Fiction Kitchen – Raleigh, NC

Walking past Fiction Kitchen in downtown Raleigh, the first thing you’ll notice is the bright green paint and the large yellow sign. Peering in for a closer look, you will see the mismatched furniture, quirky decor, and laid back feeling of the restaurant. Although the atmosphere is casual, the taste and look of the food is on par with many fine dining restaurants. Fiction Kitchen caters specifically to both vegan and gluten-free customers, offering a variety of American and ethnic dishes. This is the place that I would take a meat-lover friend who is convinced that all vegan food is bland and tasteless.

My husband and I came to Fiction Kitchen for the first time with his family around Thanksgiving. We had heard great things about the place and expectations were set high. It was such a nice change to be able to walk into a restaurant and be able to pick anything on the menu. We have become accustomed to having to choose from 1 or 2 vegan-customizable dishes (at best!) when eating out with non-vegan family and friends.

To start off, we ordered the cornmeal-fried oyster mushrooms and root vegetable fries. The fried mushrooms were reminiscent of fried calamari, with a less rubbery texture. It was incredibly well-seasoned and the crispy cornmeal texture offset the mushrooms perfectly. The fries were also a winner; well seasoned and cooked and served with two great dipping sauces (dill aioli & chipotle “buttermilk” dressing).

I ordered Nori Rolls with Sashimi Tofu for my entree. The ingredients in the sushi rolls were were so unique and not things I would have guessed would taste good in sushi. But the combination of textures and flavors were amazing. The microgreens salad was well dressed and complemented the dish well. But the standout component of the dish was the seared tofu. It had a soft and porous texture, was slightly sweet and savory, and had a coating of sesame seeds. Although it did not resemble sashimi in taste or texture, I was not at all disappointed by the substitution. My husband kept trying to steal my tofu and sushi rolls when I wasn’t looking.

Nori wrapped local butter bean hummus, quinoa, carrot, cucumber, radish and spicy microgreens, finished with a sorghum molasses + dijon emulsion. Served with a kale sesame salad, seared sashimi tofu, house pickled ginger and wasabi

My husband ordered the Curry Bowl. It had a great variety of different vegetables, and the the curry was spicy and tasty. My only complaint was that the curry didn’t seem to penetrate the vegetables, so they weren’t as saturated with the curry flavor as I had hoped. My husband also mentioned that the rice (not pictured) was unusually salty. The concept of the dish was great, but the execution didn’t quite hit the mark.

Housemade yellow curry, coconut milk and seasoned vegetables prepared on a spice level from 1 through 5, served with jasmine rice on the side 

To end the meal, we ordered a slice of a dark chocolate ganache pie. The texture was smooth and creamy and the crunchy pretzel crust was a great base. The salted caramel drizzle tied the whole thing together nicely. My husband’s sister liked it so much that she wanted to buy a whole one to take home, but we were told that required advance notice.

Dark Chocolate Ganache Pie with Pretzel Crust and Salted Caramel

Our experience at Fiction Kitchen lived up to all of the hype, and we are DEFINITELY coming back again soon.

It’s almost too good to be vegan!

 

✿ Katie ✿

Evolution of Chinese Food in America

There are over 45,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. That’s more than McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC combined. The majority of these restaurants offer very similar looking and tasting food, even though these restaurants are independently owned and operated.

I grew up in a household where my mother only cooked Chinese food. However, most of these dishes were nothing like the most popular dishes ordered at Chinese takeout restaurants. As Jennifer Lee explains in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles,

“As a child, I never considered it strange that the food we ordered from Chinese restaurants didn’t quite resemble my mom’s home cooking. My mom used white rice, soy sauce, garlic, scallions, and a wok. But she never deep-fried chunks of meat, succulent and soft, then drenched them with rich, flavorful sauce. She cooked with ingredients that were pickled and dried and of strange shapes and never appeared on the takeout menu.”

The assimilation of Chinese immigrants into American culture is not exactly a happy story. It’s also a story that not many people are familiar with.

