I’ve passed into the next decade of my life! It was a magical celebration that transformed me from an infant to an adult! - kidding. As rightfully expected, nothing much has changed, though thankfully, I can say with much assurance that I am different from 10 years earlier (i.e., when I was 10). I can’t even begin to qualify the changes I’ve gone through in the past decade. I’m not going to try. And I like the way I am today.
But upon reflection of the last few months, I've come to realize there's so much I want to do, so much I aspire to. I guess it's not a particularly uncommon trait for people my age. Yet I have so many ideas, and wake up every day wanting to accomplish so much. In terms of weekdays, it means waking up between 4 and 5 every morning and filling every moment of the day with something productive. It’s largely why I’ve neglected this blog. I’m too busy doing things - or at least trying to.
Interlude: some of the favourite dishes I've made from the last few months (since my readership tends to have a short attention span when it comes to text (but also so I can show off)):
That being said, my life is far from being all work and no play. Two years in, my early morning Sunday trips to Palos Verdes have become set routine, as are my grocery days, gas days, car wash days, pho days, and bill-paying days. I like routine. In fact, I had pho today. It gives me something to look forward to and finish every week, and has been a large part of why I’ve fallen in love with Los Angeles. The owner of my pho place makes special sauces just for me; the endless sea at Palos Verdes greets me as the sun rises every Sunday; the waiters recognize me when I make my mid-week, mid-afternoon, trips to Petit Trois. Occasionally I substitute these afternoon bistro visits to get a pizza at Milo & Olive.
Don't you just love all-day restaurants? I'm starving by 3, hate waiting in line, and can't stand to see breakfast disguised as lunch and being called "brunch". Both Petit Trois and Milo & Olive serve the same real menu, all day, everyday, and I love it.
I recently added bike-riding at Manhattan Beach on my roster of Weekly Things to Do. Realistically, it happens every two weeks, but I try my best. Sometimes I pick up an acai bowl after. What's great is that my Tern bike fits snugly in the trunk of my Cooper Countryman - both brands I cannot love enough.
The bike happened to be a wonderful 20th birthday present to myself, as was the microscope I've requested every year since I was 12 and finally got. Thank you, Chloe! Apparently I've gotten to the age where all my presents come from myself. I inspected my own blood the other day. See below. Isn’t it fascinating? See the blurry black dots in the background? Those are bacteria. Bacteria proliferation is due to my unsanitary reuse of a single slide.
By contrast, Saturday is for spontaneity. (As are all the other days of the week, really, but they don’t alliterate quite as well). As much as I enforce a semblance of routine, I love to try new things too, which should not come as any surprise. Yesterday afternoon (a Monday) I hopped in my car on a whim to develop a recent roll of film. Then, instead of being ‘responsible’ and going home, I drove up to Glendale and watched Bridget Jones’s Baby despite a mounting workload. It was a welcome and comedic respite (Emma Thompson is a classic for me). If I did have to push a movie for the theater though, it would have to be Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. That one was - different. Cinematography was eerily beautiful; storyline, perfect.
Speaking of spontaneity, I had an impromptu trip to New York last week. (Yes, all that text I wrote above was simply build-up to the juicy story I'm about to get to).
Now that I've actually built up tension and thrown in the odd pictures from Okinawa, I am going to disappoint because there's no real story I have to tell. I'm known for being anti-climatical with jokes no one gets, so I suppose this is in line with just being me...
Getting back on track, in New York I got to reunite with Daisy and at long last meet the friends that have populated her stories over the years. I had fun! Seeing New York was somehow different this time. Chelsea, Soho, Bleeker Street, East Village, Dumbo, and Williamsburg were my favourite areas, and it was nice to get in a strenuous workout of walking. Striding from district to district through rain and more rain, umbrella-less, was decidedly refreshing and just what I wanted after perfectly endless days of beautiful Californian sunshine. Unfortunate for my prized white Nikes, but enjoyable nonetheless. Oh, and I semi-mastered the subway with the help of Google Maps.
I’m not going to be a bore and go through a day-by-day, but rather share some highlights:
The Strand was a beautiful book store. I miss the London ones, and Hong Kong and LA don't do them justice (if they have them at all). I got: Slade House, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and Lady Chatterly's Lover.
On my last night, a day in which I had left the house at an early 7:30am for the Chelsea Flea Market, I went with Daisy and her friends Betty and Frankie to get ramen at 1am. I shouldn't really even say it is the same day, because really, it blurs in with the next as I departed for Newark at 3am, hopped on the plane at 6am, and arrived in LA at 9am for another full day ahead. It was a tiring but pleasant holiday. I can't wait for Daisy and Michael to come visit in less than two weeks time. In the meantime, I have a lot to do, as per usual
Moonlight Rollerway - iconic skating rink with Jared and Sarah K.
Classic Cantonese seafood dinner, first night back in HK.
Awful 7-hour long hike to god-knows-where deep in infested tropical jungle of Hong Kong, redeemed only by pleasant company and girl:
The same Hong Kong I love:
My weekly drinks with Natalie, this one at VEA lounge and bar.
In the midst of routine, weeks often pass without notice. My last week was not one of those weeks. It was, in fact, extraordinary. But I find myself unable to pinpoint for what reason it was so special, for at face value, it was actually a decently typical one. Friday night after a week's work, I took the midnight flight from Hong Kong to LAX and there my week began.
Jet lag ensued, naturally, and continued for the rest of the week up to the present moment. I find that when flying across time zones every few days, it is best not to even try overcoming the jet lag and to succumb to sleep whenever needed. The first day I woke up early to a cup of my favourite Philz coffee (Tesora - small, hot, sweet, and creamy), and a stroll to Whole Foods the hour they opened. They carried the beloved California donut peaches I often ate in my summers in Toronto, and that we now pay a high price to enjoy in Hong Kong. They overflowed the counter, heaped up so sweetly and so decadently, though a little more disformed than I was used to. The golden Washington Rainier cherries were equally as luscious; I bought a big bag and consumed on the spot.
Shortly after my Downtown walkabouts, I made it to the Getty Center a comfortable 15 minutes before they opened. I've been to the Getty only once before, but fell immediately in love with the spacious walkways, stone corridors, and well-maintained garden. I like to come back just to stroll in its trimmed grounds, and feel the breeze that rushes through its crevices. It so happened that they were displaying Buddhist caves from the Silk Road, a popular exhibition. I myself preferred the French porcelain and furniture exhibit.
If my Saturday was leisurely, Sunday was even more so. The last day of the week is never complete for me without an early morning walk down at Palos Verdes. True to my routine while living here, I made the trip that very Sunday morning. It was as stunning as it always is. I have taken countless pictures of the exact same view from the exact same angle, but the feeling when I'm standing on the edge of that cliff never ceases to fill me up. Afterwards: a trip to Costco, Torrance. I am a newly minted member of one of my favourite childhood stores, and I went a little crazy with the nut purchases.
Seemingly the same day (but rather 2 a.m. the next) I was awake and eating a huge plate of cabbage in preparation for my 5:30am flight to Atlanta, Georgia, to attend the PwC National Elevate conference. I met an astounding number of people, and felt like I had stepped into college for the first time again, briefly. Getting to know my team was a pleasure, especially through the exciting challenges that awaited us every 2 hours. Understandably, I didn't get very much sleep - only a few hours - each day. But every waking hour was so filled, it just made the trip that much more worth it. Below you'll see the Georgia Dome fitted with a RC race course and really a lot of fun inflatables - a highlight for me.
The days in Atlanta were almost excruciatingly long for someone with an intense amount of jet lag, but soon time passed as it always seems to, and I was once again home in LA. As much as I enjoyed Atlanta I was somewhat relieved to be settled back into my LA apartment. Over the course of the next day I met with several of my friends and had a throughly enjoyable time with them. I browsed nearby apartments for fun at lunch and it was thrilling - again for reasons I find even hard to explain to myself. #20 at Pho87 (my favourite - charbroiled pork) and Korean shaved ice at Sul and Beans made it into the day, and Petit Trois of course made it into my last.
On my resume, under interests, I put "driving". People are often curious, confused, or both about this. I'm not sure what there is to be confused about. They consider driving an act that just takes you from point A to point B, and assume I like it because I'm a relatively new driver (though I have almost two years of experience now - maybe this too I should put on my resume). But I truly enjoy every aspect of it, and often drive aimlessly about when I have any amount of spare time. This time I found a gem of a mansion quite on accident. It was absolutely, absolutely gorgeous. I could not stop walking through the seemingly endless gardens and trimmed grounds. The slightly wild flowers were the perfect amount of unkempt, while still lending itself to a sense of grandeur. I loved it, and I can't wait to be back. Perhaps I will make this my Saturday morning routine, but that is to be decided.
Derelict greenhouses, lily-koi ponds, and kids running up the mountain of grass- everything there is to love.
