Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Although today is Christmas Day, I see it more as a holiday than a religious day. It's just a special day to spend time with family and friends and to give thanks to people we love and care.

The new year is just around the corner. Any new year resolutions?

World peace? ^_^

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bitter Melon

Sweet. Sour. Bitter. Salty. And yes, another recently popular taste term - umami. Which is your most prefer "taste"? I'm a bit of a rebel because I prefer 'bitter' taste. But no, I don't enjoy taking medicine (flashback of me spitting out syrupy, sweet/bitter cold medicine), yet when it comes to food, I would much rather pick a dish with a bitter flavor than a sweet one; hence, don't count me in for a dessert session.

One of my favorite bitter dish is made with of course, bitter melon, also known as goya (Japan) or karella (India). Different regional bitter melons also have varied appearance as well. For example, the Chinese ones have a smoother outer touch than the Indian ones that are like volcanic eruption, but the latter taste crisper than the former kinds.

The bitterness from a bitter melon helps to beat the heat, which is why the Okinawans have a popular dish called goya chanpuru that's a stir fry of sliced goya, tofu, and pork. Since I'm a vegetarian, I omit the meat and just add in other greens, such as scallions or extra chopped Chinese cabbages. Travelling in Beijing, China, I also discovered some locals who served bitter melon as a cold appetizer, which is quite refreshing during the summer season. Just blanch some sliced bitter melon and then drizzle sesame seed oil on top as a dressing. Light and healthy.

Although we're entering into winter, I still crave for some 'bitterness' when I need to rejuvenate my digestive system because I always feel refreshed when I eat my greens no matter what the temperature is outside.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Baking Session for Party

Finally! My semester is over! Although I didn't pay $XXX per class, the department decided that we should use the last class to mingle/eat/drink/chat. Not that I'm going to complain because your mind just isn't there in the last class, you know?
So everyone was asked to volunteer to bring in something and of course, I like to use every little excuse to get into the baking mode. I needed something simple though because I don't have much time on hand, so a one bowl wonder sounds perfect for my schedule. Well, it's not exactly one bowl since I've to separate the wet and dry ingredients first, but easy enough to create less mess in the kitchen.

I've a canned pineapple on hand, so I wanted to bake a pineapple cake, but I wanted something WITH it. I realized I've some shredded coconut in the cabinet, so done deal! I'll bake a pineapple, coconut cake with cream cheese frosting! Not only it'll be a moist cake (from the fruit's juice), but I get to use up some of the canned goods AND it's not a chocolatey desserts as most people might have been indulging too much chocolate brownies/cookies/cake lately due to the holidays. And I wanted something fruity, so this was just perfect.

My friend tried it and she loved it because it wasn't too sweet nor too dense. If I had the time, I would make it a two layer cake, but for now, one will do.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chocolate Ricotta Cake

There are fou reasons for this baking session. First, I needed to use up the remaining ricotta cake from my Thanksgiving tiramisu. Second, my friend is feeling down lately and doesn't have much of an appetite. My maternal instincts immediately click and wanted to bake her something. Third, baking has always been my therapeutic outlet and I find seeing something created from scratch to finish really rewarding. Fourth, well, I needed to write a new post!

This chocolate ricotta cake is like a one bowl wonder. Besides the sifting and the butter melting, the process is quite simple to follow. Better yet, it's vegetarian because no egg is involved! Well, there's still dairy, but if you don't eat egg, this is definitely a dessert to savor. So without further ado, I present you a very moist chocolate ricotta cake.


3/4 cup of ricotta cheese

2 cups of self-rising flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup of sugar

1 stick of butter, melted

1/2 cup of hot water


1. Preheat oven at 325 F

2. Sift flour and cocoa powder. Then add sugar, butter, water, and ricotta. Mix well, but don't over do it.

3. Butter a pan and pour mixture in.

4. Bake 45-50 minutes. Insert knife to test if the cake is done. If the knife comes out dry, then take the cake out.

You can serve this with some homemade berry sauce or add nuts as well. You're free to decide.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving Dessert - Pumpkin Tiramisu

Alright, now I'm kicking myself for not taking a picture of my 'sweet creation', but at that moment, the Thanksgiving dinner is slowing turning into a food coma and I was too exhausted (from cleaning and helping out) to whip out my camera. But I swear. I DID make this pumpkin tiramisu.

