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Monday, December 31, 2012

King Hua Restaurant (Wedding Banquet) - Alhambra

Let's end 2012 on a happy note. A few days before the end of the year, my sister-in-law's sister got married and she invited my family to the wedding. Well, technically, she got married last summer at the courthouse, but saved the church ceremony and wedding until now.

King Hua Restaurant (Wedding Banquet) - Alhambra 1

My brother said King Hua Restaurant was the first location they scouted and decided it was fine on the spot. Must be those gold brocade chair covers with the Chinese frog buttons. :P

I was curious to check out the banquet menu since my only other dining experience at King Hua was for dim sum.

The Chinese reception included a bit of Japanese Hawaiian touches from the groom's side. The table favor was a fruit basket with a plumeria lei. The wedding party all wore really elaborate and different leis that were handmade by a family member too.

Monday, December 24, 2012

World Vision Hand-Carved Kenyan Olive Wood Serving Spoons Giveaway

World Vision Hand-Carved Kenyan Olive Wood Serving Spoons Giveaway 1

Aren't these hand-carved olive wood serving spoons gorgeous? The serving spoons were made to benefit orphans of the Kamba tribe in Kenya, who are known for their wood-carving skills. The spoons are 11 inches long and come in a drawstring bag.

They come as a gift with a donation of $65 or more to World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to helping children and their communities combat poverty. Since 1996, the World Vision Gift Catalog has sold 160,000 items, raised more than $33 million, and helped more than 825,000 people around the world.

Last year, the most popular gift was a $75 goat. More than 67,000 goats were given to benefit needy families around the world. Or you can gift two chickens for just $25. Or a pig? Sheep? Alpaca?

World Vision also helps girls and women with education, job training, counseling, and small business loans. A donation of $40, which includes a hand-tied wooden beaded bracelet created in a Thai project to prevent trafficking, will help a sexually exploited girl get shelter, medical care, vocational training, and counseling.

The World Vision Gift Catalog gives tons of options to help combat poverty around the world, and if you give to the Maximum Impact Fund, you also get a free gift so it's a win-win for everyone. To raise awareness, the nice folks at World Vision are letting me give away one set of these Kenyan olive wood hand-carved serving spoons.

Friday, December 21, 2012

French Filet Mignon with Red Wine Shallot Sauce

French Filet Mignon with Red Wine Shallot Sauce 1

Doesn't the filet mignon look marvelous? It was the most tender steak I've ever had in my life. Seriously!

I jumped at the chance when one of my advertisers, Foodie Blogroll, offered samples of filet mignon and sea bass from Certified Steak and Seafood Company. U.S.D.A. Certified Prime Angus Beef. The filet mignon is certified in the top 1% of beef, center cut, slow aged, hand cut, and hand matched. It's touted to cut like butter, and even just handling it before cooking, the filet mignon was the softest beef I've ever touched. My only other experience with online frozen beef was with Omaha Steaks and it wasn't even anywhere close to the same quality as Certified Steak and Seafood Company's filet mignon. Nowhere close.

I was trying to remember if I've ever ordered filet mignon, and all I could remember was the filet Chateaubriand at Club 33, the secret restaurant inside Disneyland, which was nowhere near as tender. But the red wine sauce did remind me of a lovely meal of steak with red wine and shallot sauce I enjoyed at Pierre Victoire Restaurant in London. So I decided that was the perfect preparation for this filet mignon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Candied Okinawan Purple Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallow Topping

Candied Okinawan Purple Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallow Topping 1

Four years after making Mashed Okinawan Purple Sweet Potato, it finally occurred to me to use the Okinawan purple sweet potatoes in a more traditional Thanksgiving recipe -- Candied Okinawan Purple Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallow Topping. Actually, it came about when Gourmet Pigs requested candied yams, which I dismissed as too pedestrian.

What if I made them with purple sweet potatoes, she suggested.

Lightbulb!

Apologies for the less than stellar photos. Poor evening lighting and no leftovers the next day to photograph. That ought to tell you how popular this dish was at the Thanksgiving table!

I boiled the sweet potatoes with some sugar and spices -- cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice -- and then baked them until the marshmallows on top turned golden. Easy. I kept the sugar content low, figuring the natural sweetness of the Okinawan purple sweet potatoes and the marshmallows would provide plenty. The only caveat is that the sweet potatoes took a lot longer to soften than I expected and didn't further soften in the oven. I was afraid boiling too long would make them mushy, but the Okinawan sweet potatoes were still a bit firm. So, I would suggest boiling them for 45 minutes, instead of half that time like I did.

A colorful twist on this traditional Thanksgiving treat.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Brussels Sprouts Sauteed with Bacon

Brussels Sprouts Sauteed with Bacon 1

Every Thanksgiving table needs a little bit of green. Although, these pictures actually date back to March 2010. I just hadn't blogged the recipe yet, and since I was making Brussels Sprouts Sauteed with Bacon again for Thanksgiving, might as well finally get this out of the queue.

