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LIVING: Jess Wang



Jess Wang is a Chinese-American food advocate based in Los Angeles. Wang is known locally as a pickling workshop organizer and the creator of the playful pies-to-pickles pop-up concept Pique-Nique L.A. Her academic background in fine art, professional kitchen experience, and passion for sharing the wonders of fermentation and mindful living has naturally grown into a host of creative educational pickling and cooking experiences, which she offers online through Picklé.
Shaina Mote — LIVING: Jess Wang

Do you have a morning ritual? If so, what does it consist of?



I love mornings, even if I have been a bit out of rhythm since I’m still settling into my new space. I usually like to include a run outdoors or simple core pilates workout to center myself, and a savory breakfast is always a must! Pickles are often plentiful, on the plate and awaiting my attention and care along the path to maturation. Sometimes I wake up with something to say and take a moment to write.

 

 

 

Do you have any self care or beauty habits that you consistently practice?



Consistent hydration has become an important part of my life. The health of our skin, the largest organ of our bodies, relies heavily on hydration. The opportunity rehydrating gives us to absorb essential nutrients extracted from tea is one I intentionally seek out. For one, taking hormone balancing tea containing dong quai for women's health has been life changing. I take plain water and tea throughout the day, and sometimes sip on a little pickle brine, too. I think of how Cleopatra’s amazing skin was thought to be a result of her pickle intake.

 

Describe your home in five words:



Alive, layered, adaptive, curious, woven.

 

 

 

Do you have personal practices for living or well-being that create a reduced environmental impact or are zero waste? (share a recipe, practice or how to)



I spend a good amount of time in my kitchen, recipe testing, pickling, and making meals. I rely on water in recipes as an ingredient, and as a means for cleaning ingredients, as well as for my dishes and cookware. I’ve adapted many recipes to use reduced water (for instance, choosing to steam instead of blanch vegetables), or to recycle cooking water (if you must blanch, use that same water to boil your pasta!). I’m constantly thinking about where the water will go next if the plan is not for it to go in my body. Keeping a small edible garden and house plants has been helpful. Now that I have a bathtub, I am also finding ways to recycle bath water.

 

 

Try as we might, humans will inevitably negatively affect the environment in some ways, both on a local and global scale. With this in mind what are some specific intentions and convictions that you hold close?



Composting food scraps is essential to the health of our homes and world. The landfill and air pollution issues caused by not composting is unnecessary and devastating. When our local government does not provide the tools for composting, it is not an excuse to not compost. DIY composting is extremely easy and I say this having done it in various formats: a basic worm bin in a second floor apartment, a set up out in a yard made from salvaged materials.

Plastics are hard to avoid, especially when it comes to food storage and transportation. Since visiting an aquarium a couple years ago and learning about the impact of plastics on the health of the ocean, I have been challenging myself to not use plastic wrap, and rely on materials such as wax coated fabric wraps, or simply using a plate to cover a bowl of food to store in the fridge. I am inspired by the traditional southeast Asian method for wrapping food in banana leaves. They impart a wonderful aroma to the foods they encase, making them lovely for gifting treats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is a project for home or living that you have recently started or finished? (share a how to, recipe etc)



Fermented mustard greens, the Chinese way. I prepared these for a Chinese Cookery webinar my mama, Peggy and I taught in June. They are part of a cold noodle dish, Liangban Mian, which my grandma Ni Ni used to prepare in Taiwan where my mama grew up.

Suancai: Fermented Leafy Greens, the Chinese way

For 2 quart pickling jar
2 ⅔ lbs cai of your choice
(large stem mustard greens, bok choy, napa cabbage, etc.)
2 tablespoons sea salt
2-3 tablespoons rice wine
35% ABV michiu tou or 56% ABV sorghum grain alcohol
For serving: drizzle of sesame oil to taste

Remove bruised or torn outer leaves of the greens that are visibly compromised, rinse under running water, and drip dry in a colander. If very dirty, allow to soak in a bowl of water for 5 minutes until soil is loosened, then rinse off. Trim stem ends and cut through the bottom half of cai with wide stems, then tear the halves apart. Repeat once more with larger stems so you end up with quarters.

Allow cai to dry for at least 1 hour, up to 12 hours in moderate temperature, in a single layer on a plate, basket, or tray. Sprinkle with salt, evently, making sure to get in the layers of leaves. Pack gently in a clean, dry container and cover with an airtight lid.* Check on it in 2 hours and place a clean weight on top to submerge the cai in its own juices.

Taste in 2 days - it should be mildly tart! Refrigerate at this point. Cut cabbage quarters into bite size segments to serve, about 1 ½ inches. Serve marinated in a drizzle of sesame oil.

*Great if you can find a fermentation vessel with an airlock (Maybe even a Chinese ceramic vessel!), but if not you will be surprised at how resourceful you can get with what you already have at home. Pack greens into a clean, dry stoneware or glass container, sterilized with a splash of grain alcohol.

Recipe adapted from ‘Chinese Cuisine’ by Huang Su-Huei and informed by family friend, Shu Laoshi

 

What distracts you? How do you remain centered?



