Approximations of the Nachos kind

I’ve mentioned the bountifulness of my pantry in a previous post, but what I didn’t mention was that its bountifulness means that I usually forget what’s in it. Sometimes I come home from the shops with 5 packets of pasta, only to find the pantry overflowing with their identical carb-loaded buddies. And then when I think I’ve got something in there, I actually don’t.

I used to flavour my beef for nachos and burritos with little sachets of Mexican seasonings purchased from the supermarket. Of course, one day when I started to cook nachos for dinner, my pantry yielded not even one little yellow packet.

Now Daddyken wasn’t home at the time, so it would have meant I either had to bribe the Cherubs with some lurid-coloured, sugar-infested sweet, or endure the wrath that is the Cherubs being dragged from whatever life-changing thing they were doing, into the car, in order to go to the shops just to buy a $2 sachet of ingredients that was probably more than 50% not natural.

So I rallied up my spices and winged it… and my family didn’t even flinch. Now the reason wasn’t because of my amazing culinary ability to reproduce authentic recipes based on the ingredients in seasoning packets, but because they’re used to me changing recipes on them. And unfortunately, they’ve never been to an actual Mexican restaurant… We have Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and Italian restaurants in the suburbs, but Mexican restaurants aren’t common – they’ve only really started to pop up in the city in the last few years.

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I’ve also found out recently that nachos isn’t actually an authentic Mexican dish. It’s Tex-Mex! Reminds me of when I tasted ‘Beef in black bean sauce’ for the first time in a Chinese take-away when I was a teenager. I couldn’t believe I was Chinese and had never come across the dish before! (there’s a reason why of course – it doesn’t actually exist in the dark, salty, gooey-sauce form that’s offered in take-aways). I have also never ordered it since.

Luckily Daddyken loves my approximation of Tex-Mex Nachos. It’s easy to make and the accompaniments make it light and fresh. And I hope that when we do eventually make it to a Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant, they won’t be too startled with the difference in taste!

My Tex-Mex Nachos

Serves 4

Gluten free (if using corn chips)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 red capsicum, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 500g minced beef
  • Small bunch of coriander (plus extra for serving)

To serve:

  • Avocado, tomato, lettuce, chopped
  • Coriander
  • Grated cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Lime
  • Corn chips or tortillas (cut into wedges and toasted in oven)

Cook:

  • Heat olive oil on a medium-high heat and add the onions
  • Cook for 3 minutes and add the capsicum
  • When the onion and capsicum is soft, add the spices and tomato paste, and cook for 2 minutes
  • Turn the heat up to high, add the mince and cook until the mince is cooked through
  • Turn the heat to low and simmer for half an hour
  • Add the coriander and simmer for another 10 minutes

To serve, spoon the meat mixture onto a bowl of corn chips or tortillas, add a spoonful of each of the veges, cheese, sour cream, coriander and a squeeze of lime.

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Notes:

  • The general method is to put the cheese with the meat under the grill for a yummy melted cheese sensation. We don’t – just because we think it’s yummy as it is and it’s also too much effort!
  • Daddyken likes to add store-bought tomato salsa to his nachos, but I think it’s fine without.
  • Eat without the corn chips or tortillas and you’ve got yourself a yummy, filling carb-free meal!

The Yays! (and Boos) of a Mixed Race Marriage

While our families didn’t oppose our interracial marriage, we were the first in both our families to marry outside of our race, so they did have a few concerns. Daddyken’s parents were worried that our mixed kids would be bullied at school because one, they’d ‘look’ different, and two, they’d be taking rice to school instead of sandwiches. My parents were worried that this Westerner was just out for some fun – the ‘love you and leave you’ stereotype they had of a Westerner. It didn’t help that both sets of parents lived in suburbs not conducive to extensive interactions with cultures wildly outside of their own.

My mother-in-law coped by reading anything in the newspapers about everything remotely connected to ‘Asian-ness’ and reading it out to me… I remember telling Daddyken that I’d never been so reminded that I was an Asian person than when I was with her! And my mum told everyone that her daughter’s fiancée was a gweilo (ghost or white man)… BUT he was a really nice one.

I think that even if you marry someone from your own race, you’re still going to encounter some challenges, not only between yourselves but also the extended family. The merging of two different extended families who didn’t necessarily choose to be together isn’t always going to be a smooth ride. But naturally, when you add the extra ingredient of two different races, it’ll inevitably add some extra bumps to the journey.

For the record, we’ve just had our 14 year wedding anniversary, we live in an area where mixed kids form a sizable chunk of the population, and while the Cherubs love rice (and Panda does sometimes take fried rice to school), they also love their vegemite and cheese sandwiches.

So to celebrate, I’ve put together my top 4 list of advantages and disadvantages of an interracial marriage (I know 4 is an unlucky number for the Chinese, but 4 + 4 = 8, and 8 is a favourite number of the Chinese because it means ‘make a fortune’ : )).

Note that I could wax lyrical about the amazing romantic-ness of the union of two different cultures etc etc, but life isn’t lived in the serendipitous clouds all the time – let’s get into the nitty-gritties.