While I usually leave Brussels sprouts whole, or just halve them, when I roast them in the oven, I use a different method for sauteing. I like to tear off the leaves of Brussels sprouts as far as I can until I reach the point where the leaves are too tight. Then I thinly slice the Brussels sprouts. The resulting loose leaves and slivers soften quickly and are much lighter to eat.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Corn Sauteed with Bacon and Green Onions

Corn Sauteed with Bacon and Green Onions 1

Corn is always a popular side dish at my family's Thanksgiving table. Sometimes it's fresh, more often than not, it's canned.

Canned corn, drained, and dumped into a bowl.

Easiest side dish ever.

But surely sauteed with some onions and crispy bacon would make the corn just that much better?

Use fresh corn if you have it, which during Thanksgiving is pretty much out of season. So use frozen or canned if you wish. Or wait until the summer, when the corn is fresh and sweet, and make this dish then.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gan Xay Ga Tay (Vietnamese Turkey Liver Pate)

Gan Xay Ga Tay (Vietnamese Turkey Liver Pate) 1

My basic Turkey Liver Pate is one of my most popular Thanksgiving recipes. I've even made a variation of Turkey Liver Pate with Bacon and Capers, so what's there left to do?

I mean, I guess I could have chopped up the liver and added it to the gravy, but it seems surprising that I've never made a Vietnamese pate recipe.

What makes it Vietnamese?

Adding fish sauce, of course!

Also, after making pate so many times, I decided not to add the butter layer on top. After all, since my cousins like pate, they obviously don't mind the grayish color. Makes it easier to spread on sandwiches too.

Friday, November 23, 2012

South African Turkey Rub with Basil, Garlic, and Smoked Paprika

South African Turkey Rub with Basil, Garlic, and Smoked Paprika 1

With two turkeys to prepare for Thanksgiving, I knew one of them would be my standby Salt Rub and Butter Turkey so that meant I could be a little more adventurous with the second turkey.

I found a South African spice blend from Trader Joe's that I liked and decided to pick out the seasonings to add to the usual salt rub. I mean, I could have just used a few spoonfuls of the packaged seasoning, but this way I could control the amount of each spice. Besides, what if you wanted to make this recipe and there's no Trader Joe's near you?

The South African spiced turkey was quite a hit! Actually, my turkeys always are since I discovered the salt rub, but the spiced turkey was particularly so. Mainly I think because the garlic powder and smoked paprika were the standout flavors.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving 1

Happy Thanksgiving!

With about 20 guests to feed this year, I made two big turkeys, my usual salt rub and a South African spiced turkey. I extended my table and added a portable one and ran out of enough chairs for everyone. I invited some friends, my brother invited some friends, and it just grew into a full house. Not a bad first Thanksgiving to welcome the new house.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Italian Baked Ziti with Ground Turkey, Sausage, and Zucchini

Italian Baked Ziti with Ground Turkey, Sausage, and Zucchini 1

Now that several of my cousins are married, they've split off to have Thanksgiving dinner with their significant others' sides of the family. So a couple of years ago and this year, cousin Q's older brother hosted a pre-Thanksgiving for the cousins. Since I was also hosting Thanksgiving at my house, I decided to make Italian Baked Ziti with Ground Turkey, Sausage, and Zucchini to serve at both dinners.

With the oven running constantly on Thanksgiving day, this baked ziti is easy enough to make ahead of time and simply reheated on the day of. The zucchini is my attempt to add some more vegetables into this dish since being smothered in tomato sauce and cheese makes anything taste good. It's not that different from my Italian Lasagna with Meat Sauce recipe, substituting out the wide noodles for penne or other short, round pasta.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jokulsarlon (Glacier Lagoon) - Iceland

12 Jokulsarlon (Glacier Lagoon) - Iceland 1

More than five hours after we left Reykjavik (and after a much-needed sleep in the van), we finally made it to Jökulsárlón (Icelandic Glacier Lagoon), which has been featured in "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and "Die Another Day." The minute I saw powder blue icebergs in the brochure the day before, I scrapped all plans for wandering around Reykjavik and knew that I'd regret not visiting the Glacier Lagoon while I was in Iceland. Seeing it up-close did not disappoint.

I booked the Jokulsarlon tour with Bustravel Iceland for 17,500 Icelandic krona (about $145 USD), which also included stops at the waterfalls, Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss. The Bustravel Iceland tour was one of the cheaper options to see the Glacier Lagoon because it didn't include the price of the boat ticket, which was an additional 3,500 ISK ($29 USD), but even adding in the boat ticket price, it still came out about $30 cheaper than other tour agencies. There are actually two kinds of boats that go into the lagoon, so that also works better if you want more flexibility in options. There's a discount if you book online in advance.

Pictures just didn't do this justice. Just imagine a huge lagoon with gargantuan bobbing powder blue icebergs. Luckily, I packed my winter coat because it was brrrrr, soooo cooooold! In August! The boats only go into the water from about April to November because the lagoon is too frozen the rest of the time. We easily booked our boat tickets and had about 20 minutes to take pictures while we waited until our departure time.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Icelandic Kea Skyr Drykkur Mango Astaraldin (Passionfruit)

10 Icelandic Kea Skyr Drykkur Mango Astaraldin (Passionfruit) 1

After only a few scant hours of sleep, I was up early again for another tour. This one was nearly six hours away on the other side of the island, so my jetlag came in handy as I slept pretty much the whole time.

