Resolutions

Resolutions

somecards ny resolutionMERRY CHRISTMAS!

I say it every year, but this year seemed to have come and gone like the wind. Lots happened in 2013, though I think 2012 was most eventful (knee surgery, marriage, new job, moving cities…) The new year always signals a fresh start to me, and though I’ve been delinquent in keeping resolutions in the past, I decided I wanted to make changes in my life, and I guess they can take on the form of resolutions.

jaytherabbit_perfectinThe always witty Jay the Rabbit on how to achieve perfection in beauty (it’s not magic formed in the air)

1. Health + Wellness: Eat, Sleep, Live Better

This is really my catch-all resolution that spans beyond just “lose weight” (which seems to be a perpetual goal anyway.) Apart from eating healthier for more energy, I think it’s a complete lifestyle change. I’m really guilty of sleeping about 5 hrs a night on average, and I’d like to change that, to aim for 7 (6.5?) on weekdays.

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2. Read More

I want to be a better writer, and that really starts with reading more to get a feel for writing styles and also increase my volume of knowledge. My goal is to get through the books I’ve bought on my Kindle that have gone untouched by the end of the year (bit lofty?).

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3. Think Less

It’s easy to say, but sometimes terribly difficult to do. Worry a little less, live a little more and be grateful for the things life throws at me. 🙂

Hope you’re having a restful, enjoyable holiday season, wherever your adventures take you!

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Last weekend, I went home. Until  recently, I still felt very much a part of Los Angeles. I was beginning to adjust to this Bay Area life, only to be rocked by all the goodness that reminded me of the city I’ve known as home for 95 percent of my life.

Going back to my childhood house not only evokes nostalgia, it’s also very comforting (and frustrating – ha!).  That aside, each time I am back in LA, I have a checklist of things I want to do, see, eat — no meal goes wasted is my motto.

The Los Angeles food scene is as ever-evolving as the Bay Area’s. One thing I’ve learned to appreciate in my expansive city is the reliability in the unreliable. Such is the case for traffic (unlike what’s said in Clueless, it does not take 15 mins to get anywhere) and lines at restaurants. Timing is everything. I still have a hard time getting used to the incredibly packed lines at spots in the Bay Area.

Last weekend was very eat-ventful 😉 :

Friday:

One of the biggest phenomenons in Los Angeles are the food trucks. They started becoming popular about 4 years ago, when I worked in the Miracle Mile area and Roy Choi was just starting the now-infamous Kogi Trucks.  I worked out of my company’s Los Angeles office, located across from my favorite museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It’s always a sight to see the line of food trucks feed the hungry office workers for breakfast/lunch, and I happily become one with them each time I’m in the LA office. Today, it was a similar Korean-fusion dish: pork belly on a bun, with Asian-style slaw. Delicious (but sadly unpictured).

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Day or night, one of the most magical places to visit in Los Angeles: the permanent Lights exhibit in front of LACMA. Photo credit: Love Me Sailor

Friday night: I needed to catch up on the the newest restaurants in the area, and had been reading about a couple, so I met up with some former co-workers in downtown at Bar Ama. I’d been to sister restaurant Baco Mercat for brunch before, but not here. The restaurant had the same vibe, and the great company made all the difference. We caught up over queso, spicy mole (delicious – not chocolately at all), and this gorgeous creation: the Frito Pie.

IMG_7592Frito Pie at Bar Ama, Los Angeles

I’ll admit that when I read the description on the menu, it didn’t click to me they meant actual Fritos corn chips. I told the server it sounded dangerous and I was going to Pilates to ease the guilt. When the dish arrived, my Texas-native friend was so excited and told us the origin of the dish – a less fancy version, served in actual Fritos bags with said ingredients (cheese and chili, basically), and often eaten at sporting events/games.

It tasted like childhood. I often wondered how my favorite flavor of Fritos – chili cheese – originated, and there you have it: the Frito Pie.