I wanted to break away from the conservative 'pumpkin pie' mode and lucky that I did because the host of the family (my mom and I were invited to her friend's house) baked THREE pies - pumpkin, apple, and sweet potatoes. I figured that everyone is going to expect some sort of pie at the dinner table, but I really wanted to celebrate one of my favorite squashes and how could you go wrong with tiramisu?! And there's no baking involved, especially since the stove is preoccupied almost the entire time to prep for dinner. So, I researched on the Internet and came up with my own little creation (since I couldn't find any mascarpone cheese at my local supermarket and by Thanksgiving Day, most markets across the Tri-State areas are practically bare!) Without further ado, here's the recipe. Actually, since I still have some ingredient remnants in the fridge, I might just make another one. :)

Pumpkin Tiramisu (chill for 8-24 hours)

- 2 tablespoon of honey mixed in 1/4 cup of hot water and let it cool
- a 15 oz can of pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie mix)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup of mascarpone cheese (but I used ricotta cheese, so whip it up to create a creamier consistency)
- 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar
- ladyfingers (or sponge cake, depends on what you've on hand)


1 - For filling: combine pumpkin, all the spices. In another bowl, beat whipping cream and granulated sugar until soft peaks form. Fold whipped cream into pumpkin mixture.
2 - For topping: in another bowl, combine mascarpone cheese and powdered sugar. Beat in 1/2 cup of whipping cream until thickened.
3 - Now to assemble: layer the ladyfingers or thinly sliced sponge cake on the bottom of a pan. Drizzle a bit of the honey syrup on top. Using a spatula, spread some of the filling on top. Not too thick though. Now repeat the same process - layer the cake part, drizzle some honey water, then spread the filling again. The last layer should be the whipped cream. If you like, you can sprinkle some cinnamon on the final top. Cover and chill for 8 to 24 hours.

Once the tiramisu has firmed up, just slice it up and serve. The adults at the party actually prefer my cool and light dessert is a satisfying ending after a heavy meal.

Enjoy and hope you all had a wonderul and fulfilling Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

CANstruction - Feed the arts and the hunger

CANstruction is a charity among the architecture and design elites. From their website,

CANstruction is "a foundation of the Society for Design Administration (SDA), Canstruction® is a Trademarked design/build competition currently held in cities throughout North America Australia and cities from around the world will soon be participating . Teams of architects, engineers, and students mentored by these professionals, compete to design and build giant structures made entirely from full cans of food. It takes 8-12 weeks and thousands of cans of food to create a structure."

I visited this event a few years ago and that was still in the Curry Hill location. This year in NY, it's heald in the World Trade Center building. Perhaps a better idea as it's more accessible to both tourists and the locals.

On views were statues of themes created with...of course, canned (and some bottled) goods. Some were really fun to analyze or to ponder upon, yet some did lack a bit of creativity. One of the structure that stood out to me was the pumpkin pie, especially since Thanksgiving is arriving soon, though I was perplexed why didn't the design firm use pumpkin cans. I looked a little closer without stepping over the rope boundary, the 'pumpkin pie' was built with Bush's brand of beans. Is that because pumpkin cans are in short resource lately?

PS I was also a good citizen and donated a can of tomato sauce as well. Check out the website! This meaningful charity is held throughout different cities!
PPS You can check out the rest of the structure in my Flickr collection.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A simple vegetarian meal

Sometimes it's nice to just make a 'melting pot' of meal, you know, the kind that's everything but the kitchen sink. I don't prefer an elaborate dinner meal because I'm an early sleeper, so indulging in a 5 course meal would just tax my sleep. I prefer a meal based on greens with a little protein and carbohydrates, but mainly vegetables. Tonight I'm dining solo, so instead of making a pot of rice, I decided to create a tofu pot. It's not the most photogenic picture, but I felt healthy after eating my dinner. Now I'm ready for dessert. :)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Blender Blunder Won't Stop Me!

I just realized it has been quite awhile since my last post. Various events (and laziness) are the culprits, but I finally gathered myself together and took some photos of an edible gift I shall present to my friend as her belated birthday gift.

When you don't own much disposable income, cooking/making something is the best birthday gift alternative. I wish I could treat my friend to a 5 stars restaurant meal or buy her brand name items on Fifth Avenue (hmm...these words are sounding more like a blues lyrics...), but then again, wouldn't spending time to create something from scratch be more genuine, meaningful, and thoughtful? Well, that is if my edible gift is, well, edible. But I think I got it down.

