Thursday, December 22, 2016

Thailand Food Adventures



Peking Duck - Hua Seng Hong Restaurant, Bangkok

Fact (NOT hyperbole): this ducky dish possesses the mystical power to convert duck haters into duck fanatics. Unlike Peking duck served in the U.S., this one is made with duck skin only, and its non-greasy crispiness is unparalleled. Wrap a piece of this crispy goodness in a soft, silk-thin rice pancake along with fresh vegetables and a spoonful of hoisin-based sauce, put it in your mouth, and a tastebud euphoria shall ensue! 


Spicy Stir-Fried Razor Clams - Krua Bang Tabun, Petchaburi

At a glance, these clams may seem like solidified Martian sperm. Upon closer observation, well, they still resemble some sort of alien secretions. Beauty might not be one of this dish's attributes, but deliciousness certainly is. As weird-looking as they are, these razor clams are cooked to perfection--tender, boldly flavored, and delicately spiced with aromatic herbs, rendering this dish an absolute must-try. 


Spicy Crab-Roe Dip with Sea Beans - Krua Bang Tabun, Phetchaburi

Made with rich, unctuous crab roe and a bunch of who-knows-what ingredients, it is a dish that seems deceivingly simple but is surprisingly complex in flavor. It comes with fresh vegetables including cabbage, string beans, cucumber, galangal (ginger's close cousin), and the most succulent of all, blanched sea beans topped with thick coconut cream. Crab-roe dip and blanched sea beans, in my not so humble opinion, should make it to the Food-Duo Hall of Fame, alongside peanut butter and jelly, hummus and pita, biscuits and gravy, and other world-renowned pairs.  




Khao Perp (Sukhothai Noodle Soup) - Khao Perp Yai Kreung, Sukhothai 

Flavor-wise, there's nothing extraordinary about this dish--just a delicious bowl of noodle soup with a nice broth and good ingredients--but the unique preparation of it and the restaurant's surroundings are what make one's experience here a little dining adventure. First of all, the noodles are prepared fresh right there in the outdoor kitchen, on the rudimentary clay stove with huge firewood branches partially sticking out. What's more? This family-run open-air eatery is charmingly situated in the courtyard of their own house, in a pretty remote area of town encircled by lush greenery.  A few chicken coops and wandering house cats add to the homespun atmosphere. And thanks to the family's genuine hospitality, one can't help but feel more like a guest than a customer. 


Colorful Thai Pasta and Curries - Khanomchin Baan Na, Sukhothai

I don't usually use the word "cute" to describe food unless it's an artistically frosted cupcake, a resplendent jar of assorted candy or a cake model of Snoopy. This curry-centric restaurant, though, is an exception, offering an outstanding demonstration that savory dishes can be cute, too. Colorizing pasta isn't such a hard task, but arranging it into neat bite-size bundles deserves extra appreciation. Accompanied by a dazzling array of authentic Thai curries, served in dainty ceramic bowls, it is a meal to remember indeed. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Oz


Going to a restaurant to cook your own food might sound counter-intuitive, but there's also something indulgent and exuberantly festive about Oz Korean BBQ. As nondescript as its interior looks, as pedestrian as most of the food items are, I do love this place. At $20 for all you can eat, it's like meat lovers' Disneyland. 

The scrumptious, multi-sensory experience begins as the tabletop grill is turned on and trays of raw marinated meat are served. Grab the tongs, throw some meat into the shallow pit, listen to the griddle sizzle, and watch your Galbi ribs turn from pink to brown, all while luxuriating in a billow of barbecue aroma (Yes, your hair and clothes will inevitably smell like Bulgogi for hours afterwards!). Once in a while, especially if you cook fat-laden pork jowl or belly, there will be flare-ups big enough to cause a little bit of excitement, but not so threatening that you have to be concerned about your eyebrows. Most diners eat and grill at the same time with no intervals. It does require multi-tasking skills and watchful eyes; those thin slices of meat cook and burn fast. Sometimes we even see ambidextrous eaters wielding chopsticks in one hand and tongs in the other. 

Juicy piles of Bulgogi populate most tables. Extraordinary? No. But it certainly meets the standards of one discriminating Bulgogi-inspector, aka me. The chili pork and sesame beef deserve a good round of applause for their bold flavor and velveteen tenderness. The Galbi ribs, both the Korean and Hawaiian versions, are well-seasoned and succulent. However, there's no clear distinction between the two, except for the chunks of canned pineapple (unmistakably canned pineapple!) strewn on the latter. Most seafood items, such as calamari and shrimp, suffer a bit from timid seasoning. But the jumbo spicy mussels are sure to not disappoint adventurous palates. 

Once the grill is off and the table is cleared, I'm usually ridden with guilt. I secretly rebuke myself for my earthly indulgence, bloated belly, overworking digestive tract, and repulsive Bulgogi burps. And yet, such self-shaming is quickly overcome by the sense of euphoria emanating from my gluttonous soul. "So when are we coming back here for another debauchery?" the inner glutton always asks. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How to Let Loose Your Inner Gecko


Give your inner gecko a gangster nickname and start using that name at Starbucks. Even if you've been going to that particular Starbucks for years and all the baristas have known you as Mo, just politely insist they must now call you "Demonicus Goo Goo." (Yeah, that's actually my inner gecko's name.)

