn” is about two guys who wanted to examine the role that the increasing production of corn has had for the American society. They both shared a deep curiosity about the American food distribution system. With that curiosity they set out to grow an acre of corn on their own and see where their crop ends up after harvest.

 Even though “King Corn” is only about corn, it still teaches you what it takes to grow a demanding product of the United States. All agricultural products of the United States go through similar processes that the corn goes through. Learning about the growing process of the corn helped me realize how much of a struggle it is to be in the agricultural business. I felt that this documentary was more relatable because of two friends who shared their experiences and corn adventures. With Curtis and Ian’s personal stories and experiences, it made the documentary that much more relatable and enjoyable. They explained why corn is so important in America because it is the main source of our everyday diets. They showed us how corn is grown from start to finish. They proved that there isn’t much of a difference of how corn was grown from the past to now. Only that the increase of technology helps create more mass production of corn. Ian and Curtis shared a lot of information and facts in “King Corn” but they shared it in ways that were more desirable to learn. They made the information more interesting in ways that made you want to learn more about corn.

 Don’t get me wrong, “America Revealed: Food Machine” was very informative about the agricultural side of food in the United States, but it did not take on the hands on examples and experiences that “King Corn” offered. They shared information of how food was sold, used, grown, and harvest. In my own opinion, this documentary on food production was dramatized to the max to get peoples’ attention. In this documentary the host, Yul Kwon did not share any personal experiences related to food production which to me, made it less interesting. They did do a good job in showing the many different areas of America with food production and their struggles with irrigation, pesticides, and weather.

 “America Revealed: Food Machine” was more informative on many things and shared a lot more factual information rather than personal experiences. It was harder to relate to this kind of documentary because it focused on so many different kinds of foods and processes. One of the things I did enjoy was the virtual map they traced of a pizza delivery guy in New York; it showed how people in America are so dependent on delivery services today. I feel as if “America Revealed: Food Machine” shared too much of a variety of information. They talked about how food travelled, the problems of food production and just about food in general. “King Corn” was better to watch because it only focused on corn and I was able to follow the journey of the corn from start to finish. Therefore, it was easier to understand the struggles and journeys of food production.

 In conclusion, both films were interesting to watch, they were both informative and useful, but if I had to recommend one over the other it would be “King Corn”. It is much more relatable and much more entertaining to watch.


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The Oh-So Amazing Avocado

Photo Credits: Kristen Mejia

Photo Credits: Kristen Mejia

As I walk into the market I always look for something I crave. Ever since I could remember, my favorite thing my mother always gave me was an avocado. I graze around the store and see all the different healthy snacks I could happily munch on. I see the vegetables I love: carrots, broccoli, and cucumbers. Then the fruits I adore: mangoes, pineapple, and raspberries. But then I turn around and see this gigantic mound of avocadoes. And I think to myself, are they finally in season? My heart jumped for joy. Throughout the year good, ripe avocados are hard to come across, let alone they are even harder to just find one to eat.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table watching my mom carefully peel off that little oval shaped sticker, which I never knew what it was for. She would then wash it by rinsing off the skin and rubbing it with her hands to make sure she had gotten most of the dirt and remaining germs off. She then would take out a knife and slice off the top of the avocado where the stem once grew out of connecting it to the tree. Following that, she would take the avocado and cut it vertically, but since it cannot be cut through all the way due to the seed, she would cut all around it to make a perfect half. With a half in each of her hands she would slowly twist apart the two pieces and would reveal this enormous, almost perfect round, brown seed. Slimy to the touch the seed would not be easy to take out by hand. What she used to do was stab the knife in the middle of the seed and twist it out of the light green firm but soft meat that once held it in. She then would cut a lime in half and squeeze just a little bit of juice across the surface of the vulnerable avocado. She put it on a plate and gave me a spoon and the saltshaker so I could enjoy this delicious and simple food.

