Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Adventures in Review

This picture is quite representative of how I feel about this past year. It's been interesting, fun and a little weird. I know staring in the face of a live walrus would have been much more audacious than confronting this fake wall-mounted one. My 2015 adventures aren't anything wild and crazy, but still adventures nonetheless. And here are some of them. 

The Move - We deserted our old, dreary, poorly-insulated apartment with an air-conditioning that broke every summer and a roof that leaked every winter, and moved into a more cheerful and inspiring place where the landlord lives right upstairs with an obese cat who often lingers in front of our doorstep like a Russian spy. 

The Art of Feng Shui - Red color scheme in the center, wood objects in the southeast, water elements in the north--those were some feng shui strategies for 2015. Many think it's nonsense and they might be right. I can't provide any scientific evidence to prove its legitimacy. Let's just say it's a harmless superstition I seriously adopted after moving into my new place. I'm currently redecorating my whole house for 2016; the lucky corner will now be in the southwest. Yeah, I know I'm silly and intend to remain that way. 

I Found Pilates - Pilates isn't for the fainthearted, and they call that machine the "reformer" for a reason. My body has been so reformed I feel much healthier now at 35 than back when I was a teenager. The best thing about having more muscles? I can eat bacon, roast duck and pecan pie a little more often without gaining any weight. 

New Friendships - New friends are great byproducts of Pilates. Funny, kind and quirky peeps abound at my Pilates studio. We usually chitchat before and after classes, but sweating, grunting and panting together during class certainly have strengthened our bonds. 

That Trip to L.A. - I'd rather have a luau in Hawaii or dine at Vampire Cafe in Tokyo if I could afford it. But visiting Thai Town, going on a hike and hopping art galleries in L.A. for a few days was still better than sitting here in humdrum Sacramento. Oh and on this trip, I also had my first taste of Colombian food. 

The Balut - Food is one of my main reasons to live. I've had many food adventures throughout the year, but nothing can beat this monstrous, partially-developed duck embryo. 

Two Short Stories - Finishing two short stories in a year isn't very boast-worthy. They are part of my collection of interlinked short stories, which I've been working on for a few years. I believe I have written eight altogether but have decided to keep only one. I'm never too afraid to let go and restart. 

And Of Course, This Blog - As of today, this blog is about 5 months old. Blogging about my own minuscule adventures has turned out to be quite an adventure in itself, because I get to relive them once more through my writing, I guess. Hopefully, in 2016, there will be some big adventures in the mix. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Curry Tragedy

If I could offer Bombay Bar and Grill a piece of advice, I'd tell them to never piss off a starving diner who just had a phenomenally crappy day. How can they detect such a diner? A frown might be an easy clue, but only if it is visible. Most of us don't wear our agonies on our sleeve. A happy face is what we'd rather show. So just to be safe, they should never piss off any customer. Period.

We got there at about 5 pm yesterday; the restaurant was nearly empty; an elderly drunk-looking customer at the bar said a friendly hello; and we were seated at a spacious corner table. We ordered chicken pakora for an appetizer, along with lamb korma and lal maas for our main courses. The lal maas, a popular lamb curry of Rajasthan, was going to be my food adventure of the night. I'd never had it before and was anticipating a delightful first-time experience. But alas, that didn't happen until 2 am the following morning.

We waited for about twenty minutes, then a waiter brought us the lal maas and korma. Our appetizer was obviously delayed or forgotten. On top of that, I realized the entrees, unlike at other Indian restaurants I've been to, didn't automatically come with rice. The waitress who took our orders didn't tell us that or ask if we wanted any rice or naan. I guess she assumed we were going to eat our curries by themselves like soup. Neither did she come back to check how things went with us. So my dinner companion walked over to her and asked for two orders of rice. More waiting and curry staring ensued.

Another fifteen minutes went by. Neither the appetizer nor the rice showed up. I recall ordering extra rice half-way through a meal at another Indian restaurant, and it arrived in less than two minutes. Isn't rice something restaurants make in bulk beforehand and quickly reheat before serving? Not here, I guess. Well, my rice never came, but the waitress did. With a smile on her face, she asked us nonchalantly, "Still waiting for the rice?"

That's when the frown I'd tried to hide all day became visible. Mind you, I normally am quite patient and forgiving. I didn't expect them to treat me like a monarch last night. After a series of misfortunes throughout the day, I only hoped to find some comfort in good food and decent restaurant service. I expected very basic decency, such as getting everything I ordered, reasonable wait time (considering how quiet the restaurant was), and a waitress who acted like she gave a shit.

No, I didn't harangue the waitress or demand any special compensation. I simply told her we never got our appetizer, asked her to box everything to go, and let my discontentment be known through my tone of voice and facial expression. My dinner companion looked at me as if I was making a big deal out of nothing. "It's just a human mistake," said he, who, by the way, often gets angry at innocent pedestrians who cross the street rather slowly and once threw a little fit at Safeway when the self-checkout machine asked him to wait for assistance. Yes, he was correct. I acknowledged that and continued to sulk.

The owner later came to apologize and gave us a 20% discount. Feeling too lousy to eat, I returned home, put my food in the fridge and went to bed at seven. Then at 2 am, with my stomach growling, I woke up to microwave my lal maas. How was it? It was scrumptious. I wish my food adventure had played out differently. I wish I hadn't got so mad at my husband for not sympathizing with me that I demoted him to "dinner companion" in this blog post. But I couldn't help it. I was a starving diner who just had a phenomenally crappy day. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Vanilla Spiced Applesauce

5 Reasons to Make Your Own Applesauce
  1. Wasting apples is a sin. Every time you let apples rot and toss them into the garbage can, be ashamed. Be really ashamed! 
  2. It's much easier to make than apple pies. With the gracious help of a functional stove, you can concoct a decent homemade applesauce no matter how inept of a chef you are. 
  3. It's worth a little brag. This will help you come across as a somewhat productive and resourceful person in a conversation........although all you actually do is read tweets and watch House of Cards on Netflix while letting the stove finish its job.
  4. It's one of the most powerful air fresheners, and not only while it's being cooked! The aroma will linger for quite sometime, permeate the entire house, and spectacularly replace those of overflowed laundry baskets, cluttered kitchen sink and damp towels. 
  5. People adore practical homemade gifts. You can put your applesauce in a mason jar, wrap a ribbon around it and offer this lovely gift to someone. Yes, this delicious creation requires such a tiny budget and minimal effort, but all that will be negated by the magical word "homemade." What your friend will see is a jar of thoughtfulness and love. 

Hope you're convinced. I personally think #1 and #3, in particular, are very persuasive. And here's my vanilla spiced applesauce recipe. 

Ingredients (for a 1-pint jar) 
  • 3 large Golden Delicious apples, chopped (They're sweet and faintly tart, rendering this applesauce a more complex flavor. And no, I don't peel my apples. All the nutritious fiber is in the skin!) 
  • 1 cup sweetened apple cider
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • dashes of ground cinnamon, nutmeg and paprika (Yes, paprika. Just a tiny dash.)Preparation
  1. Put all the ingredients in a saucepan, cover and cook over medium heat for about an hour. Stir occasionally (about every 15 minutes). 
  2. Mash the apple pieces with a potato masher to make it as smooth or chunky as you fancy, and you're done! 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Not All Sauerkraut Soups Are Created Equal

On J street, in the somewhat busy Boulevard Park area, there's a hipster BBQ house showcasing their grilling expertise outdoors for all eyes to see, a pizza parlor with gigantic TVs and multiple beer taps, and then, oddly, next to those two popular spots stands Cafe Marika, a Hungarian/Polish eatery that doesn't seem to fit in the scene or even have a chance to compete. And yet it has managed to survive, and I'm really grateful for its existence. 