Make a pilgrimage to a place like Thailand or Mexico, where deep-fried bugs are considered hearty snacks. Tip: crickets and grasshoppers are the most cherished among geckokind. 


When feeling threatened or irritated at work, either by a boss or a coworker, don't engage in an altercation. Instead, spit at your workplace offender, utter rapid guttural hisses and ominously crawl away. 

While dining out, you may choose to maintain proper restaurant etiquette but you must also stay true to your reptilian nature. For example, NEVER put a forkful of steak into your mouth. Rather, hold the fork about an inch away from your face, then snatch that piece of filet mignon with your powerful tongue.


Don’t bother creating a self-aggrandizing profile filled with filtered selfies on a dating site. Simply attach an audible file of your mating call. (The barkier, the more lascivious!) That alone speaks volumes. 



Disclaimer

I will take no responsibility if the following (but not limited to) issues occur: cricket-scented loose stools, phantom tail syndrome, acute tongue cramps, irrepressible aversion to human language, loss of relationships, involuntary commitment to a mental hospital, expulsion from society. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Dining Misadventure - Beignets



The Porch's beignets and I go back a long way. The swine-shaped, deep-fried dough taught me the true meaning of "oral pleasure." Served with fresh fruits, a sinful amount of powdered sugar and a side of fig jam, they emboldened me to live life to the fullest, one beignet at a time. My affinity for them in the past couple years had remained strong and steady.......until last month. 

I was having brunch there with my ex-coworker, an older gentleman whom I'd always admired and looked up to as a father figure (and still do). Three beignets into our conversation, he announced he was going to vote for Trump. "Seriously?" said I, astounded. I listened to his reasoning calmly, respectfully, even though I was inconsolably crying inside. No amount of beignets could ever comfort me. I'd always known he was a republican, and that was fine. Our different ideologies had never hindered our friendship. But Trump? TRUMP? 

For a little while, we exchanged our conflicting opinions. But then, knowing that no matter what I said or how I said it could ever change his mind, I diverted the subject. We went on to discuss his upcoming road trip, his daughter's exorbitant mortgage, and the incredible flavor of my fig jam. We didn't fight. No beignets were hatefully thrown across the table. We parted peacefully and agreed to meet again after his road trip. 

But still, it felt like that eye-opening moment when a child realizes their superhero dad is just a mere human after all. Also, it's quite true that a traumatic event can leave a long-lasting imprint on our minds and affect how we experience certain realities. Because of this incident, next time I eat those cute piggy beignets, they'll probably taste kind of bitter. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Tea Tasting - San Francisco


Location: Vital Tea Leaf, 905 Grant Avenue, San Francisco (Chinatown)
Price: free

"What you doing here?" Kenny, the tea master, facetiously probed as I sat down at his tea bar alongside other customers. "Oh, just.....joining you guys," I answered. "Reason?" he asked, chuckled, and said to the crowd, "People usually come here for no reasons." He continued on with his tea-tasting ceremony, meticulously brewing "silver needle" tea and describing its medicinal benefits. "You know what Teavana is? The Panda Express of tea shops," Kenny slighted Starbucks' sister company, as he poured for tea-curious spectators. "What does strawberry tea taste like?" an audience member asked, pointing at one of the gigantic tea jars behind us. "What does STRAWBERRY tea taste like?" the tea master pensively repeated, and in the same breath, wisecracked back, "Coconut!" 


That's how my tea tasting experience went. When people hear the term "tea tasting," they might often think of the solemn Japanese tea ceremony or the sophisticated English high tea involving delicate pastries and a long sheet of etiquette rules. At Kenny's tea house, it was more like hanging out at a comedy club, watching an insult comic unleashing his sardonic tongue while ever so gently pouring you tea. At one point, he even pulled a prank on a tea-tasting participant who briefly left her phone at the bar and went to browse for tea sets. He hid the phone behind his water boiler, letting us onlookers witness it with utter amazement. The victimized lady, of course, went into a panic mode when she realized her phone was gone. But before long, the stealthy tea man returned her property with a little grin, saying, "Lesson learned, never leave your belongings unguarded." 

Needless to say not everyone would find his buffonery amusing. Some people scurried out of the shop halfway through and I couldn't blame them. How long did I stay? Over an hour. I would have left sooner if sarcasm and practical jokes were all Kenny had to offer. But as borderline inappropriate as his sense of humor is, the man really knows his teas. The tea tasting is completely free. He doesn't pressure customers to buy. And if he likes you (he did seem to like me!), you might get some complimentary tea to take home (he gave me a bagful of Imperial Yellow). In case you don't have time to sit and sip, just opt for "Happy Ending" tea. What is it? Well, in Kenny's own words, "it's when you come in, order some tea, pay the money, and get the heck out!"   

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Coconut's Fish Cafe


As if the title doesn't already declare its specialty loud and clear, the restaurant's interior also boasts nautical-themed wall decor along with whimsical surfboard tables. What's more, each table comes with a built-in fin about six inches tall, evoking the dining-with-Jaws kind of feeling. Healthy eating has been a longstanding trend among Sacramentan urbanites, and Coconut's Fish Cafe cleverly responds to the craze with their fish-oriented menu featuring some of Hawaiian favorites: ahi, wahoo and mahi mahi.  


