The last leg of this winter has been exceptionally brutal in Paris and the surrounding areas. Several severe storms and torrential showers pounded the city throughout January, which caused the water levels of the Seine and the Marne rivers to overflow. We also saw very little relief from the thick shrouds of gray gloom that blanketed the skies all month. The sun only made a handful of rare appearances that were so fleeting that if you blinked, you likely missed it.
Nonetheless, I didn’t let the rain and puddles keep me indoors. I forced myself to get out of my pjs and to explore corners of Paris that I had never been to before. I took in the arts, wandered neighborhoods that I don’t often frequent, polished off heaps of pastries and dined at eateries that have been on my ever-growing list of must-try restaurants for ages.
Once February rolled around though, we saw an extreme swing in temperatures accompanied by buckets of snow over the last couple of days. As messy as the icy sludge is, the pristinely white snow cloaking the city is a welcome change of scenery that has brightened not only the landscape, but also everyone’s mood. I did brave the chill this week to frolic in the snow and to snap some photos of my neighborhood, but I’ve been less inclined to leave my toasty cocoon as the mercury started to dip below 0°C.
While nesting and avoiding the cold, I’ve been immersing myself in books that have reignited my obsession with the written word. Though I’ve been revelling in the magic of books from the moment that I was able to make sense of letters strung together to form words, I must admit that I’ve been reading fewer books as the internet and social media increasingly intrude into our lives. My nightly ritual of reading before bed was eventually replaced by mindlessly surfing the net on my ipad. But, I’ve started to reclaim my reading habit and find myself absorbed by some fascinating books before snoozing lately.
I finished Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking earlier this week and I’m still digesting her thoughts. I actually didn’t know anything about this book before reading it and had thought that it would be something similar to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic (I know, totally ridiculous!). Instead, it was about some seriously heavy stuff–a poignantly raw meditation of grief and mourning as she tried to make sense of the sudden loss of her husband during the year following his death.
Reading about how she grappled with the sudden void in her life made me reflect on my own family’s loss. Being too young at the time, I didn’t truly grasp what our loss meant and its indelible impact on the rest of our lives. My brother and I just sort of carried on with our lives because we were just kids. But for my mom, I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for her as she tried to fill the empty void left behind by my dad when he didn’t come home from work one day.
Aside from unwittingly reading such a somber book, I’ve also been seeking comfort in tried and true dishes that require little effort to throw together. One of the dishes that my grandma had taught me how to make before I moved to Texas was sườn ram (caramelized pork ribs). Worried that I wouldn’t know how to feed myself, she walked me through the cooking step-by-step to show me how quick and easy it is to make everyday Vietnamese dishes. She even sent me off to Austin with a jar of nước màu (Vietnamese caramel sauce) that she had made for me. I find it funny that my mom and her sisters never learned how to make this caramel sauce, because my grandma had always made jars of it for them. I have since learned how to make it myself after she passed away, and always have a jar of it in my kitchen, just as she did (I’ll share the recipe in a future post).
My version of these caramelized ribs differ slightly from my grandma’s in that they don’t have any added minced lemongrass nor chili peppers. I instead add chopped green scallions in their place. I’ve noticed that a few recipes out there include fish sauce, but my family’s version of this savory, slightly sweet dish doesn’t include any. As the liquid reduces, the homemade nước màu sauce gives the ribs a glistening amber color while they are still warm. However, as the ribs start to cool, they lose a bit of that brilliance, but the flavor is still fabulous!
Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Ribs
Makes 3-4 servings
750 g pork ribs, cut into 4x3cm
2 shallots, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 green onions
1 tsp + ½ tsp salt (+/- to taste)
1 tsp + 1 tsp sugar
¼ tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp nước màu
1 tbsp cooking oil
Season ribs with 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar and black pepper. Set aside.
Chop white end of green onions into 4 cm long pieces and then slice those pieces lengthwise. Finely chop the remaining green parts of the onions.
Heat cooking oil over medium-high heat in a sauté pan. Add the diced shallots and minced garlic, sautéing until fragrant. Then, add the seasoned ribs and stir continuously.
Once ribs are browned, add 1 tsp sugar and the nước màu caramel sauce. Give it a stir to thoroughly combine. Then, add enough water so that it is level with the ribs. Turn the heat down to medium, and occasionally turn the ribs to ensure even cooking and coloring on all sides.
After most of the liquid has reduced, add the chopped green onions, stirring to distribute evenly.
Serve with steamed white rice.
For a pretty printable version of recipe, click here.
Bonne dégustation & thanks for reading!