Smells like home

Last week, Luffy and I decided to try a new recipe. This new recipe, to be exact. One of our favorite restaurants serves incredible Sichuan-style green beans and we were eager to take a stab at recreating them at home.

Now, for some background, if you’ve read through the archives, you might have realized (or guessed) that Luffy is Chinese. As in, he was born in China. Shanghai to be exact. He and his parents moved to Miami when he was nine and they eventually made their way to the DFW area. Since he’s been here so long (he turns 29 in November), he primarily identifies as American. If you ask, he’ll tell you he’s from Dallas. Also if you ask, he’ll tell you he would never want to move back to China.

So this probably explains why I mention Chinese food so much. Luffy grew up on the stuff and I’ve quickly warmed up to it. (You would too if you could eat his parents’ home cooked meals every two weeks. Originally, I think they were just so excited that Luffy brought home a girl to meet them, they made ALL of my favorites. Every. Single. Time. They mix it up now, but are still making dumplings just for me, every single time we go.) When we visited China last year, we gorged ourselves on all of his favorite childhood dishes.

Anyway, back to the recipe. You might have noticed that the recipe calls for Sichuan preserved mustard stems. Rest assured that we do not typically have preserved mustard stems on hand, but we were able to procure them through the powers of Amazon Prime. While Luffy went to pick up a last few essential items, I started to prep everything. I opened the vacuum sealed pack of mustard stems. And the scent that wafted out. Oh you guys. It was terrible. I can’t even quite explain it. Musky, but in a putrid sort of way. Not completely overwhelming, but awful nonetheless. I quickly minced up three tablespoons worth and then promptly washed my hands to remove the stench.

Right about that time, Luffy walked in the door, stepped into the kitchen, took a big whiff and….

“It smells so good in here!”

I was stunned! How could he smell that atrocious thing and actually think it was pleasant. And then it hit me: it reminded him of home. Of his childhood. The scent probably conjured up warm, fuzzy memories of Sunday mornings at home. (Preserved mustard stems are a typical topping on congee, a rice porridge breakfast item.) And actually, now that he mentioned it, I had actually enjoyed it on congee when we visited China.

We finished up making the green beans (delicious, btw, although not quite what we were shooting for). Just an interesting reminder of how our childhoods shape us. I was raised by my half Italian mother and grew up on pasta and rosemary and olive oil. Luffy was raised on stir fries and congee and tofu. And now that we’re preparing to raise our own children, and we’ll be shaping their little palates, I wonder what dishes will eventually remind them of home.