The Hawaiian poke bowl--mainly composed of raw ahi, brown rice and coleslaw--is chock-full of delight, served with a special instruction. As it contains complex layers of multiple ingredients, one must stir everything together thoroughly in order to get an impeccable bite, says the waitress, emphasizing the word "must," as though an omission to do so would render the dish a wretched debacle. The grilled ono (aka wahoo) comes with six seasoning options: lemon butter, blackened, Cajun, Asian flair, South of the Border, or just butter with pepper and salt. No need to spend too much time choosing, though. With fresh high-quality fish, nothing can go wrong. 

The mahi mahi tacos, although invigoratingly tasty, might pose a challenge to some. Made with seventeen ingredients, lavishly piled on top of medium-size corn tortillas, it's hard to hold in one's hands without letting chunks of fish or mango slip out. And yet, again, the waitress earnestly recommends, "Try to get EVERYTHING in one bite." Not an impossible task (for the average adult's mouth).......but kind of verging on public indecency. And of course, the meal wouldn't be complete without some good drinks. The pineapple cider goes harmoniously with pretty much everything on the menu. The real must-try, though, is the Coconut Porter, a Hawaiian malty beer with a heavy hint of espresso and a whisper of toasted coconut. 

What about non-fish stuff? Yes, salads, chicken tacos, steak tacos, burgers, and even hot dogs are also available. But why? Why would you go to this fabulous fish cafe and order humdrum chicken? 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Random Food Adventures - First Half of 2016


Pan-Seared Escolar 

Escolar (aka walu walu or snake mackerel) is infamous for its keriorrhea effect. Consumption of this oily fish could sometimes lead to rapid "wax flow" or acute anal leakage said to be greasy, terrifyingly stinky, and repulsively orange, like Donald Trump's face. And yet, I gave it a try. It was at City Hotel Restaurant in Columbia Historic Park where the ominous fish and I crossed paths. My buttery pan-seared escolar was served on top of saffron rice and accompanied by zippy mango salsa. Worth the risk? Absolutely. So moist and delicate, it tasted like salmon's more delectable cousin. And lucky me, no back door trots occurred that night. 


Fried Livers and Waffles

Many doubt fried chicken and waffles are a harmonious match. If those same skeptics ever see fried livers and waffles, their incredulity might deepen tenfold. I had this unlikely pair at Chicken N Waffles, a local greasy spoon, whose menu items sounded like stuff from a family potluck (e.g. Mark's Special, Aunt Sarah's, and Bubba's Best). This fried livers and waffles combo was listed under the moniker of Hattie's Request. Heaven knows who the heck Hattie is, but one could assume she might be a little crazy, possibly vitamin B12 deficient, and habitually drunk, or else she wouldn't request something like this. I must confess, though, I did enjoy that plate of delicious incongruity very much. 


Runsa (also spelled Runza) 

Some say simplicity breeds vapidity. Well, that can't be any more wrong, especially when it comes to Columbia Kate's version of Runsa, the famous Nebraskan meat pie. I bought this yeasty delight for breakfast after surviving a night at a haunted hotel. Inside the golden-brown goodness was ground beef, onion and cabbage, seasoned just right. The bread itself also deserved a big round of applause. I ate it on the balcony of my ghostly room, minding my own business, when suddenly, a little black bird flew at the nearby window on full speed and plopped to the ground. It didn't die but seemed quite dazed. Paranormal activity or just a reckless bird? I couldn't care less. I was in an impervious state of rapture munching on that meat pie. 


Crying Tiger

Having been featured on Food Network's program, the Best Thing I Ever Ate, episode "Hot and Spicy," this appetizer sells like hotcakes at Emporium Thai Cuisine in L.A. It's a northeastern Thai dish, traditionally consisting of sirloin steak marinated and grilled to medium-rare, and served with a dipping sauce so mercilessly spicy it could bring a tiger to tears. There, at Emporium, I waited for the dish to arrive with masochistic anticipation. I wanted it to attack my taste buds senseless. I wanted it to make me cry ( just a little). Well, the beef turned out to be melt-in-your-mouth tender and hit the right flavor profile, but the sauce, although tasty, failed to live up to its name. At best, it could only make a tiger sneeze. 


Cockle Salad

Cockles, also known as blood clams, aren't for the faint of heart. As little as they are, these suckers release a copious amount of red liquid that looks and smells kind of like blood, rendering them qualified to be on a vampire party menu. Growing up in Thailand, I ate these "gruesome" clams on a regular basis. The bloodier, the better!  And I'm completely unapologetic and unashamed of this obsession. Sadly, most Thai restaurants in the U.S. don't serve them. So when I saw cockle salad on Luv2eat Thai Bistro's menu this last spring, it felt like a lost-love reunion. The clams were fresh as if recently fetched from the beach. Its herb-centric composition further intensified the freshness, and the tiny slices of Thai chili carried a powerful punch of heat. All in all, it was a bloody triumph. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

My Foolproof Mongolian BBQ Strategy


See that guy with a pair of giant chopsticks? Doesn't he emanate an aura of competence, handling that massive griddle day in and day out? But guess what? The griddle-keeper will take no responsibility and no pity if your dinner is under-seasoned, too spicy, or tastes like a shitpile of broken dreams. Well, you can't blame him. His only duties are to stir-fry and clean the griddle. At a Mongolian BBQ eatery, you choose your own ingredients, stack your own bowl, season your own food. The power is in your hands and yours alone. That's why I always approach a Mongolian barbecue adventure with a specific game plan.


