Food Memories with Matthew Lang – Guest Blog and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Matthew Lang who is celebrating the release of Better With Bacon on February 22. Leave a comment with your favorite food memory and, on the release date, the author will choose the winner to receive a copy of The Way You Are.

Better with Bacon – Food Memories with Matthew Lang

These are actually the red bean buns I’ve made. I don’t have pictures of the chocolate ones. They get eaten too fast. One day.

One of my earliest recollections is being perched on a chair, in the white kitchen of a giant house in Wellington, New Zealand, staring into a wall oven. I know it was a giant house because it had three lawns. My dad had to take a day off work to mow them. Or at least, that’s what I’m told. I don’t actually remember my dad mowing the lawns, or taking time off work. I’m pretty sure I understood that work was something he left home to do most days, but not every day. Maybe it was like kindergarten for grown ups? Anyway, my sister is old enough to remember this and she says it happened, so chances are good that it’s true. Unlike the story about how my parents met, but that’s a long tale of misdirection and betrayal of your children’s trust.

Anyway, the oven. It was covered with a brownish glass front and there were lines across the glass, a bit like looking out of the rear window of a car with the heater lines across it. Inside the oven were Chinese buns, or bao, steaming on racks and I can only assume a pan of boiling water underneath them all. Most had some sort of vegetables inside them but some precious few held chocolate. Little squares of milk chocolate that would melt and ooze once you tore through the sweet, white bread exterior. It was a rare indulgence in a house where junk food wasn’t stocked in the pantry and soft drinks were things you had…never. Still, I wasn’t interested in the bao. I’d never eaten one at that point. That came later. I was watching my snowman.

He was dying.

The thing about bread dough, is that cooking changes it. Yeah, I know, deep, huh? But it changes from its semi-liquid, viscous form into the texture solidness that is bread. Try explaining that to a three year old. Maybe you know three year olds who were smarter than me if they get that before seeing it. Anyway, in the heat of the steaming oven, the twig-like arms I’d painstakingly rolled with my little hands melted into the snowman’s dough body, and the facial features were being swallowed up by the expanding face as it cooked. I don’t know how it turned out. I can’t remember that. I just remember staring through the brown lined, brownish glass door into the oven deflating as my bread snowman inflated in the oven.

Nearly three decades later, I found myself with a surplus of those tiny Easter eggs. I’ve grown up as someone who’s not big on snack or junk food, and I needed a way to get rid of them that wasn’t just giving them away to people when Easter was nowhere in sight in either direction on the calendar. So I found a recipe for man tou, or the Chinese steamed white bread, and started making bao. With Easter eggs inside. The M&M ones were the best, I think. I don’t have a sweet tooth, really, but getting other people to eat steamed chocolate buns is about as easy as explaining what they are. Admittedly, in Melbourne the BBQ pork bun is a ubiquitous enough favourite that I don’t have any issues there.

In my new story, Better with BaconK/I>, Patrick uses the white steamed bread as the basis for sliders, which is possible, but will probably never happen at my place while people keep giving me chocolate. Sometimes I wonder if they’re hoping I’ll make more bao and ask people to eat them.

In any case, here’s the recipe. I stole it from a blog somewhere on the internet, but I can’t find the site now, otherwise I’d share the link.

Steamed Chocolate Bao
1.5 tsp dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup bao flour
1/2 cup self raising flour
3 tsp melted butter

In a small bowl combine the yeast, two tablespoons of water + 1 teaspoon sugar + 1 teaspoon bao flour. Let this stand somewhere warm for about 15 minutes or until frothy.

Cut 12 squares of baking paper. I get about three from the width of a standard width roll. You’ll need these for steaming later.

Sift all your flour together into a mixing bowl, and add the rest of the sugar. Make a well in the middle of your dry ingredients and pour in all your liquid ingredients.

Combine and knead for approximately 10 minutes until the dough comes together.

Cover with a damp cloth and place the bowl somewhere warm. Allow the dough to rise for approximately 1 hour.

Divide the dough into twelve portions, and roll each portion out into a flat circle. Place a small Easter egg or square of chocolate inside and then bring the edges of the circle together and pinch shut. Place each bun onto a square of baking paper and place in a steamer basket.

Steam the buns for approximately 5 minutes. Serve hot.

Notes:

Bao flour is special, highly bleached flour you can purchase at an Asian grocery. You don’t have to use it, but if you just use plain and self raising flours you may find your bao has a slightly yellowish tinge when cooked. They’ll still be delicious though.

This recipe makes big bao. You can make 24 mini bao by dividing your dough more, but it’ll take longer. I recommend keeping any dough you aren’t working with covered with a damp towel to prevent it from drying out while you work.

You can use whatever you want as a filling. So far I’ve tried a mix of spinach, mushrooms and water chestnut, sweetened red bean paste, and custard (add corn flour or it’ll split when you cook them). But still, chocolate still has a special place in my heart, and quite possibly always will.

When Patrick’s long-term girlfriend Li Ling dumps him just as he’s working up the nerve to propose, he ends up drunk on David’s couch—and later in David’s bed. Although initially reluctant to pursue anything beyond a one-time drunken tryst, David throws caution to the wind during an intimate dinner, where the two men also discuss Patrick’s dream of entering the food industry. Just as the friends-turned-lovers are settling into their new romance, Li Ling calls Patrick—she’s pregnant.

Convinced the announcement spells the end of their love affair and a return to their platonic friendship, David flees to Sydney to escape his heartbreak. But upon his return to Melbourne, David discovers the situation hasn’t gone the way he’d expected. There might still be a chance for David and Patrick’s dreams to come true if they can forgive each other’s mistakes and move forward.

About the Author: Matthew Lang writes behind a desk, in the park, on the tram, and sometimes backstage at amateur theater productions. He has been known to sing and dance in public and analyze the plots of movies and TV shows, and is a confessed Masterchef addict. He has dabbled in film, machinema, event management, and even insurance, but his first love has always been the written word. He is suspected of frequenting libraries and hanging around in bookstores, and his therapists believe he may be plotting some form of literature.

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Buy the book at Dreamspinner Press.

Comments

  1. My favorite food memory. I remember one time going out to dinner at an all you can eat shrimp. And there were many types of shrimp.

  2. kim hansen says:

    Eggs and canadian bacon on a hard roll.Eggs were sunny side up. So good.

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