Boo for Interracial Marriages:

1. Separate togethers: My in-laws don’t speak any Asian languages, and my parents’ English is good for general conversations about the weather. Awkward for everyone when there’s a family get-together. As a result, we have separate family gatherings… some may say that’s a good thing though, and I admit I deliberated a bit when trying to decide whether it was a Yay! Or a Boo : )

2. Language Block: The Cherubs can be a little shy with my parents because they aren’t able to fluently communicate in Cantonese with them. I take some of the blame for that because my Cantonese isn’t so flash either, and I speak to the Cherubs in English. I’m reluctant to send them to Chinese school though because I hated it when I my parents sent me to one when I was young.

So my parents converse with the Cherubs in broken English, with a few Chinese words thrown in, and the Cherubs use the few Chinese words they know whenever they see my parents, like hello, good morning, good night and good bye. And I think they all also assess the situation they’re in and just bluff their way through.

3. Pure Misunderstandings: I’ve perfected the outwardly calm, nonchalant, show-your-teeth-slightly smile, while frantically messaging Daddyken with my eyes and (hopefully) subtle movements of my head to give him an ‘ABORT. I REPEAT: ABORT LINE OF QUESTIONING/COMMENT/JOKE IMMEDIATELY’ signal.

It may have happened many, many years ago, but don’t put China.

Japan.

And War. together in the same sentence to a Chinese man who grew up in the aftermath of that conflict.

Also, try translating a joke into another language. There are SO many things that can get lost in translation that it gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it. Best case scenario is that the joke just falls flat and there’s an awkward silence. I repeat, BEST CASE.

4. The Issue Of Prawns: The Cherubs don’t like prawns. What Chinese kid doesn’t like prawns, albeit a half Chinese kid? Just eat half a prawn then. One cannot thrive on vegemite or cheese sandwiches alone, says this Chinese mother. I blame Daddyken for that. The White half of them has got the Chinese half in a headlock over prawns. I’m working on this difficult situation and will keep you posted.

Yay! for Interracial Marriages:

1. Cultural Collision: The Western side has an advantage with this culture thing because we live in Australia. However, I’m very close to my family and we live a few minutes away from both my parents and sister, so the Cherubs get the full Chinese family experience on a regular basis.

Our interactions with Daddyken’s family is very calm, orderly and planned. We ask how the other is, discuss the weather, what the other has been doing since we last met and how much rain each family has received in their respective locations. We eat quietly and the conversation is very polite.

As to my family? (Daddyken has a lot to say about this, but his main point would be that when he married me, he didn’t realise that he also said I do to my whole family) I’ll summarise: eating too much, having family members drop by all the time, any day of the week, any time – not necessarily to see us, maybe to get something out of the pantry that they need (even while we’re sleeping… yes, they have our house keys), cooking for 16 when there’s only 8 for dinner, being upfront and blunt about anything and everything (Your hair looks bad today or Those pants don’t suit you or Denim’s not in this winter and This doesn’t taste very good at all), an insane focus on eating all the time and the loud incessant conversations that overlap one another with no break in-between because everyone’s trying to say something and not willing to wait for an appropriate break in the conversation because frankly if you do wait you’ll never be able to get a word in and then apparently it’s just your bad luck you didn’t say something when you had the opportunity.

I like to think the Cherubs will grow up well-rounded.

2. Bridge of Pardons: Don’t like what the other is doing? Typical crazy Chinese people. Don’t understand why that’s happening? These white people have no idea. There’s a world of pardons that helps to smooth the bridge between our 2 families.

3. Happy obliviousness: Daddyken doesn’t understand many Chinese words except for gweilo, go lo (tall man) and a hand-full of random words that you wouldn’t be able to string together to make a coherent sentence. Which can have its advantages. For example:

Daddyken sat between my parents at dinner once, and mid-way through that dinner, my parents started arguing loudly and heatedly behind and across the front of him (I’d like to say that they fought over the top of him, but at 183cm tall, not many people would be able to do that, let alone two elderly Chinese people) about who dug up whose chives in a certain large black pot and now who won’t have any chives in their noodles and who should have marked that black pot in the corner with a sign so that there would be no confusion as to whether or not the large black pot was empty and who should have known…

Daddyken calmly ate his dinner, finished eating, thanked me for cooking and left the table. After they went home, I commented on the fight my parents had just had. When? and Really? Your family always speaks so loud and fast all the time I didn’t notice. So how did it go?

4. And the ultimate pièce de résistance: THERE’S NO FIGHTING OVER WHO’S HOUSE WE GO TO FOR CHRISTMAS OR CHINESE NEW YEAR!! Christmas is Daddyken’s domain, Chinese New Year is mine, and never the twain shall they ever, ever collide.

Camping Glory

I am, at this very moment, basking in the glory of a victory.

Daddyken, for some weird primal reason, bought a tent a few years ago, presumably with the hope that I would eventually want to camp anytime soon. My requirements for a camping trip includes running water – both hot and cold for a shower and an actual flushing toilet – all within the confines of my own tent, decent cooking facilities, comfortable beds and not having to carry my own accommodation with me… requirements which funnily enough weren’t conducive to the type of camping trip he had in mind.