Leave the inner snob at home - One wouldn't enter Burger King and Chez Panisse with the same expectations. Likewise, when I go to a Mongolian BBQ restaurant, I don't expect it to be like fancy Benihana. At around $10 - $15 for an all-you-can-eat meal, Mongolian barbecue is to be enjoyed with your inner scrooge, not your inner snob. 

Color and Texture - It always saddens me to see a fellow diner with a bowl full of noodles, meat, a few onion slices, and some despairingly wilted spinach. Smothered in brown sauce, everything is so drab, so mushy and so depressing I would need to take Zoloft before I eat it. Sure, some people like it that way, but I'd rather give my bowl of Mongolian BBQ some personality. Let it be infused with texture and color. To achieve that, I make sure to keep a good ratio between meat and veggies, pick at least one crunchy ingredient (e.g. water chestnuts, snow peas, baby corn), and add at least one or two non-green vegetables (e.g. carrots, red bell peppers, bamboo shoot). And yes, it always turns out to be a beautiful plate. 



Smart Pairing - Once you hand your bowl to the giant-chopstick wielder, all the ingredients will be dumped onto the griddle, stir-fried together, and removed from the griddle at the same time. This is when surf and turf isn't such a great idea. By the time your lamb is nice and tender, your little shrimp will have already turned into rubber. Same thing with vegetables. Try not to mix quick-cooking seafood with veggies that tend to take a bit longer to be done, like green beans and broccoli. I'm inclined to choose only one type of meat per bowl, but when my venturesome soul begs me to be more fun, I usually pair lean meat with its fattier counterpart, such as chicken breast and ham, or lean beef and lamb. This yin-yang philosophy definitely lowers the chances of sorry tastebuds. 

Sauce Mixology - A novice mistake I made in my early Mongolian BBQ experience was under-saucing. Unlike a wok, the flat griddle can't maintain much liquid. Most of your sauce will either drip off the side or dissipate into nothingness during the cooking process, so it's wise to use a little more sauce than you normally would in a regular stir-fry dish. And now, a more important question: what sauce? In most Mongolian barbecue restaurants, there are at least 10 options at the sauce station. If you're timid about seasoning, stick to the ones that don't require any mixing, such as teriyaki sauce, Thai peanut sauce, Kung Pao sauce, or some kind of house special sauce. Me? I like to concoct my own--garlic water, ginger water, cooking wine, oyster sauce, Mongolian BBQ sauce, sesame oil (just a couple tiny drops), hot chili oil, and a spoonful of chili paste--and let me tell you, oh, it is riotously divine.     


Apologize to the Ghost of Genghis Khan - Yes, this final step must be taken after your meal because Genghis is probably super pissed off that we dare call this stir-fry technique "Mongolian BBQ." I'm not a Mongolian food expert but pretty sure this is not how real Mongols barbecue their food. Genghis would more likely debone a goat, stuff the meat back inside its hollow carcass, sew it up, throw it onto hot stones and let the fiery pit work its magic, rather than stir-frying daintily sliced meat on a propane griddle. Scallops, shrimp and imitation crab would have no place on his royal menu. And if someone ever seasoned Genghis' barbecued goat with teriyaki, that chef's head might end up on a spike. So every time after having a delightful "Mongolian BBQ" dinner, I whisper, "Sorry, Genghis," the same way I say it whenever I watch the dramatically entertaining but egregiously inaccurate Netflix series, Marco Polo. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Just Some Bulldog Stuff


Bulldog Accessories
My latest design is a by-product of my insomnia. People handle a sleepless night differently. Some count sheep; some meditate; some self-medicate with whiskey. Me? I said screw this, left the bed and designed a goofy Bulldog. Am I a Bulldog owner? No. But I totally identify myself with this particular dog breed. Personality-wise, I'm like a Bulldog in human form.

Well, first of all, we're short but strong, ostensibly grumpy but actually friendly. We drool a lot when we sleep, hate extreme weather, and suck at running due to our stubby legs. When we're unhappy, we grunt aggressively. When we're happy, we grunt calmly. Yeah, it might be fair to say we are over-grunters. We're not antisocial in any way but we do value our "me time." With strangers, we tend to be reserved but not hostile. With children, we are hopeless softies. Our number-one obsession is food. And snoring on a couch is our favorite afternoon pastime. On the downside, we're quite stubborn and don't usually listen well. If you want us to do something, don't keep repeating yourself over and over or try to intimidate us. We're not pushovers, you know. Incentivize us with gourmet goodies instead. This method usually works wonders. Call us shameless gluttons if you may, but dieting is really not in our DNA. So if you want our full cooperation, just give us something to eat!

Bulldog Baby Onesie

Bulldog Sweatshirt
To view more Bulldog merchandise, visit http://www.zazzle.com/merrymaking

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Paranormal Adventure - Fallon Hotel



Address: 11175 Washington St, Columbia, CA, 95310

Nestled in the lush Sierra Nevada foothills, Fallon Hotel was built in 1852, and as the rumor goes, it's been haunted by a mischievous little boy, believed to be the son of the original owner. Several paranormal activities have been reported by both staff and hotel guests. Many claimed to have seen the boy's ghost in the hallway and/or their rooms, and oftentimes, he would be holding his favorite green ball as if looking for a playmate. Some were woken up in the middle of the night, feeling as though an uninvited bedfellow had laid down beside them or feeling their foot being yanked by an invisible hand. There have also been guests who got so spooked they couldn't even last a night there; one couple packed their bags and left before sunrise claiming, "Something truly evil resides here." Most people who had supernatural experiences at this hotel didn't mind it too much, though. In fact, they sounded more amused than horrified. 