The other day, I bought two pounds of flour because they were on sales. Then at Trader Joe's, I discovered some cocoa powder. So the combination would yield...ta da! Chocolate brownies! Yes! I made my first trial two days ago (my mother as my guinea pig). Unfortunately, that try busted my hand blender. Oh no! But I shall not be so easily discouraged. Since a brownie batter asks for melted butter (not cold butter like for pastry), thus it's easier to mix by hand than let's say a cake batter. Also, I find that using a hand blender might toughen the batter, whereas you can control the strength of the mixing if you're doing it by hand. So the second attempt came out quite well! And I also added two secret ingredients...hopefully, my friend would be able to taste the slight difference.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Incredible 'Inedible'

We've all been 'brainwashed' by health magazines and the medical field on the health benefits of eggs. Yes, the protein. Yes, the vitamins. And yes, it curves your appetite. But what about the 'forgotten' child...the egg shell? Of a boiled egg, we peeled it away to reveal the price winning - the 'meat'. Then we throw the literally shattered shells into the trash. We crack an egg and once again, dump the half broken pieces into the garbage, only wanting the yolk and the white. Poor egg shell. But I shall discover and educate the public on your usefulness.

There are lots of ways you can reuse your egg shell. No, you're not going to eat it, but it's a versatile little gadget for your everyday duties. Here are just a few examples. Feel free to add in some more!

1) To get rid of water stain inside a water bottle - Soak it with egg shells twice and then dump the content out.

2) A facial mask - Gathered a small amount of VERY broken egg shells, then add a little milk powder and organic honey to create a paste. Lather onto the face and leave it on for 30 minutes, then rinse under warm water.

3) Plant fertilizer - rinse the egg shells and then place it on top of the soil.

4) Polisher - Clean the egg shell in a container of water and use this water to wash glass or other kitchen dishes.

5) Oh, and to end on a really cute and unique purpose...a semisphere-egg shell can turn itself into a funnel by poking a hole on one end. Then uou can use it to pour oil into a bottle. No mess. No fuss.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How to deal with stress?

We all deal with stress almost on an everyday basis. Whether it's school, work, relationship, or health, it's one of the driving forces in our daily activities. Stress can be a good thing because it motivates us and keeps us at a flight-or-fight mode. But when it's excessive, as in anything, it's dangerous for our health and mentality.

I've been undergoing some stress lately and I'm trying out different things to ground myself. There are lots of recommendations out there, such as exercise (walking in the park, swimming, joggin...), listening to music, a healthy diet (food that beats stress), communicating with friends and family, or maybe even seeking professional help.

Stress is a tricky thing too. Is it something you put upon yourself or influenced by the external environment? We need to be truthful and find out the source of the stress before we can relieve it. I also find that staying away from technologies (email, TV, Internet...) helps to refocus myself. Just imagine a reclusive life. You'd have no cell phone, no TV and definitely no Internet. See how peaceful it could be? It might be difficult at first, but I think it's worth a try.

Any other ways you use to de-stress? Would love to hear your sharing.

Monday, October 5, 2009

R.I.P. Gourmet Magazine (1941–2009)

Surely, foodies across the U.S. are mourning of the last issue of a reputable food magazine called Gourmet. Hmmm....gourmet...what a fine and elegant name for a magazine that features delicious recipes (that actually works!) and beautiful food photos. This magazine is probably the first "food porn". Unfortunately, due to the reduction in advertisement (helloooo recession), Condé Nast has decided to close out Gourmet, yet keep Bon Apetit, which is another food magazine, but with a different demographic IMO. Nevertheless, it's just sad to see something that has been with us for 68 years go. 68 years of staying in business is no easy feat; unfortunately, all things must come to an end sometime. I wish the best of luck to the Gourmet employees, as they are the ultimate victims in this business decision.

The question for the general readers is...where do we turn to read a decent, honest food magazine now?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

These two Chinese characters say "lotus seed", which is the flavor for this mini mooncake.