We stopped off at one point at a gas station where I bought this container of Kea Skyr Drykkur Mango Astaraldin for 170 Icelandic krona (about $1.41 USD). I didn't realize drykkur = drink, so instead of the thick Greek yogurt-like skyr I was expecting, it was drinkable yogurt (Well, technically drinkable cheese since skyr is cheese with a yogurt-like consistency).

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Great Geysir and Strokkur - Haukadalur - Iceland

9 The Great Geysir and Strokkur - Haukadalur - Iceland 1

After leaving Gullfoss (Golden Falls), the last stop was Haukadalur, a geothermal valley that was home to several geysers. While hot springs are reported to exist in this area for 10,000 years, the Great Geysir wasn't first mentioned until the late 18th century. At times erupting more than 200 feet in the air, the unusual phenomenon caught the interest of people during the Age of Enlightenment. Henceforth, all spouting hot springs were named geysers.

These days though, the Great Geysir rarely erupts, sometimes going for years at a time with no movement. Still, it was worth a visit just to see the original Geysir.

Nearby is Strokkur geyser, which reliably erupts every five minutes or so.

After a few quick snaps of Geysir, I made my way over to Strokkur. I was chasing the clock at this point since it was 10 p.m. and daylight was waning fast.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Gullfoss (Golden Falls) - Iceland

8 Gullfoss (Golden Falls) - Iceland 1

After the Mid-Atlantic Ridge - Thingvellir National Park - Iceland, we visited Gullfoss (Icelandic Golden Falls). According to the sign at Gullfoss, some say the waterfall got its name because of the golden hue of the water at sunset. Another story is that a farmer named Gygur couldn't bear to lose his wealth when he died, so he buried his gold in a chest and threw it into the falls.

Gullfoss is big and mighty, reminding me of the power of Niagara Falls. But, as I come from waterfall country, after a few quick snaps I was ready to move on.

We were dropped off at the bottom of the hill and as I headed up a steep staircase to meet everyone at the souvenir shop at the top, I spotted this group of photographers. Big cameras and tripods. Unless they're carrying a big camera too, I usually ask people to take pictures of me with my point and shoot. These guys looked like they knew what they were doing, don't they?

Friday, September 07, 2012

Mid-Atlantic Ridge - Thingvellir National Park - Iceland

After checking out the Sun Voyager sculpture, I went back to Kex Hostel - Reykjavik - Iceland to wait for my tour bus. The most popular tour in Iceland is the Golden Circle, which includes visits to Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall), and the Great Geysir and nearby geysers.

7 Mid-Atlantic Ridge - Thingvellir National Park - Iceland 1

The afternoon or day tours also included stops at a church and a geothermal plant, but honestly, all I really wanted to do was stand in the middle of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and see the original Geysir, from which all geysers got their name. I just happened to get into town on the very last day of the evening tour, which picked up at 6:30 p.m. and didn't end until midnight. Midnight! Because being that far north in the summer meant it didn't get dark until then. Cool, eh?

The evening tour, which cost 8,500 Icelandic krona ($71 USD), also worked out great because it allowed me to squeeze in a visit to the Blue Lagoon - Grindavik - Iceland in the morning and left my second day free. After being picked up from the hostel in a van, we were taken to the ticket office where I had to line up to get a ticket for the tour, then finally we were on our way.

We arrived at Thingvellir National Park a little before 8 p.m. Look how bright it still was. Actually, Thingvellir is written like this Þingvellir in Icelandic. Þing means fields, and the Alþingi (Icelandic all-assembly or parliament) was founded in the year 930 on this site and used until 1789. The park was formed in 1930 to preserve the historical area and also to protect the rift valley.

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge cuts right through Thingvellir National Park. The North American and Eurasian plates are separating at a rate of 2.5 centimeters or nearly an inch a year! Plate tectonics yo! I couldn't think of anything cooler than standing in the middle of two plates as they pulled each other apart year after year. The same forces that split South America and Africa apart hundreds of millions of years ago and I got to stand smack dab in the middle of it all!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Solfar (Sun Voyager) - Reykjavik - Iceland

6 Sun Voyager - Reykjavik - Iceland 1

After I left the Icelandic Phallological Museum - Reykjavik - Iceland and wandered along Laugavegur, I spotted the Sun Voyager sculpture down near the harbor and veered toward the sea. This stainless steel sculpture was designed by Jón Gunnar Árnason in 1986 as the winner of a competition to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of Reykjavik.

Sólfar (Icelandic The Traveler/Voyager of the Sun) was envisioned as a dreamboat, an ode to the sun, which symbolizes light and hope.

Hmm. Looks like a Viking ship to me.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Icelandic Phallological Museum - Reykjavik - Iceland

I nodded off on the shuttle ride back from the Blue Lagoon - Grindavik - Iceland, when I was startled awake.

What was literally outside my window?

The Icelandic Phallological Museum.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum?!!!

4 Icelandic Phallological Museum - Reykjavik - Iceland 1

Oh, I was so going there.

Especially since I got dropped off at Kex Hostel - Reykjavik - Iceland, only a block away.