Cafe Marika is a rare gem, owned and run by a couple. The husband is the chef, the wife the waitress, and together they're an almighty team. No one else works there. No one! Yep, it's literally mom-and-pop. Although claustrophobic peeps would probably consider this place horrifying, others with no such phobia might find its tiny size a complement to its quaint charm. Jenny, my Pilates classmate, once fondly praised its homey atmosphere and hospitable owners. Erin, my coworker, was brought to tears of nostalgia after having a bite of their stuffed cabbage; it tasted exactly like what her Polish grandma used to make. And my husband is a die-hard fan of their apple strudel. What keeps me going back there, though, is not their schnitzel and goulash, not their classical music, not their beautiful Hungarian accents. Yes, I love all those things but not as much as I love their sauerkraut soup. 

My obsession with this soup is so severe my husband has been teasing me about it. I tried to make it myself once, using Emeril Lagasse's online recipe. How hard could it be? Just sauerkraut, smoked sausage, potatoes and spices. I had all the ingredients, all the patience and one whole afternoon dedicated to this dish. Well, my sauerkraut soup was nothing like the one at Cafe Marika. It was criminally sour even though I actually used less sauerkraut than the recipe required. Sourness aside, the overall flavor wasn't deep or complex or soul-nourishing like the soup I fell in love with. I haven't attempted it again ever since. My guess is the sauerkraut they use at Cafe Marika must be of much higher quality than mine. It might even be their own house-made sauerkraut. 

No, I will not dare ask for their secret recipe. They both seem nice and kind, but if I did that, they might turn into Soup Nazis and ban me from the restaurant indefinitely. Then what would I do? Bring Erin's Polish grandma back from the dead and beg her to cook this soup for me? Sell my soul to Satan for the recipe? For now, I guess I'll just keep going to Cafe Marika and let the almighty team work their magic. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Lost Scallops of Pangaea

Named after a long lost supercontinent, Pangaea Bier Cafe does evoke an appealing mystique. Its charming title and modern-rustic decor are likely not what draw its clientele, though. Most people go there for beers--from something local to wildly exotic, no-nonsense lagers to gimmicky stouts, you can find them all here. Judging from the monumental size of its beer menu, it's quite possible this trendy gastropub carries the largest variety of beers of any bar in Sacramento. What about the food? Well, I ate there only once and it kind of left me scratching my head. 

The mac and cheese, although loaded with bacon goodness, wasn't any more interesting than what a good home cook could whip up. The Pangaea burger stood as the lone winner of the meal. Juicy, well-seasoned, beautifully seared--it deserved a little salute. And then there was that scallop dish. Presentation-wise, it fulfilled what one would expect gastropub food to look like. The artistic spread of grits, the dainty arrangement of verdolagas, the gorgeous golden sear on the scallops and pork belly confit--oh the plate was lovely. Then I ate it, and all my joy met its demise. Keep in mind that I am from Thailand where bold in-your-face flavors are a national frenzy; I cook with fish sauce quite excessively; and I worship salt. Those scallops and pork belly confit, however, epitomized the wrath of the Salt God. It didn't taste too overwhelming after the first few bites, but the saltiness kept building up and building up, and when it reached its crescendo, my tongue was crying for a purifying bath. It was as though they had three different chefs in the kitchen--a nice granny prepared the mac and cheese; Bobby Flay cooked the burger; and a salt sadist was responsible for that gastronomic nightmare. Will I give this restaurant another try? Dunno. Possibly. One thing I hope, though, is that their scallop dish would cease to exist just like the supercontinent of Pangaea. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Buffet

There seemed to be a curious mix of diners on Thanksgiving at Thunder Valley Casino--large families on vacation, lonesome souls with massive appetites but no companions, hardcore gamblers taking a short break to refuel, and laid-back couples (like me and my husband) who chose to have a lazy Thanksgiving without cooking, cleaning or traveling hundreds of miles to join their families. The buffet area, free from dizzying cigarette smoke and vexatious slot ka-chings, welcomed us with its neat array of foods and festooned table runners. Regular brunch items, such as croissants and muffins, took a back seat and let their more festive cousin, the pumpkin cake rings, shine. The "Omelet Expert," rigged with tabletop stoves and little saucepans, stood waiting for eggy requests.  Lovely golden-brown turkeys took the center stage where apron-clad men were stationed with their long carving knives. And yes, there were lots and lots of pies.

I'd eaten there a couple times before and thought the foods were, at best, acceptable. Surprisingly, though, all their Thanksgiving items turned out to be quite impressive. My best bite of the day was the tender turkey wing bathed in robust gravy and accompanied by hearty succotash. The mushroom stuffing, rice pilaf and mashed potatoes also had me ravenously cleaning my plate. Although I did loathe the mushy bread pudding and the spice-deprived egg drop soup (from the Chinese food section), it was a satisfying Thanksgiving meal overall. Plus, a little bit of gambling afterwards kind of aided in digestion. I lost some, won some, lost again, won again, and in the end, left with a $12 surplus. No dirty pots, pans or plates waiting to be cleaned at home. Yep, it was a happy Thanksgiving. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fitness Goal - Pilates Teaser Part 4

Yes, my latest Pilates challenge has been overcome! After about five and a half weeks of practice, I finally accomplished the teaser. Am I receiving a medal or a prize money for this? Nope. My reward is this scrumptious sensation of victory and this realization that I am now stronger, more flexible and more able-bodied than I had ever been. I think there's a word for it.....ah yes, pride! 

Let's trace back to the beginning of my teaser journey. It all started with core strengthening and hamstring stretching. Some believe a strong core is all they need, but in reality, adequate flexibility in the hamstrings and lower back is also a must-have in this exercise. The process of gaining flexibility could take time, depending on each individual. What followed was practice, practice and practice. I practiced my teaser mostly on the mat. I've heard it's easier to practice on the reformer and rely on the straps to facilitate pulling the torso forward and up. That might be true for some people, but personally, during my first few weeks, I found the weight of the straps to be hindering rather than helpful. So I focused on refining my form and honing my balance on the mat first. 

Once I was confident enough to graduate to the reformer, sequencing the movement became my next challenge. I don't know about other Pilates practitioners, but for me, lying with my head hanging off the box and my arms splaying is an excruciatingly awkward position to be in. And let me just say moving from that into the teaser wasn't a walk in the park for me at all. Fortunately, though, my instructor was quite strategic. Together we worked on compartmentalizing "the teaser body": abs scooped, legs firmly pulled into the hip sockets, arms connected to the back muscles, elbows slightly bent, neck relaxed, shoulders open. Sounds easy, right? Yeah...until you actually have to maintain all those things at once while rolling up into the teaser. Well, I did fail on my first few attempts, mainly because of my tendency to initiate the movement with my neck and arms rather than my torso. But I finally got it in the end, and my instructor was so kind to capture this picture of me in my triumphant moment. 

Oh and as you may recall, I made a bet with myself that if I failed this challenge, Tofurky would be my doom. But well, lucky me, I'll be stuffing my face with real turkey this Thanksgiving. Gobble, gobble! 