Today is 8/15 (also the fullest moon of the year), according to the lunar calendar and this means it's the annual Mid-Autumn Festival! This holiday is much more festive when i was younger. We would lit the lantern, eat delicious mooncake and enjoy this family event right under the full moon. Nowadays, it's mostly the commercial enterprise of mooncake purchases and consumption. The original mooncake is made of lotus seed and contains the yolk of a salted duck egg in the innard. But in order to attract more capitalistic curiosity and marketing, mooncakes come in a variety of flavors and texture, such as red beans, assorted nuts, fruit-flavored (dorian anyone??), green-tea flavored and even an ice-cream version as well! I for one still has a hidden love for the authentic version san the egg. Mooncake is definitely not something I would eat on an everyday basis because it's quite hearty and sweet, but once a year, it's a great way to satisfy one's sweet tooth, while savoring the coming of autumn under the full moon (unfortunately, it's raining no moon).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Herby Post

Besides cilantro and scallion, basil would be my next favorite herb. I like greens, so why not 'grassy' greens? Herbs have ben lauded for adding flavors without the calories, though let's not forget the health benefits as well.
I like cilantro because it pairs really well with other vegetable dishes and also a clear broth soup. It has anti-inflammatory benefits, lowers blood sugar, and helps with digestion. Cilantro is commonly used in Mexico and Asian dishes.
As for basil, the first cuisine you'd think of is of course - Italian. Even the color green is part of the country's flag. But basil is actually a native of India, which has a different name - tulsi. Basil also has its anti-inflammatory benefits, plus a cure for motion-sickness and treatment of respiratory system disorder. I like to throw in some basil right before I serve a dish of pasta or vegetable dish or shred some over a mixed green salad.
Of course, there are other herbs out there - fennel, thyme, sage...but when it comes to versatility, I put my vote for cliantro and basil.

Monday, September 21, 2009

When you're under the weather...

Chicken soup...congee...honey tea...

What do you crave when you're under the weather? Although I try to maintain a vegetarian diet, my body instantly craves salmon whenever I'm sick or feeling lethargic. Perhaps it's the protein my body is hoping to replenish? Salmon is a 'mood food' because the rich omega-3 fatty acids may protect against depression (although I am sad that I'm killing the fish...) Besides salmon, I also like to hydrate myself with lots of green tea. Rest is probably next on the list because I'm the kind of person who just cannot sit still, though there's no doubt that rest is of utmost important in leading a healthy lifestyle.

Different culture utilizes different foods to boost energy or to cure illnesses. What do you eat or do when you're under the weather or just not too well?

Monday, September 14, 2009


It's so difficult to choose a 'favorite' fruit, especially the taste of this nature's candy really depends on the seasons. Spring brings you apricots and strawberries; summer presents us juicy watermelon and peaches to quench our thirst; fall's crisp breezes indulge us with grapes (wining al fresco perhaps?), figs, and pears; and finally, winter's citrus fruits, such as lemons, grapefruits, and oranges provide vitamin C to prevent colds and other wintry sicknesses. See? Mother nature knows us best.

But if I had to choose my top, TOP 3 favorite fruits, one of them would be pears. I'm so happy that pear is one of the most common fruits that is sold almost year round, thus I can satisfy my 'peary' needs just by visiting my local supermarket. There are many types of pears, but because I prefer fruits with a crunch, I play a favoritism towards peckham and bosc pears. I know anjou pears are moist and juicy as well as the red pears, but I like the 'biting' factor and the work I put on my mouth.

If you pay attention, everyone eats their fruit differently as one. Some may just wipe it down on the sleeve and bite away, whereas other would peel the skin with a knife and only see the flesh. I do both. I peel the skin, slice up the flesh and enjoy every single sections, and then consume the skin because that's where all the fiber resides.

Would you like to share your favorite fruits? :)

Friday, September 4, 2009

And finally - MY Turkish Meal

Equipped with the knowledge that Turkish dishes are mostly meat-centric, I already mentally prepared myself that I'd be living off bread and cold salads a lot. Sounds boring, right? Well, surprisingly, I enjoyed my meals. First of all, the bread (as I've mentioned in the previous post) was amazing. I loved the outer crust (not a Wonder Bread gal) and despite the fact that I try to steer away from white flour, multi grain is difficult to come by since white flour is the main staple grain for bread making over there. Then again, there are some types of bread that are destined to be 'white'. Helloooo crusty baguette!
When the temperature is over 90 degrees, a cold, crisp bowl of salad fills your tummy without weighing you down. But I'm not talking about a small plate, but a BIG portion of salad. I received one for just $3.50 US! Just look at this beauty! Everything is meticulously assembled and not just clumsily tossed. The salad included lettuce, julienned carrots, pickled red cabbage (my fav!), canned corn, sauteed mushrooms, olives, pickles, and fresh sectioned tomatoes. What a deal! Although this meal lacked protein, I remedied it by throwing in some of my own almond slivers. With a light splash of pomegranate juice (their version of balsamic vinegar) and luscious olive oil, it's good to go. I did miss my Asian vegetables while travelling in Turkey, but now that I'm back, I miss my Turkish red cabbage and the cheap salad prices.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Eggplant Patlicanli Kebab - A Savory Turkish Dish

