And after stabbing you in the front, they also, for the most part, let you stand up and heal on your own. The wound is deep enough to inflict pain, to make you think twice and reflect upon yourself. The wound is also, however, shallow enough to induce self recovery in you. They’re skilled stabbers, I must say. They’re hard to come by, too.
And I must say, Qin Yi, a real close friend of mine whom I’ve known for six years, give or take a bit, is one rare gem, one that I’ll never want to let go of.
Maybe it’s been so long, we can’t recall how and when exactly we chanced upon each other. Perhaps it was through a common friend of ours? What I can be certain of, though, is the first days of our friendship. Both of us met at a small-town college in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, where we’d survived boredom for months because we only got to travel home once a few months. Fresh out of high school, she enrolled herself in an A-level program and I in an America-bound four-year undergrad program.
All these years, in my heart, Qin Yi has stood as a very independent, intelligent, mature, brave, and open-minded young woman, one who deserves my admiration. She’s one of those buddies who have been watching me grow — from a late adolescent to a young adult, from a naïve college kid to a relatively more mature (ah hem!) working lady — over the last few years.
When I was a college freshman, I knew nothing about baking and cooking; I’d either dine out or have take-outs for all three meals, every day. Even then, when I wasn’t acquainted with the oven and the stove and all the pots and pans, I’d still be treated to some home cooking occasionally. Qin Yi was the one who cooked and shared her food with me, churning out simple and yet tasty dishes with just a crock pot in the pantry of her dorm. I was lucky, I know.
The truth is, after spending about a year on the same campus, we had to part our way. In September 2006, Qin Yi left for England in pursuit of a medical degree, and only four months thereafter, I flew to the States to further my studies in journalism and writing. So, really, our friendship has been more of a long-distance one.
I remember, for a handful of months, we lost touch, but after that, were somehow reconnected on MSN. Or was it Skype? What I’m positive about, though, is the six-hour difference, that I often wound up calling her on the computer at five or six in the morning, when it was already one or two in the afternoon in England. The conversations usually dragged on for more than an hour.
What did we chat and rant about? Life. Our home, Malaysia. Our cultural experiences abroad. And of course, baking and cooking.
Since then, baking and cooking — things we love and talk about, among others — have been a huge part of our friendship. To be honest, Qin Yi was taken aback when she discovered my addiction to food porn on my Flickr page, which then led her to this blog. Who would have thought this girl enjoys being in the kitchen! This is so not the Pei-Lin of yore.
It’s not difficult to find trails of Qin Yi on this blog. Whenever time allows, she’d pop by and leave a line or two here. She’s been supportive of me. She even tried a number of recipes I’ve posted on here, including the sunshine salad, matcha au lait cheesecake, chocolate wassants, and our favorite Pierre Hermé’s sablés Korova.
In May, I was elated when Qin Yi emailed to tell me that she’d be in Ho Chi Minh City for a month of practical training and upon completion, would be staying in Seremban, her hometown, until early this month, before leaving for England again to partake in the commencement. Yes! After spending five years studying and working hard, she’s graduated! She’s about to embark on a journey that will eventually qualify her as an experienced general practitioner. (Qin Yi, if you’re reading this, congrats! I’m so proud of you.)
Now, I have to admit to living a very hectic schedule, to postponing a meet-up with Qin Yi twice. When there’s a will, however, there’s always a way. (Sorry for the cliché.) We worked hard. We played it by ear. I was so glad to have her over for a weekend late last month. We finally got to see each other in five years!
Just like most ladies, we yakked nonstop and shopped a lot — for, in fact, nearly five hours that Saturday. We ate a lot, too. We also churned out a dish or two every single day that weekend. We whipped up Thai cellophane-noodle salad for a late lunch on the first day, and then homemade mayo that night. We knocked together a pasta salad with the mayo the next morning before going on a shopping spree. And the next morning, just before Qin Yi left, again, we rose at six to bake a batch of super-size chocolate-chip cookies. It was crazy-fun time. We were just as tired as we were happy.
Qin Yi prepping the ingredients for the pasta salad while I shot this.
I did mention to Qin Yi that I, also on her behalf, will be sharing our fruits of labor with you, my reader. Since we’d got quite a lot going on, let’s savor them but one at a time. If you’re a fan of seafood, if you crave acidic foods like nobody’s business, and if you’re born with a fancy for Thai fare, I would say, go for this, Thai cellophane-noodle salad.
Refreshing, savory, a tad pungent and hot, and somewhat sourish. Exciting-than-al-dente springiness from the cellophane noodles and the squid, with some crunch here and there from the bits of the Jew’s ear. And then you’ve also got succulent shrimp in the mix, which tease you with their fresh subtle ocean sweetness. You can’t get any more Thai than this salad; it’s about flavors and play of textures.
Really, you wouldn’t go wrong with this tropical salad in the summertime. And it’s darn easy to throw together, too. Oh, did I also mention it’s addictive? The salad is supposed to go with steamed rice, but Qin Yi and I couldn’t care less; we polished off that bowl of salad for four in one sitting.
Thai Cellophane-Noodle Salad
Adapted from Periplus Mini Cookbooks: Tropical Salads, by Geok Boi Lee
If you aren’t residing in this part of the world, i.e. Southeast Asia, where there’s easy access to the ingredients for this salad all year round, I myself, having lived in the States before, would think that most Asian grocers beyond this region are decent enough to carry such ingredients, especially the Jew’s ears, cellophane noodles, and fish sauce.
For this salad, we actually omitted the cilantro because Qin Yi would wind up picking it out from the stash while eating. The cilantro is only here to make its cameo appearance in the photos. But even without the cilantro, the salad still shone through with its sprightly flavors and textures. So, really, you should adjust things to taste, though a recipe is often just as important serving as a guide.
100 grams fresh squid, cleaned and cut into bite-size pieces
200 grams small or medium fresh shrimp, cleaned, peeled, and deveined
About 1 tablespoon worth of Jew’s ear (黑木耳), soaked in warm water until softened and has “expanded” and then drained
75 grams dried cellophane noodles (冬粉)
4 bird’s-eye chiles, deseeded and finely sliced
2½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2½ tablespoons fish sauce
1 large scallion, finely chopped
5 shallots, thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves, to garnish and serve (recommended, though really optional)
Steamed rice, to serve (optional)
Blanch the squid in boiling water very briefly, until it becomes opaque, do not overcook. Dish out, drain, and set aside. Then, in the same pot of boiling water, blanch the shrimp until they turn pink. Dish out, drain, and let cool aside.
In the same pot of boiling water, blanch the Jew’s ear until cooked through. Dish out, drain, and let cool slightly aside. To tell when it’s done, cut off a teeny bit to test, which should feel much pliable to touch but still retain that signature slippery-crunch on your teeth. Neither Qin Yi nor I know the exact timing for cooking the Jew’s ear; it was all based off of our experiences, because we, as Chinese, grew up with consuming this edible fungus. Once the cooked fungus is cool enough to handle, cut into fine shreds and set aside.
Cook the cellophane noodles in boiling water until soft, but do not overcook. On your teeth, it should feel something between gummy-candy springiness and mochi-like tender-chewiness. Immediately drain and shock the cooked noodles in cold water to stop the cooking process and to keep from clumping together.
Drain the noodles and place in a large mixing bowl with the squid, shrimp, Jew’s ear, and (A). Toss them together so that the ingredients are evenly distributed. Garnish with some cilantro leaves. Serve at once, or, like what Qin Yi and I did, at room temperature, with or without steamed rice. It’s to your call.
Yield: four servings, or two for two really hungry people