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.