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!