I circled back to the museum and giggled at what I saw on the far right of the window. The "Member of the Month" is a giraffe's *ahem.*

There are 280 animal *ahems* and one human *ahem.* The whale *ahem* is taller than me! I know, because I took a picture standing next to it. It's natural history! Yeah! Natural history!

I would say it's the "wandering" part of "Wandering Chopsticks," except that there is a food component involving a horse's *ahem* covered in rosemary and other spices. Really! I can't make this stuff up!

At this point, I should give the big WARNING: NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK caution. Also, WARNING: NOT SUITABLE FOR THOSE WHO ARE EASILY OFFENDED. But, if you're a pruriently curious weirdo, like most of my Facebook readers seemed to be when I queried about whether I should blog this, then go right ahead and click below.

Lastly, before I continue, I'm not prudish, but I'm choosing not to use the actual terms on the blog so that my and your ads won't become inappropriate. Please refrain from using them in comments as well. So you can continue to procrastinate at work with safe images.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Blue Lagoon - Grindavik - Iceland

3 Blue Lagoon - Grindavik - Iceland 1

After breakfast at Kex Hostel, I grabbed a roundtrip shuttle to the Blue Lagoon for 2,500 Icelandic krona (ISK), about $21 USD. The Blue Lagoon, Bláa lónið in Icelandic (Ha! Yeah, right, like I could even attempt to say that.), is a man-made geothermal spa created as overfill for a nearby plant. The Eurasian and American tectonic plates literally meet at the lagoon. There's a scientific explanation about the geothermal seawater coming into contact with cooling magmatic intrusions, capturing minerals, silica, and algae that make it good for your skin, but really, all you need to know is eerie warm aqua water that you can laze about in because it's good for you.

It was also the first pit stop on the Amazing Race 6. :P

The Blue Lagoon is closer to the airport than Reykjavik, so a lot of people either stop off on their way in, or before their flight out. Since my flight landed so early, I'd be waiting around for hours for the spa to open so I couldn't do that, but keep in mind that it's an option if your flight times are more accommodating.

While chatting with my mom during my layover in Washington, D.C., she was surprised that the entire country only had 320,000 people. I told her since there's so few people, they still keep the old system of last names such as "son" or "dottir" to signify parentage. When we exited the shuttle, everyone asked the driver if we needed a receipt. He has our names and remembers our faces, he said. Huh!

I followed the crowd through the rock formations toward the spa.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Kex Hostel - Reykjavik - Iceland

2 Kex Hostel - Reykjavik - Iceland 1

Even though flying on Icelandair was the cheapest option to get to Norway, I didn't book it until I found an affordable hotel first. I had heard horror stories about how expensive Iceland was, especially so after the 2008 financial crisis. (A high school friend visited around that time and said he spent $50 on a pizza.) Since I was traveling alone, I figured hostels were my best bet. A bit of Googling turned up this Dwell article on Kex Hostel, a relatively new hostel that was hipster heaven with its mid-century modern furniture and other vintage fixtures that were sourced from America and Germany. The article mentioned that even locals visited to enjoy the restaurant and bar. Sounded pretty good to me.

There were a limited number of private rooms, so I ended up booking a bunk in a 10-bed mixed dorm room for 4,300 Icelandic krona (ISK) a night, roughly $36 USD. It was also another 1,000 ISK ($8 USD) for a comforter and towel for both nights. They did not charge a fee for not being a member of their hostel, which I had read other places do. I also booked my bus ticket from Keflavik airport to the hostel through them for 3,500 ISK roundtrip ($30 USD). There were some back and forth emails as I inquired about tours and whatnot, and every single person who responded to me was super, super nice. Also, even better, they did not charge my credit card until I actually arrived.

The back side of the hostel is located just a few blocks from Laugavegur, a popular shopping street. To the left of the hostel, the black glass building at the bottom of the picture is Harpa, a new concert hall and conference center. There are a bunch of restaurants located around there, so not too far away. The Embassy of India is across the street. Kex Hostel faces the water so there's a nice view of ships heading out to sea.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Saigon's Bakery and Sandwiches - San Gabriel

Saigon's Bakery and Sandwiches - San Gabriel 1

Ah well, you knew I couldn't keep up the real-time updates on the blog. So let's go back to the day before I left for vacation. I had a 5-hour flight to Washington, D.C., then several hours layover, and a 5 1/2-hour flight to my destination. Could you believe neither of those flights had free meal service?

So in between trying to get my house in order, I managed to run to Saigon's Bakery and Sandwiches in San Gabriel to grab some Vietnamese sandwiches for the road. This location is by the San Gabriel Superstore, so it's a convenient stop-in after grocery shopping. I've been going to Saigon's Bakery and Sandwiches for years now, and have to say it's my favorite Vietnamese French bread, light, airy and crispy. It also has the best Banh Mi Xiu Mai (Vietnamese Meatball Sandwich), seasoned and flavorful, not just steamed like at other places. The sandwiches also wear well for travel. The bread doesn't get hard and dry and the filling isn't all fatty, absolute musts when I buy them a day in advance before a flight.

