Thursday, January 7, 2016

Chinese Long Beans and Tofu with Fragrant Coconut Sauce


Happy 2016! It’s been a long time. I know, I disappeared from this blog and have been pondering why. I looked back at my last post months ago and it was a such different time…since that time Isaac graduated high school, we moved to a new house and then evacuated a few weeks later due to wildfires, we brought a new puppy into our lives and said goodbye to our 18 year old dog, Sam and Isaac left for college, Aspen Grove has been busier than ever and I am in the process of finding a new balance and rhythm to life.

Process. Evolving, changing and embracing new.  The biggest change by far has been sending both boys off to college. I knew it would be hard, but it was harder than I expected. So there’s been a lot of process. I thought I had prepared well, and I did in many ways, but when I’m totally honest with myself I’m just not ready to be at this stage of parenting and life yet. It arrived too quickly. Admitting this is a bit of a relief, since I was pushing myself to be in a place I’m not. That’s ok. I know I’ll get there and in the meantime I need to be kind to myself and be realistic.


As I think about a new year I think it’s time to think about the blog and where I am now.  When I started it almost five years ago, I was writing as a mom with kids at home, about what I cooked for my family and friends in Seattle and the ways we celebrated Jewish holidays. When we moved to the Methow Valley, the plan was stay a year and then return to Seattle. But we started to take root.  I didn’t write as much here since I often felt like I didn’t know which end was up.  I mean, here we were living in a tiny cabin high above the valley, a dramatic change from life in the city. At times I had to ask, “What the hell am I doing?” Talk about leaping before you look. Life here is raw and inconvenient but richer and more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. And the roots grew deeper. I am a different person now. I’m more willing to take risks, to be bold and to say yes.  I’m excited for this new year. I have new ideas for the store, new things I want to learn (skate skiing and hunting for starters) and new opportunities for community involvement. And, of course, new things to cook.


Asian food has been topping my list lately. I really miss going out for sushi, hot and sour soup and pad Thai noodles. Whenever I’m back in Seattle, I stop at the local Asian market to pick up something to cook at home.  There’s a lot of home cooking here in the valley. We don’t have any Asian restaurants and no home delivery. If you want it, you have to make it. I’m good with that.


On one of these visits back to Seattle, Japanese sweet potatoes and Chinese long beans were my finds. Japanese sweet potatoes have a drier, firmer flesh and nuttier flavor than the more familiar orange sweet potatoes. Chinese long beans are indeed very long and stay nicely crisp when sautéed on high heat. I decided a simple dish combining these veggies with a flavorful sauce would be an ideal cozy dish for our snowy nights.


I created this spicy coconut sauce several years ago. The recipe slipped to the back of my ever growing folder of scribbles, but in a recent burst of purging I discovered it and pulled it out. Some of my favorite flavors are in this one…ginger, fennel, garlic and shallots with some brown sugar and cinnamon to add warmth.


The sauce needs to simmer for about half an hour, which gives you time to steam the potatoes and prep the beans. I tossed in some tofu but you could also add chicken or beef. Once the sauce is ready, you need only saute the beans quickly, add the potatoes and tofu and then pour the sauce over. As I’m writing this I’m thinking a handful of roasted peanuts would be a nice touch, too.


Over winter break, with Sam and Isaac home (hooray!), I’m happy to say I made some other Asian dinners - Bulgogi beef and pad Thai noodles. And, since there’s no Chinese food or movie theaters here for the usual Jewish outing on Christmas day, we made Kung Pao chicken and streamed a movie at home.

The past year has been emotional and wild and wonderful. I feel deeply rooted now in this valley with incredible people and breathtaking beauty everywhere I turn. My boys are launched and happy and now it’s about Bob and me, in our house on the river, with our dogs, entering a new year and new chapter together. I don’t know what’s next but I’m alive and grateful to be here.


Chinese Long Beans and Tofu with Fragrant Coconut Sauce
Serves 4

Grape seed or other neutral oil
1 big bunch (about 1 pound) Chinese long beans, cut in 1 inch slices
2 medium Japanese or orange fleshed sweet potatoes (1 ½ pounds total), steamed until soft but not mushy and cut into 1 inch cubes (I leave them unpeeled)
1 pound firm tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
Fragrant Coconut Sauce (recipe follows)

In a wok or large skillet, warm a drizzle of oil over medium high heat. Add the beans and stir until they are lightly cooked but still firm, about 7 minutes. Add the cubed sweet potatoes and tofu and gently stir to combine. Pour the coconut sauce over and heat everything together until warm. Spoon into bowls and serve.

Fragrant Coconut Sauce

1 can full fat coconut milk
2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ lemon, squeezed for juice
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce or sriracha
½ cup sliced shallots
1 clove garlic, chopped

Combine all of the ingredients in a large sauce pan and bring to simmer. Stir and let simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the solids in a fine meshed sieve over a bowl. Discard the solids and set the sauce aside to use.