In the 19th century, the people in China faced an onslaught of hardships, including natural disasters, war, overpopulation, and the financial burdens brought on by Western Imperialism. When the news of gold in California reached China, the decision to travel halfway around the world was even more enticing. After the Chinese people arrived in San Francisco, Americans did not know what to make of them. They wore long braids, spoke a strange language, ate foods Westerners had never encountered, and had terrible table manners (they eat with sticks!). Chinese cuisine comprised of many animals that Americans deemed repulsive, and an image of a rat-eating Chinese man was featured in school textbooks in the late 1800s. Advertisements also used anti-Chinese sentiments as a means to sell their products.

As more Chinese people arrived looking for work, the negative perceptions of them increased. This led to countless lynchings, shootings, and arson, targeted at the ethnic group. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882, which restricted Chinese immigration and prevented Chinese arrivals from becoming naturalized citizens. This is the only law passed in American history to exclude a group by race or ethnicity. As the doors were closed to Chinese immigration, and jobs in agriculture, mining, and manufacturing were taken back by the Americans, the Chinese already living in America had to find an alternative way to make a living. Their solution was opening up laundries and restaurants. The number of Chinese-owned restaurants and laundries flourished in the late 1800s, particularly on the west coast. Because cleaning and cooking were both considered women’s work,  American laborers did not feel threatened.

In the Chinese restaurants, the food served was not the same food that Chinese people ate themselves. They served food that was exotic but not scary. The most well-known dish was chop suey, which consists of meat, a thick sauce, and Asian vegetables (bean sprouts, water chestnuts, celery, cabbage). Many Americans believed this was a signature Chinese dish, but it was invented and served exclusively overseas. The name of the dish translates literally to “odds and ends” in Cantonese. There are a few theories about how the dish came about but no documented proof. Although the dish is becoming lesser known over time, being replaced by other Americanized Chinese dishes such as General Tso’s chicken, it paved the way and popularized American-friendly Chinese food.

Chop Suey

Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), immigration from China was non-existent and the chop suey phase lasted for many decades. The borders finally reopened in 1943, but laws didn’t become more lenient until 1965. New styles of Chinese cuisine were introduced – Szechuan and Hunan. People living in these two regions of China typically enjoy dishes that are flavorful and very spicy. However, the people who were cooking these types of food were mostly from Taiwan and Hong Kong, known for their lighter and sweeter dishes. So the end result was a mashup of Taiwanese food, with inspiration from Szechuan and Hunan, using ingredients familiar to American palates that often didn’t exist in China. That is how the deep fried, sweet and spicy dishes we know and love originally found its way onto Chinese menus. None of these dishes were “authentic,” but new immigrants opening Chinese restaurants copied what seemed to be working and these similar tasting dishes with the same names materialized all over the United States.

In the early 2000s, other Asian ethnicities (Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese) with more “authentic” menus flooded urban cities, giving adventurous eaters some alternatives to the well-loved Americanized Chinese food. In recent years, first and second generation Chinese-Americans have embraced their roots and opened up restaurants featuring true Chinese cuisine, such as hand pulled noodles, steamed buns, and whole fish. Fusion cuisine has also taken off, combining both Asian and European styles to create an entirely new category of dishes.

How Chinese food will evolve from this point on, no one knows. The possibilities are endless!

 

✿ Katie ✿

Sleep Training

After you bring your new baby home, sleep becomes one of life’s most precious commodities. When the baby doesn’t sleep, one or both parents also don’t sleep. Some babies are naturally great sleepers while others require hours of bouncing, rocking, and soothing, just for a short nap. To make things even harder, there are so many precautions and recommendations about safe sleep for babies.

SIDS danger. Back is best. No loose blankets. No stuffed animals. Nothing in the crib. Flat, firm surface only. Sleep in the same room until 6 months. Don’t co-sleep. Avoid sleeping in car seats, swings, bouncers, etc. Make sure the baby is not overheated.

This can be extremely overwhelming, particularly when a desperate and exhausted parent is trying to get the baby to sleep by any means necessary.

‘The baby will only fall asleep in the swing. Does this make me a bad parent?’

In the first three months, you’re in pure survival mode. Don’t worry about bad habits, spoiling the baby, or holding the baby too much. Do whatever needs to be done to keep the baby thriving and happy. But after the baby gets to be 4-6 months old and is still waking up 6 times a night, the idea of sleep training starts to get tossed around.

What is sleep training?