With this notorious information in mind, I booked a room at Fallon Hotel for one night and hoped my ghostly experience (if any) would be of non-malicious nature. My husband and I arrived there at around two in the afternoon. The receptionist, schoolmarmish and clad in 1850s costume, took us to our room on the second floor. The small wallpapered boudoir received us warmly. Everything about it was quaintly charming, and in many ways, befitted its reputation as a haunted hotel. The plank wood floor creaked softly every time we walked. The toilet had a high tank and an old-fashioned pull chain, which I, a horror movie enthusiast, couldn't help but imagine to be oscillating and jangling by itself at night. The antique bed frame squeaked ferociously whenever we made the slightest movement. An old rocking chair sat solemn in the farthest, dingiest corner of the room. Above it hung some black-and-white photos from the Gold Rush era. 


That night, my husband slept soundly while I dozed in and out all through the dark hours. I guess it was partly because of my lingering anticipation for a ghost to tickle my feet or sing me a lullaby. The real culprit for my discomfort, though, was probably the darn squeaky bed. Around midnight, half-asleep, I heard some heavy footsteps coming up the stairs, then indistinct chattering of two or three men in the hallway. It lasted a good few minutes, ended abruptly and happened again about half an hour later. Exact same thing. Footsteps and chattering. It was a bit strange since all the stores, restaurants and saloons in this historic town were closed by ten. The place was completely dead then. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. No vending machines anywhere. No 24-hour business center. Why should people be walking around and talking outside of their rooms? But well, midnight strolls weren't that unheard of, or perhaps they just checked in very late, I thought to myself and went back to sleep. 

Besides that, nothing out of ordinary happened that night. The chair didn't rock by itself. The toilet didn't mysteriously flush. The infamous boy's ghost didn't pull my hair, coo into my ear or make his presence known in any way. Obviously, I wasn't cool enough to be his playmate, and yes, I felt somewhat rejected. It wasn't until the following day after I got home when I noticed something odd in one of my photos.  


This is a picture of the corridor leading to room 15, said to once have been the boy's nursery. What piques my curiosity, though, isn't the corridor itself but that glorious shaft of light on the stair landing. I don't remember seeing it when I was there taking the photo and walking down those very steps. One could assume it is some kind of light reflection, and that might be exactly what it is. But I honestly can't think of an object, window or anything that could give off such a luminous beam right there on that particular spot. 

Could it come from the wall lamp above it? Very unlikely. Or could it come from the French door on the first floor? Possibly, but judging from the angle, that doesn't seem right. Also, no vehicles, except horse-drawn carriages, are allowed on the street the French door faces, so it can't be a light from a car passing by, either. And if you look at the landing carefully, you'll see that this mysterious ray of light even has its own hazy reflection. 

I shot this photo with my iPhone. The lens was clean, and the photos taken right before and after this look perfectly normal. And no, I didn't photoshop it. (With my Photoshop skills, I could have created something much more fascinating and eerie than this!) So I don't know. Maybe, just maybe, the spectral boy did play a little prank on me after all. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Indo Cafe


Have you ever had a dear friend or that special someone who's incorrigibly lame in multiple aspects and yet you just can't quit them? You're well aware of all their shortcomings, such as their questionable hygiene and abusive sense of humor, but you still love them and keep reminding yourself of their other good qualities. I know it doesn't sound so wise, but that's exactly the nature of my relationship with this restaurant. 

Indo Cafe is located in Old Sacramento, a tourist trap frequented mostly by happy-go-lucky sightseers who'd likely prefer spending their vacation money at more festive places like the Murder-Mystery Dinner Theater or Joe's Crab Shack. One has to wonder why they would run an Indonesian restaurant here rather than in midtown where adventurous foodies abound or on Stockton Boulevard renowned among locals for its Asian food scene. It seems like business suicide and yet Indo Cafe has survived for nearly a decade. 

From the exterior, it looks more like a sad little convenience store than a mom-and-pop eatery. The inside isn't any more cheerful. A few tables line up along a wall with very little space in-between. When all tables are occupied, diners will have no choice but to sit literally back to back, hearing every bit of one another's conversation. On top of the claustrophobia-inducing atmosphere, it also has this faint smell of a musty garage. Outdoor seating is available, but it comes with a partial view of the not-so-pretty public commodes. 

Having said all that, I would love to return to Indo Cafe and have another nice homey meal there. I will endure the parking nightmare in Old Sacramento (which often triggers my murderous urge) just to eat their fluffy potato croquettes. I will overlook the commode view and turn a "blind nose" on the musty smell because the flavor of their beef rendang is incredibly spot-on. I will order their tempeh goreng again even though tempeh is a yucky soy product I normally hate with an unfathomable passion. And every time I'm there, I will keep pestering the friendly owner with the question, "Why don't you move to midtown?" 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Thrifty Vacationers Roaming Long Beach


Our Temporary Abode: Hotel Royal

Our budget for this mini vacation was small so luxury hotels were out of a question. We wanted to spend no more than $130 a night, and that didn't yield many promising search results on TripAdvisor. Places like Motel 6, Travelodge, Bedbug-infested Lodge and Ramshackle Inn came up a lot, but we kept searching for something that would fit both our budget and standards. Then we found Hotel Royal. 