Just yesterday morning I arrived back in Hong Kong to a beautiful sky mismatched with uncompromising heat. In a few short hours I'll be making my way to TST and back to work (and should probably consider getting some additional rest), but the last week will remain a truly unforgettable one. Having two homes is both "a gift and a curse"; I always miss the one I'm not at. But the chance to have two homes, and the memories that follow it, I will always cherish.
London, Hong Kong, and Winnipeg
My dad loves 山东大包 (Shandong big bao). The family of a colleague of his in Beijing is always making them with all sorts of experimental stuffings; they get hand-carried to Hong Kong and become our post-dinner 'snack'. As mention of these 包子 became more frequent, and more and more landed on our dinner table (and in my stomach), I, like my dad, really grew to appreciate the 包. And upon disembarking from Hong Kong in March, I promised him that with my bigger kitchen in LA, I would learn how to make 包子. He thought I was joking, of course. I myself forgot about this commitment in the way I have likewise neglected this blog.
But, exams are approaching, which always means - a holiday! No classes and no work to be done (and no one else free), I always spend this week doing the things that I love. I remember one year back in HK I spent exam week with a new skateboard that I had bought on a whim, aggravating my mom, who continually begged me to study (thankfully, she no longer does this - or at least I get to hang up on her when she does). This week I've been catching up on my Economists, drawing, driving, and reading Jane Austen's Persuasion. Her books are truly timeless. I've read them all, and re-read them on occasion. After, I plan to read a couple Agatha Christie's - these, too, are timeless.
However, it simply wouldn't do to lay in bed and read all day, nor would I particularly enjoy that. This morning I was jokingly reminded by my loving mother this plan of mine to learn how to make 包子. She may have been teasing, but I took it seriously. After all, I had a free day, so why not? I called her back, forcing her not only to send, but both translate and send over a recipe which I followed to the tee.
I don't actually have a scale and did most things in proportion to the package they came in, which worked just fine. The seasoning for the stuffing was particularly complex, with a dash of sesame oil, soya sauce, ginger, green onion, salt, etc. But nothing in this dish can't already be found in the kitchen as staples (except, perhaps, ground pork). The cabbage had to be salted and its water squeezed out.
The dough was a little daunting (I mean, not really - I just wanted to get it right). Last time I used cold water with yeast while making pizza with Kristy, and it took an excruciating amount of time to activate. This time I knew better even if my mom's translated recipe never called for it. And it was pretty rough, not 'silky smooth' as pictured, until I gave up and washed my hands - but when I came back it was smooth!
Everything thereafter was intuitive. A big thanks to Auntie Kitty for this dim sum bamboo basket I thought I'd never use; it came in handy. I made sure to be patient and careful so as to avoid the 'wrinkly skin' effect my grandmother kept having in making these 包 - and that I myself experienced when trying to steam eggs.
And here they are! Not quite restaurant-quality, I'll admit, but still very much with a 包 texture. The pork juice inside overflowed as I bit into them - so delicious. Actually, I really like this napa cabbage-pork-green onions-ginger combination, something I don't believe I've had in a restaurant. I had four steaming hot buns and they were not insignificant in size! I'm sure I will be bringing home the dim sum basket to make more for my dad.
A great picture can make mediocre food look good and good food look great. I've taken lots of pictures of my dishes that actually turned out - which I in turn post on my blog, facebook and instagram. It's no wonder that everyone thinks I have absolutely amazing food at home on a daily basis. But the truth is that comforting food need not be complicated, take lots of time, or be costly in any way. I'm an amateur cook in every sense, yet I have people coming up to me asking for all sorts of basic tips - should they use a pot or a pan? How do they crack an egg? Separate it? Where should they buy groceries and what should they buy?
The truth is, no one really taught me (except perhaps Cooking Mama and Jamie Oliver (and I'll give a tiny bit of credit to my mom and dad)). Most of the dishes and techniques I simply try out on intuition, or, occasionally, I'll follow a recipe. And it doesn't always come out perfect! Hardly so. There is a first for everything and it's ok to 'fail' - though once you get the hang of it, most 'failures' are still quite edible and delicious. On the other hand, if you've seriously burned your food, it's not edible.
So today I'm writing a blog post about everything I've cooked this week. About how to get variety in an easy way that doesn't cost too much or take a lot of time at all. (Though to be fair, I did make some 'nicer' dishes to showcase on my blog this week, which inevitably drove the final cost up. I'm sure many of you are going to scroll straight to the pavlova!) I always try to buy different ingredients week on week so I never get bored - and you should too - even if you're completely unfamiliar with them. Throughout these last seven days I've tried some new dishes - sometimes they turn out, other times they don't. But I've nonetheless included them here. And if anything, I hope it gives you some ideas of what to cook next week.
If you want to know more about the supermarkets I buy from in LA - and I know a couple people have asked me - see my previous post A Note On Supermarkets.
Dinner: 1 Abalone Sashimi , Steamed Egg with Minced Pork
Price, Time, Supermarket: $7.96, 15min, Mitsuwa
Abalone: $5.5, 0 min
Steamed Egg: 3 eggs x .375 = $1.13; 1/3 of $4 pack minced pork = $1.33, Total $2.46, 15 min
I felt like steamed eggs with minced pork from home, so I asked my parents for a simple recipe from Luvis. They decided to each send me a recipe in a group chat at arbitrary times, the result of which is that I read one set of tips and not the other. So it didn't turn out perfect with that smooth glossy top - and it was a little watery on the edges - but still yummy and very satisfying.
Lunch: Half Pan-fried 一夜干 Mackerel, rice
Price, Time, Supermarket: $5.5/2 =$2.75, 7 min, Mitsuwa
Dinner: Mini hot pot beef, cabbage, noodles
Price, Time, Supermarket: $4.52, 15 min (including eating time!), Mitsuwa
Prime Beef Chuck Roll Shabu Shabu: 1/2 of $7.96 pack at $11/pound = $3.98
Cabbage: ~$4 per cabbage, so 4 leaves = 30cents?
Noodles: $6 per 3kg bag of 20+ servings ~24cents
I love this pan-fried mackerel. It's dried for one day and then frozen, but the great thing about this specific fish is that it still tastes amazing after defrosting - and the same cannot be said for most seafood. The sides of the mackerel are particularly fatty in a melt-in-your-mouth way, while the middle section is leaner, creating good balance. I can eat this for breakfast, lunch, or dinner - it's just that good and convenient - and very affordable too. It's a little tricky to master the pan frying - medium heat is good. And when it's overcooked, it's terrible, unfortunately.
Bones are easy to spot - the spine comes right off.
The only real good hot pot beef I've found is at Mitsuwa. If you eat lots of vegetables and mix in a little pork and noodles, it's really a convenient way to get variety in your dinner - and you only have to wash one pot at the end!
I use a ponzu sauce, which is a citrus sauce great for the vegetables and meat. And yes, I eat lots of raw egg with my hot pot as well.
I buy noodles from the Korean store - these wide ones or the thinner "Oriental/Potato" noodles are both excellent, for different purposes. And they are cheaper than their Japanese counterparts.
Linner: 炒米粉 Fried mifen noodles
Price, Time, Supermarket: $3.58, 15min, Mitsuwa (and some Galleria)
Noodles: 50c; Bak Choy: 75c; Garlic: 10c; Minced Pork: 4.13/3 = $1.38; Eggs: 2x.375= 75c; Green onions: 10c
So didn't quite turn out to be mifen, but it was reminiscent of home nonetheless. Fried noodles are just that - you can really put any meat or vegetables in them. I use a wonderful XO ＋麻辣 chili sauce from a restaurant in HK called 浙江軒 (Zhe Jiang Heen) - it goes well with everything. Has the fragrance of sichuan peppercorn as well as the 'meat' of an XO.
Snack (to be eaten throughout the week): Potato Salad!
Price, Time, Supermarket: $11.52, 20 min (or a little longer, but just for boiling potatoes), Galleria and Ralphs DTLA (only place I found that sells creme fraiche - none of the other ones on my list sell it, nor does Ralphs on Vermont)
Bacon: 5/7 x $7 = $5; 4 Potatoes: $3; Green Onion: 40c; 3 eggs: .375 x3 = $1.13; Creme Fraiche: 1/3 x $5 = $1.67; Mayonnaise: 15c
Dinner: Hot Pot Beef with Cabbage and Noodles (again, see above 2/21)
By this time in the week, I was craving some Western food and remembered that we used to often make potato salad and store it in the fridge. It's a good snack, especially since I like 'real' dishes and only get to eat one meal a day usually (I tried hard to eat two a day for this week to half-avail). Super simple, just boiled the potatoes and eggs and mixed them together with my secret sauce - creme fraiche and mayonnaise. The bacon or some kind of meat is essential (and I actually hadn't realize how much bacon costs). I literally ate this until Sunday - as I said, great to make once and eat forever!