Freshly toasted, I'm still partial to Banh Mi & Che Cali Restaurant - Alhambra's crunchy soft bread and the pate they use just does it for me. But for price point, Saigon's Bakery and Sandwiches is actually cheaper now. Banh Mi Che Cali charges tax, Saigon's Bakery already has the tax in the price. So it's a few cents cheaper, but hey, those pennies add up. The Vietnamese French bread sandwiches here are $2.25 each (The baguette sandwiches are $2.75 each.), and they're buy 2, get 1 free. They used to be buy 3, get 1 free baguette, and buy 6, get a free sandwich. But this summer, they lowered their price point to many a happy customer, namely me!

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Guess Where I'm Wandering 5?

Guess Where I'm Wandering 5

So you figured out I'm in Oslo, Norway. This is one of my favorite spots that my cousin took me to on my first visit 15 years ago.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ha Noi Avenue - Westminster (Little Saigon)

Ha Noi Avenue - Westminster (Little Saigon) 1

In December 2011, LT, a commenter on my Golden Deli - San Gabriel post suggested I try Ha Noi Avenue for Nem Ran Cua Be (Vietnamese Crab Egg Rolls), made Hanoi-style in a big square and then cut into quarters to be eaten. Now, that's the kind of recommendation I can get behind!

Although, I have to mention that I've eaten crab egg rolls at multiple places in Hanoi, including at the reputedly best in town, Bun Cha Dac Kim at #1 Hang Manh, and I have never been served square egg rolls before. My favorite crab egg rolls in Little Saigon are at Vien Dong Restaurant - Garden Grove (Little Saigon) and Quan Hy Vietnamese Restaurant - Westminster (Little Saigon), but those aren't square either.

I've driven past Ha Noi Avenue numerous times and was always amused by the signage which seemed to scream, "Notice me!" I asked my friend DP, my source for Little Saigon gossip, about the restaurant and she said that the original owners of Hanoi Restaurant sold their business and then opened Ha Noi Avenue.

It took me almost six months after the tip for me to finally visit. It's a little removed from the main drag of Little Saigon and closer to the freeway, a convenient stopping off point on my way to San Diego to visit lil' sis, so I asked Tony of SinoSoul if he wanted to check it out with me.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Guess Where I'm Wandering 4?

Am I making these too hard? This one should be very easy? A major international award is presented each year at the city hall building here.

Guess Where I'm Wandering 4

Today, my cousin and I went to a festival on the waterfront in front of city hall. Panjabi MC was performing on stage when we arrived so it was packed! I ate Pakistani Lahore fish (lovely spices) and chicken tikka and a chickpea kebab wrapped inside naan, finished off with a mango lassi.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Guess Where I'm Wandering 3?

Guess Where I'm Wandering 3

After four visits to this country, I finally got to see this area.

The day after I got into town, my cousin suggested that we leave that very evening since the weather today isn't supposed to be as bad as it's forecast for the next few weeks. I saw tons of waterfalls and cute towns, and about 10 minutes before the boat was about to dock, rain gushed down. Just in time!

Guess where I am now?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Guess Where I'm Wandering 2?

Guess Where I'm Wandering 2

By far, one of the coolest things I've ever done. After going out on a boat to see the powder blue icebergs closer, I got to touch them where they washed ashore downstream.

I topped off the day with the most amazing, and controversial, meal. And earlier had another first, the oldest thing I ever ate.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Guess Where I'm Wandering 1?

The night before I left, my brother's wife asked if I could blog in real-time because she didn't want to wait four years to read about my adventures.

Guess Where I'm Wandering 1

But...

I'm still working on Portland March 2011 and need to backtrack to blog Portland Christmas 2009 too. There's still several other trips too.

It takes me forever to sort through photos, especially of big events or trips. So, in an effort to organize myself more, and because of repeated requests from friends and family to upload photos so they can see what I'm up to, I thought I'd let you guess where I'm wandering.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

35 Car Loads Later

Thirty-five car loads and almost as many moves later...

35 Car Loads Later 1

... I finally said good-bye to my cousin's little house that I'd been living in for the past five years.

*Sniffle.*

It's the end of an era! (Bonus points if you caught the pop culture reference.)

It was bittersweet to leave the family compound, where my aunts and uncles literally all bought houses next door to each other. After living so far away for several years, I really enjoyed having my oldest uncle or youngest aunt drop by to chat, the frequent egg rolls and dumplings that my oldest uncle's wife sent over, seeing my cousins walking their dogs, and just in general basking in having family around. Even though I've only technically moved a few minutes away, it's a world away in daily interaction.


Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cielo Verde - Playa Restaurant Rooftop Garden - Los Angeles

While dining at Playa Restaurant for the media preview for AltaMed's 7th Annual East LA Meets Napa food and wine event, when Chef John Rivera Sedlar mentioned that all the greens and flowers used in his dishes were grown on his restaurant's rooftop garden, I was amazed.

Rooftop Garden - Playa Restaurant - Los Angeles 2

Even better was when I found out he was allowing small groups of visitors on the roof to check it out. After climbing the ladder, which you saw in the previous post, I saw this. The view is from the next level up, looking down. The ladder I climbed is just to the right of the green rooftop.