After dinner and since I was in DTLA, I made an obligatory stop to Big Man Bakes. The cupcake trend is certainly hot in LA, too, but I am not a fan of Sprinkles (sorry). This local favorite wins my heart in Los Angeles. They aren’t kidding when they call it “Big Man.” The owner is 6’5″ and buff, but with a heart (and spatula) of gold. I love the different specials they have daily, my favorite being caramel apple. I picked up some minis in my husband’s favorite, the lemon.

IMG_7594Cupcakes at Big Man Bakes

Saturday:

We stumbled upon Wakasan, on the Westside, for lunch. I wasn’t quite sure how long it has been in existence, but I don’t recall seeing it from my days as a Bruin.  This was definitely an unexpected Japanese meal. With the last minute, ravenous decision by hubby, I didn’t have high expectations and had to say i was pleasantly surprised. The restaurant is decorated in traditional Japanese decor, and the food is also served in a traditional Japanese style. My husband ordered his favorite katsudon (fried pork with egg over rice), which was served in a most special way, with the pork/egg combo soupy and runny and perfectly delicious.

I had the shabu shabu set, which was unlike anything I’ve ever had. It was well presented, the tastes were delicate, yet flavorful. We both happily cleaned our plates, and I made a mental note to come back here for dinner.

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Shabu Shabu Set at Wakasan

After lunch, we headed to one of our favorite places to visit when in LA: The Annenberg Space for Photography. Aside from showing support for my other alumni (the one across town), I love photography and photo exhibits. It’s also located in the magnificent new(er) CAA building. I am still awestruck by this space after all these years, and Annenberg Space for Photography never ceases to impress. It’s always well curated, and the layout of the space changes with the exhibit. Right now, it’s a National Geographic spread, with cool animal photos and fascinating life depictions from around the world. Photos aren’t allowed, unfortunately.

Dinner was the meal we were prepping for the most, as it required a 45 min drive through Los Angeles traffic from my parents’ home over to San Gabriel Valley. Newport Tan Cang, or Newport Seafood (believe it’s another location), as we call it is always packed to the brim with hungry seafood lovers.  It’s a Vietnamese-style seafood restaurant in the bustling heart of the new Chinatown in Los Angeles. I braced my parent for the one-hour wait, but somehow managed to bypass it by calling and putting our name on the queue before we got there. We only had to wait 5 minutes, and my parents were over the moon. Newport Seafood is known for their crab and lobster, with a variety of preparation styles, from their house style to the traditional ginger and green onion, or a dry fried salt and spice. The house one, which is a recommendation on their menu, is my favorite.

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Wish there was a way to show the scale of these guys. Giant Alaskan King Crab adorn the cases by the lobby, where patrons waited for a table. How many people would it take to finish one of these crab?

Sunday

It was almost time to come back to my new home, but there were still a couple obligatory stops. The first being the newest location of the best xiao long bao (soup dumplings) I’ve had yet: Din Tai FungWhile my parents loved this place, they have lost their patience with the usual 90  mins. wait. However, I was so excited to hear they opened a location in The Americana mall. An odd location for this place, but I embraced it for its proximity. We were meeting two other couples and their kids for brunch, and managed to get a table fairly quickly since we arrived so early.

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I feel like the franchise is finally beginning to figure out what appeals to American consumers. This new location has a bar in the lobby area — perfect for waiting during lunch/dinner time. You can also go shopping at Nordstrom while you wait and have them text you (hoorah!). Also new to the menu here is the truffle dumplings which were so divine. A mix of ground pork with truffle, in a soup dumpling. Heavenly.

Xiao Long Bao (also commonly abbreviated as XLB) originated in Shanghai. Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung perfected it as a franchise, creating the perfect soup dumpling with not too thick of a skin or bite. They also have a dessert take to the XLB, with a red bean paste and a taro paste, both of which are delicious.

Since we were in the Glendale area, I felt it blasphemy to not stop at Porto’s. This ever-popular local Cuban bakery restaurant has the most unbelievable cheese rolls. Enjoyed in a few bites, they are equal parts flaky, lightly sweet and slightly savory — all parts delicious. I picked up a dozen (or two) for my colleagues and family. The potato balls, which are a savory fried potato ball stuffed with Cuban-style beef stew, are also a delicious option.

