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Nearly nailed it! (Asian food edition)

By Jase Graves

When I was growing up in 1970s East Texas, my experiences with international cuisine were pretty much limited to pizza, spaghetti and an occasional tamale. 

Now that I have my own children, I’ve tried to expand their experiences by taking them out to Mexican, Italian, Asian and Mexican restaurants.

We even cook ethnic dishes (mostly Mexican) on a fairly regular basis, but my youngest daughter has recently taken our culinary experiences to a new level.

When she’s not deploying a YouTube video to procrastinate from doing her homework, completing chores, eating, bathing, sleeping or otherwise engaging in reality, she’s pestering my wife and me to share in her mania for Asian food culture.

Unfortunately, she’s no longer satisfied watching me eat my weight in hot and spicy chicken at the local Chinese buffet.

No, she actually wants us to cook it!

Now, I’m marginally competent with basic Southern dishes, like mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy, banana pudding and other mostly white or yellow foods that prompt warnings from the American Heart Association.  And I can make a mean ground beef taco–as long as the seasoning mix comes pre-measured in an easy-to-open packet. 

But so far, my attempts at preparing Asian cuisine have been embarrassing failures–despite following recipes from websites like “Cooking that won’t add to your other disappointing”

For example, my chicken fried rice had all of the zest and snap of moist lawn clippings.

My Asian pork chops looked and tasted like surgical malpractice.

The only saving grace of these meals was the oven-baked, frozen egg rolls that only take around three hours to cool to the temperature of fresh magma.

Despite these debacles, I have learned a few tips about Asian cooking for novices.

First, be prepared to purchase at least 17 ingredients per recipe at your local Asian market. Most of these items only come in bulk, and you may have difficulty pronouncing some of them as they seem not to contain vowels. 

Next, be ready to soil every utensil and piece of cookware you own–including the wedding gifts you thought would never see the light of day until you bequeathed them to a distant relative you don’t really like.

My daughter decided to take charge of our latest foray into Asian cooking and told me she wanted to make kimbap–or seaweed rolls.  Yes, seaweed!

When I think of seaweed, my mind conjures images of the semi-decayed plant matter that lurks around in the shallow water and sometimes grazes my lower leg, causing me to let out a shriek like a little girl–only less masculine.

But this seaweed is a whole different animal–or plant–or something, and it comes in thin, dried sheets (with or without a 3-hole punch).  The seaweed is used as the wrapper in which you roll up various fillings like sticky rice, carrots and pickled radish (which is the same neon-yellow as some parachute pants I’m pretty sure I wore in the 1980s). The recipe we used even called for beef franks! 

At least I can relate to hot dogs and rice that sticks together! 

Once my daughter prepared the rolls and cut them into miniature hockey pucks, they weren’t half bad. (I only ate about two dozen.)

Even though I’ll probably never master Asian cooking, my wife and I have enjoyed spending time with our youngest daughter on this culinary adventure. In fact, the next recipe she wants us to try is soybean paste soup with clams.  

I think I’ll buy a few tamales as a backup.

— Jase Graves

Jason (Jase) Graves is a national award-winning humor columnist, a married father of three daughters, a lifelong resident of Longview, Texas, and a Texas A&M Aggie. He writes about home and family issues from a humorous perspective for the Cagle Cartoons syndicate and his blog. Other than writing, his primary hobby is sleeping as late as possible. His winning Nickie’s Prize for Humor Writing essay, “The Sisterhood of the Giggling Rants,” is included in Sisters! Bonded by Love and Laughter, published by the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. His piece, “Victoria’s Worst-Kept Secret,” is included in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Crazy Family.

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