Please pass the bread…

My housemate made calzones for dinner but her first attempt left a lump of dough that just didn’t seem to be the right consistency. Rather than chucking the sticky dough, I attempted to turn it into Fruit Bread. Somewhat going by a random recipe I found in my book, I took a stab at playing with the dough blob and after a lot more flour, raisins, dried cranberries, fresh squeezed OJ, an egg, butter, a lot more flour, some milk, sugar, a lot of heat and a lot of time, voila! I made bread for the first time!!! It’s nice and light…and the perfect sweetness…who needs 85C when you can bake your own “FRESH BREAD!”

It worked!! Phew...

X-treme Photography.

Extreme sports. Extreme dating. Extreme eating. Lots of people go to the extreme. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But enough on that for now. I had a chance to go to Joshua Tree for a nice chillaxing weekend with good company and good food. Nothing beats RV camping…that’s a 4-star camping experience for sure!

For a couple of my friends, amazing and passionate photographers, it was their chance to explore dimensions of extreme photography, whether it was climbing jumbo rocks with heels, leaping from boulder to boulder to set up a flash with seconds before all the lighting would change and make the perfect picture obsolete, or trying not to get stabbed with thorns and thistles to get the right shot with the right light… Meanwhile, I had fun taking some shots of my own with my iphone. Not too shabby for a camera phone. :)

Matthew Saville in Action!

Matthew doesn't give up and uses every shred of light there is!

Emily Ivey in action!

I on the other hand very much enjoyed cooking in the posh RV, the hearty breakfasts, s’mores around the campfire, and the easy rock climbing…living the simple life with no access to the internet or phones…learning to live in the present, here, and now. Good therapy for the soul…planning another trip for April. Anyone else want to join?

Going Green.

People up in Nor Cal are way more green than the So Cal folks. When I first moved back to So Cal a couple years ago, I would be heckled for having a bucket of reusable grocery bags in my trunk. Hello?! I’m just trying to save some trees, cut down on landfill waste, and prevent animals from dying on plastic! I’ve been going green ever since I was a kid and made sure back then to cut all the plastic soda pop rings so the penguins wouldn’t get strangled from them! I didn’t even need Happy Feet back then to make me take being green seriously. Hmm..it’s funny how I fit in more with the Nor Cal culture even though I’m totally a So Cal kid.

Stuffed with what WAS on the table!

But as far as green goes, I must say “Yay!!” for the Green Bay Packers on winning Super Bowl XLV. Hmmm…ok…I can’t say I know too much about football…but at least I was spirited enough to wear green…or perhaps I just had a green t-shirt to wear and that was reason enough for me to root for Green Bay…well…I did also work in Wisconsin once as a camp counselor for inner city Chicago kids…so hey…Green Bay all the way! So in perfect Super Bowl form with my friends, the boys watched the game with hoots and hollers coming from the living room while the girls gabbed in the dining room. It was the best Super Bowl game yet!! Next time, we just have to add some spicy chicken wings, celery sticks, and ranch dressing to the mix. But it was a delicious spread prepared by the amazing MT and SWu…and Kenin’s cookies were absolutely scrumptious! Hope to see you all again soon!

Cut me some SLACK.

So I’m on day 2 of my trip to Nor Cal, making a circuit from Berkeley, to El Cerrito, to SF, to the south bay. Today, I learned how to slackline in Dolores Park. It’s my new favorite way to exercise!! It’s like being a tight-rope walker where you have to engage your core to balance yourself on a slackline. I’ve never seen this before. I don’t think there’s a slacklining culture in the OC. So, I think it may be time to get a kit and see about finding two palm trees at Laguna Beach and well…you interested in joining? :) Come find me on the beach.

Focuuuus...focuuuus...

“I’m going to pull a dad.”

In reference to Uncle Jing-hong, a.k.a. Uncle #5 from Chicago (on my mom’s side of family, married to Aunty #5) who’s close to turning 70 but seems to be my most handy and energetic uncle who’s willing to jump into any situation and fix things. He taught me how to change a flat tire in college in case I was ever stuck out on the roads of Chicago and he was the first to jump into the trunk of my car when I locked my keys in the car at my brother’s wedding. (He tried to unlock the car with a coat hanger through the cat-door-sized opening through my back seat armrest.)

I can reach the lock!

But when it comes to dinner time, it’s been told that if he ever has a glass of wine or if he’s tired, he’ll often close his eyes and take a nap at the dinner table while everyone else continues on. So tonight, I had a dinner with my favorite twin cousins (Jid and Donna) at Kirala, and near the end of dinner, Jid was so tired she said she was going to pull a dad. So she did just that as Donna and I finished off the Hamachi Teriyaki and Seafood Yakiudon dishes. Our third dish, the Beef Sukiyaki was good but a bit too salty. I love coming up to Nor Cal…and what a treat to be with both cousins! Good thing Donna’s hanging out in Nor Cal on her winter break and avoiding the Chicago blizzard of 2011.

Too bad the waiter had a shaky hand and was a little off in the centering.