It's not the fancy terrace-like rooftop garden depicted in many a home magazine. What it is, is a functional garden with towers and towers of plants grown in a soil substitute shoved into what space was available on an industrial rooftop in the center of Los Angeles. This was just the herb and starter plant area, the next level up was simply incredible!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Media Preview: AltaMed's 7th Annual East LA Meets Napa - Playa Restaurant - Los Angeles

Media Preview AltaMed's 7th Annual East LA Meets Napa - Playa Restaurant - Los Angeles 1

I was invited to a media preview luncheon at Playa Restaurant in Los Angeles for AltaMed's East LA Meets Napa 7th annual food and wine event. It's my favorite food and wine event, not only does it benefit underserved communities in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, but East LA Meets Napa brings together mostly Mexican, and other Latino restaurants, and wineries. It's a great way to explore regional Mexican cuisine, and even sample pre-Hispanic dishes.

Check out my previous posts of the 4th, 5th, and 6th Annual East LA Meets Napa food and wine events.

Playa Restaurant is owned by John Rivera Sedlar, of Top Chef Masters Season 3 fame who also owns Rivera Restaurant, known for its flower-pressed tortillas. While waiting for the others to arrive, I checked out how the flower tortillas were being made.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Gumbo

Gumbo 1

Sometimes I wonder how much my palate would have been broadened without the blog. For sure, I sometimes pay more attention now to how food is presented. Not so much with the food styling as with the authenticity of the ingredients themselves. In the beginning, I often substituted one ingredient for another depending on availability and price, which isn't bad necessarily because that's how I often cooked. But with blogging, I try to remain true to the spirit of the dish, regardless of its origins. After all, certain dishes became famous because of the interplay of those very ingredients.

I had made gumbo several times before, but when I originally photographed it for the blog in 2008, celery was a ridiculous $1.99 apiece at the grocery store. So, I substituted with fennel stems I had saved from my Orange and Fennel Salad. It tasted fine, but the trinity of three in New Orleans cuisine -- onions, green bell peppers, and celery exist for a reason.

Of course, variations do exist and recipes often change, especially with regards to soups and stews. What's the difference between Creole and Cajun gumbos? Apparently Creole gumbo is more tomato-based and like a soup, with a roux made from butter and flour like they do in France. While Cajun gumbo with its more rustic origins requires a roux made with lard and flour, with readily available meats such as game, and file powder for thickening so it's more like a stew.

I've made several other pots of gumbo since then, each time a little different depending on what's in my fridge and pantry. But there are some ingredients that I always include: the meats are often a combination of chicken, shrimp, and sausage; the trinity of onions, green bell peppers, and celery; and okra. I love okra and often make gumbo just to give me an excuse to eat it. Sometimes I add tomatoes, but not always. In any case, gumbo is easy enough to adapt to what you have in your kitchen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Baked Salmon with Lemon Pepper Seasoning

My favorite quickie meal is baked salmon with lemon pepper seasoning, Scrambled Egg Omelet, rice, and Sauteed Bok Choy. There's just something about those combinations of flavors that just makes me happy.

Baked Salmon with Lemon Pepper Seasoning 1

I've mentioned the baked salmon with lemon pepper seasoning before when I also baked broccoli and made Kinpira (Japanese Burdock and Carrot Matchsticks). The latter recipe really needs to be redone, but as I make the baked salmon much more often, it's about time the recipe, such as it is, gets newer photos and a separate post.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Salmon and Dill Mini Tarts


Salmon and Dill Mini Tarts 1



In December, I plowed my way through all seven seasons of "Gilmore Girls." I had forgotten how much I loved that show -- the quick talking, the pop culture references, the quirky townspeople, the grumpy Luke, and the relationship between Lorelai and Rory. One thing that really bothered me though was that Rory only applied to Yale and Harvard, as if it was a given she'd get in. Just because she was smart doesn't make that a given. She only did newspaper, and she wasn't even the editor. And one day hammering walls for Habitat for Humanity doesn't cut it for volunteer work. Sooo unrealistic. As if the show was realistic anyway. Ha!

Remember in Season 6, episode 5, "We've Got Magic to Do," in which Rory and Lorelai are on the outs because she wanted to drop out of school and moved into her grandparents' pool house and worked for the Daughters of the American Revolution and hosted a WWII-themed party? She served salmon tarts. Salmon tarts! I couldn't get the idea out of my head. (Also, did you know Season 6 is the only one that doesn't have English subtitles? Only Spanish and French. My DVD player sometimes makes the sound go in and out, so I like to have subtitles on just to make sure I catch everything. Watching "Gilmore Girls" with Spanish subtitles sure was an interesting experience.)

So recently when I was making my standard Baked Salmon with Lemon Pepper Seasoning, I decided to use the leftovers to make these salmon and dill mini tarts. Add a bit of sour cream and cream cheese to the salmon and baked them in puff pastry with another dollop of sour cream and dill on top.

Serve these as appetizers for a dinner party and they'll go just like that. I liked them best when the puff pastry and salmon filling were still warm, to contrast with the fresh coolness of the sour cream and dill, but they tasted just fine when cooled too.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Deviled Eggs with Dill and Sour Cream

No matter how pretty, I still needed to figure out what to do with half a dozen Veggie-dyed Crackled Eggs.

