On the second day of spring New York City was hit by the fourth Nor’easter of the month. March is a fickle month. It often warms up as a portent of spring, yet sometimes the Canadian Arctic air swooshes down and reminds us that mother nature can be ruthless. This year, although Match has not been particularly cold, we’ve had three Nor’easters in a row with heavy wet snow and strong winds wreaking havoc in much of the city’s surrounding area. So, this latest storm is testing everyone’s endurance. Stuck at home, I decided to revisit my research for the foodways of Russian émigrés in China during the late 19th and early 20th century. A rather apt pursuit considering the wintery weather outside.
Cucumbers are known as “yellow gourds” (黃瓜) in Chinese. They are sometime also called “baby yellow gourds” (小黃瓜). I’ve always wondered why they’re called “yellow” since cucumbers are obviously green. Even with all the different varieties, they are all still green. But a few years ago while having dinner at a relative’s home in Hong Kong, her cook served a soup made with a wrinkly yellow-brown skinned gourd with slightly green flesh that she announced was mature cucumbers. That’s when I realized why cucumbers are called “yellow gourd.” They turn into a yellowish gourd with tough dry skin when mature.
Every summer when the weather gets sultry my partner, Warren, who is a “Swamp Yankee” with family directly descended from the Mayflower Pilgrims, gets nostalgic and yearns to get in touch with his roots. This year is no exception and last week we spent an extended weekend in Provincetown to indulge in his nostalgia. Throughout our stay we drove around Southern New England and ate wonderful shore dinners and other scrumptious meals at restaurants all over Cape Cod. We gorged ourselves on fish and chips, lobster rolls, clam cakes, stuffed quahogs and fresh sweet corns. By Sunday I was lusting after the fresh seafood and local farm produce, and decided to make a shore dinner but gave each course an Asian twist.
One of my favorite activities when traveling is to visit local food markets. Last week, while wandering through the produce section of a wet market in Shanghai, I found something I’d never seen before. A large unmarked basket was full of miniature bright red fruits freckled with light brown dots that resembled crabapples. They had long green stems attached, and visible sepal crowns at the bottom. According to the friendly wrinkled-faced vendor I had stumbled upon haw fruit.
Hunting for white asparagus at the start of the summer is not exactly orthodox. But that is what I found myself doing a few days ago. It’s not that I haven’t had any asparagus this spring. There was an abundance of green asparagus in the farmer’s markets and Pathmark across the street from where we live. Over the last few months I’ve had them steamed with butter, grilled with olive oil, dressed with Hollandaise sauce and mixed in fried rice. But a few days ago I spotted some fresh and peppy looking mud crabs in Chinatown, which instantly suggested “white asparagus and crabmeat soup” like those found in many traditional Chinese restaurants in Asia. This notion suddenly became an obsession and I immediately bought some of the crabs and went on a quest for white asparagus.