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.