Deviled Eggs with Dill and Sour Cream 1


While my normal approach to deviled eggs is to make Triple-Deviled Eggs with Black Pepper, Paprika, and Sriracha, I wanted to try something a little different. Just the simple additions of dill and sour cream provided tang and freshness to this classic appetizer.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Vegetable-Dyed Crackled Eggs

Vegetable-Dyed Crackled Eggs 1

When my brother and I were little, our mom helped us make those shrink-wrapped images to wrap around eggs for Easter. She also hid chocolate eggs for us to find. I wonder where my mom got the idea? From the nuns who sponsored us? Or the parishioners who taught my mom and aunts how to make Christmas stockings? It's funny to think about it now, these little rituals introducing us to American pop culture.

It's been years since I made eggs for Easter, but ever since I saw the colorful crackled eggs on Barefoot Kitchen Witch, I knew I wanted to dye them with vegetables for a more natural effect. Beets were an easy given. Remembering the vivid purple of my Mashed Okinawan Sweet Potatoes, I hoped for a similar result, but it was a rather disappointing light blue-green. I decided to use turmeric to add a third color into the mix, and that ended up being my favorite.

My brother said they looked like dinosaur eggs. And I elicited "Ooohs" out of both Pablo and the niece when I peeled the eggs in front of them. Just a fun project to try without any artificial colorings.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Best of: Top 11 to 20 Recipes of 2009

With part 1, Best of: Top 10 Recipes of 2009 out of the way, it was pretty interesting to see what 11 to 20 would look like. Almost half the recipes were non-Vietnamese, and one isn't even edible. :P

So here you go, my
Top 11 to 20 Recipes of 2009

The recipes are presented in order of which one is most popular. The numbers behind the recipe represent how many page views each recipe received from May 24, 2009 to February 4, 2012, according to Google Analytics. This is purely meant for fun, in case you wanted to see which recipes are popular with others too.

Ca Hap Gung Hanh (Vietnamese Steamed Fish with Ginger and Scallions) 3 Ca Hap Gung Hanh (Vietnamese Steamed Fish with Ginger and Scallions) 9,414


Sunday, February 05, 2012

Best of: Top 10 Recipes of 2009

Ever since I compiled my "Best of: Top 10 Recipes" of 2006, 2007, and 2008 lists, it's fascinated me which recipes get the most hits. I figured my Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew) would lead the pack since it's one of my most popular recipes, but I didn't expect my Crock Pot Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) to be #2 since that recipe wasn't blogged until the end of the year. Of course, if you look at the number of hits between #1 and #2, it's a huuuge discrepancy. Nonetheless, the popularity of Vietnamese beef stew meant that even though I didn't blog it until the end of the year, the Crock Pot Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew) is also incredibly popular, coming in at #4. The only non-Vietnamese recipe to crack the Top 10 was Yaki Udon (Japanese Stir-Fried Udon Noodles).

So here you go, my
Top 10 Recipes of 2009

The recipes are presented in order of which one is most popular. The numbers behind the recipe represent how many page views each recipe received from May 24, 2009 to February 4, 2012, according to Google Analytics. This is purely meant for fun, in case you wanted to see which recipes are popular with others too.

Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew) 11 Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew) 57,024

Saturday, February 04, 2012

2009 Recipes: Picture Index

Wandering Chopsticks Top 9 Recipes of 2009
Wandering Chopsticks' Best of: Top 10 Recipes of 2009.


A while ago in updating some old posts, I started keeping track of all the recipes and restaurant reviews I posted for each year. It was laborious, but really helpful when I wanted to look up what I posted when. I have plans to do similar lists for all the years, but the beginning years still have many recipes that need to be updated or rephotographed, and I haven't finished blogging the later years yet. Your best bet for finding recipes is still using the searchbar or main recipe index, but I figured you might enjoy looking at a photographic journey of 2009's recipes too. Plus, I finally blogged my last recipe for 2009, so I figured it should be celebrated, even in a small way.

What was interesting for me was the marked improvement of photographs after May 2009, since that was when I bought my new-used dslr camera. Even so, my #1 recipe for 2009, Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew) was photographed using my point-and-shoot, so it just goes to show that a nicer camera doesn't always mean the greatest hits.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup 1

When I first learned how to make French Onion Soup about a decade ago, I used to make it at least a few times a year. The cookbook instructed me to cut the onions into whole rings, which can be a bit of a bother. Slicing the first half of the onion wasn't so bad, but the second half became unwieldy and difficult to cut thinly.

What a silly reason to stop making such a delicious soup.

Or even sillier was feeling like I had to slice onions exactly the way a cookbook told me.

So when I was craving the caramelized cheesy goodness, I decided to be daring and slice the onions in half before slicing them thinly. No more rings! Sure the soup won't look as pretty, but the smaller onion slices also meant it was easier to spoon.