Pilates Teaser Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Kurogoma Tan Tan Men - Shoki Ramen House

There was not much else I'd rather do on a winter evening than join other ramen lovers at Shoki Ramen House, a popular midtown spot the size of a sardine can. Almost elbow to elbow, we sat contemplating the menu that invited us to either pick one of the classic options or customize our own ramen if we dared. Nope, I didn't take the creative route, but I did try something new: Kuroguma Tan Tan Men.

Packed with grounded black sesame seeds, the Kuroguma broth was dark, thick, earthy, and somewhat Halloweenish like something from a witch's cauldron. Tender bamboo shoots and al dente noodles swam together harmoniously. Grass-fed minced beef added subtle richness as it integrated with the broth. And fresh spinach was a jazzy decoration, much needed in this drab dish. I ordered "extra spicy" but got what I'd call "mild." No biggie, though. There was a jar of chili paste on the table, and I was gratefully eager to use it. Two spoonfuls--perfect!

Plus, having a full view of the ramen mavens in action was such a privilege. With energetic scrupulosity, they maneuvered multiple saucepans at once, switching from one burner to another, sprinkling this, stirring that, and occasionally yelling "Irasshaimase" to welcome entering customers. And oh how that six-year-old kid at the nearby table so enthusiastically and ineptly handled his chopsticks; he was adorable. As usual, a good bowl of ramen gratified me. But noticing others, both the skillful and the clumsy, made the dining experience even more heartening. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fitness Goal - Pilates Teaser Part 3

About a month ago, I ambitiously declared I would challenge myself to accomplish the Pilates teaser within 6 weeks...or else a severe self-punishment would be delivered. What's the punishment? Let me give you some clues. It looks suspicious, probably tastes like tofu, and is a tremendous insult to Thanksgiving turkey (No offense, vegans!). Yep, Tofurkey is what I'm talking about.

My practice strategy has been the same: stretching the hamstrings and lower back, strengthening the abs, doing the teaser every day (well, almost every day, almost!). One helpful technique, which is so basic and yet so often forgotten by us Pilates newbies, is the abdominal scoop. It's an act of pulling the navel in and up toward the spine. By doing this, the deepest abdominal muscle is contracted and fully engaged. I have to admit my first two weeks of teaser practice was done incorrectly; I forgot the scoop! So because my deep abdominal muscle wasn't really engaged, it was awfully hard to roll up. And once I was up in the teaser position, all the tension was dumped into my hip flexors and lower back, making it almost impossible to work on straightening my legs. In other words, my core was crumbling, and everything else went awry! The first time I remembered to do the abs scoop before initiating the roll up was a real aha moment. Rolling up into the teaser wasn't such a struggle anymore; my abs didn't quiver as much; and there was much less pressure in the hip flexors and lower back. I never thought the simple act of sucking in my gut could have such a significant impact on my entire form.

So I have about 10 more days to practice. I'm almost there, I think, judging from this picture which was taken just a few minutes ago. I can now straighten my legs almost all the way, and as I mentioned, rolling up is no longer a problem. It wouldn't be unsound to say that I can perform a decent teaser on the mat already. But my goal is to be able to do it on the reformer with the straps in my hands. Sad to say, a week ago when I attempted that, it didn't go well at all. I'll try it again next week, and we'll see whether my next blog post would be about me achieving my Pilates challenge or me crying over a plate of Tofurkey.

Pilates Teaser Part 1
Pilates Teaser Part 2
Pilates Teaser Part 4

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Football and Sushi at Oshima

Football watching usually involves buffalo wings, onion rings and all things deep-fried, but it wouldn't be sacrilegious to sometimes switch to something a little more refined and sushi! It can get quite boisterous at Oshima on Sundays during an NFL season. The place is big enough to accommodate up to two hundred guests. The sushi menu is two pages long. And a clique has obviously been long formed, as many jersey-clad regulars (who don't seem to come together) greet one another with hugs and firm handshakes. Chopsticks in hands, football fans huddle together in the bar section, furnished with lofty stools and swanky half-circle booths. For sushi lovers who prefer more privacy, there is a separate area for them, though it's doubtful they would be able to completely escape from the hubbub. 

My first experience there last Sunday was worth the time and trip. The spicy-garlic edamame seemed to be one of the most ordered items. Apparently, its in-your-face pungency proved to be a plus point rather than a deterrent. The Bloody Mary was whimsically spiced with Sriracha. The deep-fried calamari, seasoned and coated with a light tempura batter, was quite a treat even without its accompanying sauce. The three sushi rolls I tried all tasted similar, but each also had its own twist. The Crispy Kirk--an unorthodox invention stuffed with three types of fish and laden with cream cheese--might make an old-school sushi master from Tokyo shudder and scream, "Blasphemy!" Luckily, I'm not an old-school sushi master, so it didn't traumatize me. In fact, I quite enjoyed the richness of it. The Oshima roll had spicy tuna and soft-shell crab as its star components. And as history has proven time and again, any sushi with soft-shell crab in it guarantees a delightful texture and a fun masticating experience. The Ninja, although underwhelming with bland albacore and hamachi, made up for its shortcomings with a robust sauce and fat slices of jalapeno. 

At the end, my beloved team, the New York Giants, allowed the lame Saints to score in the last five seconds and win with a field goal. My second favorite, the Niners, also lost. My third favorite, the Lions, lost more badly and more embarrassingly than the others. And the Oshima football clique didn't even invite me to be their newest member. But I just shrugged and left without feeling too defeated. I had a good time; it was all right. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hello Pretzel - Firestone Public House

Three sexy lady bartenders were sporting their Halloween accessories, and the Dolphins-Patriots game was on several TVs, but I only had my eye on the majestic pretzel in front of me. It flaunted its beautiful golden-brown crust and stared back at me defiantly as if to say "I'm bigger than your face, bitch!" Served on what seemed to be a banana holder, the dangling delicacy came with two zesty sauces: pimento cheese and honey-mustard. Forget the low-carb diet. Screw the calorie count. That pretzel was mine to devour. 
If there is a "How to Run a Successful Bar for Dummies" handbook, the owner of Firestone Public House surely has followed the instructions to a T. Spacious indoor and outdoor seating areas. Efficient staff. Sports on TVs. Guaranteed crowd-pleasing menu. Enticing happy-hour selection. As long as the country isn't in recession, and there are sports lovers, drinkers, and hungry people in town, this mirthful place probably won't be short of customers. 

Needless to say, our time there last night was all smiles and no frowns. The Patriots were kicking the Dolphins' sad behinds, as we enjoyed our beer, fried-chicken gumbo and grilled salmon drenched with decadent citrus butter. The salmon had that perfect charred taste. The gumbo, although not tasting or looking exactly like the authentic version one would get in Louisiana, was delicious enough for me. Without that extra-crispy fried chicken, though, the dish might not have been as memorable. And how was the pretzel? Its quality was as impressive as its size. Enough said. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Adventurous Mac And Cheese with Turkey Sausage and Broccoli

Calling this "adventurous" might be a bit of a misnomer. It is, in fact, an extremely easy mac & cheese recipe that I, someone who enjoys eating much more than cooking, just invented yesterday. It doesn't require freaky ingredients, like a duck embryo or pork intestines. And the preparation is pretty straightforward. No baking. No liquid nitrogen freezing. No molecular cooking of any kind. (I'm not Wylie Dufresne!) However, I see this as a mini adventure due to the haphazard nature of its inception. Some smoked turkey sausage had been languishing in my fridge since last week, and the broccoli in the bottom compartment was threatening to turn yellow. I had to use them! Many groovy ideas came to my mind. Fried rice, stir-fry, soup--all seemed to guarantee a victory. But in the end, I went with mac and cheese. I'd never made this comfort dish with turkey sausage before, and was curious to find out what it'd be like to zing it up a bit with some Creole seasoning. Well, it was worth the time and effort. Was it spectacular like the Skillet Mac and Cheese at The Porch? Of course not. But it was pretty darn a humbly homey way. And here's how to make it.