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Clockwise from top: Giant Alaskan King Crab at Newport Tan Cang, Lobster in the house sauce at Newport; workers at Din Tai Fung making XLB dumplings; the newest dumpling on the block: the truffle dumpling

All in all, it turned out to be a very productive visit home. I’ve yet to explore some of the new favorites like Bestia or Son of a Gun, so look forward to those tasty places.

EAT:

  1. Bar Ama – 118 W. 4th St, Downtown
  2. Big Man Bakes –  Downtown (2 locations – visit site for details)
  3. Wakasan – 1929 Westwood Blvd., Westwood (near UCLA)
  4. Newport Tan Cang – 518 W. Las Tunas, San Gabriel Valley
  5. Din Tai Fung – The Americana, Glendale (visit site for other locations in San Gabriel Valley)
  6. Porto’s Bakery – Glendale and Burbank (visit site for various locations)

EXPLORE:

  1. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) – Wilshire Blvd., Miracle Mile
  2. Annenberg Space for Photography – 2000 Avenue of the Stars (CAA Building), West Los Angeles

(Un)Domestic Goddess

(Un)Domestic Goddess

When I was growing up, my mom was a full-time working mother who also was a pretty darn good cook. While she believed in the process and diligence of details in cooking, like making her own coconut milk for desserts, having a full time job while also preparing a full meal for her family each day meant she took some shortcuts. One of the shortcuts I remember best that she still uses today, is chicken broth. While I’m a little more semi-homemade than Mom, I’ve certainly held to the chicken broth shortcut in making soups, porridge, and noodles.

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Noodle soup made with chicken broth, packaged noodles, meat balls, ground pork and pork spare ribs. Thanks, Mom.

I recently visited a new izakaya near my office that converted me to being a clam lover. I eat pretty much anything, except oysters, clams and mussels. Recently, however, I’ve grown to actually like clams and mussels (oysters I still can’t handle). Inshou made a sake clam dish that left me wanting to make asari miso soup, which is actually part of traditional Japanese breakfast.

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Sake clam dish at Inshou. The dish that began my obsession with Japanese-style clam soups. Equal parts sake, butter and oishi (delicious)

Along those lines, I wanted to make a Japanese soup one day that transcended the basic miso soup — no shortcuts. I know miso soup came from more than the freeze dried packages that were my shortcut. I owned the miso paste. But what else was involved in a true Japanese soup? I took to the Internet, of course, to find my answer and a recipe for asari clam soup. I came across the most amazing YouTube channel, teaching folks how to make simple Japanese cuisine.

What fascinated me most was this episode that has basically transformed how I see Japanese soups and clam preparation. The basics for any Japanese dashi broth begins with kombu, a kelp. If you’ve ever had plain shabu shabu and seen a green seaweed-like thing floating in the water, then you’ve seen kombu. After a hearty boiling of this kombu, the kelp is removed and replaced with kasuobushi, a salted, dried fish that is then shaved to paper thin slices I’ve known it as okaka until I was enlightened by the great David Chang.  If you’ve had agedashi tofu or okonomiyaki, you’ve probably had this as a garnish in its pure form. Like kombu, kasuobushi is also the base of any good Japanese broth.

The kasuobushi is boiled for a good 30-45 mins, then strained to create the base of the soup, to which you’d then add the miso. In this instance, I wanted to make asari (clam) miso soup. One of the best tricks I learned from watching the YouTube video was how to get the clams to expel sand: you trick the suckers to thinking they’re in their usual habitat being, well, happy as a clam.  Clams like shallow water, lest they drown, so prepare a shallow tray/bowl (somewhere where you can spread them out) with warm salt water — catch my drift here?

Then, place the clams in the water just so there’s enough water covering them. Cover with something so it’s dark and they think they’ve buried themselves in the sand. Keep it like this for at least 15 mins. You’ll start to hear movement and wonder if the dog’s gotten into your groceries again. Then, you’ll realize it’s coming from the clams and that they’re really alive.  Here’s a video from my Instagram of this whole process, with screen shots below. If you watch carefully, you’ll see one actually spit. This cleaning process happens as you’re waiting for the kashuobushi to boil.