Also, apparently some Chinese names have meaning and tradition behind them and are passed down through the characters. We’re not sure where this tradition comes from, but for some of us, we inherited our mom’s first name as our middle name. Growing up, my mom once explained to me that she did that so I would never forget her name in case we were ever separated (perhaps this is a carry over in reference to war times when such things might happen or it seems to be just a distant dream or fleeting impression of such a thought in my head for some reason). Anyway, since my cousins are twins, they had to start sharing early on; after Aunty #5′s name “Mei Huei” one got the Mei and the other got the Huei. So the Mei was Americanized to May and the Hui somehow got lost in translation and turned into Wynne. Figure that one out…and you wonder why some of us have an identity crisis growing up Asian-American.

Chao-Chung Family Sandwich

It was an amazing weekend spent with family and learning a little bit more about my heritage. It’s not often I come across these moments as much of my family history is lost amidst the cultural-generational-language divide as well as the Pacific divide between Taiwan to America. Or perhaps, now that I’m a little older, what I may not have paid much attention to or never made sense as a kid has now become quite fascinating.

Hanging around the Beachcomber Cafe.

On Friday, I had the privilege of spending a day with my cousin Sun-king and his wife, Gwyneth. He’s a pediatric gastroenterologist (try saying that 10 times) and she’s an amazing pianist. Well, he’s got hidden talents with the violin too, but I have yet to find an opportunity to hear him play. Maybe they can play something for me on my next trip to Taiwan (though I know not when that might be, sadly). We spent the afternoon eating some amazing American fare at the Beachcomber Cafe (one of my favorite So Cal getaways) and topped it off with a trip to Gelato Paradiso and Sprinkles Cupcakes. Then after a couple more pit stops visiting a friend in Irvine and Al’s place, I dropped them off at the Metrolink to take the train to Fullerton for a $6.75 one-way trip. (One of the rare occasions for using expensive public transportation in So Cal in the land of ridiculous car commuters where it takes an hour to drive 20 miles even with freeways up to 6 lanes wide for one direction).

With our Aunty!

Then on Sunday, I heard Catherine was in town. All I remembered of Catherine was that she’s a twin and they were born in America and that she and her brother were really little. But time has certainly passed and she’s now a pharmacist in Taiwan! So we got to have dinner in Rowland Heights at Country Bistro where one of their selling points is their herbal soups. And over the course of dinner, I found out how it is that she’s technically my “aunt” even though she’s 6 years younger than me! Apparently, her dad is one of the younger brother’s of my dad’s dad (my grandpa). And grandpa comes from a family where he had like 14 siblings (I have yet to verify this in detail in future conversations.) Which then makes her my dad’s cousin, and therefore my aunt. And since she’s on my dad’s side of the family, I would then call her “Ah-go”. The Chinese language has special designations to make every relationship clear unlike the English language where it’s just aunt or uncle. But we’ll have to table this one for now as well…

I think my next great adventure may be to retrace my history and explore Taiwan…from the one street villages and oyster shucking communities my parents grew up in. Target travel dates: October/November 2011 (that’s when Taiwan has the best weather as verified by mom). So, who wants to join me?

Xi Fan – Comfort Food for an “ABC”

It’s a chilly 50 degrees F in sunny southern California…welcome to our winters…but when the temperature drops, for this ABC (American-born-Chinese)…or ABT (American-born-Taiwanese) kid, it just means it’s a perfect opportunity to make myself some xi fan and have some friends over. It truly is the best comfort food…super hot rice porridge with all the sides to complement such as fried gluten (my favorite!), braised eel, dried fish fu, sauteed tofu, greens, ‘shrooms, and baked cheese curls! It’s comfort food that brings me back to the childhood days where practically every Sunday morning, my mom would make us rice porridge and lots of other fixin’s like green onion pancakes (with modified flour tortilla skins), steamed soft tofu with soy paste dipping sauce, and other random yummies.

But now that I’m all grown up, it’s learning how to make this porridge all by myself. Thankfully the internet exists now so I don’t have to call my mom every time I need to know how to make something I remember eating as a kid and can experiment on my own in consultation with anyone else I can find through the internet. This has been my favorite website for some basic Chinese cooking tips (as I’ve had to look up twice now what the perfect rice:water ratio is just to make rice!).

But in the end, this is how I made my:

Fish Rice Porridge

Servings: Approximately 6

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups of white rice
  • water
  • ginger
  • green onion
  • white fish
  • salt
  • sesame sauce
  • pepper
  • flour

Directions:

  1. Make rice ahead of time in rice cooker (a day ahead). I was too paranoid that I wouldn’t get the ratio rice for uncooked rice.
  2. Throw rice in crock pot about 2.5 hours before you plan to eat. Add water to the rice in the ratio of 1 rice amount to 2 additional water amounts. Break up the rice in the water and leave it be.
  3. Meanwhile, filet the fish into small pieces, marinate with some salt, pepper, sesame oil, and flour (I didn’t have cornstarch in the house).
  4. Sliver some ginger and slices of green onion.
  5. Throw fish, ginger, green onion into the crockpot and leave it alone til you’re ready to serve. Stir a few times every so often just to make sure it doesn’t stick in the pot.