  • 1 cup Smoked Turkey Sausage (sliced)
  • 1 cup Broccoli (chopped)
  • 1 1/2 cups Mini Penne Pasta
  • 1 tbsp. Safflower Oil
  • 1 1/2 cups 2% Milk
  • 2 tbsps. Flour
  • 2 cups Triple Cheddar Blend
  • Salt to Taste
  • Creole Seasoning to Taste
  • Cook pasta in lightly salted water. 
  • In the meantime, add oil to a skillet. Add sausage and broccoli, and saute on medium heat until sausage is lightly browned, and broccoli is tender but still a little crunchy. Set aside. 
  • Once the pasta is done, drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside. 
  • Warm 1 cup of milk in a saucepan, over low heat. In a bowl, whisk the rest of the milk and flour together until there is no lump. Add the milk-and-flour mixture to the saucepan. Stir until it slightly thickens. 
  • Add cheese and stir until the sauce is well-blended and creamy. Add Creole seasoning and salt to your liking. 
  • Add pasta, sausage, and broccoli to the sauce. Stir together well and enjoy! 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fitness Friday - Motivational Gym Apparel

To some, "Fitness Friday" might just sound like one of those silly Twitter hashtags, a heartening fad most fail to adhere to. Is this phrase so popular because of its catchy alliteration? Or is it an idea worth adopting? I'd say both. Of course, "Fitness Every day" would be much more ideal, but for many, that isn't even remotely doable. So think about it this way: "Fitness Friday" is much better than "Fitness Never." Why Friday? Well, in addition to its alliterative effect, it makes a lot of sense. It's the end of a long work week, why not do something nice for your body? And no need to fret about the soreness or over-exhaustion; you have the next two days to rest and rejuvenate.

I created this design for those who'd like to use their fitness gear as a motivational tool. How? Let me exemplify. I take Pilates classes 5 - 7 times a week because I find the workout enjoyable, I adore my instructors and classmates, and my sassy leggings just beg to be worn. I also take walks on a regular basis because I like fresh air, and it's a real shame to let my cute pair of Sketchers sit uselessly on a shoe shelf. Yeah, sometimes a frivolous thing like your exercise clothing could give you that little extra push you need. I hope my "Fitness Friday" collection can encourage some people to maintain their commitment. That Herculean flexing arm isn't meant to be everyone's body image goal but a symbol of strength and perseverance. If you'd like to check out the collection, Om and More is the place to go! 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Fitness Goal - Pilates Teaser Part 2

It's been about a week since I embarked on the challenging road to mastering the Pilates teaser. I started off practicing with my feet pressing against a wall, my legs straight at a 45-degree angle, the rest of my body supine on a mat. Then I slowly rolled up and down, one vertebrae at a time, my breathing synchronizing with my movement. It's a good place to start, especially for those who, like me, have trouble keeping their legs up while attempting the teaser. I did three sessions of this per day--first thing in the morning, before lunch and then early evening. All the while, I continued to attend Pilates classes almost every day and tried to stretch, stretch, stretch my hamstrings and lower back whenever possible. The seated forward bend and the butterfly stretch are my favorites. In case you're interested in following my route to the teaser glory, please remember not to over-practice or force the stretch if your lower back and hip flexors are super tight. I once heard of an aspiring yogi who got overzealous with her stretches and ended up with a horrific case of herniated disk, which rendered her bedridden for weeks. What a nightmare!

As of today, I can practice the teaser on the mat without using the wall at all (as shown in the above photo). Rolling up is no longer an issue. To say that I can now do the teaser, however, would be quite inaccurate. I still have to keep my knees slightly bent in order to balance; my shoulders are still too rounded; my legs and core still tremble throughout the exercise. In other words, my overall form needs much refinement. That's all right. I still have five more weeks to go. The most frustrating thing about this Pilates challenge so far is actually not the physical but the mental aspect of it. To be more specific, my envy is killing me! Day after day, I keep witnessing some of my Pilates classmates (who don't look any more fit than I am and have been doing Pilates just about as long as I have) performing the teaser with the same amount of effort one would need to pour cornflakes into a bowl. And I just think to myself, "What the fuck?" (Excuse my language.) Well, what can I do but keep trying? Hopefully, my goal will soon be achieved, and the green-eyed monster will thus be appeased.

Pilates Teaser Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Scallop-Stuffed Chinese Squash - New Hong Kong Wok

New Hong Kong Wok is the kind of restaurant that might make you ask yourself, "Am I in Sacramento or the Kowloon Peninsula?" Through the course of our meal last night, my husband and I seemed to be the only non-Chinese speakers there. Being an Asian, I blended in (at least physically), whereas dear Hubby stood out like Moby Dick. The menu was lengthy, partially illustrated, and filled with items you wouldn't find in an Americanized Chinese restaurant like P.F. Chang's. Even I, an oriental-food enthusiast, was unfamiliar with many of their dishes. It didn't matter, though. The waiting staff, dressed in crisp uniforms and speaking with delightful Chinese accents, were eager to answer any question we had. 

We ordered three things, two of which we'd had before and the third one was our new little adventure. The salt-and-pepper shrimp--crispy and zingy as usual--made crunchy noises in our mouths as we chomped on their heads and shells. The Mongolian beef, despite its excessive sodium, was (in my personal opinion) worth the risk of high blood pressure and fluid retention. Our adventure, the scallop-stuffed Chinese squash, was the one that stole the show. It was prepared with scallop bits, not whole, juicy, plump ones. Also, there seemed to be quite a bit of grease in the sauce. And yet, in spite of the humble ingredients and oily error, this dish somehow miraculously tasted so, so, so freaking good. 

While we were eating, I noticed an apron-clad lady (probably a cook on break) sitting by herself and thumbing her phone at another table. Not a tiny table in a discreet corner. But a big round one on a very conspicuous know, the kind that comes with a Lazy Susan and is sizable enough to accommodate a family of eight. And as the diners were quietly chitchatting during their meals, the waiting staff were carrying on a much louder conversation among themselves. Things like these, for many Americans, are probably deemed unprofessional and unacceptable. But I didn't mind. Such casual atmosphere reminded me of mom-and-pop eateries in Thailand. The staff could be boisterous and gabby, and that's fine as long as the service is fast and the food is delicious. The phone-thumbing cook could fall into a slumber on top of the Lazy Susan and snore like a leaf blower. Still, that wouldn't stop me from going back there. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fitness Goal - Pilates Teaser Part 1

The tall, tattooed lady in this video isn't me. I'm shorter; my tattoo isn't as cool; and I cannot yet perform the teaser with such queenly grace. "Yet" is the keyword here. I'm giving myself six weeks to master this exercise, which means my deadline is this coming Thanksgiving. And if I can't achieve this fitness goal by then, I'll punish myself with a Tofurky.