It refers to helping a baby learn how to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night without assistance. This is done by taking away sleeping aids (rocking, patting, shushing, feeding, pacifier) that the baby depends on to fall asleep and letting the baby fall asleep on his/her own by learning to self-soothe. The belief is that if the baby is used to having these aids to fall asleep and wakes up in the middle of the night without them, falling asleep again will be much harder to do. Successful sleep training would ideally result in better rest and less stress for both the baby and the parents.

Research

Critics claim that allowing the baby to be in distress for prolonged periods of time could be detrimental to development and cause learned helplessness. However, there is not yet any evidence that support these claims. A study that examined the differences in children who had and had not been sleep trained five years earlier found no significant differences in traits such as sleep problems, behavioral problems, mental health, and attachment issues.

Studies do show that sleep deprivation has long-term negative consequences and can lead to depression-like symptoms and attention issues. This would not only affect the health of the parents but also their ability to care for their child effectively. Sleep deprivation of the baby also affects the baby’s mood and can inhibit attention and learning.

Sleep Training Methods

It is agreed upon across the board that newborns should NOT be sleep trained. They have not yet developed the ability to self-soothe and cannot form good sleeping habits at that age. Four to six months is the most common age range that sleep training experts believe a baby to be ready for sleep training. There are a wide range of methods that are commonly utilized. The five most well-known methods are listed below:

  • No Cry Sleep Solution – Uses gentle techniques such as fading (using a preferred sleep association less and less each night) or substitution (substitute a sleep association with a different sleep association; easier to eliminate since it is not as preferred by the baby)
  • Sleep Lady Shuffle (Gradual Withdrawal) – Sit in a chair next to the crib and verbally soothe and shush baby. Move the chair further away from the crib every night until you are out of the room.
  • Pick Up Put Down (PUPD) – Put baby to bed awake and check on baby at graduated intervals (i.e. 3, 5, 7 minutes) if baby is still crying hard. Pick up baby to soothe and then put down.
  • Graduated Extinction (Ferber) – Put baby to bed awake and check on baby at graduated intervals (i.e. 3, 5, 7 minutes) if baby is still crying hard. Verbally soothe or pat baby to comfort.
  • Weissbluth (Cry It Out, Full Extinction) – After the bedtime routine, put the baby in the room and do not return until the next morning (except for feedings).

Elijah’s Sleep Training Story

We decided to start sleep training Elijah when he was around four and a half months old. He has never been a terrible sleeper but was constantly waking up three to four times a night, and it was really taking a toll on my sleep. His primary soothing mechanisms were feeding and the pacifier, so the goal was to eliminate both of these sleep associations. For the bedtime routine, he had a bottle before bath time, in order to separate any feeding associations. Because he was still relatively young, I did not cut out night feeds entirely, but I did not feed him until it had been at least four hours since the last feeding to make sure that he was actually hungry and not looking to eat for comfort. I also took away the pacifier at night time. 

My original intention was to use the Ferber Graduated Extinction method for sleep training. I purchased and read the book, “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems,” in order to prepare. Once we began training, however, I quickly realized that checks at intervals did not soothe Elijah but rather prolonged his distress. So I stopped going in, and I watched him on the baby monitor to make sure he was okay. The first night was the longest stretch of crying (~25 minutes) before falling asleep. He also woke up a few times during the night and cried around 10-15 minutes each time. He adjusted quickly and after a few days, there was no crying at all at bedtime before he fell asleep – just some grumbling. It also helps that he’s not a crier by nature, so I can typically tell when he’s just fussing and when he actually needs something.

Just because a baby is “trained” does not mean they will be a good sleeper from that point on. Regressions can happen when the baby is sick, teething, or for seemingly no reason at all. He does still have nights where he wakes up more often, but this is not the norm. I try to stay consistent with my techniques, and he typically goes back to his normal sleep patterns after a day or two.

Final Tips

A baby’s personality is very important to consider when deciding whether or not to sleep train. Only you know your baby best and whether or not he/she is ready for sleep training and what method will work the best. Some babies respond to training faster than others and methods can be adjusted accordingly.

Sleep training is not necessarily a requirement to foster good sleeping habits. Some babies are able to develop good sleeping habits naturally over time, but in other cases, bad sleep habits are carried into toddler-hood, preschool, and beyond, when bad habits become much harder to change.

Sleep training is not for everyone, but it did work for us.

 

✿ Katie ✿

Featured image by Alison Wong of New Mom Comics