Really, the key to a good French Onion Soup is patience. Patiently slice the onions thinly. Patiently wait for them to caramelize. It takes about 45 minutes, but it's so worth it. If you cheat and slice the onions thicker or add the broth before they've properly softened, it just won't taste the same. So just be patient, I promise it'll be worth it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

King Hua Restaurant (Dim Sum) - Alhambra

King Hua Restaurant (Dim Sum) - Alhambra 1

My childhood friend and I recently started a tradition of meeting up for the lunar new year. Last year was the fancy afternoon tea at Tres by Jose Andres at the SLS Hotel. Two years before that was dim sum at Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant - Rosemead. So for the Year of the Dragon we decided to sort of go back to the beginning. Rumor has it that some of the chefs at Sea Harbour jumped over to King Hua Restaurant in Alhambra. We were hoping for the upscale dim sum like at Sea Harbour but without the upscale prices.

Every time I passed by the restaurant, I always wondered what the inside was like. The interior was a lot nicer than I expected with the gold brocade-covered chairs and the pretty Chinese frog buttons down the back.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lucky New Year by Mary Man-Kong

Lucky New Year by Mary Man-Kong 1


A while back I bought "Lucky New Year" by Mary Man-Kong from the bargain bin at Amazon. I didn't know what to expect, but have been steadily accumulating a pile of my childhood favorites and some cultural books just because. I was so pleasantly surprised by the clever pop-ups though that I went out and bought four more to give as gifts. (It was a 4-for-3 book promotion.)

The niece, Pablo, baby A, and baby M3 all love the book if that's any kind of endorsement. Wanna see why?


Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Year of the Dragon!

Happy Year of the Dragon everyone!

Happy Year of the Dragon 1

When Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) arrives in January, it always throws me off. I'm not prepared! I didn't make anything for my relatives like I usually do in previous years.

I don't think my aunts and uncles were prepared either because this year's food exchange was much lighter compared to previous years.

Nonetheless, I sure appreciated the homemade keo me (Vietnamese sesame candy), banh tet (Vietnamese sticky rice cakes), dua mon (Vietnamese pickles), and kimchee they gave me.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Japanese Meiji Ginger and Milk Chocolate

Japanese Meiji Ginger and Milk Chocolate 1


Speaking of Japanese chocolates, lil' sis brought gave me this Meiji Ginger and Milk Chocolate after she got back from Japan. I loved the individually-wrapped sticks. Love great packaging.

The flavor was very mild and smooth.

She also got me these cute panda pins to decorate bento boxes and food-safe pens since she remembered the ones I used for the Hello Kitty Cake Pops didn't work so well.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Japanese Wasabi Kit Kat

Japanese Wasabi Kit Kat 1


While waiting for our orders at Ton-Chan Ramen - San Gabriel, Gourmet Pigs brought out a wasabi-flavored Kit Kat she picked up at the airport in Japan.

It's been a while since I've done a fun food post, so thought I'd share.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ton-Chan Ramen - San Gabriel (Closed)

Last February, shortly after Ton Chan Ramen opened I went to check it out with Tony of SinoSoul, who said the restaurant featured the milky tonkotsu-style broth that so many people in SoCal seem to prefer.

Ton Chan Ramen - San Gabriel 1

Ton Chan Ramen is housed in what used to be Aji Man Japanese Restaurant, which closed just short of its three-year anniversary. :( In looking up other ramen restaurants I've posted, I discovered Kappa Ramen - Anaheim is now closed as well. Seems like only the ramen chains are weathering the economic storm, or I need to try more mom-and-pop ramen restaurants.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Oh My Pan Bakery & Tea - San Gabriel

So, as I was saying, when I went to visit my new nephew, I wanted to bring my sister-in-law something that her parents were unlikely to have brought. Remembering that she likes the black sesame soy milk from VP Tofu - Monterey Park, I figured black sesame cream puffs seemed like just the thing.



Oh My Pan Bakery and Tea - San Gabriel 1


My first visit to Oh My Pan Bakery and Tea in San Gabriel was in the late afternoon on New Year's Eve, lil' sis and I went with the oldest '87 and the older '88, since the latter two were skipping out on my brother's party that evening. The oldest '87 said Oh My Pan was her newest favorite tea house, pushing out her previous favorite, Half & Half Tea House - Monterey Park.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Introducing... "Riker"

Wanna meet the latest addition to the family?

Introducing... Riker 1

Introducing...

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Banh Bot Khoai Mon Chien Xao Cai Xoan (Vietnamese Fried Taro Rice Cake Stir-Fried with Kale)

Since I clocked out of my brother's New Year's Eve party before midnight, I was up bright and early on New Year's Day. What can I say? I'm an old fogey. I was in a mood to do some cooking, and since lil' sis spent the night at my brother's, she was there to let me in before the rest of the house woke up.

Banh Bot Khoai Mon Chien Xao Cai Xoan (Vietnamese Fried Taro Cake Stir-Fried with Kale) 1

Lil' sis likes pretty much any noodle stir-fry that I cook up. And while, banh bot khoai mon (Vietnamese fried taro cakes) aren't quite noodles, they're sort of a pasta. Fried up and then stir-fried, they have the crispy/chewy texture that she loves. This is pretty much a riff off of my recipe for Banh Bot Chien (Vietnamese Fried Rice Flour Cake), but because everyone resolves to eat healthier for the new year, I added in some kale. Ha!