Why am I doing this? Well, I think we should always set ourselves some goals--whether big or small, physical or occupational, formidably challenging or somewhat easy--in order to live a passionate life. I have many, many goals. Some would take years to achieve. Some don't even sound realistic. This fitness goal, though, should be attainable within the six-week time frame. I have completed my 100-day Pilates challenge, and right now, I think I'm at the intermediate level. So if I get serious and practice every day, I should be able to pull off this intimidating exercise. I might not look as elegant as this person in the video, but I should be able to roll up, form a good-enough V with my body and hold the position for at least five to ten seconds, without dropping my legs or falling gracelessly backwards. That's my goal.

My Strategies? The teaser requires a lot of core strength, flexibility and precision. As two of my instructors pointed out, right now my abdominal strength is probably adequate, but my hamstrings are a little tight. And I tend to hunch my shoulders while moving the straps up and down, rather than pull my arms back, keep the shoulders open, which would help stabilize my upper body. So I've got a lot to improve on. In the next three weeks, I'll focus on stretching my hamstrings and back. Once I get that done, I'll work on the sequencing and timing. The teaser, especially the version performed on a reformer with straps in hands, is a tricky thing. To execute it, one must understand the precise sequence of muscle recruitment. In the next six weeks, I'll write about my "teaser journey" every now and then. Hopefully, at the end of this Pilates challenge, I won't have to eat Tofurky.

Pilates Teaser Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Duck Confit with Cinderella Squash Risotto - Magpie

I got to visit the new Magpie on 16th Street a few days ago and much preferred this one to its previous lackluster location on R. The outdoor seating area was sizable and inviting, but on that balmy day, I decided to dodge the heat. Welcomed by its minimalist decor and lofty ceiling, its partially exposed kitchen and cardboard menus, I sat down, took in its eminent hipster vibe and ordered my dinner: duck confit with Cinderella squash risotto. While waiting, I eyed their baked-goods display case from afar and contemplated whether I should get dessert afterwards. In the meantime, the clanking and smell from the kitchen mercilessly revved up my appetite. Then it arrived! My Instagram-worthy plate of food. Crowned with shredded duck confit, smoked goat cheese and sage, the risotto upstaged everything else with its vibrant hue. And beneath that hill of scrumptious creaminess was an assortment of roasted root vegetables, Brussels sprouts, and turnip greens, so tender and fresh-tasting it rendered that delightful farm-to-table feel. People say great food is cooked with love. Well, I have no idea how much love the chef put into the preparation of this. Maybe a lot. Maybe none. I didn't watch them cook. But one thing I know is that it was executed with such mastery and high-quality ingredients that it tasted kind of like love. Motherly indulgent love. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Dining Adventure at Moxie

I'd like to compare this meal to marathon running. Not because it took so long to finish, but due to the three distinct chapters of the experience--a robust promising start, a tedious middle section, and a sweet victorious ending. Despite its reputation as an upscale restaurant, Moxie seemed surprisingly unpretentious on the outside--just two small frosted windows and red double doors, under a simple black awning printed with the restaurant's name in quaint script font. The owner, a charming silver-bearded gentleman, greeted us warmly with his foreign accent (Italian?), and seated us next to the black-and-white photo of Marilyn Monroe. The interior was dim, cozy, and romantic in a nostalgic way. The food menu contained only one page, but the "today's special list" described to us by Mr. Silver Beard was quite extensive. Much more lengthy than the menu itself! By the time he finished, I'd already forgotten the first few items he mentioned. But anyway, here's what we got. 

Our appetizer: crab cakes. The first bite hit me with a spicy zing, then as I continued eating, a crescendo of flavors just kept manifesting itself in my mouth. It was a majestic dish, to which I mentally curtsied.

My entree: lamb piccata. I applauded this dish for its lovely presentation. Under-seasoning, however, was a crime against veal. And charging $30 for something bland and greasy like this was downright unforgivable.

Hubby's entree: baked sea bass. I took a bite of the fish, shrugged, and did not wish to eat any more of it. When I asked my husband what his favorite component of the dish was, he replied, "the pickled red cabbage" (which is hidden under the carrot in this photo).

Our dessert: lemon chiffon cake. Our final course tasted as delightful as it appeared on the plate. These little slices of delicate, tangy cake were a saving grace of the meal. If I had walked out of Moxie with the taste of that veal tragedy in my mouth, I might not want to waste my husband's state-employee income at this place again. But since our dinner started off so strong and ended on a high note, I think I'll give Mr. Silver Beard and his crew another chance. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Embark on the Unknown - The Mysterious Nep Cha Bong

Once at a Chinese restaurant, when my husband and I were surrounded by Chinese-handwritten menu items, plastered on four walls, I said to him, "Instead of looking at the English menu, we should just randomly point at some of those and wait for the mystery to unravel." Yes, it was a facetious and ridiculous suggestion, which of course, he didn't follow. That doesn't mean it won't ever happen, though. Someday, if we feel bored enough and crazy enough, we might do just that. Everything we've had there so far was delicious or at least decent, and I wouldn't be too faint-hearted to eat some weird animal parts like intestines, feet, or eyeballs. So I'm seeing this silly plan as a risk within the realm of safety....something we all should embrace every once in a while.  

Recently, I did something of similar nature. No, I didn't haphazardly pick a dish from a foreign-language menu. I could see the prepackaged item I purchased, but still, I was somewhat ambivalent about what it might be (until I ate it and also did a Google search). I bought this bewildering-looking snack from Huong Lan, a Vietnamese sandwich shop in South Sacramento. On its cellophane package, the label read "Nep Cha Bong." That was it. No English translation, list of ingredients, or nutrition info. It seemed to be some sort of meat sandwiched between two fried doughy sheets. A crepe, I assumed. A stuffed rice cake--I took another guess. I suppose I could have asked someone. But the place was quite busy, and the staff didn't seem to speak much English. So I thought, "Oh what the heck! It looks edible enough. I'll give it a try." 

It turned out those golden sheets were rice crackers, made with cooked sticky rice, pressed into about half-inch slabs and deep-fried until crispy. And the filling was comprised of fluffy dried pork (aka pork fu or meat floss), sliced Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and green onions. Was it good? Well, let's say it wasn't repulsive. I ate all of the filling and one of the rice crackers, which I wished would have been crispier and less greasy. But you know what? Despite its little shortcomings, I still cherished my nep-cha-bong experience. The food itself might not be impressive, but I loved the taste of surprise. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Grinning Halloween Skull

Mr. Orange Skull is grinning at ya! I wish he could appear a bit more friendly, but he wouldn't compromise his reputation for being spooky. Why is he orange? He's a crossbreed between a regular skull and a jack-o-lantern. And why does he look speckled? Well, because I like him that way. It makes him more goth-looking and less cartoonish, I think. And as you can see, he's the star of my Halloween collection. The items presented here are only a small fraction of the whole collection, though. There are a lot more, from throw pillows and gym bags to jelly-belly jars and baby clothing. You can find them all at Festive Fair. The Trick or Pilates tank top, however, can be purchased at Om And More. I designed this tank for myself to wear to the Halloween Wicked Workout classes at Humani (the best Pilates studio EVER!). And the awesome thing is it's customizable. In case you're not into Pilates, you could change it to "Trick or Yoga," "Trick or Knit," or whatever. The only part that can't be customized is Mr. Orange Skull himself. Sorry, you can't turn him into a witch or a ghoul or a hobbit. He's the mainspring of this artistic endeavor!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Soju Green Tea

This emerald beverage, which looks like something from a mad scientist's beaker, is listed on Ramen House Raijin's menu as "Green Tea Hai." If you're not familiar with soju and think this is a healthy drink, I'm sorry to disappoint you. It's not the kind of green tea Zen monks would drink between meditation sessions or something weight-loss enthusiasts would sip throughout the day to rev up their metabolism. But it's a fabulous drink, nonetheless! This cocktail is a blend of green tea, soju (a vodka-like rice liquor), and probably either simple syrup or agave nectar. The ratio between green tea and alcohol, I think, is perfect. The green tea flavor is still at the forefront, while the soju gives it a smooth liquor aftertaste.  Mildly alcoholic and very refreshing, this green tea with a twist is great for lightweight drinkers like myself or non-drinkers who'd like to get a little adventurous without embarrassing themselves. (But in case you try this and somehow get totally wasted, please don't send me a hex. I'm taking no responsibility for your zero alcohol tolerance or reckless imbibing. Drink responsibly, people!)