Lunch: Special Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce with Pork Belly
Price, Time, Supermarket: $2.66, 23 min, Mitsuwa, Galleria, and Ralphs
2.1mm Spaghetti (Mitsuwa): $5/5 = $1
Thick-cut Pork Belly (Galleria): $4.13 x (1/5) = $.83
Tomato Sauce $5 x (1/6) = $.83
Dinner: Nappa Cabbage steam-fried with Pork Tenderloin (or Belly)
Price, Time, Supermarket: $2.4, 5 min, Mitsuwa
Nappa Cabbage: $3.5 x (1/5) = $0.7; Pork Tenderloin $5 x (1/3) = $1.67
What would a week of food at home be without pasta? I highly recommend this Japanese pasta from Mitsuwa - it's super smooth and extra thick (2.1mm diameter), which creates a really nice texture. Only downside is that it takes 15 minutes to cook - much longer than most other pastas. I usually prefer a stock-based sauce, but for this week I decided to go simple (for my readers) and use a tomato sauce. But there are two ways to make your pasta better - I fried some pork belly before adding the sauce. It's great because it has fat (you don't need to add any oil) that flavors the whole dish. You can also try adding some herbs - I prefer thyme - when heating up the tomato sauce. And lastly, drizzle some olive oil in the end - it makes all the difference.
The Nappa Cabbage is my favorite leafy vegetable in LA. Fry a little pork (hand-cut tenderloin or strips of pork belly slices) and then just add the chopped leaves, add a little water, and cover. You can really taste the vegetables, and it's SO very good. Better than any salad, trust me. And it takes a literal 5 minutes to get from fridge to table.
Ok, so I cheated. I ate out twice today. But here are some dishes I've cooked previously that can give you some ideas. The first is just a mixture of vegetables I had in my fridge stir-fried together - this is great for vegetables you've never cooked before. The second is a relatively thin steak from Mitsuwa that's pan fried (and ~$5-6), with half a steamed broccoli. Both of these take 10-15 min to cook with minimal cleaning - I used one pan for both!
Lunch: Korean Spicy Pork Belly, Cabbage, and Squash 'Stew'
Price, Time, Supermarket: $3.95, 20min, Galleria
Medium-cut Pork Belly: (1/2) x $4.13 = $2.07; Italian Squash (they didn't have Korean!): $1; Nappa Cabbage: $3.5 x (1/4) = $0.88
Dessert: Fresh Strawberry Pavlova with Muscat Whip Cream
Price, Time, Supermarket: $11.29, 60min, Ralphs
Driscoll Strawberry Pack: $5; 4 egg whites: $.375 x 4= $1.5; Whip cream $4.79
This is one of the easiest ways I've found to get something spicy without resorting to the world of instant foods (there's also chili sauce, of course). But this pseudo-stew (a true stew uses blocks of meat and takes hours; this uses slices and brings down the time to a mere 20 min) is extremely easy. I threw in 3 slices of cut pork belly, and added the squash blocks, since they would take longer to cook. Then I added cabbage, the rest of the pork, some water, and 2 scoops of the paste. The Korean hot pepper paste has a sweet tang to it while the pepper powder gives it extra spice and the really red color; I didn't end up using the pepper powder as it had gotten moldy. Cover the lid (and make sure the water doesn't dry out (but also don't pour too much or it won't have time to boil away)) - and 20 minutes (or less!) later, it's done. A bowl of rice and a very happy me.
I know a lot of you have been waiting for this part! For the dessert of the week I chose a summer strawberry pavlova which includes 2 of my favorite dessert components - meringue and whip cream. It was the first time I'd made a meringue and it was surprisingly simple - I just followed Donal Skehan's youtube video and recipe; a stand mixer is not necessary, I used a hand mixer. I actually cooked some of the strawberries in muscat and created a little bit of a syrup which was nice, but I think fresh berries did just as well. And, I whipped in some muscat in the whip cream - I always like to add some alcohol in my cream - it's just so much more fragrant. Lastly, I added thyme as an afterthought (for the picture) - but it actually paired with the pavlova perfectly!! Will definitely be making this in the future - I think it's the most successful dessert I've ever made (perhaps, along with the almond pear tart). The only problem is it doesn't sit well in the fridge and is best eaten fresh.
Lunch: Roast Pork Ribs and Baby Carrots
Price, Time, Supermarket: $11.51, 10 min prep, 45-60min baked, Whole Foods
4 Pork Ribs: $7.23; Organic Carrot Bunch: $2.99; Thyme (Ralphs) $1.29
I've been dying for some large chunk of meat all week - specifically, roast pork ribs. For some reason, everywhere I look here the pork ribs are just so small/short even though they're not 'baby'. I ended up getting these ribs at Whole Foods out of convenience, but I think they're a little bit overpriced for the small amount of meat on the actual bones. In the end, though, I was so happy with my lunch of tender and flavorful pork ribs that it was worth it all. Baking meat is something you shouldn't neglect if you have an oven - it's one of the easiest ways to cook there is! I marinated the ribs with olive oil, salt, thyme, and rosemary the day before. I peeled the beautiful organic carrots, and popped it all in the oven today at 325˚F at first (since I had just gotten the pork out of the oven) and went up to 350˚F for most of an hour. I flipped the ribs so the base was searing the top at 375˚F (Honestly, just keep it at 350˚F if you don't want it to be so complicated) and they came out so nice - you can just look at the color to tell when they're cooked. And the carrots were so sweet and caramelized, they're a staple when I bake meat in the oven - and I don't even like carrots normally!
I absolutely love my carrots this way. All browned and caramelized, sweet and a tinge of chewy burntness.
It has been an exciting week of trying to cook new foods (or simply cooking food so I can eat), and I hope that if nothing else, my readers will get some inspiration for what to cook in the coming days.
I go to 2-4 supermarkets a week, simply because going to one isn't enough. It's quite frustrating that meat is good at one place while vegetables are good at another and seafood at yet another; that some supermarkets sell Asian food and others Western; and that there are places that are significantly cheaper or more expensive for the same goods. But I've listed the ones I go to in order of preference - with the Japanese supermarket Mitsuwa being my staple. All these places have free parking, although some of them need validation.
- Mitsuwa, Torrance (Japanese): My favourite supermarket that I go to pretty much every Sunday morning. The meat quality here is the best - especially for sliced hot pot beef - but everything from pork tenderloin to chicken bones is of the higher quality. I like the fish, eggs, sauces, pastas, and the constant fairs with fresh Japanese delicacies from Japan.
- Galleria, KTown on Western (Korean): A lot cheaper than Mitsuwa, with good pork belly and thick cut short ribs for stewing. You can get great noodles, rice, tofu, vegetables, Korean sauces and chili pastes.
- Whole Foods DTLA: Organic, air-chilled (non-frozen) chicken is absolutely better than regular chicken - especially when you get it here (whole chicken ~ $15; 9 thighs ~$11). The ham and cheese bar is wonderful, and the seafood is fresh; it won't smell fishy when you cook it (like if you get it from Ralphs or Galleria). Brand new and an exciting visit - reminds me of Citisuper back home except too healthy and less variety.
- Ralphs DTLA: Honestly, I go to this Ralphs for all the stuff that is either a rip-off or not sold at Whole Foods. Essentially, I reserve all my vegetable-buying for Ralphs (because who needs organic vegetables .. (seedless grapes are GMO, so GMO is not a problem for me)). Creme fraiche is a great standard cream that I can only find here, as well as the liter-sized carton of Whole Milk - you wouldn't believe how incredibly difficult this is to find. Regular pastas, tomato sauce, home goods, and dry-cleaning - Ralphs covers the basics Whole Foods doesn't.
- Ralphs Vermont: They sell pork bones, which is great for soup. Ralphs DTLA doesn't sell pork bones, Whole Foods won't sell me any bones whatsoever (what are they doing with them after they cut the chicken apart?!?), Galleria has beef bones and Mitsuwa has earth chicken 地鸡 bones.
- Trader Joes, Culver City: I don't come here very often anymore, but the dried mangos!
I love eating and I always will. My parents especially always note the way my face lights up when food is placed on the table, especially at home. Yet it is hardly my only hobby, and definitely not the only thing I enjoy. In fact, eating outside too often can quickly bore - and it wouldn't do to be boring!
Last Christmas, on our annual trip to Phuket, Thailand, my dear mother cajoled me into getting onto the Hobie for a morning of sailing. She did this by throwing a tantrum, refusing to talk to me, and abstaining from playing our typical afternoon round of mah jong. Sometimes, I really wonder who here is the mother. But I suppose in this case I have to thank her - when it was just us two navigating the boat in the Andaman sea, it was thrilling.
