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.