And did I mention you can find this at Raijin? Now don't get this place confused with Ryujin, another ramen house a crosswalk away from it. I know that could be difficult. They both start with an "r" and end with "jin." They both look somewhat nondescript from the outside. And there's even a gregarious waiter who alternates between the two restaurants! I, too, haunt these ramen shops. And yes, I see the said waiter a lot, yet his exuberant attitude has never ceased to amaze me. It's in his face, his cadence, his mannerism. He must really enjoy seeing people eat ramen. Or.....maybe he looks so happy because he drinks lots of this green tea cocktail. Nah, I don't think it's the latter. He just loves us ramen eaters. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tsukemen - Ramen House Ryujin

I believe my history with ramen dates back to when I was around five, before I even learned how to use chopsticks. My first ramen dish was probably spoon-fed to me by either my mom or grandma. And since it was introduced to me so early in my life by those who loved me dearly, it has always been one of my favorite comfort foods. I can enjoy it anytime of day, anytime of year. Even on a 100-degree day, I still wouldn't say no to a hot bowl of delicious ramen. 

When we hear the word "ramen," most of us would think of a steamy bowl of noodle soup, wouldn't we? At least, that's the definition in my dictionary. Recently, though, I've tried a different version of ramen at Ryujin. The dish is known as Tsukemen, which is chilled ramen served, not in a bowl of broth, but on a plate accompanied by a warm dipping sauce. Legend has it this unorthodox dish accidentally came to existence in 1955 when Kazuo Yamagishi, a young apprentice at a ramen shop, was trying to be economical and resourceful. He gathered leftover noodles from the kitchen, then instead of adding some broth, he just dipped them in a simple soy-and-vinegar-based sauce. It could easily have been a one-time thing. Yamagishi could have thought to himself, "Eh, silly me. What the heck am I eating? Never again!" But no, it was his lucky day. Some customers witnessed his improvisation and were curious to try it too. And of course, they loved it! A few years later, Yamagishi opened his own shop, and his business phenomenally thrived, but Tsukemen didn't really become mainstream until the early 2000s when the Japanese media started to give it overdue attention. Now Tsukemen is offered in most ramen houses in Japan, and Yamagishi (who recently passed away) will forever be remembered as the Ramen Godfather of Tokyo.  

And now back to my first experience with the dipping noodles--well, I did enjoy the dish a lot. The fusion of chilled noodles and warm sauce (which was very tasty) kind of caused a whimsical yin-yang sensation in my mouth. Although I myself prefer the traditional soupy version, Tsukemen is something I would wholeheartedly recommend to ramen enthusiasts who haven't tried it yet. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Goodies from Freeport Bakery

I must have driven past Freeport Bakery more than fifty times in the past few years, and yet, never stopped to check it out until recently. The place is small and not very noticeable. Also, there are three other good bakeries within walking distance from my house. Why drive to Freeport? As reasonable as that sounds, I am still a bit disgruntled at myself for not having ventured into this sweet heaven sooner. I guess I just don't like the idea of me missing out on something so delightful, especially when it's right under my nose. They offer a pretty sizable selection, and most of their cakes and baked goods look so gorgeous I'd love to buy one of each, take photos of them all and go on an Instagram posting binge. But well, on that particular day, I only had enough calorie allotment for two things: a fudge cupcake and a tiramisu cake pop. What can I say about those goodies? They tempted me to go find the baker and give him/her the warmest bear hug. They motivated me to try to live to be over 100 years old just to keep savoring sweet little things. They were almost as good as sex. They made me the happiest glutton. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

My First Burmese Lunch - Burma Superstar

I know it sounds a bit odd that I'd lived in Thailand for over two decades without once trying the cuisine of my neighboring country, Burma. You might even compare me to a Texan shying away from Mexican food. The truth is Burmese restaurants in Bangkok, my hometown, were and still are extremely rare. So it was a matter of inconvenience, not unwillingness. I had my first taste of Burmese food just last week in San Francisco, at a small eatery called Burma Superstar. I found the flavor profiles to be quite familiar, yet there were also some surprising elements. 

Entering the restaurant, we were enveloped by an intense (but not too intense) aroma of spices, which revealed its deep-rooted connection to Indian cuisines. And as I earlier mentioned, the place was humble in size. We had to walk sideways between tables (And I'm not even big; I'm 5-foot, 110-lbs.), rendering it not ideal for claustrophobic diners. That aside, everything else--the decor, the staff, the hygiene, the promptness, the food--was very pleasant. 

The tea leaf salad--a refreshing appetizer comprised of fermented tea leaf, lettuce, tomatoes, roasted peanuts, roasted sesame seeds, roasted pumpkin seeds, crispy fried garlic, jalapenos and dried shrimp--was the star of our lunch. Complex in texture and incredibly fragrant, it totally outshone our entrees. I never thought I'd say this, but yeah, I enjoyed EATING tea. Then we had lamb curry and pork curry with pickled mango. (Perhaps we shouldn't have ordered two curries, but I guess we were really in the mood!) Both were hearty and packed with spices, more like pungent Indian curries than coconutty Southeast-Asian versions. One thing I found lacking in those curries, though, was the heat. I don't know, maybe that's just the way Burmese food is supposed to be. But personally, I would have loved for them to match the bold fragrance with fiery spiciness. Yeah, I'm a typical Thai with a chili pepper addiction, and I can't lie. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

100 Days of Pilates in a ROW

(Best Grainy Picture Ever!)

Yay to me! Yesterday was my 100th day of Pilates in a ROW. It started off as a 30-day challenge, then turned into 40, 50, 60, and you know the rest. No, I hadn't always been a self-motivated or super athletic person. I wasn't totally out of shape or desperately looking for ways to lose weight, either. I was like a lot of people, trying to stay healthy and adequately active, but finding it hard to do so due to the lack of inspiration, passion, and most importantly, self-discipline. I took the first Pilates class of my life at Humani, on April 25th this year. Having lunch with a friend afterwards, my hands were still too shaky from the workout to hold the utensils, which surprised me a little. Like I said, I didn't consider myself to be out of shape. I did yoga, swam, took walks and had an Elliptical machine at my disposal. How could fifty minutes of introductory Pilates make me look like an alcoholic undergoing a withdrawal? I can't say I was hooked at that point, but I was intrigued enough to book more classes. 