After mentioning this excursion to Kristy, who lives across town in UCLA, I learnt that she too had sailing experience. Consequently we decided it would make a pleasant Saturday morning activity. Equipped with our waterproof GoPros, we made it over to Marina Del Rey. Here are a few photos and captions:
Grabbing ahold of equipment to look skilled:
At one of those extremely rare moments where our boat was unable to catch wind due to our highly capable sailing capabilities:
Taken from a drone called a human (seriously, Alistair actually believed there was a drone):
A truly candid candid shot that was in no way staged:
A woman who popped in front of my lens at the last moment, pretending to be something:
The highlight of the two hour long sailing trip was when we heard a loud 'gulping' sound behind our boat, again, during one of those exceedingly rare moments when our boat was not moving. The two of us immediately looked back and saw a sinking circle, quickly turning to each other to question what it was. We were soon answered when a sea lion (or seal, or walrus - but I think it was a Californian sea lion) popped up, meters from our boat. We spent the latter hour of our journey chasing after the elusive white whale of a sea lion, deftly steering our Hobie towards where we saw the mammal last. In fact, we even got some distant footage - I recommend that you listen with the volume on high, to better hear the pleasant piercing sounds of our screams (as well as the highly appropriate music accompaniment). That's it for now - 9pm and my bed time approaches, especially as I haven't yet studied for tomorrow's statics exam. But look forward to next week's post on what I really eat all week - my motd's (meals of the day), not limited to the successes I blatantly show off here and on instagram.
Once a week (or often twice), I need some home food that's better than shabu shabu, butter pasta, or a 清炒 head of broccoli. I particularly wanted a dish that had a majority of veggies and protein, that tipped the 50-50 scale between carbs and everything else. And so I made a rice pot! Ironic, I know, but the dish I'm about to share with you is focused on the greens and chicken above, more so than the complementary rice below. And the food is steamed - so much healthier than the oil-laden Chinese restaurants out here.
This exact claypot rice - with chicken, brussels sprouts, and leeks - is not exactly a staple dish at home or even in Chinese culture. But in your own home, what's great is that you can put whatever you want in your dishes; this is my creation.
I started with the chicken thighs, which is a juicy portion of dark meat perfect for dicing into chunky cubes - the kind you'd use in a claypot rice, oyakodon, or stir-fry with vegetables. I got mine at Whole Foods, and they are organic and air-chilled. A pack of 9 (separated into 3 packs of 3) was about $11. Now, I'm not usually a stickler for organic - it's often just a way to raise prices without really contributing much to flavour (like in most vegetables) - but with buying chicken in America, it makes a world of difference. And chicken shouldn't be frozen or it'll really lose all the juicy flavours that make it chicken in the first place!
It's actually my first time dealing with chicken thigh like this but simply debone them and remove the skin.
Proceed to cut the thigh into cubes. I marinated it in a little salt and sesame oil for about 20-30 minutes - definitely not overnight or the chicken will be too salty.
Luvis usually throws the skin away, but come on, it's the best part of the chicken. I slapped them on a cookie pan and put them in the oven at 350F/180C until golden brown. In fact, much of the oil actually comes out of the skin when baking, until you're left with some crispy good bits.
Really, what I was excited for in this dish was the brussels sprouts. I don't think we've ever eaten these at home and I most definitely have never handled them before. I've had bad brussels sprouts quite a few times (they tend to accompany things like pork chop and steak and are made to taste like airplane food). Probably, that's why they have such a bad reputation. But on a few occasions, I've had wonderfully delicious, dense yet leafy sprouts, and they've changed my mind about them completely. The way brussels sprouts are make them so able to soak up the flavours of the dish, and are great to bite into. They are also, as I found out, surprisingly dirty so you have to peel back quite a few layers and cut the end off. Leeks, too, are notoriously laden with dirt in their crevices. Clean well.
I washed the rice until the water ran clear. I started cooking the rice (and the rice only). Halfway through I added the chicken, brussels sprouts, and leeks.
And when the dish came out, I was so happy! I'd honestly not cooked rice outside of a rice cooker, and had never used many of the ingredients in this way. But I managed to sit down for a very pleasant, nutritiously satisfying lunch. Of course, I didn't forget to add the few pieces of chicken skin that only enhanced the pot. I'm sure my friend Kristy, who doesn't eat chicken skin and is 'selective of [her] fats' would disagree. But there it is, that beautiful chicken skin lying upon my beautiful steamed claypot rice.
I'm stuffed for the Christmas season. Lunch after dinner after lunch, the meals keep coming. Thankfully I have friends who are not averse to doing something a little less eating related. With the semi-cool weather providing semi-enjoyable temperatures, I've gone out biking twice this holiday season - the first time in Tai Po with Kristy and Natalie, and the second in Nam Sang Wai with Josh and Nicholas. All photos are taken by GoPro Hero 3.
The first time around:
While Tai Po is an easy, long, and enjoyable trail, it is one that we are all roughly familiar with. (The district also has some extremely worthy beef brisket noodles and silky cheung fun, which makes this biking trail a real winner). However, the new is always more of an adventure. Nick made the great decision of exploring Nam Sang Wai, which is near the Yuen Long mtr and very close to Shenzhen. (It is here near the Yuen Long MTR station that you can rent bikes for 30 hkd a day).
The view is not ordinary. You start on Nam Sang Wai Road (shown directly below), and go around the tongue-shaped region, always with direct view of the river. Where it gets interesting, though, is when you enter the heart of the 'tongue' and observe the square patches of water. They are laid out almost like a rice paddy, though not quite with their much deeper trenches. To be honest I'm not quite sure what they are used for. Suffice it to say, it creates an impressive scene, though one infested with mosquitos.
As we approached the village, we saw a bride atop a bridge. It was a little disarming to find her in such a swampy area, but it made for a great picture. Shortly thereafter, we biked through a lane with trees planted on either side, one of which I crashed into. A wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Dou fu fa seems to be a staple of small restaurants like these - not much else is served. I love the taste of the orange sugar; too bad this place didn't place out the ginger syrup.
The most interesting part of Nam Sang Wai, as I found out, was actually the 7 hkd boat ride that brought us across 5 meter of river water. A touristy kind of expense for so short a ride, but a fun excursion nonetheless. Of note is that there is no other bridge that connects the two lands without making a big detour. The rickety contraption actually took quite a few of us. As I stood there grasping hard onto the bike, standing on the upper planks, one of the tourists asked the man how much history the boat has had. Twenty years of being seaworthy, was the response he got. For a boat that is constantly in use (albeit only traveling the 5 meters between piers), that is not too bad.
We concluded the trip not long after, and made our way home for a round of Taboo. A fun-filled day of surprising adventure in the company of good friends. Not much more that one could wish for.
Last week I was bad. I skipped a class Tuesday morning, no less in one of my favorite subjects - Economics. To justify such a wrongdoing, I have to say, it was my mother who encouraged it. Though in all honestly, it was both a rarity and necessity, for that Tuesday I drove from LA to San Francisco along the 5 North for what seems like a lot longer than six and a half hours. It was the painful start to our holiday together, my mom and I, journeying into the desert for some Thanksgiving fun. This is not to say that there is nothing between LA and SF, but that literally, we were driving through a desert. But desert can be beautiful too:
It was late afternoon by the time we got there and finished dealing with the tangled one way streets. We made our way to the Ferry Pier and to some other sights during our one and a half days stay there - the food we ate I'll cover in another post. The city surprised me, and it felt a lot more like New York than the LA I am used to. My mom brought (coerced) me to drive up to Twin Peaks (the equivalent of LA's Griffith Observatory) for some night photography , and I enjoyed it thoroughly from within the warm confines of my car. She also led (forced) me to go to Land's End, which was beautiful in another way:
SF was only the start to our trip though, as the following day we made our way up to Napa for some window-wine-tasting. This actually turned out to be Thanksgiving day, so not much was open, but I Ioved the expansive rows of red-yellow vines, rolling amongst the hills. Especially since I got to drive through them. We lunched at Auberge du Soleil's patio, and ate a simple lunch to a glowing valley landscape. And good thing I over-ordered during lunch, as we were left to starve that night as nothing of remote interest had remained open.
My favourite part of Napa was actually the Oxbow Public Market - and the bitters shop in it. I had never really known what bitters were until the shoplady explained, and I got to try quite a few on the spot. In the end we got a bottle of Juniper Rose Syrup from Dram Apothecary, which has a strong rose flavor. I highly recommend it - not just for cocktails, but for any number of desserts. When I got home I immediately ordered a bottle of each of their syrups from their online shop to experiment with - Pine and Juniper Rose.