Photo Credits: Kristen Mejia

Photo Credits: Kristen Mejia

As you can tell, avocados are one of my favorite healthy snacks I love to eat. What do you think? Do you think avocados are a vegetable or a fruit? As I grew up eating them and enjoying them, I always thought of them as a vegetable, I never would of thought of them as a fruit. When you think of fruit, you think of something sweet and juicy such as watermelon. But when you cut into an avocado, there is no excess juice that squirts out, nor is there a sweet flavor to this wonderful green food. But with some light research I came to find that avocado is indeed a fruit. Since it grows on a tree and that it also carries a seed, it is technically and biologically a fruit. Although, most people including myself, tend to think of it more as a vegetable because of the way we use it in the kitchen. Most of the time we use it in savory dishes and salads. I created a one-question survey asking people whether they thought avocados were a vegetable or a fruit. I asked 80 people total, surprisingly, 67 of those people thought avocados were a fruit, while 7 others thought it was a vegetable, and the other 6 didn’t know.

To me, the history of the avocado is the most interesting part. The avocado originated in Central America, where it was cultivated nearly 7,000 years ago. The English word “avocado” is derived from the Aztec ahuacatl, it was said that the Aztecs used the avocado as a sex stimulant. With ahuacatl meaning testicle because of it’s shape. The legend says, for the Aztecs, avocado was, “the fruit of the kings” and eaten as a luxurious aphrodisiac. The Aztecs also believed that avocado was the fertility fruit and so, Aztec families would not allow their virgin daughters outside of the house during harvesting season. The Mayans too reserved avocados for royal tables of luxury. It was said that a Mayan princess ate the first avocado and believed it to have mystical, magical powers corresponding with the Aztec view of avocados having aphrodisiac qualities. This sexual stigma about avocados carried through the 19th century when growers wanted to cultivate avocados commercially, they first had to launch a widespread campaign to try and change the public’s view of avocados. Up until this point, avocados where neither purchased nor eaten by anyone wishing to uphold a virtuous or chaste appearance.

The avocado tree is a member of the laurel family, there are 3 original species: the Mexican type (Aztecs: ahuacatl), the Guatemalan type, and the West Indian type. As the avocado tree spread across Subtropical America, it has formed many names for itself. In Jamaica they call it the alligator pear, because of its alligator like skin and its similar to the shape to a pear. The Dutch call it avocaat, in Spain the call it abogado, and in France they call it avocatier. With all these different ways to say it, we know it best by avocado. In 1526, Fernandez de Enciso, a Spanish conquistador and cosmographer, wrote the first published record that describes the avocado that grew commonly near Santa Marta, Colombia. In a journal entry he described the avocado with great detail, “In the center of the fruit is a seed like a peeled chestnut. And between this and the rind is the part which is eaten, which is abundant, and is a paste similar to butter and of very good taste.” Even back then, people loved what the avocados provided for them, and it was great taste and happiness. Was it until 1871, Judge R.B. Ord of Santa Barbara planted the first successful introduction of avocado trees from Mexico, in California. Even then avocados did not become a commercial crop until the early 1900’s, when the 1950’s came around they finally became popular.

Fortunately, avocados are known for their good nutritional value. Avocados, due to their mono and polyunsaturated fat content, are a great substitution for foods rich in saturated fat. Avocados also contribute nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds that can contribute to the nutrient quality of your diet. If you didn’t know, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause in death in the United States, but a healthy diet and exercise plan may help reduce your risk of developing the life threatening disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) dietary guidelines recommend a diet that has at least five servings of fruits and vegetables that contain up to 30% of calories from fats and that are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat and sodium while being rich in potassium. Avocados can help you meet the AHA dietary guidelines because they have both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat and they contain potassium.