Choosing this affordable European-style pension over charmless chain motels turned out to be a wise decision. Our room was just about as big as a boat cabin, but the tastefully vibrant decor made up for its modest size. The whole place was so extraordinarily clean bedbugs and cockroaches would drop dead from shame if they ever gained access to the building. There was no complimentary breakfast, but free cookies were available all day long. And of course, there was no room service, but it took less than ten minutes to walk to a myriad of restaurants. What else did we love about it? Orthopedic mattresses. In-room Starbucks coffee. Free parking. Cute bikes to borrow free of charge. Oh and that sweet receptionist who asked me where we lived, and upon learning we were from Sacramento, attempted to compliment our city, "Sacramento? Nice. It has so many......trees!" 



Chorizowich at Sweet Dixie Kitchen

It might sound like a poorly made-up German last name, but "Chorizowich" was actually a delectable breakfast I had at Sweet Dixie Kitchen, five minutes walk from Hotel Royal. Not a tantalizing culinary innovation by any means. Just chorizo scrambled eggs stuffed between two superbly baked jalapeno biscuits, which altogether tasted like unbridled joy of sinless infants. Perhaps psychiatrists should prescribe this for their depressed patients to eat three times a day along with three slabs of bacon, three cups of latte, and three types of cholesterol medication.


Rosie's Dog Beach 

We spent our morning at the dog beach after breakfast, just ambling around with our imaginary Beagle puppies, watching happy dogs frolicking on wet sand, wishing our apartment in Sacramento would allow pets. We sound kind of like pedophiles who love to linger near public playgrounds and leer at other people's kids, don't we? Well, I swear we're not dog molesters! We went there with no lascivious intention in mind. And unlike creepy pedophiles, we weren't at all discreet about our admiration. We adoringly gazed at the dogs, said hi to some of the owners, and blurted out "awwwwww" several times, a bit more loudly than we meant to. 



Shoreline Village

Here we snooped around overpriced souvenir shops, showed great interest in their artistic merchandise, then left empty handed. (Yes, we did feel slightly guilty for giving those store owners false hope.) Then we took a stroll along the harbor, witnessed the majestic beauty of the anchored Queen Mary, and got quite amazed by how people expressed their creativity when it came to naming their boats. We came across quite a few catchy monikers, but my favorites of all were Reel Deal, Pasta Too and Sushi Hunter. And then before I could burn off the calories from the decadent Chorizowich, I refueled my body with a giant funnelcake topped with a truckload of powdered sugar and whipped cream. 



El Dorado Nature Center

What did we do after two fat-laden meals? We hiked. At El Dorado Nature Center, we were offered options of a 2-mile trail, a 1-mile trail, and a paved 1/4-mile walkway. As repenting gluttons, we completed all three briskly and purposefully (burn, calories, burn!). Along our hike, we noticed several "attention" signs addressed to turtles, ducks and squirrels instead of visitors. Oh what great wisdom I learned from this. Give up on mankind and have more faith in animals. Yes, that is my new life mantra! 


Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden

This little garden is located on the campus of CSU Long Beach. Admission was free, and we only had to pay a few dollars for parking, plus 25 cents for fish food to feed those koi in the massive pond. Judging from their sizes, I assumed they'd been generously fed, possibly multiple times a day. They probably weren't very hungry but seemed to enjoy the food anyway, as if eating was a sacred ritual they held dear. Upon that realization, I suddenly felt a strong kinship between those fish and myself. It was a truly magical moment. 




After returning to the hotel and letting our tired legs rest for a while, it was time for dinner. We went to Pier 76 Fish Grill to have a healthy meal and erase the guilt of what we'd  devoured earlier. And they didn't let us down. Our dinner was as palatable as it was nutritious. That gorgeous trout on my plate had been carefully deboned, beautifully butterflied, grilled to perfection, and bathed in tastebud-awakening honey-mustard sauce. Yeah, it died for my happiness, but it will forever live on in my heart. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

If I Ever Catfished.....

Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

If I ever catfished someone, it would be done ethically. I wouldn't do it for financial gain or revenge. Without a scintilla of malice, I would go through all the trouble of creating an impressive persona, stealing some innocent woman's photos off the internet, inventing a make-believe family and friends with jaw-dropping backstories, taking detailed notes of all my lies and memorizing them rigorously. I would do all that just to sharpen my creativity and persuasion skills.

My fake identity would be Svetlana, 5' 10, blonde, turquoise-eyed, a Russian hamster breeder who could recite chapters of War and Peace from memory, play superb tennis, and make yummy piroshki (little pies) while doing triple somersaults.

I would send a message to the dazzling Russian woman whose photos I stole. I would write, "I'm sorry," without offering any further explanation. Chances are she would think I was crazy and delete my message without responding. But if she wrote back, I would reply with the emojis of an upside-down face, a speak-no-evil monkey and a crying cat, to validate her assumption about my insanity.

My carefully chosen victim wouldn't be a hopeless romantic, prone to crying fits and anxiety-induced vomiting. I would pick someone lighthearted, unsentimental, and very capable of bouncing back quickly after finding out his "Svetlana" was actually chipmunk-faced, vertically challenged, occasionally plagued by adult acne, and only looked cute in subdued lighting.