Shortly thereafter we had to start our path back south, and the vacation had already felt quite lengthy. This was due possibly from all the driving, or the lack of even a single day of vacation since school had started back in August (Hong Kong spoils me with all its public holidays). Thank goodness I convinced my mom to stop by SF on the way back for a couple bowls of Shanxi noodles at Terra Cotta Warrior. Convincing her was as easy as I steering the wheel straight to the restaurant. I loved this restaurant. The flavours were so interesting, the noodles done so well - but I'll save my review for another post. To say the least, it satisfied the cravings of my very Asian tummy. A sneak peak:
We drove down the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1) for the remainder of the holidays, stopping at vista points so my mom could take a long time with her pictures. Actually, I do have to bow down to her as some (many) of the photos here are hers, if not taken by me and my gopro. It was certainly a scenic drive, and one that I enjoyed very much, but turned exhausting near the end. Thankfully my capable mother can drive too (she is now learning how to clean and cook as well, with my guidance). We ended the first PCH day at Carmel and Big Sur, passing through the tolled 17-mile drive along the way. It was the second grade California road trip all over again, but this time just me and my mom.
The town of Carmel was cozy and kind of magical, with Christmas lights strung all upon the trees. Not much in particular to look at in terms of the shops, but we made sure to stop by their most popular bakery for a hot chocolate and a mille feuille to fill our belly. I started my first fireplace and we went into a nice slumber - and for dinner? Leftovers from Terra Cotta Warrior. Think pig ears, garlic, and cucumber. That's all I have for now. There's only one day left in the trip, but I have so much to say about it I feel it needs a dedicated blog post. A fun and exciting time with mom.
I have been in love with crepes for years. My first (and lasting) impression of the dish came from a little cozy creperie in Whistler, Canada, called Crepe Montagne. I'm surprised - a quick google search showed me it's still open for business - with the same magazine rack and everything! For quite a few years in my youth (I can now use this word to describe my younger years, being 19), my family made Whistler our Christmas destination. I learnt how to ski there year after year, weeks on end (and by that I mean a maximum of two). I would tire myself out on the slopes with friends and family - lots of them. My cousins from Canada would come yearly, and family friends, school friends, and other family would always happen to make their way at some point. And after a long day of being cold and working those already sore muscles (ski boots weren't so comfortable back then), us children would always opt for crepes. I certainly miss a winter cheese fondue as well.
My subsequent impressions of crepes only increased my appreciation for them. I remember visiting family friends Jocelyn and Brendan when they were living in London. I think I only have three memories from that trip (unfortunately I was still young then): 1) Buying my long-time favorite book at one of London's glorious book stores: The Mystery of the Invisible Thief by Enid Blyton; 2) Brendan offering to carry his mother's shopping bags and my mom urging me to be more like him; and 3) Eating crepes for lunch. Admittedly I don't remember much. But I do remember the crepes. They'll always bring back good memories.
However, we never really thought about making crepes at home until my dad made a mistake. My mom and I had asked him to buy a pizza stone. I thought it would be fun to make from scratch, especially since I had always envied those kids in Canada who got to spread tomato sauce, sprinkle mozzarella, and add pepperoni slices on to a ready-made dough. He dutifully went to SOGO the next day while I was tucked away at a tutoring session to make the secret purchase. He even consulted, at length, with the store ladies (as is his usual practice). He proceeded to show up at home, proudly announcing that he had bagged a discount at the SOGO sale for a very nice Le Creuset pizza stone. It was a crepe pan. It even came with the wooden T-dowel to spread the crepe thin. But rather than return it, we kept it, and still use it (albeit occasionally) to this day. The following is one of my mom's earliest crepes:
From the time we've bought the pan, my mom has been the designated crepe-maker. It's just about the only thing she can manage to produce for dinner - I'm not sure she can even manage cooking two different types of instant noodles at once. So naturally, on her visit to LA, she made the effort to make one dinner during her months stay, and she decided on crepes. And I love her crepes! I'm writing a blog post about it to share her wonderful creation! But can you believe she had the galls to say that she was "spoiling me" by making crepes? That she made one dinner in a month's worth of dinners? Maybe I should leave her with instant noodles while I prepare my own nutritious daily dinner.
The savoury crepes were delicious, and featured a very nice prosciutto (not salty) from Whole Foods, and Swiss Emmenthal. But the two dessert crepe dishes made up the grand finale. Above is the rum and butter cooked crepes, with a rum-strawberry-raspberry sauce. The ice cream added a cold touch - olive oil and almonds from McConnell's. That sweet-sour-hot-cold mixture! Clearly though, not my favourite, despite a beautiful portrayal in the picture.
My real favourite crepe was the crepe cooked in yet more butter, with lots of lemon, lots of sugar. Sinfully tart and buttery, I love this flavour combination. And yes, a dollop of ice cream to go with.
So that was a day's meal. My mom really does make good crepes. I'm sorry you won't be able to have one, now (I finished the batter) or in the future (my mom is leaving), unless you are my dad (or Luvis, or me). But still, I thought I'd share my mom's beautiful creations, if only to heighten your appetite and neglect to satisfy it.
It seems a little odd - the fact that despite my many restaurant recommendations and reviews, the one restaurant I've neglected to write about is my favourite one in LA (tied with Petit Trois). Tonight, I made my fourth visit with my mom to the establishment known as Bestia. It is a haven in the arts district of LA for casual but ultra tasty Italian food - the perfect place for any special occasion, or just for dinner. The only problem? Bookings. I made tonight's booking back in late August, and they only had counter seats left for my mom and me (It's a Wednesday night! It's such a big restaurant!). But a visit here is absolutely not a problem when you make the effort to book early.
What we love most here is the pasta. It's homemade, extra extra al dente, and has it's own unique tang. And then a most flavourful, concentrated, sauce is added - one you probably wouldn't or couldn't make at home. I think this is what makes Bestia's dishes so special - the fact that you're not just having cream sauce, tomato sauce, or basil sauce with different ingredients - you're getting a meat-stocked, intricate sauce that only a real chef can repeat.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The first thing we had today was not, in fact, pasta. I've known for a while that Bestia is known for its Crostinos, but had been too focused on the pastas to pay them much attention. This was a big mistake, as I found out today. At my mom's urging, we ordered the chicken liver crostino with chives, marjoram, aged balsamic, and sea salt . The chicken liver had a very deep taste, and was not unpleasant in any way (as I know some parts of the chicken can be, even to an experienced eater). The balsamic paired with it really well, and the bread was toasted properly but was thankfully still more chewy than hard-cripsy. I really enjoyed it. The portion was larger than expected, perfect for two. Certainly, a great start to our meal.
The crostino was followed by a Bestia staple - roasted bone marrow, spinach gnocchetti, crispy breadcrumbs, and aged balsamic. This dish is heaven. The marrow-fat scrapes off the hot bone with ease, and although the waiters always tell us to mix it in with the pasta, I can't help but take an eager bite of it alone. The spinach gnocchetti is also one of the best pastas Bestia has to offer, even though it's not actually in the pasta section. A real must - the below was the large portion (25).
After the appetizers, of course, comes more pasta. If I'm being honest with you, I wouldn't touch the pizzas. The sauce of the pastas are just so much more intense, and so very satisfying. But maybe I'm just a pasta girl. And as a pasta girl, I'm telling you - of all the pastas that I've had in the world, Bestia's cavatelli alla norcina is the best I've ever had. There are a few food combinations out there that are so mind-blowingly good your throat aches to swallow them down. I have a term for these kinds of foods - they are "liquid gold". Imagine this: the best Japanese beef, raw or torched or seared with a mouthful of warm rice; fresh and sweet Hokkaido uni (sea urchin) taken in large gulps; a golden-orange extra-thick yolk. Bestia's cavatelli alla norcina, which is a chewy pasta with "housemade pork sausage, black truffles, grana padano" has that burst of umami that I can't stop having trickle down my esophagus. The truffles are used well here, so that the aroma is spread throughout. And of course the use of sausage helps - the fresh kind, crumbled, just the way I'll always love.
The following picture was from a previous visit. As you can see, it's just as good, every time.
The last pasta of the night (and we always go for a different one for our "other" pasta dish) was strozzapretti di ortica with stinging nettles, grilled calamari, sundried tomato, umbrian lentils, and rosemary. The calamari was excellently grilled, with an excellent tomato-ish nettle-ish base. The pasta had a unique texture. A lovely dish all in all, though it can't compare with the cavatelli.
And just like that, my mom and I concluded dinner. It was only just past 6 at the time (we had started at 5) and we hadn't any room for dessert. I was blissfully happy, and content that in exactly two weeks time, I'll be sitting at a table in Bestia once again to go over old favourites and make new ones. It is a treat - but when you know you're getting some of the best pasta, you know it's worth every dollar.
Just for reference, I thought I'd share a few pics from previous meals. The "Valrhona Fair Trade Bittersweet Chocolate Budino Tart. salted caramel, cacao crust, olive oil, sea salt" (second from bottom) is a staple at Bestia and outstanding. I just never seem to have room to eat it - maybe in two weeks. It's a delicate but substantial chocolate mousse in a well crusted tart. But the pairing of the olive oil to its bitterness is what makes all the difference - it truly is something amazing! That's the norm at Bestia.