20 comments:

  1. What a fantastic, heartfelt, endearing post. I wish I could possibly find the words to describe my place in the blogging world or at home or in my career. Hoping this year might bring some clarity. And I hope it brings an opportunity to meet you! So happy to see your creative food ideas back on the blog but if you find yourself taking a break again - no problem - I will wait for your return!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Beth. I appreciate your support! I've missed cooking along with you and the TJ group and really hope we can do so in the same kitchen together soon. I'd love to get your perspective, too...lots to chat about. xx

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  2. Hanna, what a beautiful post. I actually just read your comment to me and am touched that you dropped by. I read your post this morning first thing in bed and told myself I'd write to you as soon as I got to work, but then I got to work. Thank you so much for writing candidly about your journey through the rough and wonderful parts of life. I've actually been thinking of you over the past few months, particularly on Mondays when I go to the grocery store because that's usually when I'd be planning out dinners and I use your site for inspiration. I'm so glad your store is successful and I also love the way you describe how living in a cabin is inconvenient, but rewarding on such a deeper level. I think most things in life are like that and it takes character and courage to do something a little different or out of your comfort zone. I think your kids are so lucky to have such incredible parents as examples. So glad to see you back. Oh yes, and I love going to the Chinese grocery. When there isn't Asian food, make it. Some of my favorite things to make this year have been Korean. Happy New Year and all the best to you in 2016. Looking forward to reading more posts from you!

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    1. Hi Amanda, thank you for your thoughtful comment! It means a lot to me. Life is truly an adventure, isn't it? Best journey ever, and the ups and downs make me appreciate it even more. I'm happy to connect with you again and look forward to this coming year. Korean cooking is something I want to explore more and I know I can learn from you. Wishing you all the best.

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  3. Happy New Year! Great post -- life is always happening, isn't it? And not always in ways one understands or accepts in the moment. Glad to see you post again -- missed you! I was doing a lot of Asian cooking a few years ago, but in the last year or two haven't at all. It's time again, don't you think? This looks wonderful -- exactly my kind of dish. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you, John! You are so right...life just keeps on happening. I'm happy you stopped by and appreciate your comment. Happy New Year to you and Mrs K R!

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  4. Such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your heart and your life. I think I'm going to have a hard time too when I have an empty nest. I'm watching my friends go through it. I hope this teaches me to savor the moments more and not get so caught up in plodding through. Also, I didn't know you opened a store. That sounds fantastic and such a fun way to connect to others who like to cook and a great way to teach. Wishing you all the best in the new year, Dana

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    1. Hi Dana, thank you for your sweet comment. The store has indeed been a marvelous way to join the community and I'm having fun. Good to have new creative challenges! And yes, savor those moments. :) I hope you have a joyful year ahead and I look forward to connecting more.

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  5. Hannah, it is so wonderful to see you again. I have missed you. Such a beautiful heartfelt post. I am so sorry that you lost your sweet dog, I also lost both my pugs, Izzy and Nando. I also know how if feels to have the little ones leave home for college. I do hope your business is thriving and you and all are in good health. Congratulations on the new puppy also. I do love this recipe. Chinese long beans are one of m favorites, they have a distinct almost herbal flavor that I love. The coconut sauce and tofu with the beans sounds just delicious. I don't know what happened but I commented when your post first came out, just noticed it never was registered so I am trying again.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, I'm delighted to see your thoughtful comment. Thank you. I'm very sorry about Izzy and Nando. These pups really do find their ways into our hearts, don't they? I don't know what we'd do without them. I hope you are doing ok. My new dog is good medicine and a wonderful companion in the store with me. I wish you a peaceful, delicious year ahead and look forward to connecting more again with you.

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  6. Wow, Hannah...so much has happened since we heard from you last! It's great to catch up. Wouldn't it be great if we could hit the pause button on life sometimes so we could catch our breath and adjust for a minute?! All we can do is take it one day at a time, and as you say, be kinder to ourselves. I need to work on that part! Beautiful recipe--I've never tried either of these ingredients, but I've seen them at Asian markets in Portland. I should pick some up the next time I'm there! Sending best wishes for an awesome 2016. Sounds like you have a lot of adventures ahead!

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    1. Hey there, Brianne, I'm happy to hear from you. A pause button would indeed be marvelous. Life just keeps happening, though, and it's a lovely journey with its ups and downs. I hope you're doing well and wish you a wonderful new year!

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  7. Welcome back from your time away for us, you've been missed. While I doubt I would find the beans and sweet potatoes at our local market, I do think your coconut sauce would be delicious in other dishes.

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    1. Thank you so much, Karen! I appreciate your kind comment. I hope you enjoy the coconut sauce, and substituting red sweet potatoes and green beans would be nice, as well. I hope all is well with you!

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  8. So it's the middle of February and here I am finally visiting your blog again, which I have to say I am beyond happy to know, you too, have decided to start publishing. Isn't it crazy how life changes can cause us to leave spaces we love? Thank you for sharing your update and this lovely recipe. I hope winter break was an enjoyable as I remember it being and that I get to see more tasty treats from you in the near future.

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    1. Hi Mikaela, it's wonderful to hear from you! I hope you are doing well. Life does indeed interfere at times and cause us to step away. I'm happy to be circling back now. :)

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  9. It is so good to hear from you! The empty nest is more of a "thing" than most admit. It is a huge transition for both children and parents. We parents are so very busy. And even though we know it is coming, the reality is quite a shock. A new phase of our lives begins. It is wonderful to see that the empty nest has given you a burst of creative energy, your words and recipe are a joy!

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    1. Hi Deb, I appreciate your wise words. The empty nest is definitely a new phase and bit of a shock. I'm happy to be enjoying this next chapter and to re-connect with inspiring people like you.

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  10. This sounds good...those long beans are so long (clue's in the name I know!), this is a great midweek meal idea.

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    1. Hi Caroline, thank you for your comment! This could definitely make a nice weeknight supper. I'm happy you stopped by!

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