While I'm a vegetarian, my mom isn't, so she was able to order off basically anything on the menu (my next post will be on what I mostly ate during my trip. A hint - it wasn't anything exciting).

Kebab and gyro dominate street corners and menu spaces. Lacking in the vegetable department, my mom needed some 'fiber' in her dinner. We spotted eggplant patlicanli k ebab (eggplant kebab) and she was sold. Well, it turned out to be a kebab of cubed eggplant AND beef. It was a great deal at about $8 US and it came with rice (FYI, their rice is cooked in salt and butter, so not plain rice), grilled tomato, onion, and pepper, plus lavash to wrap the food in, such as a DIY burrito meal. The beef was nicely spiced and it was a lot of food. Our dinner also came with complimentary ezme (spicy tomato dip) and pickled condiments. I wasn't too fond of the dip (too spicy for me).

Although I didn't consume this dish, I still wanted to share it with you the reader because it is a typical meal you'd find in Turkey. It would be boring to just showcase what I ate. I think we can all learn something from each other through sharing our knowledge in addition to personal experience. I may not eat meat due to personal belief, but I still encouraged my mom to order some of the common, national dishes so SHE could experience what's it like to eat like a local. Food plays a significant role in any culture, so if it isn't due to religious, health or personal reasons, I think it's important to try out different food as a way to respect and appreciate a particular culture.

Bon appétit!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Turkish sweets

Now how can you have tea without a little 'something something'? To end our last evening in Istanbul on a 'sweet' note, we left the dinner restaurant and hit up a more local cafe to get our sugar fix. There was an array of Turkish sweets, such as the ubiquitous baklava, kadayif ((made from shredded pastry baked in syrup) or lokma (deep-fried lumps of batter served in syrup). We chose a pistachio kadayıf.

You see how small it is as my sweetie rested on the snow-white plate?? You don't usually order 'just one', but I just wanted a taste not a sugar rush at that hour. This two bite miniature is just perfect for my two sip Turkish tea. As I savored the last moment while looking out on the evening street, I recalled the warm hospitality in the smaller Turkish city and luscious history this country is built on.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Turkish Tea (çay)

Turkish tea, also known as çay was my favorite beverage while on vacation there. As I'm used to the American version of drink quantity (big cup of tea, big mug of coffee, big gulp of soda...), I was at first mystified by the small glass of tea when the weather there is so hot. How could one quench thirst with just 2 sip of caffeinated liquid? Then I learnt the beauty of savory and patience. Yes, one can discover wisdom by the art of tea drinking.

Turkish tea is served in a tulip-shaped glass along with a stainless steel spoons and exactly two sugar cubes. I don't like to sweeten my tea, but most Turkish do stir in both cubes. As I delicately sip the hot beverage, I soaked in the remaining heat from the early blazing sun along with the late evening breezes. Although I would welcome another glass of tea, I was surprised satisfied with just one. Rarity is bliss sometimes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Julie & Julia

I'm going to take a break from writing about my trip to Turkey to chat about a recent movie I saw - "Julie & Julia". As I don't have much disposable income, it takes a lot for me to invest $12.50 on a 2+ hour movie. But...because Meryl Streep is an amazing actress, plus the opportunity to see lots of food porns (instead of watching the Food Networks), I decided to indulge myself a bit and watched this movie alone. I also haven't gone to a movie theatre alone for a long time and actually, I quite enjoyed it. I got to rest my bags in the seat next to me instead of placing items by my feet. I could concentrate on the movie. I might actually go back alone soon. It's like dining solo. It could be very rewarding and enjoyable.