I would make him like me but not fall head-over-heels in love with me. It's a sophisticated tactic, which I think I would be able to pull off. For example, I would tell him how I single-handedly rescued three Chihuahua puppies from Vladimir Putin's tiger cage, and then in the next breath, complain about the black-blue fetid fungus on my big toe. I would speak of my daily volunteer service at a homeless shelter as well as my nightly habit of sporadic farting.

After a few months or so, I would reveal my true identity. Along with my confession, I would also offer him 2 compensation options to choose from: a basket of authentic piroshki or a self-help book to get over betrayal in 14 days. If he was able to handle it with minimal resentment, I would utter a big sigh of relief. If he went on a rampage, I would send him both the piroshki basket and the book, plus a thirty-dollar Starbucks gift card.

Then my guilt would start to eat me alive and turn my vivacious soul into a shriveled husk. For a while, I would keep asking myself, "Oh, what have I done?" But as a natural positive thinker, I wouldn't dwell on guilt for too long. I would look back and realize how creative and persuasive I had been during those months of my catfishing endeavor. Pride would then replace remorse. And before I knew it, my creative juices would start flowing again. Yoko, an avant-garde artist who painted fifty paintings in one day with her butt cheeks, would take the place of the mundane hamster breeder, Svetlana. "Ha! New identity. New adventure," I would tell myself. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Pilates Teacher Training - The Art of Observing


I've never told a living soul this, but I often daydream about teaching Pilates to the New York Giants, my favorite NFL team. In my boundless imagination, I help Jason Pierre Paul improve his spinal flexibility and teach Eli Manning how to use a stability ball without fumbling it. Odell Beckham Jr. is already quite advanced. He doesn't really need to take my imaginary Pilates classes but shows up anyway just to show off. At the end of class, they all give me high-fives and vow to win the Super Bowl. "We'll win it for you," says my dedicated student, Victor Cruz.

In reality, I'm still far away from being qualified to teach anybody, and the Giants are unlikely to achieve another Super Bowl glory anytime soon. (I'm not a disloyal fan, just a realistic one.) However, I'm as much of a doer as I am a dreamer. I'm working toward becoming a certified Pilates teacher, and the other day, I got to shadow Maria, one of my most well-rounded instructors, in her class. I probably have taken at least 200 classes with Maria during this past year, but there's a big difference between being a student in her class and being an observer watching her teach. As a student, you simply focus on your body and internalize everything you hear. As an observer, it's much less about you and has more to do with scrutinizing, compartmentalizing and analyzing the instructor's teaching technique. 

I'm a pretty good observer. During my observation hour, I took notes and tried to watch people ever so discreetly to avoid coming across as a creepy gawker. I refrained from jocularly heckling a couple of students whom I knew quite well. When someone messed up their roll-down and flopped to the mat, I did not burst out laughing uproariously; in fact, I was quite sympathetic, thinking to myself, "Yeah, I've done that, too...even more gracelessly." My observation ethic was maintained through and through. 

And of course, I learned a lot from Maria. The following are some fundamental things I think aspiring Pilates teachers should pay attention to during their observation hours. But don't bite off more than you can chew. Concentrating on all of these aspects in one class can be overwhelming. It might be wiser to pick only one or two things to be your focus in each session rather than trying to absorb everything all at once. 

Program Sequencing

Program sequencing is a creative process rather than a formulaic strategy. By observing how an experienced Pilates teacher puts different exercises together from beginning to end, you're urged to dissect the program and question the reasons behind such sequencing. Sometimes it makes perfect sense. Sometimes you might be thinking, "Seriously, what the heck?" But that's the beauty of it. The goal is to glide into that mode of analyzing. And if your attempt to understand it turns out to be fruitless, be sure to get enlightened by your teacher after the class. 

Verbal Cueing 

Precision is one of the pillars of Pilates. Doing it right, you get healthier, stronger and nimbler. Doing it wrong, you could severely injure yourself. So all instructions given must be concise, clear and engaging. Maria is an expert at this, and I'm so grateful to be able to learn from her. Articulation has never been my forte. I might sound eloquent when I write, but you have no idea how long it usually takes me to organize my thoughts and finish one blog post! I'm not a natural talker. I'm horrible at explaining things. Ask me to teach someone how to fry an egg, and it might end up being an omelet. So yes, verbal cueing is a skill I really, really, really need to work on.  

Manual Cueing

Manual cueing is a tricky tactic. Sometimes it involves almost a full demonstration. Other times, a shoulder tap or a hand motion is all that's needed. When I first started learning Pilates, a teacher put her hands on the sides of my torso and asked me to push my rib cage into her hands every time I inhaled. That's how I came to understand lateral breathing. Little physical cueing like this can give a clueless student that eureka moment. But it must be done properly, or else it might not help the student at all. And that's why you must observe, observe and observe.  

Student-Teacher Interactions

A Pilates class is like a microcosm. Students have different learning styles, physical conditions and personalities. Some, who are very in tune with their own bodies, might be able to correct their positions according to simple verbal cues. Some need a little extra push with manual cueing. Some are quite inquisitive and ask multiple questions in one breath. And some just really can't perform any of the exercises at all. It was fascinating to watch how Maria accommodated different students' needs and succinctly answered any questions that arose without disrupting the flow of class. This skill, I'm sure, can't be learned from a textbook or mastered in one day. 

