My hosts, Marvin and Susan Olasky, are extensive travelers.
They’re not the kind who sail yachts in the Persian Gulf or nibble on chocolate bon-bons at 5-star European hotels. Or even the kind who backpacks across Southeast Asia for the sake of exoticism. A lot of their travels have been missions-related. One of their trips took them to a country in Ethiopia where they visited a hospital full of AIDS patient. And the only thing they could really do to help was to go about touching the hands of these dying AIDS patients, because nobody else dared to.
That story moved me. We all know the basic needs for human survival, but maybe touch is one of them. Have you ever gone through a day without touching someone? How important is it for us humans to touch and be touched?
My parents came to visit Asheville Monday evening. The Olaskys kindly invited them over to their home for dinner. I was overjoyed. Chelsea, a neighbor Anna and I spent that late afternoon preparing a simple feast for them, and every hour I glanced out the window waiting for the sight of their Honda pulling up into the Olaksys’ driveway.
I heard them first. I heard my mom slam the door shut, and then my dad slamming his. I heard them rustle as they dragged out a huge jar of kimchi, a bag of red tea (from China) and a bag of roasted nori for the Olaskys.
I ran out and practically leaped into my mother’s open arms first. And then I wrapped my arms around my dad’s neck and clung onto him like a monkey.
Oh touch. What a wonderful sense . I love touching my parents. I love hugging them, slinging my hand around their forearms, holding their hands and even just leaning lightly against them. I just couldn’t get enough of their touch, and even now (they left this morning), I crave the lovely sense of their touch, lightly perfumed by my dad’s cologne and my mom’s lotion.
Only parents would drive 8 hours down just to hug their daughter in Asheville. To reward them (though honestly, the sight of me should be reward enough, ho ho ho), I piled the main dish with a lot of seafood and love.
I also roasted some vegetables:
These are Brussel sprouts, zucchini, leeks and onions, all tossed with soy sauce, raspberry chipotle BBQ sauce, Parmesan cheese and black pepper. Roasted in the oven at 450 degrees.
I love this dish so, so, so much. I had three heaping servings of these, for which I suffered. I’m glad I sleep alone.
Meanwhile, Anna helped us to bake the bread because she’s a pro in baking.
Say hi to Anna! She’s 13-year-old, incredibly smart, and deceivingly quiet. She was my voluntary kitchen servant for the day. I got her baking a big loaf of Irish soda bread, using the same recipe I used for this year’s Passover Seder. Look at this gorgeous loaf! Anna did a great job with it:
For some reason I love it more when bread loaves are round instead of the typical elongated farmhouse. If you feel intimidated by baking bread, try this recipe first. It’s super fast and super easy. You get all the hefty carby deliciousness of bread without having to fuss with yeast and rising time.
Chelsea, on the other hand, was my slave, because I didn’t give her much of an option in helping out. But she being of good temperament, joyfully helped me chop onions and Brussel sprouts as we yodeled “The Lonely Goatherd” from Sound of Music.
She and Anna also helped conjure a beautiful dessert. They found the recipe in Joy of Cooking but because we didn’t have cream, Chelsea had to think smart and somehow whip a custard out of blended low-fat milk and evaporated milk. I was dubious, but she did it!
Look at that thick, dripping golden custard! Bravo, Chelsea!
The result was this purple-studded custard pie.
We served it with whipped cream (out of a can, nothing fancy) and a sprig of basil.
It was delicious. The crust (handled by the skilled Anna) was brittle like a toffee bark yet buttery like croissant. My mom actually asked for seconds. The true compliment to a chef.
I took charge of the main entree, which was a summer seafood stew. I roughly followed this recipe on Epicurious.
Instead of clams and scallops though, I used a mix of cod, catfish, salmon and shrimp. I tried to look for squid but couldn’t find any at the local supermarket. I also left out the white wine and glugged in a bit of white vinegar. Highly recommend making this stew. It makes you feel like you’re rosy with health and contentment after a hearty bowl!
Susan set the table for us as usual. I was very touched when Susan actually went out to buy a bouquet of flowers, just because my parents were visiting.
Everything tasted wonderful. Maybe food, especially homemade, releases such emotions and memories because of the amount of human touch that went behind it.
I was a bit worried about how my parents would hold up a conversation with the Olasksy in their broken English, but I have to hand it to my dad: he’s improved tremendously! He barely needed me to translate and regaled us with tales of his mission trips, his ministry and how he met my mother.
I didn’t really notice it until Susan pointed it out to me, but my dad gesticulates a lot. All throughout the meal his arms and hands were flying around, and so were his eyebrows. Such an enthusiastic and joyous man, my father. My mother was soft-spoken as she usually is, but she kept chuckling at my dad’s English.
She was also tickled at how different my dad was from Marvin Olasky. While my dad spoke with dramatic intonations and wild gestures, Marvin was calm with his fingers pressed together and his voice soft and low. When my dad talks about his opinions, he uses a lot of emotional stories, while Marvin will dig up nuggets of facts and observations from his wealthy encyclopedia brain.
It was strange to see my parents dining among non-Asians, but I was so proud of them, even when they messed up pronouns and called Marvin “she” and Susan “he.”
I don’t know if I got enough of hugging my parents, but I’m so happy they came to visit. I feel like I have so much to share about them that I could feel up several books, but I might burst into tears any second so I’ll bid everyone adieu.
Now, go hug someone!