Scotland Studies with Shannon: Home Cooking

Like just about every other person on Earth, I am an emotional eater.

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

There’s just something about the magical healing properties of your favorite foods that make bad days good, and good days even better.

For me, pure comfort is found in my dad’s home cooking. Whenever I’m back at home, it seems the fridge and countertops never seem to be devoid of great-smelling Chinese food.

Upon my arrival in Scotland, I had no choice but to eat out for the first week and a half due to my two separate orientations in different cities, a delayed move-in and the lack of cookware.

It was pretty awesome — there was no need to worry about prep work or cleaning up, and no need to worry about fitting meals around the day’s schedule.

It was also a week and a half of experimentation. I had Indian food and haggis for the first time, and exerted some financing skills in figuring out how to divide my money as wisely as I possibly could.

I also came to the conclusion that chicken nuggets and fries from McDonald’s tasted way better back at home.

All good things come to an end, however, and as I settled into my dorm with my new pot and pan and set of cutlery, I knew I had to start cooking in order to ease up on my spending and my waistline.

Inevitably, I began to miss what was familiar to me. I missed my parents and my dog, I missed my bed and yes, I missed my dad’s cooking.

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

On a particularly lousy-feeling day, I popped into the corner supermarket and picked up a chocolate croissant, a bar of dark chocolate, a package of instant ramen, a bar of ice cream and a bag of kettle-cooked chips.

“This’ll make me feel all better!”  I thought, crumbs seductively littering my lap and the front of my pajama tee.

I spent the next half hour lying on my back, whispering apologies to my poor stomach and pleading for it to quell its violent rage.

I Skyped my mother the next day, and told her that I missed rice, bok choy and all the good stuff back at home.

“You’re in a new country! Make it work as best you can,” she responded.

She was right. There was no point in continuing to eat trash in an attempt to make myself feel better. I was going to try now instead to offset my homesickness with food that reminded me of home.

My biggest objective was to master the biggest food staple in my household — rice.

Thanks to my adorable little rice cooker, there had never been a need to cook rice manually on a stovetop.

I had remembered the general directions my good friend’s mother had given me about yielding perfectly cooked rice in a pot, and tried my hand at it.

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

First, wash and drain the rice until the water is as clear as possible. Then, rest your palm atop the bed of wet rice, and fill the pot up with water until it reaches the first knuckle of your middle finger.

Cook on high until the water comes to a boil, then turn it down and allow it to simmer for 11 to 15 minutes.

My first two attempts were too soggy, the third too dry and the fourth resulted in perfection.

Excited, I posted a picture of my labor for my mother, and she responded with a hearty congratulations.

I tried my hand at simpler versions of dishes my dad made back at home, and yielded rather pleasant results, to my surprise.

My favorite dishes so far are my chicken and veggie fried rice, and garlic stir-fried broccoli.

The next week, I was walking around the City Centre with my friend, and in a moment of what had to be divine intervention, we took a turn into an indoors-shopping area that held a Cantonese-style eatery, very much reminiscent of the street-vendors in Hong Kong.

Happily, I ordered a mug of hot Hong Kong-style milk tea and Hong Kong-style French toast to share with my friend.

I began to chat with the waitress in Cantonese, and she asked me if I was missing home.

“Yes,” I responded with a smile, “but not as badly as before.”