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.