Being self-employed and running 2 projects means I often face a pendulum of distractions from actually being productive in my work if I’m not careful. To remain centered I seek out a structured schedule to guide me and keep me focused. I am still not very good at this, but getting better every week! Designating specific days to focus on one project at a time is helpful. I have days for pastries and I have days for pickles. When I am distracted from work by stress, I make time to process my thoughts and emotions: I’ll go outside to wander through nature, and connect with a friend I can rely on to help carry the heaviness weighing on me. At a time such as we are in, experiencing a collective grieving and outrage for black lives lost to racially unjust and excessive force by police, it is important to commit time to understand what is happening and to act for change. Awareness of what is going on in our community and solidarity for human rights is always a priority. There is going to be time in my day for social justice work every day as long as I live. Going back to productivity in my work studio, the next thing I need to do to remain centered is hire an assistant!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How has your relationship with your immediate surroundings and the environment at large adapted or changed through the years?



If it wasn’t for naturally occurring changes in my body in reaction to my living environment, I wouldn’t have realized I needed to change my relationship with my surroundings. I have a compromised endocrine system, which means my body’s hormonal workings are sensitive. My awareness began when I encountered a close call with type-2 diabetes back in 2015. I was not treating my body well the 2 years leading up to that point - I was working too much and not eating well or regularly enough to maintain a healthy blood sugar level, ironically while working in restaurant kitchens. With type-2 in my genetics, I was already susceptible and the environment I was working in pulled me into a vortex. I had to get out, so I struggled through the emotional and psychological barriers to change careers, and eventually with the help of many supportive friends who provided me jobs in food that were not pastry positions, found new work and meaning in experiential fermentation education. My friends at Asian Pacific Islander Forward Movement were a huge part of this epiphany of healing.

Since then I have been able to maintain a healthier lifestyle, but I have also encountered a series of health related housing obstacles. A year after being diagnosed with prediabetes, I developed a thyroid imbalance, which is common in people with blood sugar issues. It was unfortunate that my first home back in LA when I left my SF pastry job in 2015 was next to a body shop that was basically a factory for painting cars. There was definitely a link to my thyroid inflammation there. When I got a raise at work and was able to afford to live elsewhere, I moved to a gorgeous 1920s Art Deco studio in Pasadena, and in 8 months was forced to relocate because there was Stachybotrys mold growing in the wall, and spores were infecting my lungs. I received no help from the Pasadena Health Department, and filed a lawsuit against my former landlord but in the end my case led to nothingness and I found myself powerless in the legal system. I did everything I could and am now looking for ways to be involved as a tenant rights activist in Pasadena even though I don’t live there anymore. Life is complex! I have learned to choose my home carefully, and I now have an air purifier. I have come to value preventive care as a priority when it comes to diet and physical activity. I am grateful to have access to healthcare to monitor my thyroid health.

Describe a practice in living well that you admire from someone in your community.



Sonoko Sakai is a Los Angeles based gem of a human I deeply respect and admire. I am lucky to have found a friend, mentor, and collaborator in her. Sonoko shares her culture through teaching methods of preparing traditional and adaptive Japanese cuisine. She balances time between producing inspiring food experiences and spending time out of town in Tehachapi on a ranch where her husband’s sculpture studio is. She is also a wonderful writer and her recently released book Japanese Home Cooking should be on your bookshelf if it isn’t already.

 

 

Share a well-loved family recipe:

Scrambled Eggs and Stewy Tomatoes

Eggs and tomatoes are combined in this dish to create perhaps one of the simplest yet most satisfying dishes in Chinese homestyle cooking. It is no wonder this favored combination is found in various cuisines: classic American scrambled eggs and ketchup, or Middle Eastern shakshuka, to name a few. It’s the easiest thing to make for 1 person and not that different to make for 10 people! This version includes a splash of fish sauce for depth of flavor, the Thai way, and is finished with a handful of bright fresh herbs.

Makes 2 servings

3 teaspoons cooking oil, divided
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce or soy sauce
1 teaspoon coarsely chopped garlic, about 1 clove
12 ounces tomatoes, chopped into rough 1-inch chunks, or cut in half if cherry or grape tomatoes
(any variety you have on hand will work, just keep in mind the bigger the juicier!)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ cup chopped cilantro, basil, scallion or chives
2 cups hot rice or 4-6 warmed corn tortillas for serving

Using a pair of chopsticks and a small bowl, beat eggs with fish sauce or soy sauce until blended. Heat oil over a medium flame in a very well seasoned wok (remember, acid from the tomato can etch away at the seasoning!), or in another type of heavy-bottom skillet. When the oil is hot and starts to shimmer, give it a swirl to coat the surface of the pan and pour in the beaten egg. Save that bowl for holding the cooked egg. Have a spatula ready for lifting the cooked layer of egg to allow the still runny parts to make contact with the hot pan. Break up the egg into 5-6 sections and flip to finish cooking, then transfer back to the original bowl used for beating the eggs. Turn off the burner.

If any egg is stuck to your pan, scrape it out. The pan does not need to be immaculate, but large areas of stuck egg can get unpleasant in the next stage.

Add 1 ½ teaspoons oil to the pan, throw in the garlic, and turn the heat up to medium. Cook until garlic starts to appear translucent, about 20 seconds. Add the tomatoes quickly - careful, it may cause some splattering - they should be in one layer. Sprinkle salt over the tomatoes and stir with the spatula after a minute or two. It should take about 3-5 minutes for the tomatoes to break down and become slightly saucy and yielding, but without losing their shape unless they are super ripe which will be tasty too.

When the tomatoes are ready, turn the heat off and gently return the scrambled eggs back into the pan with the tomato. Toss with the spatula to coat the egg, season with pepper if desired, and garnish with herbs.

Serving suggestion: Enjoy over steamed rice with a side of pickles, or make tacos with hot corn tortillas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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