Oh how I must have looked so clueless and awkward during the first few weeks. But the more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. Pilates awakened some really deep muscles that might have been dormant since my birth. Feeling those muscles working for the first time was a bizarre sensation. (And yes, soreness was inevitable!) The positive effects of my Pilates practice went beyond the physical level, though. It mitigated my anxiety-prone temperament and increased my focus, which enabled me to be more productive in my creative works. What I also found so incredible were all the things we could do on the reformer--the bed-like equipment rigged with pulleys, straps, a foot bar and adjustable springs--designed by Joseph Pilates himself. We ran. We skated. We balanced upside down. We swam breast strokes. We did grasshopper push-ups. We rowed. We did (or mimicked) all those exercises and many more on the reformer. Strenuous? Yes. Intimidating? Yes. Boring? Never.  

I embarked on my 30-day challenge in June, very skeptical whether I would be able to make it. But well, I did. Plus 70 more days! Lesson learned: never underestimate your own body. So am I a superwoman? Not at all. I accomplished this because I simply enjoy Pilates. I've been attending classes with the similar feeling as going to my favorite restaurants or visiting my best friends. When you're passionate about something, self-discipline will happen naturally. Even when your abs are quivering and your quads are burning and you're secretly cursing the instructor, you know you'll walk away with a sense of triumph and later be hungry for more. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Peanut Butter Curry Ice-Cream - Humphry Slocombe

This Labor Day weekend, my inquisitive taste buds led me to embark on a little food adventure in San Francisco. And Humphry Slocombe, a tiny ice-cream shop in Mission District, was one of my destinations. Renowned for their creative (and sometimes twisted) ice-cream flavors, they didn't offer a myriad of familiar choices but a handful of distinctive options. Sadly, though, the crazy flavors I wanted to try (like the jalapeno corn bread and the foie gras) weren't available that day. So I opted for the Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee, a flavor I was pretty sure I'd enjoy, and the peanut-butter curry, a risk I was willing to take. 

Well, my intuition about the Vietnamese coffee ice-cream was correct; I did like its hefty chicory taste. If we had had a cooler in the car, I would have brought gallons of it back to Sacramento with me. As for the peanut butter curry ice-cream....hmm, I don't know. My husband loved it, and it seemed to be one of the most popular flavors there. But I have to disagree with those PB curry ice-cream fans. There was slight disharmony among peanut butter, cream, and curry spices - like three coeds reluctantly rooming together. Peanut butter and curry (who should be best friends) were constantly fighting while cream was kind of just there lingering in the background, too meek to intervene. Still, I finished the whole scoop. It wasn't horrible, just not my thing. And I'm glad I tried it, so now I can tell people I had PB curry ice-cream! 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Kintoki Snow Cone

To me, snow cones are somewhat medicinal. Yes, I'm aware of their sugar content and artificial colorants that, horror of horrors, have been linked to a host of diseases! But still, they're my magic elixir, my anti-depressant, my love potion. When it gets so hot that my whole body sheds copious tears of summery woes (I guess most people call that "sweating"), I revitalize myself with a snow cone. When too many things go wrong in one day, I let a snow cone comfort me. When my dear husband sits uselessly on the couch watching TV and completely ignoring my awesome existence, I say "Why don't you drive me to Osaka-Ya and buy me a snow cone?" And he always complies, turning off the TV and grabbing the car key. Some husbands would say, "Drive there yourself. You're not a goddamn kid!!!" But not mine. He's always willing to drive me twelve blocks down the street and get me a snow cone. As insignificant as that sounds, I find it kind of romantic. And every time I eat a snow cone he's bought for me, I think I love him a little more.

Now let me talk about the snow cone in the above photo. Doesn't it look lovely? It's a kintoki snow cone, consisting of shaved ice, syrup, condensed milk and sweet red beans. (Some people also like to add ice-cream and green tea powder.) I had this for the first time last Sunday. Normally, I'd just get a regular snow cone; red beans weren't something I considered alluring when it came to sweet treats. But last week, I was thinking, "Hmm, I need something to blog more adventurous, Om! Try it with the silly beans." And I'm glad I did. They gave me LOTS of beans, not only on top but also inside the snow cone. They were mildly sweet, a little nutty, soft but not mushy. I really enjoyed the added flavor and texture they provided. Plus, red beans are a superfood packed with dietary fiber, protein and antioxidants. So a regular snow cone might be an empty-calorie snack, but a kintoki snow cone is relatively healthy. Cheers to the red beans! 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Okonomiyaki - Ramen House Raijin

This multi-syllable treat was still audibly sizzling when the waiter placed it in front of me last night. I've heard people call it a "Japanese pizza" and sometimes "Japanese pancake," but I wouldn't label this unique dish with either of those terms. Okonomiyaki is its own entity--an amalgamation of cabbage, your choice of meat or seafood (I had mine with scallops!), green onions, some kind of batter and eggs, fried until golden-brown, then topped with dried fish flakes, pickled daikon, and a generous amount of thick soy-based sauce and Japanese mayonnaise. (Okonomiyaki actually varies by region. This is just a description of the version I had.) I wouldn't call it a pizza because you can't conveniently eat okonomiyaki with your hand. It would get messy, fall apart and make you look like a silly toddler void of table manners. "Pancake" might be a better term to describe okonomiyaki. But still, it's not quite a pancake. The okonomiyaki batter, although crispy and brown on the outside, remains slightly gooey on the inside, sort of like a crab cake. Then there's this little crunchiness from the shredded cabbage, plus the odd papery texture of the fish flakes. And the pickled daikon, besides adding an extra crunch, also beautifully brightens this otherwise heavy dish with its just-right acidity. Overall, it was really fun to eat, a satisfying food adventure indeed. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Crispy Deep-Fried Intestines - Szechuan Spicy House

In Thailand, pork intestines aren't considered that adventurous to eat. They're just about as common as chicken and calamari. We mainly put them in soups and stews, and sometimes stir-fry dishes. Growing up in Bangkok, I ate pork intestines at least a couple times a month. Strangely, though, I'd never had them deep-fried. My grandmother, the chef of the family, wouldn't cook them that way. And most restaurants wouldn't either. I guess it's just not a Thai thing. 

Then last week, my husband and I decided to venture into this Chinese restaurant called Szechuan Spicy House, located in that part of town where my fellow Asians hang out and eat. Seeing "crispy pork intestines" accompanied by a big, red, chili-pepper sign on their menu, I ordered it without a second thought. If you think this is an unhealthy dish, you're darn right! Pork intestines are intrinsically fatty. And deep-frying them, although adding a beautiful crunch, doesn't render much fat out. It's sort of like deep-fried pork belly...something you hate to love. What saves this dish from being overwhelmingly rich is its epic heat (See all those chili peppers?) and exuberant spices. Its in-your-face spiciness somehow counterbalances its greasy taste quite nicely. I'll order this again for sure. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mangoneada - Azul

This exotically beautiful lady is known by the name of Mangoneada. I had a taste of her last Sunday when I went to lunch with my friend at Azul, a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar. There were some really seductive cocktails on their signature drink menu, such as Paloma Picante (a spicy tequila cocktail with raspberries and Serrano pepper) and Margarita Del Mercado (a creative blend of tequila and refreshing cucumber). Both of them intrigued me quite a bit but failed to win me over. In the end, I decided to go with Mangoneada, an adventurous concoction of silver tequila, mango, tamarind, pepper and Tajin (a chili-lime-salt mix). Most of these ingredients sound like they belong more in a salsa or tacos than a cocktail, don't they? Well, that's part of the reasons why I found her fascinating. And she didn't let me down at all. It was love at first sip, packed with an almighty punch of flavors--zesty, spicy, tangy, sweet. I'd never had a cocktail with such an intense amount of kitchen spices like this before. In fact, I was a bit worried that Mangoneada might taste like a weird mango soup with an accidental spill of alcohol. But no, she turned out to be a perfect summer drink. The best tequila cocktail I've had in my life so far. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Skillet Mac and Cheese - The Porch

I've known my friend, Stan, for about 7 years. We don't have much in common, but something about us both being immigrants (me from Thailand, he from Kenya) helped us form a fast and lasting friendship. Unfortunately, he moved away from Sacramento a few years ago, and ever since, we've rarely talked. Hearing that he'd be back in town this week, I was elated. We had lunch at The Porch (after he drove right past the restaurant, made several wrong turns, came back around and spent a good half hour to find parking!) and did some serious catch up.