Back to the movie. Lots of reviews have mentioned that the Julia portion should've elaborated more, but because this IS a movie based on a book by Julie Powell and not a documentary about the lovely Julia Child, this justifies the equal balance between the two heroines. I thought both actresses did a fabulous job. Meryl Streep, of course, resurrected Julia Child's spirit, voice, and composition. I remembered the first time I watched Child's cooking show. I must admit, I was a bit afraid of her. She's not your typical prettied-up chef; rather, she's hunchbacked, has an alto tone voice, and a bit disheveled hairstyle. But her genuine personality and charismatic humor won me over. She made mistakes (like we all do) and admitted them. She made the kitchen fun and the most difficult recipe 'easy' to recreate (although I probably would be too afraid to cut a lobster). While watching the movie, I do secretly wished to see more Julia than Julie, but that's another story

I also was touched by the love relationships - Julia and her husband (Paul) and Julie and her husband (Eric). They are loving spouses who supported their wives' dreams and career. I also especially enjoyed the great passion between Julia and Paul and you could tell they treated each other as equal individuals.

While most French foods are probably too heavy for my weak stomach (lotsa 'butta' and vino), the French's attitude towards food should be noted. They celebrate and embrace food rather than the American way of calorie measurement and food categorization.
Julie & Julia could be seemed as a chick flick, but to me, it taught me two things: food brings people together and if you stick to your goal, you'll prevail.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mountains of Spices!

Another wonderful gastro contribution from the Turkish land is the amazing variety of spices sold in the local market. I bet if you buy one of each, your kitchen would become a symphony of smell! There were chili powder, mint, curry, saffron, was just piles and piles of colorful goodness that resembles a walk on a rainbow.

I took this picture at the Spice Market (also called the Spice Bazaar). You can bargain for a good price, but not too low though. Besides spices, tea leaves, Turkish delights, and other local delicacies were also sold by the vendors. It was a culinary heaven and the best part for me was I didn't have to smell anymore meat for a short while.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Another Turkish obssession - FIGS

Besides the amazing Turkish bread, I also felt in love with a nature's sweet - figs. At first, I wasn't too armoured by this small beauty, but after seeing street carts filled with this lusciously sweet fruit sold by kg, I got tempted in buying a couple to try out and I felt in love instantly.
Granted we can find the fig's green and purple versions in the supermarkets and street carts here, I was never a 'fig' person until now. Figs can be an expensive fruit to invest in. Right now, I find the cheapest deal at a street cart. I got a small basket of 6 little guys for $2. I just needed to buy me some Turkish memory and some sweet indulgence.

The figs sold here are from California and you can learn more about them here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Turkey Summer Trip Part 2 - Carb Overload

Here's an SAT linguistic question for you -

As rice: Chinese, ____:Turkish
a) rice
b) noodle
c) bread
d) potatoes

The answer....C!

Yes. Turkish people eat bread as other Asian population treats rice. Bread is their major source of carbohydrate. Whether it's paired with jam, cheese, or honey for breakfast, or envelope around sliced meat as a sandwich for lunch, or eating with kebaps for dinner, bread is the unanimous starch in every meal. Rice (aka pilaf) is also offered and served in restaurants or mobile food vendors, but the rice is always seasoned with margarine and salt, which is very untypical for other Asian cuisines as plain rice is always, well, just plain (unless it's stir-fried).

I actually had my best bread in a smaller city called Izmir. I think it's because most bread was baked on premise, whereas in Istanbul, the bread is probably produced in a large bakery and delivered to stores and hotels. I try to maintain a healthy diet, but as bad as 'white' bread is, I just couldn't resist the crusty French bread that's comped for every table meal. The bread is rarely toasted (as in the US), but because it's always freshly made, the exterior is always still hard and crusty (the way I like it) and the innard (the doughy section) is soft and fluffy. Since I enjoy the crust more than the inside, I've this pet-peeve of just sabotaging the crust, while leaving the white inside behind in the bread basket.

Pitas are another option, but mostly only at places that create Turkish pizzas. The pitas are much like Afghan bread, which you can buy in Middle Eastern stores here. The crust is usually too charred for me, but I still enjoy the bread, which I'll explain why in the next post. I think I've eaten more bread than I do at home. I do miss rice, especially brown rice, but after awhile, after much walking around, bread is really a great source to replenish lost energy.

