Second ode to bread

I haven't left my apartment all day -- oh, what a marvelous Sunday! In between bouts of neuroscience studying, I made Chinese sweet buns (bao zi):

Now that I am eating wheat again, I can return to baking. My husband used to joke that the fact that we used our oven exclusively for storage meant that we were just like the typical Asian immigrant household. Most Asian food is cooked exclusively over the stovetop, so many Asian immigrants in the U.S., like my mother-in-law, devise other uses for the oven space. For a long time, when I was staying away from wheat, I didn't use my oven, either.

Dough rising
All of this lead up to say that I wish that I had baked something wonderful in our oven today, but the buns that I made were steamed -- a perfect example of how ovens are completely expendable in Chinese cuisine. Nevertheless, they gave me the satisfaction, at least, of letting me pretend that I was baking, as I kneaded and coddled the dough for a couple of hours before filling and steaming the buns.

Steaming the buns
I made two sweet pastes to fill the buns: red azuki bean paste and black sesame seed paste. This recipe, from The Essentials of Asian Cooking, provided me with the excuse to use the red azuki beans that we got in Flushing last weekend and to try the freshly-milled flours from Wild Hive Farm, courtesy of the Union Square Farmer's Market on Friday. And I can never pass up an opportunity to eat sesame:

Filling the buns
I haven't kneaded bread since I was a high school exchange student in Chile and a friend's father taught me to make pan amasado. Chile has been on my mind a lot recently. September 18 is the Chilean Independence Day, a time when Chileans get together with friends and family to fly kites and eat barbecue; I was reminded again of this on Friday, when we had a Chilean couple over to wine and cheese. I spoke Spanish the whole night long. It is always a great joy and relief to me to be able to return to Spanish and find it as much unchanged as when I last left off. And Chilean Spanish I may understand best of all, for it was in Chile that I learned to speak Spanish, and I still sometimes betray a bit of their accent despite all of my time in Argentina later on.

I also found out, just yesterday, that my Chilean host father is terminally ill, so he was on my mind, too, as I went about my tasks today. As I kneaded the bread I thought of my host family, and their lives, and my family, and our lives, and all that has happened since I came back to the U.S. for the first time, seven years ago.

I wanted to write more here about China, and Chinese breads, and what I did for lunch (which you can see above), but it seems better to leave off now with a few verses from the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, and call it a night:

Ode to Bread

you rise
from flour,
and fire.
Dense or light,
flattened or round,
you duplicate
the mother's
rounded womb,
and earth's
How simple
you are, bread,
and how profound!
You line up
on the baker's
powdered trays
like silverware or plates
or pieces of paper
and suddenly
life washes
over you,
there's the joining of seed
and fire,
and you're growing, growing
all at once
hips, mouths, breasts,
mounds of earth,
or people's lives.
The temperature rises, you're overwhelmed
by fullness, the roar
of fertility,
and suddenly
your golden color is fixed.
And when your little wombs
were seeded,
a brown scar
laid its burn the length
of your two halves'
you are
mankind's energy,
a miracle often admired,
the will to live itself.


Victoria said...

Beautiful - as always. And may I please have one of those buns?

Cammy said...

Looks like it was a pleasant Sunday! I didn't even know you could steam buns, any chance you could share that recipe?

I am so sorry to hear about your host father, I know it is difficult to have someone you care about ill in any circumstances, but especially when they are so far away. Hang in there.

Ai Lu said...

Cammy and Victoria:
I will post the recipe as soon as I have a spare minute to sit down and write it out. It comes from "The Essentials of Asian Cooking" by Corinne Trang, but there are two parts to it, and it is a bit complicated.

Tiptoe said...

Ai Lu, I love steam buns! I've made them before, but I used a char siu type filling, substituting tofu instead of meat. It's always come out really nicely, and I've fooled a lot of people who thought they were eating meat with tofu. I love watching them rise. It seems magical even though it's just steam.

I'm so sorry to hear about your host Chilean father. That kind of news is indeed sad, but makes you grateful of the time you were able to spend with him.

ania said...

Dear Ai Lu,

Oh, I love to come here.

You and I, I think we'd get on just fine.

I have so much appreciation for Neruda's writing.

Studying his work was a great help for me in learning how to focus with my writing. With my thoughts. How to quiet my mind when I wanted to express all that was racing about in it. How to take the time to appreciate the beauty in simple things - but also how to discover the many things which make up that simplicity.

I was able to examine how much music and knowledge comes when one can just take time.

I can't even pick a favorite of his works.


I don't know if I ever mentioned this, but 2nd oldest sister (I have three, all older) is a fantastic cook/chef/baker. She taught me how to make Lemongrass Chicken when I was ten.

I'm sure you'll here more about her from me in the future.

I hope you are well today.

With gratitude....

Emily Jolie said...

I love how your posts come alive with the pictures you add, Ai Lu! It almost makes me feel like I got to share this beautiful meal with you.

Oooh, I love both red bean paste and black sesame! I love the mochi that I can buy at the Asian grocery store, stuffed with either of the above.

I am surprised, with your passion for baking, that, during your gluten-free time, you didn't experiment with gluten-free baking recipes.

Like you, I used to bake a lot. I loved it! Especially as a teen, I would bake at least a cake a week! More like two or three. With a six-people family and friends always over the house, there were always plenty of people to eat what I had baked! Then, when it was just J and I, I baked only very rarely, because J would hardly touch the stuff (he never eats outside of meals, and he prefers ice cream to bready things for dessert).

While I was in Germany, I so enjoyed baking a plum tart for my family! You were very much on my mind when I baked it, as I remembered a post you'd written in Italy with a picture of the same kind of luscious Italian plums I used for my tart. I took pictures, specifically with you in mind. I was going to write a post about this plum tart, but who knows now if and when I will get to it... There are so many posts in my head waiting to be written! Ha. :)

I was trying to get to the fact that I baked a gluten-free, egg-free, sugar-free tart when I returned from my trip. It was a peach tart, and it actually came out surprisingly good! I used white sorghum flour (I know you're supposed to mix it with other gluten-free flours, but I used it alone and it was pretty good), and xylitol to replace sugar.

I, too, am sorry to hear about your host dad in Chile. I hope he can still lead a long and happy life! I have some terminally-ill patients in my practice who blow me away with their optimism and determination to live!

I hope you can go visit your host family soon and create more memories with them!

with care,