Monday, November 12, 2007

Manic Monday: Gravy

Oyster sauce + corn starch + water = No Fail Gravy

It's amazing the things you can learn by osmosis.

I'm almost reluctant to admit this, but I'm one of those few who lived at home and didn't move out until after I got married. Mind you, it was pretty shortly thereafter (moved into the condo the next morning after the wedding reception). I commuted to university. I stayed after I got my first job, after I got my first car. I guess my mom cooked with too much cheese (touch of Canadiana here). And when things got more serious with Ian, I toyed with the idea of moving in with him, especially since we were living in different cities for a while. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. Being the firstborn, there's always this niggling sense of responsibility, an innate need to set the good example. And living "in sin" wasn't necessarily the best example, growing up with the double-whammy guilt in a Chinese-Catholic household.

But if I'm really honest, I was never comfortable with that whole concept for myself. Sure, it's fine for others, and it does work as millions of couples have done so for years, and will continue to do so. It's almost become a relationship norm these days. A lot of Ian's friends were living common-law. Funny enough, none of my friends were living common-law. We saw a few couples break up, and for me, co-habitating before marriage didn't cement the relationship enough. Not that I didn't feel the commitment, it just didn't sit right with me. At least this way I was able to save enough to contribute to a half-decent downpayment on our first house. Maybe I was just paving the way for all these young people these days who are moving home to do just that.

My mother was and still is an amazing cook. You would never know that she couldn't even boil water until she was 18 years old, when she herself had left home to study in England. So while living at home, I never did the cooking. I was always delegated to prep-chef, or the clean-up crew. I clean a mean dish. I did enjoy trying to cook the odd meal, but it would always be inevitably taken over by Mom at some point. After all it was her kitchen, and I could never quite do the things her right way. So I was content with my role. I wasn't at home for a lot of the meals anyway, once I got going with work and running around town with Ian.

My sister, on the other hand, decided to get her second degree at the other end of the country, in lovely B.C. While I knew I would miss her, it also gave me a wonderful excuse to go visit her out there, several times during the period that she went to school, lived and worked there. I remember one visit with her, we were cooking dinner and she didn't know how she wanted to do the vegetable side dish. I checked her cupboards and sure enough, she had those key ingredients. I poured some of the oyster sauce into a bowl, added some water and then about a teaspoon of corn starch for a fairly thin consistency. I didn't make it too thick because we wanted a little gravy to go with the rice as well. I threw it over the veggies in the pan, watched it bubble up, and we were set. My sister looked at me and was impressed.

"Where'd you learn to do that?" she asked.

"Haven't you seen Mom do that all the time? " I replied.

"No, not that I recall. That was pretty good, Missy" (her nickname for me).

This came from my sister, who is also now an amazing cook. And by amazing I mean that she can throw things together without a recipe. I don't know if it's the scientist in me, but I need a recipe for everything, and I treat every recipe like a lab experiment. Everything is measured out exactly, timed to the millisecond; I've been known to keep cooking something in the oven even if it's obviously burning, because it's got another five minutes to go according to the recipe. Nope, I'm not a chef. But for this gravy, nary a measuring spoon or cup is ever used.

So whenever I'm in a gravy crunch, those three ingredients do it for me. One of the reminders that living at home with the parents for all those years wasn't so bad after all.


Ginaagain said...

Great Post Karen. I am also the eldest and lived at home until I married Bob. Sometimes I wish that I had been a little more independant, maybe explored the world a bit before getting married, but I really am happy with my choices.

Your oyster gravy sounds very good. I do something similar with Thai peanut sauce.

familymclean said...

Oh, that is a good post!
You are a great writer!
And the sauce sounds yummy! Thanks for the idea.

Family Adventure said...

I'm sure there were other reasons that living at home was good back then. But gravy is a good start :)


bec said...

Thanks for the nice little trick. Sounds great and easy, too.

I, too, am a scientist in the kitchen. LOL on leaving something in the oven the prescribed amount, regardless if it's burning!

My mom never taught me to cook. I asked her to, but she would end up getting impatient at my slow student pace and take over. I would end up shrugging and saying 'maybe next time'. She said she didn't learn to cook til she moved out, so I guess that meant it would be the same for me.
I guess as a way of making a change for the next generation, I have my ds and dd both helping me bake and cook whenever they show interest or when I want them to experience it.

Some people can overcome that and discover an innate ability--like your sister. Others, like me, remain forever a scientist and student in the kitchen!

Kellan said...

This was a great post! I'm with you about the recipe and then ... I'm still not much of a cook. Have a great day.

Bill said...

When it comes to the kitchen, I'm an "open the cabinet to see what we have then throw it in the pan and see how it tastes" type of cook. wow, that's a really long title to have, but it's true. I'm not good at recipes and the only thing I learned about cooking from my parents is that you can boil hot dogs (gag)scallop potatoes count as a vegetable and reheated pancakes are better than no food at all.

Badness Jones said...

I wish Hubs would learn to stick to a recipe. He once tried to make lasagna with no cook noodles, a can of sauce, a brick of cheddar and a bag of freezer burnt mixed veggies. It was years ago and my stomach still turns just thinking about it!

Cherry said...

My father did the cooking in our house (because he was much more territorial then my mom), and he was always making these amazing Chinese dishes. He'd just whip them up.

I think I have learned more from him since I moved out then I did when I lived there because he was never one to talk while he cooked. Frankly he didn't know how to talk to me as a kid anyway, and I wasn't speaking to him in my teen years. He just did it and didn't know how to explain. But now that my brother and I are out of the house he's quite excited to "teach" me what he's doing. If I'm there while he's cooking and I ask he gets all excited that he can share his knowledge. By teach I mean he rapid fires off what he's already done and what he will do, as I translate what he says into industry terms in my head. Probably the biggest benefit from going to culinary school... I can learn from my father without him actually showing me anything.

another good thing said...

Wait until your kids are old enough for school science experiments- once they show you the odd properties of corn starch... you may never ingest it again... consider that fair warning, or a challenge!

kailani said...

I'm so bad at making gravy. I usually just buy the one in the bottle. Maybe I should try your recipe!

C said...

Oyster sauce + corn starch + water = No Fail Gravy

WOW! That totally reminds me of my Dad's cooking! He made that exact same 'gravy'! He still does :) I wonder if all Chinese parents know that recipe???

Karen MEG said...

Good gravy, thanks for the comments (sorry !)
Gina-thai peanut sauce, yummy!
Anna-thanks for the compliment. I love your stories too.
Heidi-you know that's for sure; my parents define home for me. But the gravy is a daily reminder.
bec-the kids are into cooking too, esp. the G.
Kellan-I'm still not a cook; I'm just pretend as I like my new kitchen!
Bill-hot dogs go great with scalloped potatoes, are you kidding me? Reheated pancakes are a staple here ;) - actually I'm known for my pancakes, that's one thing that will remind my kids of their childhood - at least I hope they forget the burnt ones.

Karen MEG said...

badness- freezer burnt veggies and lasagna don't mix?
Cherry - better later than never. Cool that you did culinary school!
Linda-I'm having cornstarch nightmares already!
Kailani-you should try it; it's easy, and you can vary the consistency as you'd like.
C-it's a Chinese thing, totally.


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