What are your favorite ways to dress your bread? Recently, I've been spreading creamy avocado on and before that, it was with semi-frozen yogurt on hot and toasted grainy bread.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Turkey Summer Trip 2009

Every year, mom and I always embark on an annual oversea trip. Since we rarely spend a lot on entertainment or other opulent indulgence in NYC, we treat ourselves to a deserving 'vaca' since we both like to travel and prefer to spend our disposable income on travelling than on a thousand dollar handbag.

Turkey had always been on my mom's mind for a few years, but something always came up, but we eventually put our feet down and were determined to make this destination come true this year. Lots have been going on, so it was great to get away from it all. I felt so energetic and full of life while I was travelling. My daily walk is equivalent to a month of movement here! Quite sad actually.

This isn't a travel blog, but I still want to point out some great scenic photos and of course, food photos as well. At first, I thought I'd be in meze heaven in Turkey, but actually, it's a more meat-based country, so I had to reply on salads and bread (overload of carbs) on this trip. But if you like meat and cheese, this is the place for you. You meet cheap gyro and cheese sandwiches on every street corner and they're cheap street food! If you're not looking for fancy food, you can definitely fill yourself up quite economically.

I visited Izmir and Istanbul and you could guess that the latter city is very, very touristy, which I didn't enjoy very much. But, still got to visit this major capital city. I loved Izmir because the local people were really down to earth and showed great hospitality. They would even treat you to a cup of cay (Turkish tea) even if you're just a stranger! Very generous people.

I think my initial Turkey entry would be mostly on sceneries. Then I'll gradually introduce some food photos. Don't worry, they're not all salads because my companion does eat meat and desserts, so you will get to see some varieties. Without further adieu, behold the luscious and cultural aspect of this magnificent country that has an amazing history of Christianity and Islam.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Birthday Lunch

Where to go on my birthday? Better yet, where to bring my mom since she's the one who went through intense labor to bring me into this world. Yes, trying to be altruistic here. I wanted to bring her to someplace special, but not too pricey. Somewhere not traditional, yet not too fusion-ish. Somewhere unique, but not too difficult to travel to. Hey, how about that new restaurant invested by this famous actor? So, I made a reservation at Locanda Verde, a recently opened restaurant in Tribeca, NY.

With an Italian-influenced menu, I was surprised there aren't much vegetarian options and the chef declined to make substitutions. Why no love for vegetarians? :( So I had a salad that only had two ingredients (arugla and fresh black figs), but the figs were really fresh and sweet, which paired well with the bitter rocket greens. Unfortunately, my camera's memory card was corrupted, so I couldn't take any picture, but I found this photo of my salad taken by another eater, but just minus the asiago and specks.

But sometimes, dining out is more than the food because it's always nice to be served and cared for. The staff was attentive (perhaps a bit over-attentive) and the atomsphere was rustic yet inviting. What do you look for when you're dining out (besides the good food)?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Black Fungus (Chinese Fungus)

When we hear "fungus", this innocent plant is often related to something that's grown on one's feet (yes, sounds gross, but admit it, that's the first image that comes into mind), but fungus as an edible product is quite healthy and nutritious! I'm not a big Chinese mushroom person, but I do love me some Chinese fungus, also can be directly translated to cloud ear or wood ear.

Black fungus has a reputation in Chinese herbal medicine for increasing and improving blood circulation and you can purchase it at any Chinese supermarket or dried goods stores.
You need to reconstitute the black fungus before cooking it. Just soak it in some warm water and it'll expand 5-6 times! Like magic! Then what do you do with it? Because it has a very bland or practically no taste, you just slice it up and add it to any stir-fry you desire. I like to add it with some squash, water chestnuts, carrots, and celery. Its quite versatile and very low in calories as well!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dim Sum

When it comes to lunch, Chinese often prefer a dim sum restaurant, especially when there's a big group of diners. "Dim sum" literally translates to "a piece of one's heart", meaning the food is presented with love and care. The origin of dim sum (as I've learned from my elementary school teacher, so not sure how authentic the story is) came from the old China. At that time, there was a war going on, but the empress wanted to show her gratitude to the soldiers, so she asked the chef to create small pieces of food to treat them as these delicate concoctions were a special thanks from her heart. And ever since, Chinese people have been enjoying this delicacy and now dim sum has even spread throughout the world, enjoyed by people of different nationalities.