Tel: (213) 514-5724
Address: 2121 E 7th Pl, Los Angeles, CA 90021
I'm a meat lover. The succulent, glorious taste of fall-off-the-bone meat with a spoonful of white rice is the stuff of dreams. (Kristy, I know you'll attest to this - don't pretend you didn't scrape that pot of white rice clean last time you visited my house for barbecue). As the weather cools significantly, I've restarted the habit of traversing across my apartment bundled up in my HKIS sweatshirt. I've even succumbed to the need to actually wear pants. As a result, in the weeks leading up to today, I've slowly craved meatier, heartier, dinners. It must be mother instinct, telling me to stock up on the lipids in preparation for winter. And winter is fast approaching - I often hear Christmas carols around and about (because I play them). So today I'm going to share with you a couple of the meals I've made for myself at home to combat the cold and the craving.
Thai Pork Neck (Ko Mu Yang) is a childhood favorite of mine. I would always beg for it to be cooked, and would not leave the dinner table until every slice was gone. Today, it still ranks in the top three of my favourite meat dishes at home. This is the first time I've actually made it, and had to improvise a little as I couldn't get anyone on the phone to tell me how it was done. Auntie Kitty did give me some tips though, mid-hike. I followed her instructions, marinating the pork neck in a mixture of soya sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. Fish sauce is kind of necessary, but I couldn't find it at the store. Regardless, I baked it at 350˚F/180˚C for about 50min on a rack and out comes these two beautifully caramelized slabs:
It was simple to slice and serve (with rice of course). As for the sauce, I was a little limited. Parsley (or Cilantro, as Americans here call it) is a must, and fish sauce should be. I concocted this ponzu-sichuan chili-parlsey sauce that gave the dish the kick it needed, and was satisfied. Ironically, it was only after I cooked the pork neck that I checked out a Youtube video recipe. In it, the Thai chef says: "if you're on a diet, avoid this recipe. Or change the meat." Don't change the meat - the succulent fat is what caramelizes the meat, and gives it that springy iconic texture. If you're afraid of fat, just don't eat this dish at all. But you'll be missing out on something truly delicious.
My ultimate favourite meat dish is galbi jjim, or Korean sweet stewed beef with turnips and carrots. I've written about it before (actually, I think it was my first post on Effli) but it still remains at the top of my list. The beef is so flavourful and tender after being stewed 2.5-3 hours, it will most likely have already fallen off the bone by the time it reaches your plate. So, highly recommended. For college students though, I must warn that it does take quite a bit of patience and time. If you do want to try it, know that making galbi jjim yourself is almost always better because a) it's cheaper, b) you actually get carrots and turnip and not just a pile of meat that is way too sweet, and c) you know the restaurant hasn't cut costs to serve you mere beef strips. To justify a), I spent about $15 on all the ingredients and I ate this for 2 dinners and 1 lunch - a total of 3 meals! As for b), a surprising number of restaurants I've found in LA who are "known for galbi jjim" will actually just serve you the meat with a sprinkling of green onion. As much as I love the meat, the carrots and turnips add to the dish diversity. And for c), this is actually quite common in restaurants in Hong Kong nowadays - you'll get thinner beef meant for barbecuing in your stew. That's a no-no. Make your own galbi jjim.
The last of the big meat dishes: my very first roast chicken. I had a headache unlike any other after my accounting exam. I had never been so bombarded with information as with this 26 page test full of MC, T/F, 9 "FRQs", Calculations, and Fill in the blanks. I actually did manage to finish every question (which was probably why I had such a headache) but in the end it made me happy. Solving anything regarding $$ always does. But that terrible Monday, I came home to my apartment and made a quick decision - I was going to roast a chicken. I quickly made a grocery store run and got some portobello mushroom, lemon, carrot, cumin and rosemary. As I cleaned the chicken, some red organ dropped into the insinkerator. While quite a large one, there was nothing I could do but grind it up.
It was late at night by the time I got to eat anything but it was well worth the wait. The skin was just browning but when I made a cut into the breast it was already cooked, so I took it out. The very sweet peppers paired perfectly with the meat. Unfortunately, my miserable state combined with the long wait led me to eat half the chicken, straight down the backbone line. While the top breast meat was a little overcooked, the legs were just right, so I have to figure that one out.
I just want to close with a few other quick dishes I've made prior to the three heavy meat dishes above. The gazpacho below had beautiful flavor, as did the frozen berry smoothie made by my very good "healthy" friends Kristy and Jeffrey when they were over at my place. Admittedly, the carbonara is the opposite of anything light or healthy, but it was my first authentic one! The recipe called for 3 yolks which I thought was a bit thick, but tasty all the same. But from today I'm moving onwards - more fats and more lipids for a cooling fall.
I am always hungry, and I am always full. It's been a real dilemma since I stepped foot back onto campus for my sophomore year, much more so than in my freshman year. I'll start by addressing the "always full" portion of the statement. Somehow, I've messed with my metabolism. Perhaps I got lazy and hardly did any exercise. The first few weeks of school I didn't have time to. As a result, I compensated by not eating - I was simply never hungry. I could eat nothing for breakfast, and a plum at lunch would make me so full I'd feel my belly swell. I would force myself to eat a 'proper' meal at dinner with some form of carbs and either vegetables, meat, or fish. But even then, I'd only nibble - and half a bowl of rice would always suffice (since when?). I couldn't understand what the problem was - until I started eating real food again (and not just fruits!)
But before I get into how I solved my problem, I have to justify the other portion to my seemingly hypocritical statement - that I'm always hungry. This problem I know to plague several of my friends from Hong Kong. It certainly isn't that my stomach is literally growling constantly (and for many weeks, quite the opposite), or that I'm starving myself. Rather, it's the constant craving for various foods, a perpetual desire to eat something good. One day I'll really, really, want a bowl of pho, but immediately after I consume that bowl of pho, I'll suddenly desire a big juicy steak. And these cravings are not merely transient - they can last days or even weeks - until satisfied. But satisfaction never lasts for long.
I finally figured it out. The two apparently opposing problems I was facing had left me in a quandary, until I realized that they were just two sides of the same issue. I wasn't eating wholesomely enough. I didn't have enough variety. At home, I'm so used to having at least three main dishes - a vegetable dish, a meat dish, and a seafood/other dish, on top of rice and soup. For many years - most of my life - I thought my dad was being extravagant. Did we really need to cook so many different dishes every day? Now, I can look back and thank him for it. Eating a balanced diet means eating good food in good proportion. And I'm not talking about being vegetarian or eating organic - just eating regular, everyday, properly cooked food is in itself nutritious.
Being able to cook and eat basic Asian food is not enough any more, though it was for a year. Plain boiled (but chewy) noodles may be better than most cafeteria fare, where al dente pasta is a true rarity, but if it is better it is only marginally so. (A deviation - 'marginal' is my favourite word. You can ask me why next time you see me.) Like I said, I do eat meat and fish and vegetables often, but all together in one meal, not quite often enough. Imagine eating a plate of a whole stir fried broccoli and some rice. It seems healthy, but the meal isn't complete. In the long run, it's not healthy, and it's not going to fulfill you - or at least it doesn't fulfill me.
I've learnt to eat more such complete meals, and have been doing a lot of cooking last week. I thought I'd write about a lot of my creations, but while they're good, they aren't worth writing at length about. You can check them out on my instagram @efflilife for some inspiration. I am glad to say that my days of butter pasta (literally butter + pasta) are greatly diminished. And, I no longer trick myself by telling myself I am savouring that 'pure' taste of durum wheat.
Today, though, I'm going to share with you a quick and easy soup recipe that's particularly convenient as far as soups go for Chinese (or other) college students in need of real nutrition and a nice hot soup reminiscent of home (one that's not clogged up with cream). Last week in the middle of the night, my mom sent me about 14 texts via whatsapp. When I woke up, I saw this picture by picture recipe from weibo for this Fujianese soup called 炝肉汤. I've never had this soup before, and honestly don't have much experience with Fujianese food on the whole. I know they have this gooey fried rice that I don't care for. But the soup seemed simple and good, and only took me an hour to make - no bones, no messing with blanching meat, and lots of vegetables.
To align with the pictures so far, the first two show exactly the portions of the ingredients I used. You need nappa cabbage, cauliflower (not a whole one), pork tenderloin, some ginger, garlic, and dried mushrooms. As a college student, it's a good idea to keep a bag of dried mushrooms on hand. When you're out of fresh vegetables, you still have mushrooms.