The Porch's famous mac & cheese with applewood-smoked bacon was my lunch of choice. And I enjoyed that skillet of scrumptiousness ravenously. (That's a huge compliment, coming from me, someone who doesn't care much for cheese.) The star component is the vibrant sauce they put on top, known as the Sriracha-Velveeta Bechamel. It really does make this traditional dish more spunky. On a more profound note, I think this mac & cheese is kind of like my and Stan's friendship. As unexciting as it might seem, there is always that solid sense of comfort, that guaranteed delight. No matter how many years we've been apart, there's no fear of becoming strangers, no awkwardness when we meet again. Taking a bite of this gooey goodness is almost as soul-soothing as getting a warm hug from a dear friend.  

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Black Tie - Vietnamese Inspired Coffee

Getting coffee right after my 6 o'clock Pilates class is part of my morning routine. I usually like mine black with no cream or sweetener. And every now and then, I'd get a mocha or a latte. Very straightforward. Nothing fancy. You'd never hear me order something obnoxious like "a half-caff, half-sweet, soy, macadamia Macchiato with caramel, extra hot, 2% foam." Triggering a barista's urge to murder is one of the last things I'd like to do. But anyway, today I decided to be a bit more adventurous with my coffee. I went to Peet's and ordered "the Black Tie," which is Vietnamese-inspired (according to a lady who works there), made with regular iced coffee, chicory syrup, half-and-half and condensed milk.

At first glance, I thought the drink looked somewhat intriguing with a thick layer of condensed milk on the bottom and a good amount of half-and-half floating on top. I gave it a thorough stir and took a sip. Well, the Black Tie turned out to be a lot like Thai iced coffee I grew up drinking in Thailand. (I guess putting condensed milk in coffee might be a Southeast-Asian thing.) Super sweet, creamy and a little nutty (from the chicory syrup), not a strong coffee by any means. Drinking this, you'd get energy from sugar rather than caffeine. So yeah, something I thought would be new to me ended up being incredibly familiar. Maybe tomorrow I'll order something I've never tried before again....but probably not a half-caff, half-sweet, soy, macadamia Macchiato with caramel, extra hot, 2% foam.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Got Coffee?

I believe all coffee lovers know this feeling. It's that moment before life begins each day, that moment when you wake up and realize you're still alive but barely show any sign of vitality. Some say coffee is bad for you. Some say we should drink 3 - 5 cups a day. I don't even pay attention to those research studies anymore. I do try to curb my coffee consumption (moderation is key, right?), but I can never quit it completely. I just can't imagine my life without coffee (or bacon...or deep-fried oysters...or sushi....or, well, many other things).

So, anyway, this is a T-shirt design I made today, inspired by my somnolent experience this morning. It might not be an incredibly intricate design, but hey, at least I know how to turn a crappy mundane occurrence into a creative project and income opportunity. Oh and if you'd like to buy one, you can find it in my online store, Foodie Goodies. Available in more styles and colors! 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

I Ate a Balut

I really did eat it! And now, I feel like I officially am a food adventurer. Well, I've never been too timid to eat icky-looking animal parts. Chicken feet, duck beaks, beef tongue, pig intestine, fish eyeballs, you name it--I've tried them all. But the balut...Oh gosh, this Filipino delicacy used to make me cringe. 

So what the heck is the balut? It's a boiled duck or chicken egg with an underdeveloped chick inside. Or in a more precise term, an embryo. The fertilized egg is usually incubated for about 17 days or until the embryo develops partially-formed wings, a compressed beak, veins and some fine feathers. Uglier than a sea-slug soup and weirder than deep-fried brain fritters, the balut is indeed a culinary horror many Filipinos themselves won't even touch. And of course, years ago, when I first heard about this bizarre delicacy, I crinkled my nose in disgust and swore I would never eat it.

Not sure what changed my mind. Maybe I'm just becoming more adventurous and more tolerant to grossness as I age. So today, as I spotted a bucket of warm balut eggs at a Filipino supermarket's deli, I went straight to the counter and bought one. My old aversion to the balut actually returned when I got home and started peeling the egg. (I knew I was supposed to open just the top, leave the rest of the shell on and eat it with a little spoon, but I was curious to see what it would look like once completely peeled.) Would the unborn chick lividly stare me in the eyes? Would its tiny feathers tickle my throat? Would it taste like an abominable regret? 

Well, I saw lots of veins and meat inside but couldn't quite make out the shape of the unhatched chick. (That's a good thing, I guess.) I sprinkled some salt on it and took a bite. The egg or the yellow part had a firm tofu-like texture and a mild flavor of chicken soup. The meat, although quite juicy and tender, didn't have much taste to it. "So this is it, huh?" I thought to myself, disenchanted. I kind of expected it to either knock my socks off or give me recurring nightmares for weeks. But no, it did neither. This exotic dish--reverently sought after by daring foodies and fearfully scorned by mainstream diners--turned out to be....just so-so. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Rosemary Facial Sauna

How is moisturizing my face with aromatic steam an adventure? Well, trying anything new is an adventure in my book. And didn't you see the word "minuscule" in my blog title? Yeah, this was my little adventure of the day and I'll let you hear about it. 

I got this Revlon facial-sauna machine as a Christmas gift a couple years back. And to be honest, I've used it less than five times. Not that it doesn't work well or that I have anything against it. The thing is I just don't have a rigorous beauty regimen. Moisturizer in the mornings, eye cream before bed--that's it. 

But today, I had this urge to pamper myself a bit, so I took my facial sauna machine out of the closet and wiped off the dust. And to make it more "luxurious" than what I'd normally do, I put a few sprigs of fresh rosemary (from my dear friend's garden!) into the base. Plus, while steaming my face, I tried to breathe laterally (breathe into my side ribs rather than my stomach), a technique I'd learned from Pilates. So let me put it this way; it was a facial treatment, aromatherapy, meditation and Pilates practice, all in one. 

How was it? It was a lovely experience. For one thing, my room, hair and clothes were infused with the sweet aroma of rosemary, believed to boost mental energy and relieve mild headaches. I don't think I managed to master lateral breathing quite yet, but focusing on my breathing for fifteen minutes definitely brought so much peace. 

If you want to try this but don't have a sauna machine, just use a regular pot. Be very careful, though. A pot of boiling water won't release warm, gentle steam like this sauna machine does. So be sure to keep a proper distance. And yes, you may forego lateral breathing...unless you're also a Pilates geek like I am.