He and the Cherubs happily camped in the backyard for a few summers, while I communicated with them from within the comfortable confines of our house via a walkie-talkie. I thought it a most satisfactory state of affairs until I accidentally organised a day trip to Cockatoo Island in the middle of Sydney Harbour. Unfortunately it had camping facilities which I was impressed with, and then Daddyken played his For my birthday I would like to go camping card.

*#^%*%>!$^.

On Daddyken’s birthday, the day started out lovely – warm and sunny, with blue skies and serene fluffy white clouds above us. We drove 10 minutes to the ferry wharf, lugged our 4 sleeping bags, 1 camp chair, tent, snacks, dinner, 2 air mattresses, 1 mallet, air pump, clothes and other paraphernalia onto the ferry and in 5 minutes we were at Cockatoo Island. I know, I know – it’s not a bona-fide camping trip out in the bush where we’re communing and roughing it with nature – but that pull-along suitcase weighed a tonne ok?

We pitched our tent close to five women who had opted for the glamping option (tent, bed and chairs are already set up for you) and had just started a bottle of wine.

By the time we finished pitching our tent into the hard dry earth in the windy afternoon, the women were onto their second bottle of wine. At least.

The afternoon was idyllic. The Cherubs climbed down the rocks that surrounded the island and played in the water. We explored the island’s buildings which were mostly built by convicts, sandstone tunnels built during WWII, discarded ship yards (ships used to be built here for the war) and made seagulls furious by peering into their nests.

The evening sent the day-trippers home, and in the half-light of dusk, the island transformed into an amazing communal world where there were no fences to keep people from traipsing right across the front, back or side of your tent. Kids played handball and soccer in the open spaces, music wafted in from the wedding across the other side of the water, the women campers were still into the wine (we only ever saw them drinking by their tents, walking to the cafe to buy liquor or walking back from the cafe with liquor), kids scootered around, seagulls squawked, families cooked dinner on the BBQs, we ate our sushi (who wants to fuss with sausages when you can eat sushi purchased earlier that morning?), we admired the tents adorned with Christmas lights, toasted marshmallows in the bonfire and the Cherubs did not once ask to play on our phones.

And then night came.

A camper tripped over one of our pegs and confiscated it. With horrifying images of being executed in the dark of night by vengeful campers, I apologised profusely, retrieved our offending peg and hammered every peg in until they bent.   The change in temperature from day to night caused the Cherubs’ asthma to join the camp-out, so they coughed, wheezed and their noses ran.   For fear of being eaten alive by mozzies (and also execution by revenging campers) I zipped the tent up securely so we could slumber uncomfortably in an extremely small, hot and stuffy space not designed for unseasoned campers.    Memo to Seagulls: There is absolutely no need to SQUAWK all night. I get it that your rookery is close by and you’re trying to protect your chicks and eggs – but ALL night? Really? Don’t you need a rest so you can squawk even louder during the day since you’ve built your nests right next to the walkways of this island where at least a hundred people tramp through every day?    The volume of the dance music from across the water competed with the rhythmic coughs from the Cherubs.     Now I know why those 5 women drank all afternoon.     Did you know that not all campers sleep at a reasonable time and walk around discussing in high volume how the contract hasn’t been signed and so they won’t be able to go in extremely close proximity to the sound absorbing walls of your tent ?         We should have brought pillows because that would have helped Soccer Boy with his blocked nose and he wouldn’t have had a sore neck and woken me up each hour to reacquaint me with his woes.     For your information, Cockatoo Island is very well lit, so when you get up at 1 am to take your Cherubs to the toilet because they can’t sleep because it’s hot and stuffy and loud and they’ve got a runny nose and they’re not comfortable and you were just on that magical cusp of sleep – you won’t stumble around in the dark and trip over a tent peg (which should have been hammered into the ground properly in the first place).    The patter of rain on the roof of one’s own home is comforting, but the patter of rain on the tent roof IS NOT.    Also for your information, the first ferry of the day from Cockatoo Island back to your car which will take you back to your home where it’s quiet, you don’t have to rock on an air mattress with 2 wiggly boney kids, there’s pillows and no seagulls scream at you, DOES NOT start at 4 am. So when your Cherub tells you he wants to go home NOW, you can let him know that you’ve already made it very clear that even though you would also dearly love to get off this wonderful adventure that THEY all so excitedly embarked on – We. Can. Not.

And then morning arrived at 6:30 am courtesy of the violent rock of the air mattress as the Cherubs sat up and chatted like they slept like, well, angels all night.

Daddyken said Let’s never do this again.

I would have video taped that statement, but based on the night we had, I knew I didn’t even need to bat an eyelid. I couldn’t anyway, my eyes were so tired each time I blinked I ended up having a snooze.

We performed our toilette, ate breakfast, packed up and joined the throng of bleary eyed campers at the ferry wharf.

Happy Birthday.