Notes:

This is definitely the lowest maintenance rice porridge I’ve made with the best results. I remember my mom always watching over the pot of rice porridge on the stove, stirring constantly so it wouldn’t burn on the bottom of the pot and adding more water until it was the perfect consistency. In my laziness and not wanting to watch over a pot of porridge on the stove, I tried making plain rice porridge in a rice cooker only to have lots of that gummy rice water boil over in the cooker making a sticky mess to clean. Then I threw the porridge into a pot and added the fish to make it fish rice porridge. It turned out ok, but just lots of cleanup. Another time, about a month later, I was even more not in the mood to cook and forgot how annoying it was to clean up gooey rice water that overflows from a rice cooker, and threw all the ingredients in the rice cooker…lets just say it was even messier and also made the rice cooker smell fishy & gingery. Blech! I had to scrub that thing and rinse out with water what should not have been rinsed out in an electric rice cooker with all its coils/metal parts and air it out for a good long while . So, enter the borrowed crock pot from mom with a little labor…and it’s perfected fish rice porridge simple enough to make on a FT working girl schedule.

The Neti Pot – A Tribute to Brothers

It happened again at the end of the year – I was visited by a bug a.k.a. the common cold where the throat hurts if you swallow, then it moves into the sinuses, you’re congested, and every so often your head feels like it’s going to explode. Well, I don’t take to medicines too well and thankfully I don’t get sick too often these days (last cold was over a year or two ago), but I guess I just couldn’t fend off the bug this time around. Remedy: lots of sleep and lots of fluids. Well, sleep has been hit or miss this time since I’ve been living out of my sleeping bag for the last 2.5 weeks and camping out in 4 different places due to a leak in the ceiling that flooded my room because apparently So Cal homes weren’t built for rain. And staying hydrated also doesn’t work too well when your office is out of water (broken water filtration system), I’m hesitant to down tap water, and I keep forgetting to bring my own water supply. So I’m very tempted to try this thing called a neti-pot to clear out the sinuses. Basically a neti-pot is just a teapot for your nose where you pour water into one nostril until it flows out the other nostril. Haha. Maybe I should just get my house tea pot and give this concept a try or…

This reminds me of a time when I was a kid and my brother and I were hanging out at the car dealership for the entire day as my dad was resolute to leave the car lot with a purchase and wasn’t afraid to go 10 rounds of negotiation with the car salesman and manager. Oh boy, was that the longest and most boring day ever for a kid, but one thing I do remember is my brother and I were so bored that we started chugging our water bottles that the car salesman gave us. Well, my brother decides to make some ridiculous comment or something while I was chugging down that water bottle. Now, you can imagine what happened next…let’s just say I started laughing mid-chug and the water went upwards into my sinuses and my nostrils experienced a nice little waterfall and it really wouldn’t stop.

Ah…dear brothers…who needs to spend money on a neti-pot when you have a water bottle and loving brother around…

An American Thanksgiving

There are so many things to be thankful for these days. Family, friends, health, every new day, every leg of safe travel to-throughout-from Ohio, food on the table, life itself (in zoe, psuche, and bios forms)…  In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul reminds us to “Always rejoice, unceasingly pray, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Well, may every day be filled with just that and we’d be those in the perfect will of God by having our hearts turned to the Lord and receive the dispensing of zoe-life from our dear Lord Jesus Christ. As easy as it was to enjoy a nice plate of Thanksgiving fare with a whole lot of pie a la mode for bodily health, I’m reminded that it is just as easy to enjoy the Lord for spiritual health simply by calling on His name with three little words…”Oh Lord Jesus” as I walk and talk to Him throughout all the ups, downs, and in-betweens in the course of human life.

Well-oiled Hospitality

Ohio, where it's plain.

Over the last two days, I’ve traveled over the lower quadrant of Ohio visiting friends en route to the Thanksgiving Conference. Columbus – Oxford – Cedarville – Columbus, and many many townships in the middle. My friend Andrew describes it best when he greeted us with “Welcome to the land of NOWHERE! Nothing to see except Jesus.” Coming from the land of the “OC”, Ohio is definitely a vast expanse of nothingness. As we drove over to der Dutchman – an Amish bakery and restaurant in Plain City, I exclaimed “It’s plain city!” to my travel buddy, Laura, on day 2 of our journey. She whole-heartedly agreed not realizing that was the name of the city…but to us OCers, that’s just what Ohio is…plain in its own beauty.

So the two of us stayed with the Cho’s in Columbus for the first night, at Yang’s in Cedarville the second night, and then with about 12 others at the Yang’s in Columbus the third night…. Talk about well-oiled hospitality with the dearest people ever! You just gotta love the Lord and His body as seen in the sweet family-church life.

Tomorrow we’re having an American Thanksgiving with 20 or so others and boy will that be fun! It will be my first American Thanksgiving. Stay tuned to see what that’s all about…