Being Awesome and Motivating 

Pilates isn't easy. Even athletes and professional dancers might find it daunting. In most Pilates group classes, however, you don't always see extremely athletic people with superhuman endurance, like LeBron James or Serena Williams. Rather, you might see Hermione, an uncoordinated accountant, or Baltazar, an overweight father of two, or Mildred, a sixty-year-old grandma who wants to stay fit. It's important for a teacher to be able to create a welcoming atmosphere, make a tough workout enjoyable for everyone, and motivate those who may not be so athletically inclined. 

Can I do this? I don't know. I'll try to learn the art of being awesome from Maria as best as I can. Those who are close to me will say I'm quirky and funny, but I wouldn't be surprised if some acquaintances think I'm standoffish and kind of grumpy-looking. I'm like Miranda in Sex and the City (I even married a guy named Steve, too!), not super outgoing like Carrie or so sweet like Charlotte. To be honest, I sometimes fearfully doubt whether I'm cut out for this job. But still, I have to take the plunge. Finding out that I suck at teaching Pilates might crush my soul into smithereens, but it will still be less awful than not trying at all and living with that what-if. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tank House BBQ


Flanked between pedestrian Pete's Restaurant and dowdy Dickey's Barbecue Pit, Tank House has thrived as one of midtown Sacramento's most popular eateries. Across the street is Old Spaghetti Factory, which, as the title depicts, looks old and serves spaghetti and gives off depressing vibes akin to those from a sweatshop factory staffed by sleep-deprived workers. Not sure if easy competition was what Tank House's owners had in mind when they chose the location. But within these few blocks on J Street, it definitely stands out like a peacock in a chicken coop. 

A BBQ smoker large enough to fit a bear (well, maybe an almost full-grown cub) is exhibited on the patio, seducing passersby with the aroma of smoked meat from late morning till dead of night. In a sense, that is a cruel offense to those on a diet. Imagine this: you're just doing your daily power walk, minding your own business, and all of a sudden, you inhale this scrumptious smell, which then hyper-stimulates your salivary glands and awakens your hibernating inner glutton. You are helpless, utterly helpless. Even if you don't care for BBQ, you're still plagued by a need to devour something. A truck load of something. Immediately. 

As if the smoky fragrance isn't enticing enough, the restaurant's grand and crystal-clear windows blatantly beg us to peek inside. It's always laid-back yet festive. The bartenders are quite busy, the drinkers quite merry. People like to come in groups and get combination platters to share. And once in a while, you'll see some dude with more ribs on his plate than a mere human (no matter what size) can eat in two days. Well, I'm not that dude but can totally understand why one might wish to possess such a superhuman eating ability when dining here. 

It's not quite like the barbecue you get in Texas or North Carolina. This place isn't much about the good old southern-BBQ tradition. Their house-made sauces (one labeled "sweet" and the other "tangy") both offer a gratifying taste of rebellion. A bit strange but not wacky. There's nothing exciting about the menu or meat options, though. Very typical BBQ stuff. No quails, rabbit sausage or rattlesnake burger patties. But the succulent brisket and baby back ribs are sure to guarantee happy taste buds. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Huntington Wonderland

Dear Huntington Library Management,

With all due respect to the original founders, I suggest you change the name of this place to The Huntington Wonderland. I am aware of that one building filled with books, manuscripts, films and historical memorabilia, but the rest of your hundred-something acres are populated with botanical gardens, art galleries, wild geese, and sculptures of beautiful nude humans. Plus, the word "library" might put off some bibliophobes who are too lazy and too moronic to research what this Shangri-La has to offer aside from reading materials. These people may not sound like ideal visitors, but in fact, they are probably the ones most in need of cultural enrichment. You must not alienate them. I understand "wonderland" might sound too broad and somewhat silly. But that's exactly what this place is: a land full of wonders. Last but not least, I would like to share with you some photos from my last visit along with my gracious comments. Look at them carefully and tell me whether they resemble a library to you. Thank you for your time. I really hope you consider my humble suggestion. 

Sincerely,
Your loyal patron

P.S. I did not feed any geese or pet any goslings. I must admit, though, that the temptation was hard to resist. 


Before I stepped foot into this desert garden, I'd never imagined one could develop romantic feelings towards cacti. I knew we were of different species. And I could see those pernicious thorns. We would never be like typical lovers. Hugging was out of the question, let alone copulation. But still, my love for them was very powerful and very real. 


My iPhone camera failed to do this jungle garden justice. I was ready to take an afternoon swim in this lovely pond despite knowing it was against the rules. What stopped me was neither a ranger nor my sense of decorum. It was those darn geese. They might be tiny but seemed aggressively territorial. 


Not sure where exactly I came upon this sculpture. Isn't it interesting that the supple archer is aiming at the dome ceiling? More interesting yet is the leaping hound who seems to be asking his angelic companion, "Seriously, girl, what are you doing? You don't have any arrows."


This little discrete area made me wish I had my Shakespearean-actor friend with me. It seemed like a perfect spot for him to recite a monologue from A Midsummer Night's Dream......or a nice place for anyone to enjoy a cup of earl grey and pretend they were at Downton Abbey with Lady Mary Crawley sauntering through the breezeway, and Mr. Barrow, the conniving under butler, lurking behind a rose bush. 


As a Zen Buddhist, I have a profound affinity for Japanese rock gardens. I wasn't really meditating here, though. My mind at the moment wasn't focused on my breathing or evanescent existence, but on those two strangers in the background, trying to communicate with them telepathically, "Stay right there. Don't come near me. Don't ruin my shot!"