IMG_7625Clockwise from top left: Getting clams to spit sand, boiling kashuobushi for dash broth, boiling the clams, final product of asari miso soup

The first time I made this dish, I swore up and down I wouldn’t make it again. The thought of the clams spitting traumatized me too much. But then, I craved this soup again, and thought about going a step further to creating Shio Clam Ramen one day when my new ramen spot was too full to accept our party (You can still be pretty sure I won’t be cooking live crab anytime soon). Shio broth is also made with a similar process, with the addition of another type of fish on top of the kashuobushi.

IMG_7445Homemade shio clam ramen with larger-than-life (ironically named) little neck clams a la Whole Foods

So, if you’re craving clams or Japanese food, I suggest you high tail to the links below. Ramen talk to be continued…

Eat: Inshou Japanese Cuisine, 2942 S. Norfolk St. in San Mateo, CA

Watch: The Mind of a Chef, Season 1 (also on Netflix – binge watch your way to food cravings!)

For step by step instructions on making asari clam soup: How to Make a Japanese Breakfast (YouTube Channel Video)

Noodlin’ Around (Part 1)

Noodlin’ Around (Part 1)

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Kakkemiso Udon at Sanukiya

Have you ever had something so exceptional and unforgettable that you often crave it, but are plagued with being unable to readily satisfy that craving? I’ve felt that recently with many of the meals I experienced on my last trip to Paris. You’d think it was a croissant or a macaron that has yet to be topped anywhere stateside (that, too), but it was actually a bowl of udon, done in a way that brought newfound respect to the noodle dish. I owe this craving to my good friend Jackie (as well as much of my food happiness while in Paris) and her 50 Things to Eat in Paris Before You Die. I can proudly say I checked off a few of those, friend. 😉

I’ve always really loved noodles, but my go-to Japanese noodle has been the ramen (more on that later). During my trip to Paris, while I picked up French words and phrases I used throughout my days there shopping and dining, I found it a bit trippy to be in a Japanese restaurant in France. My language association with Japanese restaurants has always been Japanese, of course, and English, having been to Japanese restaurants mainly in the states. So when we walked into Sanukiya after a laborious shopping day on St. Honore, it felt a little odd to still hear merci. My Japanese might be a little better than my French, when it comes to food and living, so it was almost easier to use Japanese words (and hand gestures) to communicate.

At any rate, Sanukiya did not disappoint (as my friend Jackie rarely does). One of the distinct things about Japanese food and culture is the meticulous time and dedication that’s taken to prepare and present a meal, even a bowl of noodles. The same can be said for French food, which is why the mutual love of Japanese and French does not surprise me. What I’m getting at is the presentation and amazing tastes that came from the bowl of kakkemiso udon in Paris. The noodles were perfectly al dente, served with a light shoyu/dashi broth, arugula (or rocket, as my Thai brethren call it), the most amazing flavorful pork I’ve ever had, and of course, the piece de resistance of any good bowl of Japanese noodles (as David Chang will tell you), a perfectly soft poached egg. The combination of egg, noodle, pork flavors and the surprising arugula has left me craving this dish intermittently since we’ve returned from Paris.

Along with this remarkable creation was also a frozen beer.  Eat your heart out, Homer Simpson. This was a draft Japanese beer, frozen to a slurpee-like consistency that ensured a cold beverage until the last drop.

That day, I left St. Honore feeling full and satisfied, as any great meal should leave you.

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Frozen Beer. Nuff said.

Introductions

I love food – but who doesn’t! I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a town with such diverse cultures that have allowed me to experience a variety of flavors from around the world so close to home. As a kid, I never realized the impact these surroundings had on me til I left them.

“You should start a blog,” many friends mused. So here I am, freely speaking not about what I spend most of my waking life doing, but what I secretly think about 3-5 times a day. Thanks for joining me for some musings on food, fun, culture and travel adventures.

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