Last weekend I attended a surprising event.
There's an organization in the Bay Area called the Association of Chinese Cooking Teachers. My mother knows a woman who is a member and who has invited her to attend some of the get-togethers. They usually involve lunch or dinner, a food demonstration or lecture, and occasionally, western gear and line dancing.
I had trouble getting a handle on the confluence of these elements myself, and the husband was even more confused when I described the event I had agreed to attend with my mother last Sunday.
"It's an Asian-style potluck in Alameda, with a 'cowboy round-up' theme and line dancing. And we're supposed to come in western dress, because there's a costume contest."
"What?" he replied, blankly.
I didn't understand it either. I did know for a fact that I wouldn't be dressing up. My family, we are not dresser-uppers. I guess I might do it if forced to attend a Halloween party, but why would I be forced to attend a Halloween party?
Anyhow, costume or not, I agreed to go. When your 72-year-old mother asks you to attend a weird but harmless event within driving distance, you say yes.
We had to bring something for the potluck. She had gotten a recipe from my sister for chop chae.
Chop chae is a Korean vegetable-and-noodle salad. I'd had it before but never made it. Turns out it's kind of the dream dish to bring to a potluck, because it's simple and best if made ahead and allowed to sit overnight. Plus it can hang out on a buffet table for ages without wilting.
The noodles are cellophane noodles, or bean thread. Growing up, my dad, who was Chinese, called them by their Chinese name, which to me and my sister sounded like, "fence." I guess it did to my mother (who is Swedish), too.
"It's just vegetables, a tamari sauce, and fence," she said. She had come up to our place the night before to hang out and spend the night, and we were assembling the dish together.
It certainly came together in a flash. Of course, my mother had painstakingly julienned the carrots, shitake mushrooms, and onions earlier, which had taken the better part of an hour. By the time I came on the scene, we just soaked and cooked the noodles, whirled some tamari, garlic, and sesame oil in a blender, and stir-fried everything for 5 minutes.
It turned out fabulously. The noodles absorbed the salty sesame sauce, and the vegetables kept it fresh and light.
The event was exactly what it had purported to be. There were a lot of people, most of them over 50, many of them Asian but not all, and a good portion in cowboy costumes. The variety at the potluck was unmatched. I saw everything from curried chicken to Vietnamese spring rolls to clam chowder. The chop chae was a hit.
There was a dim sum demonstration, which we missed because we were running late, and a lecture that we skipped. But we did witness a dance troupe decked out in sequinned tops and cowboy hats line dancing at the end as we snuck out.
"That was odd," my mother said as we headed back over the bridge to the City.
I agreed. But it's always great to have a new potluck recipe to add to your arsenal.