As much as I’m all for making my own meals as much as possible, I have to confess it’s been hard to stop myself from eating out while Sean’s been away these past two weeks: 8 out of my last 15 dinners were had outside the house. Granted, I had family visiting (though we did squeeze in a lunch at my apartment that weekend), but it’s still more than I’m used to, and more than I would like to average on a regular basis. They’ve all been nice social occasions, many of them were great food-wise, and I didn’t even pay for half of them, but a few have not been quite as friendly to the stomach/palate/wallet.
Last week, in an effort to get back on the health track after 5 straight days of dining out, I cooked five evening meals at home — and not just eggs on toast or instant noodles: whole, if simple, meals with fresh vegetables and eggs or tofu or beans. It felt great, especially knowing I wouldn’t have to fret about lunch the next day. One meal I shared with a coworker who came over for dinner and a DVD — I introduced her to spaghetti with fried eggs (with tomato, onion, and cucumber) and mashed sweet potatoes, and she loved it, if her second and third helpings were any indication.
What has been hard about living alone has been keeping the kitchen stocked with ingredients for dinner. Sean’s been our resident produce-shopper since I started my full-time job in March, and I’d come to take it for granted that I could come home, pull some things out of the fridge, whip up a meal — and enjoy some fruit afterwards, which I’ve really been missing — and not even have to wash my own dishes (yes, he’s a darling). Coming home from work on my bike, I’m rarely in the mood to stop and pick up food which I’d then have to cook.
Thank goodness, then, for City Shop, sitting conveniently in the basement of my office building. A lot of their food isn’t exactly wallet-friendly, but a few of their vegetables sell for just a tad more than their veggie market counterparts. After last night’s soulless veggie burger, I needed to reconnect with — to feel loved again by — my food. I hopped down to grab some tomatoes and cucumbers during my afternoon break, and with what I had already sitting in my fridge, spent half an hour creating a refreshing tri-topping rice plate packed with complementary textures and flavours (and nutrients!).
And there was love in every spoonful.
As with many things in life, simplicity is key to maintaining a habit of cooking by and for oneself. Tonight I wanted a bit of variety as I’d spent lunchtime dunking white rice in vegetable soup from City Shop, so I combined three very basic but tasty “dishes”:
Scrambled eggs with tomato and onion: Sauté half an onion (chopped) in olive oil til beginning to brown, add 1 tomato (chopped) and a bit of salt and sugar, cook until not watery and move to outer edges of pan. Whisk 2 eggs and pour into middle of pan. Let cook for a minute, then mix everything together until egg is fully cooked. Season with salt and pepper.
Rice-loving tofu: Sauté half an onion and a few cloves of garlic (chopped) in olive oil. Open a pack of soft tofu (~350g) and slice into bite-sized cubes before dumping into pan (I usually scoop the whole thing out with my spatula to maximize intactness). Let fry undisturbed for 2-3 minutes, then add oyster sauce (2 tbsp?) watered down with a bit of water. Sprinkle black sesame seeds on top.
Chopped tomato and cucumber (inspired by my lil sis): Wash thoroughly and dice 1 firm tomato and 2 small, peeled cucumbers. Put on a plate, drizzle with pure sesame oil and sprinkle with salt.
Scoop these over a plate of brown rice (holla at the dip tau fan) to feed two moderately hungry people (in my case, me and tomorrow’s me). If need be, increase number of eggs, throw some canned kidney beans in the “salad”, and/or make more rice. Be creative!
Eat-in V$ Eat-out: To figure out whether it’s as economical to eat in in Shanghai as I’ve claimed, I occasionally calculate how much I spend on a meal at home. Here’s the tally for today:
3/4 cup brown rice: 3 RMB
1 package soft tofu: 2.3 RMB
2 large tomatoes: 4.6 RMB
2 short cucumbers: 3 RMB
2 eggs: 2.4 RMB
1 onion & 4 cloves garlic: 2 RMB
oil & condiments: 1 RMB
= 18.3 RMB, for two meals.
9 RMB is pricier than a bowl of soup noodles delivered from Lanzhou Lamian downstairs, but 1 RMB cheaper than the home-style tofu on rice I would normally order from there. Factor in environmental costs (disposable containers become garbage) and health costs (swill oil, toxic food baggies), and the difference becomes a little clearer.
City Shop (Jing’an Branch)
1376 Nanjing West Rd., Shanghai Centre (basement)