You want to soak the dried mushrooms and cut up all the vegetables (shown above). Start boiling a pot of water. As for the meat, I chose pork tenderloin. I got it at Mitsuwa Japanese supermarket in Torrance which is quite a far distance to go for groceries - but they also have some of the best meat quality in supermarkets I've seen. And in America, it's hard to find pork that's not bacon or pork chops. I wouldn't suggest those for this soup - you want lean meat that you can slice up as I did. To marinate the pork, mix in a corn starch-water mix to soften the pork (this is important! try not to skip it or the meat will be tough), a few spoons of soya sauce to get the above color, and a sprinkle of salt.
I fried the ginger and garlic in a little oil first, later adding the soaked dried mushrooms. Already, you'll be smelling good things.
Add the fried mushroom, garlic, and ginger to the bot of boiling water - don't put too much water at first, or the flavor from the mushrooms etc. will disperse. You can always add more water later. Bring it to a boil, and slowly add the pork bit by bit, not all at once. I spread it out between an hour, keeping the pot at a medium boil. When I added the last bit of pork, I started cooking the rice (mine only takes 10 min to cook). Shortly after I added the cabbage and cauliflower - boiling until they're just cooked then shutting the fire.
And of course, add salt to taste when ready to serve. I'm not a huge fan of excessive salt usage in general, but soup is very particular. There really is an optimal amount of salt. Too much and it's too salty, too little and you can't taste the true flavors of the soup. If you don't add any salt you won't taste anything. But it's important to only add salt in the end, because you always want to boil soup down to get richer flavors, and by then it'll be too salty. (I got to cover the basics, knowing my audience.)
I was surprised at the clean yet hearty taste of the soup. It's beautiful! The taste completely changed when I added the cabbage and cauliflower. It was easy to make, with few ingredients, and beautiful umami flavors. I've never had this at a restaurant, so I honestly can't judge how authentic it is, but I look forward to eating this many times in the future. Thanks to my mom for keeping up with social media!
Ingredients needed: nappa cabbage, dried mushrooms, ginger (to get rid of smelliness), garlic, caulifower, pork tenderloin, corn starch, soya sauce
It's already the fourth week of classes at USC, though for many, those college days are only now approaching. What that means for me? I'm not sure - I only know that I've been extremely busy, without much time to relax, let alone write a blog post. It's Tuesday today, and I finally get to let out a little breath - in between my morning Intermediate Microeconomics class and my web coding TA job at night. By the way, for those who know me - I'm still loving Economics - especially when calculus is involved!
In fact, yesterday, I just celebrated my 19th birthday. From the time I was 8 I always wanted to be younger, and now is no different. But as much as I despise increasing that last digit, celebrating my birthday is always one of my favourite activities of the year, and usually I am quite extravagant in my planning (in the past, I've held trivia games, scavenger hunts, and nerf gun wars). But with the hosting of the 3rd Annual Global Supply Chain Excellence Summit only the week before, I hadn't given this one much thought. You can see from the health app screenshot that I had so much work I didn't get to leave the house over the long weekend, and on the day of the event walked excessively (almost 9 miles!) The whole summit team had been working around the clock for the last few weeks - to what I think was a great success. The below picture is of Blair, and more importantly, the 9x15ft banner I made. She's done great work. On top of everything, I also got a neat haircut last week, which was a fun hour of affordable luxury amidst school and work. As for my birthday, I ended up going to Genwa KBBQ and had all my friends there to celebrate; it was a great time all in all - thanks again!
But knowing me, regardless of my stacked schedule, I still had time to enjoy a good meal here and there albeit restricted to home. Even though for about 4 days there I went without fresh groceries in my fridge (no eggs, no meat, no vegetables, no fruits, no time), and I consequently had small but plentiful portions of a dish I call "Fat Chloe" - (butter pasta with herbs (or without herbs (i.e. just lots of butter)) - I've picked up my cooking. Today for lunch, I took a welcome break to cook these baby pork ribs that have been sitting sinfully in my freezer. I got them at Mitsuwa, which is the Japanese grocery store in Torrance. A little bit pricier than Galleria (Korean) or Ralphs (Western), but with superb meat quality, I spoil myself sometimes. I especially like their high quality shabu shabu beef that just melts in your mouth... Today though, I chose a meatier option and baked these ribs until tender with cauliflower and potatoes to soak up those fatty but tasty juices. I'm just being honest here. Everyone knows the baked and soaked cauliflower is bound to taste much better than the rest of the cauliflower head which I boiled.
And, moving back in time, I had a Japanese Sunday breakfast that reminded me closely of home (though ironically I've never had such a fanciful breakfast at home). A salad of firm iced potatoes, turnip, tomatoes, cabbage, and sesame sauce, with freshly steamed kelp rice, sweet marinated sardines, and nato beans. A clean and simple way to start the day happily and energetically.
The last two dishes I made a couple weeks back for a few friends, with a slightly Middle Eastern feel to it. The first was simply fried halloumi cheese (super salty, super good), perfectly pan fried salmon, and boiled broccoli. The second was a dish I had never made before - shakshouka - a tomato based medley of pepper eggs, and cilantro.
While I'm no chef, time in the kitchen has been enjoyable nonetheless, even if I enjoy the product much more than the progress. I'm planning to do more with my spare time now - including learning Japanese outside of class - amongst a whole range of exciting new things. Lastly, Happy Birthday to self!
I've been too busy. Between the start of classes and work, I have barely had a spare moment for myself besides cooking the necessary meals (usually one a day - my metabolism is shot). Last Sunday I chose to spare half an hour to check out a cocktail party hosted by my apartment building on the roof. Long stories aside, I managed to stay for three hours. During those three hours and by chance, I happened to get introduced to Andrew, one of the owners of Peking Tavern. It's a new and modern Beijing restaurant in Downtown LA that doubles as a tavern serving 白酒, a special high quality Chinese liquor which, of course, I did not have the chance to enjoy.
I've been craving Zhajiang Mian (noodles) all week and even had the Korean instant version (Chapaghetti) earlier this week. It soon became clear, though, that that was not enough to satisfy my desires. When Peking Tavern came up yet again in the LA Downtowner I knew I had to make a trip for their freshly handmade dumplings, and of course those iconic Beijing noodles. Luckily, the restaurant was only a five block walk from my place and I went straight after my last class of the day - as soon as the restaurant opened at 5pm.
The decor was quite hip. All modern with hints of Chinese heritage. I was surprised there wasn't a clear sign of the restaurant (more like a vertical banner up top) but it was easy enough to find, and was in the basement. From the pictures, I wasn't expecting that the restaurant would be so bar-like, but in retrospect the word 'Tavern' in the name suggests it.
I don't normally eat Zhajiang mian outside because I almost universally prefer soup noodles, and because I can get Zhajiang mian at home for dinner (or lunch) often. Alas, living by myself doesn't allow me the luxury of requesting it at a moment's notice.
This was quite a good bowl. It was comforting, and besides the fact that I hate raw carrots the taste is authentic. The only problem I have with it is the amount of oil that I managed to pour out of the bottom even before I was finished with it. I know the sauce for Zhajiang mian necessarily has oil... but it was quite a big pool! Still, I might have it again someday. Probably, I will try their signature beef noodle soup first.
The 麻辣 (mala) fish dumplings were wonderful. The fish inside seemed really light and frothy in a fresh way, and the 麻辣 sauce was superb, with the flavor really soaking into the dumplings. It's funny because it wasn't that spicy but my lips were quivering in numbness by the end of the plate. I know in Hong Kong a lot of the 麻辣 is typically less numbing but actually a lot more spicy - I guess both have their own benefits. For the dumplings the only thing I didn't appreciate was the fact that quite a few of them had broken wrappers, which made me feel sad that I didn't get a chance to taste the fish-juice when I bit into them.
I spent about $20.50 on the two dishes, though I think for a regular person in a regular meal simply one of the dishes would suffice. For what it is, it's expensive. I know there are some good options out there in the north east like 101 Noodle Express or others in Alhambra, Arcadia, etc, that would be cheaper. But for a quick and authentic bite close to home, Peking Tavern does it for me, and I'm sure to be back when the cravings hit.
I'm back in LA. Back at USC. Cooking away my days - or at least when I'm not at school (like today). While it's great to be back to routine, I can't say that I don't miss Hong Kong. I remember counting my remaining days in the comfort of home before I left, and stepping through that dastardly familiar airport security, knowing I wouldn't see it again for four more months. But there was one thing I didn't recognize at the time, probably because I was too caught up in goodbyes - that my summer wasn't over yet. Sure, my flight was to LA. But two more flights the next day would bring me to Winnipeg, Canada, where my yaya - the woman who helped take care of me for the first twelve years of my life - now lived.
This is her.
Doesn't she look happy here? I love it. She's a grandma now. Actually she already has been for the past eleven years - that's how old DK is. That's why we all call her 'nanay' now - Filipino for grandma. When she retired she went back to the Philippines but now lives with her daughter Wrutch's family: the kids Gabby and DK, and of course Wrutch's husband Andrew. I didn't expect anything upon coming to Winnipeg - I just wanted to see her. But I was met with so much friendliness and happiness that it overwhelmed me, and I really have to thank the whole family for that. I enjoyed myself so much, and learned new things about Filipino culture along the way. It really was a great way to kick off the new school year. I miss them already.