As avocado farms are harder to find here around Orange County, I was lucky enough to catch the avocado opening week on Facebook, hosted by the California Avocado Commission. During the week they had open chats with different avocado experts. I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Chuck Brandy, a California avocado grower for over 35 years. He is a partner in 30 acres of avocados, and is a successful avocado division manager at McMillan Farm Management. As I was waiting for a live chat with Chuck, I was thinking of the questions I wanted to ask him. Talking to a successful avocado grower made me nervous but I knew I wanted to know what the struggles were of growing avocados, but I also wanted to know what the most important thing was in growing these precious fruits. He stated, “The most important thing in growing avocados is proper irrigation and irrigation management. The greatest obstacle in southern California is the availability and cost of water. Weather is always a challenge too, we are facing different types of impacts at different times of the year – from roughly mid-Oct through mid-Feb Santa Ana winds are a huge concern for us. From Nov 30 through Feb 30 cold temps are a huge concern to us too. Heat spells are not as big of a concern if we have advanced knowledge of when a hot spell is likely to arrive or how hot it might get and we have an opportunity to pre-irrigate going into a heat spell.” I also figured out that I wanted to know if there was a difference in growing the different variety of avocados. Were the different kinds of avocados that different from each other to the point where they grew differently and at various schedules? He said, “From an irrigation and fertilization standpoint there is minimal difference. The growing time will vary by just a few months of actual tree life, the actual tree life of the fruit. For example, the Hass avocado in this area reaches maturity in mid-late January and will hang on the tree until mid-August. While the Lamb hass-hybrid matures in mid-summer and will hang on the tree until early October.” As much as I wanted to know about the hard work it takes to grow an avocado, I also wanted to know what his favorite part about being a California avocado grower. I wanted to know what it was like to be able to be in control of growing all those avocados for the people that loved them as much as he did. He quickly responded with, “It’s an opportunity to be outdoors, 360 days a year haha – it’s an extremely healthy lifestyle. I spend hours a day walking in the foothills of northern San Diego county, and Southern Riverside county, amongst green trees, with beautiful views and lots of fresh air every single day. In addition to the lifestyle, it’s a huge feeling of satisfaction that we’re producing a product that is so delicious.” I didn’t know what I expected out of this chat, but I was pleased with the responses I received. He was very informative and I could tell he loved talking about what he does best. He definitely knew his stuff; of course I would never expect less from an expert avocado grower. I knew that he was very passionate in what he does, and I was glad that he shared his knowledge with me. Now I know that there are some very technical details in growing avocados. I never would have guessed that irrigation and water supply would be a problem in growing avocados, let alone I wouldn’t have expected him to say that the cost of water is a problem. It makes me realize that there is way more care and detailing in growing an avocado tree, or thousands of avocado trees. I have come to appreciate this wonderful fruit even more, and now I realize why they are not the cheapest things in the produce section at the grocery store.

As a lover of avocados, I can only wish in my wildest dreams to have a flourishing tree in my own backyard. But, after a little research I realized that it really isn’t that hard to plant your own tree. Although there are a number of steps you must do. You can’t just plant the seed in the ground and water it every once in a while. With these complex steps you will be on your way to growing your very own avocado tree.

HOW TO: Grow an Avocado Tree from an Avocado Pit

Step 1: Remove & clean pit

Step 2: Locate which end is ‘up’ and which is ‘down’

Step 3: Pierce with four toothpicks

Step 4: Place avocado seed half submerged in a glass of water

Step 5: Wait for your avocado seed to sprout

Step 6: Pot in soil when tree is about 6” tall

Step 7: Water and watch it grow

Step 8: Pinch out top leaves to encourage bushiness

Step 9: Troubleshooting bugs

Step 10: Wintering

Although you follow these steps, growing your own tree is harder in particular because sometimes the avocado plants will begin growing fruit after they’re 3 or 4 years old, and others take 15+ years to grow fruit. And, unfortunately, some homegrown avocado plants never grow fruit. If your plant does grow fruit, don’t expect it to be anything like the avocado that you got your seed from. Commercial avocados are grown from grafted branches to control the outcome of the fruit.

As avocados have brought happiness and good nutrition to people throughout the years, I am glad I choose to research this wonderful fruit. I have come to appreciate avocados so much more, now every time I cut open a ripe avocado I know it has gone through a long process of growing. I no longer will complain about how expensive they are, but I will savor every piece I come across, remembering how they travelled through history to get to where they are today.