Every day was full of activities, so much so that I constantly wanted to take a nap from exhaustion. In the picture above we had just finished church. I'm not religious, but it was pleasing and modern, and vaguely reminded me of the one other time I had been to church - also with nanay. I was very young and was upset that I wasn't given bread and wine like everybody else. Always with the food, I am.
One of the days we went to the zoo, and saw so many animals - even a polar bear! DK and Gabby had fun in the sand box... while I stayed away, sat down, and ate some chips.
That same day being far from over, DK and Gabby wanted to go swimming, and so we went to the beach. The sun was wonderfully cool as we watched it set, and funny Gabby brought some friends for a swim - only to ask a few hours later if they were dry yet! Gabby is 7 and I spent the week playing MarioKart, Naruto, Minecraft, Hide and Seek, rollerblading, lego-ing, and settlers of catan with her. She's so light to just swing around on a piggy back ride around the house, and even remembers to feed her fish Bubbles every day.
And of course there was DK! So kind and sweet and funny, teaching me how to play all the games. In the picture with his mom above, he thought the boat motor was a toilet. So that's them execreting. We played this one game called Heater, where the two kids put mountains of stuffed animals on me covered with a winter-blanket until I couldn't stand the heat anymore, and would break open my 'coffin' to be a zombie that chased them around. I wonder, where do they come up with all these games? It must be good to be a kid like that again - I always wish anyway. The two had so much energy, I always felt mine to be rapidly depleting in comparison as I lagged along behind them.
The exquisite view from their house, and what I woke up to. So beautiful.
Of course I came to spend time with nanay, and I did. I think it didn't matter what we were doing; whether visiting the towns of Selkirk or Keenora, or just me watching her cook as we talked about the things we've missed in the six years not seeing each other, I enjoyed it all. (I did offer to cook and wash dishes but she wouldn't hear of either. As a result I got to eat this yummy Filipino stew of extra bitter Indian bitter melon, pumpkin, string beans, pork, and eggplant, with huge doses of shrimp paste and some fish sauce. Great flavor with rice, and felt healthy too. DK was very funny when trying the pumpkin in this dish. He claimed he hated it, but upon trying it, loved it so much that he selectively picked them from the dish. 'Tastebuds change', he said. Indeed, they do - but I still won't eat celery).
I think the last night was the most memorable of all - I can't believe the trouble and expense Wrutch and Andrew went so I could experience the boodle fight! I had seen it on one of their earlier facebook posts and was curious. I thought it would just be a normally portioned dinner, placed on a tin foil covered table and eaten with hands. That, however, did not turn out to be the case. It was a feast! They even invited their friends the Flores/Caldozas family (grandparents, parents, children). The house was full of laughter as we reached out to grab our dinner from the center of the table, with more than enough of everything to go around. Very little was left after (see above), and as Wrutch tagged - #humanswon. The dinner itself was a delicious seafood themed one. There were also some assorted boiled veggies, like tender okra, yam leaves, and buttered corn - all scrumptious fare. Then on top of that there was grilled eggplant, grilled tilapia, butter garlic fried shrimps and mussels, and steamed crab. My favorite part was the pink rice in the middle, that's quite hidden by the crabs. They used some Filipino jarred pink tiny shrimps and mixed it in with rice. It tasted like rice fresh from the sea - if there were such a thing. The whole table was literally full of great stuff that filled me to the core. In fact - when I got back to LA, I didn't eat for a day and a half without feeling an ounce of hunger.
They moved on to play Filipino mah jong, which I played a little of the weekend before with them. It was interestingly different, with 東南西北中發白 all considered flowers, and sheung being called 'ciao'. 'A seung ah, A seung ah', the two moms were screaming all that night. But the last day, after the boodle fight, I curled up on the sofa to watch another episode of Pangako Sayo, a Filipino drama we'd been following all week. It was enough to see everybody around me so happy. I went to bed early with nanay, waking only to find that the others had only slept at 5 and 6 am - even the kids! All prepared to send me to the airport - and all really did. I couldn't help the tears as I left nanay, DK, Gabby, Wrutch, Andrew - all of them! And really, I can't thank them enough for making it seem like another week in another home away from home. Love you always, yaya.
I'm very picky with my pizza. When I'm in a restaurant, I will almost always order pasta in its place. I'm not alone in this - when someone chooses pizza our whole table, whether family or friends, kind of frowns (because we have to share). It better be a seriously good pizza. And most don't make the cut - even compared to good pizza, pasta tends to be so much more flavorful and interesting, with intense sauces that one wouldn't know how to make at home.
And most pizza is not ok. I've been spoiled on thin Italian pizzas, nothing less (or, in fact, more) is going to be palatable to me. Fast-food pizza has never once attracted me as it does so many. If you're going to stuff your stomach with such oily goods, go for McD's. Crispy McChicken? Sausage Egg McMuffin? Fish-O-Fillet? Yes! But commercial pizza isn't on the same level. It's thick and too cheesy and too full of MSG. I thought California Pizza Kitchen's thin pizza's were OK when I was at college and hungry, but have to down two bottles of water at least to balance my inner salinity afterwards. In the end, we don't like (commercial) pizza, mostly because it's just not good.
While I was still working at Kwun Tong and perusing the YATA Japanese grocery store in APM mall (a grocery store, by the way, that I really quite like), I spotted Tipo 00 flour on the shelf. I'd only learnt about Tipo 00 flour this summer, and was intrigued to try it. Like most things I learn, I heard it first from my mom. Naturally I don't really pay any special attention to what she says, but when I spotted the flour it rose up from the depths of my mind and got me excited. I immediately purchased a small bag of 1kg and brought it home, intending to make what was shown on its cover illustration - pasta.
Jumping ahead a week or two, I happened on a video for Gennaro's perfect pizza recipe on Jamie Oliver's Food Tube. It seemed so easy! The previous times I had made pizza (see here) the dough had been simply too doughy and oddly shaped. In fact the first recipe I followed, the dough wouldn't even rise. But remembering that I had Tipo 00 flour, I decided I would give pizza another go.
Tipo 00 flour, or double zero flour, is a fine Italian flour. I'm not going to get too scientific here for fear of sounding ignorant, but from the recipes I've seen, the flour is suitable for pizza and pasta. I simply mixed 500g of the flour with yeast and water, and hand-kneaded for around 15 minutes until getting the final dough shown above. From what I've researched at work, kneading allows the gluten to develop, which gives a chewier texture as well as a higher rise. I cut the dough into four pieces for four pizzas, and let it proof in a pan sprinkled with semolina, and covered with a damp cloth. Hong Kong is hot, so it didn't take long for it to double in size.
Original size in pan
After 2 hours.
The only problem was, I made the dough in the morning and had to go out for bubble soccer. I decided to wrap each of the four pieces in clingfilm after proofing and stored them in the fridge for later. When I came back to make dinner, it was ready to roll out and top up.
I had decided on the flavors just the day before (again, at work) and made a quick menu for the four of us. It was a great surprise to me that at the end of the meal, all four of us had a different favorite.
It was so easy, getting that pizza into a circle without obstruction from the rolling pin. I learned to just shape the dough with my hands, with a little help from gravity. It should be so thin it almost breaks (or that's how we like it). The first pizza I wanted to be light and classic. But I don't like tomato sauce on my pizzas (or pastas), so the classic pizza margherita was essentially a no-no, even though my mom loves it. Instead, I opted for a mozarella cheese base, topped with super sweet cherry tomatoes (my helper bought the cheapest one - it just goes to show that organic doesn't always mean better taste (unless we're talking about eggs)), basil, and a few glugs of olive oil. It's important to me to put all the ingredients up to the edge of the crust, where sometimes I find that the 'liu' gets sparse and unpleasantly like bread. I really enjoyed this one - simple, tasty, and still full of real tomato flavor.
My next creation was a mix of thinly sliced (peeled) zucchini and bits of salami. The zucchini made the pizza really juicy (but not soggy), a great combination I might reuse in the future. Needless to say, this was my favorite.
The third one was the heaviest pizza, which of course my dad enjoyed. I used one of my beloved French toulose sausages to get that extra meaty toppings, and a forest of oyster mushrooms, with an egg and mozarella.
This was my dad's favorite. I really wanted to use gai lan (chinese kale - almost nothing like the western kind) and see how it fared on a pizza, with cheese. The result was fantastic, and my mom ate two and a half slices! That's a lot, considering that this was the last pizza out of the oven. It was a mountain of veggies with a few dots of ham here and there.
It wasn't hard or messy like last time, and I was proud of my results. I foresee that in the near future, I'll be making these again - with as many crazy toppings as I can possibly think of.