There are savory dim sum and sweet dim sum. When it comes to the sweet kinds, this steamed cake is my default of choice. Moist, eggy, spongy, and not to mention, quite adorable, it's unlike its counterpart of a fried exterior or a dense filling. It's quite light and delicate and a perfect dish to finish off a dim sum experience.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dragon Ball Tea

Of all the tea out there, if I really, REALLY have to choose one, it'd have to be the dragon ball tea. I still love me some Lipton with lemon (well, that's all they serve on the plane anyway) and genmaicha in Japanese restaurant, but when it comes to comfort tea (like comfort food), nothing beats a cup of hot dragon ball tea. It's usually sold by the bulk in Chinese grocery stores or tea shops and it may seem a little expensive, but a little goes a long way, so don't be afraid to splurge a little. The dormant nestled shape is like a baby in a womb and then each tea ball expands into a long thin stripe of tea once it hits hot water. It's like those "condensed towels" that you've to soak in order to use them. So this tea is like a butterfly that morphs into a different species in a way. Tricky little plant.
Oh, and here are the benefits of green tea.

Do you have a favorite tea as well?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cultural Event - Thingyan Water Festival

I love all cultural activities (except for parades), so whenever I have the time during the weekend, I try to attend some cultural festivities not only to educate myself on other traditions and to get some Vitamin D from the sun. Today, I attended the Burmese Water Festival. The Thingyan Water Festival marks the start of the Burmese lunar calendar New Year and they celebrate through declicious foods, dance, and of course, water splashing. I didn't stay long enough for the H2O part, but I did witness some of the good eats. There were many families there, with young children enjoying delicacies from their background. It's always great to know there are still family-oriented events available around town for kids to have fun and learn at the same time. I also love taking portraits and documentary, but I was so afraid my subjects would yell at me for taking their photos, but I needed spontaneous posts. Luckily, the children were too busy slurping the syrupy drink filled with sago and consuming cold rice noodles. I bought a slice of banana cake, Burmese style. For $2, not too shabby.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I'm often faced with a dilemma in the afternoon -

Part of me wants to take an afternoon nap to rejuvenate a bit until my official bedtime, but another part wants to have a mid-afternoon meal (for some reasons, I get immense cravings even with a substantial lunch).

Studies have shown that a lack of sleep can cause hunger (the need for food to stay awake), that's why it's important to get a good night sleep. But when the cravings come, it's hard to fall asleep.

So what's your choice - nap or food?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cha-An - A gorgeous teahouse oasis in the midst of NYC

Last year, my good friend wanted to treat me to a beautiful Japanese teahouse as a birthday present. But nature played a trick on me with a thunderstorm, so I never got a chance to try this place until today.

Cha-An is a beautiful Japanese teahouse in Soho, New York. You've to walk up a narrow, wooden staircase in order to enter into this calm, bamboo-decorated room on the second floor of a building. As a teahouse, of course its specialty would be tea. All the teas are brewed from fresh tea leaves, so you know you're getting the real deal. Additionally, there's a dessert chef in the house and it's also famous for its Japanese-Western fusion desserts, such as black sesame brulee, early grey mochi, and chocolate roll cake, which was what we had today.

The roll cake is the special of the day and it was so beautifully plated and mastered. Not too sweet and a great balance of cream and cake. The portion is just perfect - you get to indulge in something sweet without giving you an over the top fullness.

But the top reason I love this place because it makes me feel like I'm back in Japan again. The serenity of the atmosphere, the great customer service, and the wooden furniture all give me an escape from the busting city life. The menu items aren't cheap per se, but whenever I need some 'me' time or want to have a nice conversation with a friend, I'll definitely return again.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Stress Management

In addition to diet, our mental health is just as important. Being under stress not only can affect your diet (overly hungry or lost of appetite), but can also promote diseases and create tension between you and the people around you.

Stress can be a good thing too because it keeps us in a fight-or-flight mode in case of emergency and we tend to produce better results when we work under pressure. But like anything, too much is not healthy. Our mind is like a rubber band. If you stretch it too much, it will eventually snap.

We stress about many different things; but lately, it's probably related to work, finance, or school. Recently, I have been undergoing some major stress issues, so I am trying hard to create a balance in life. Some would advice exercising, breathing activities, taking a vacation, or hanging out with friends.

How do you de-stress and would you care to teach me a few tricks? :)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Your Go-To Cookies

Whenever I'm pressed for time to bake some goodies for my friends or an event, my 'go-to' choices are banana bread, pumpkin pie, and molasses cookies. I didn't have any ripe bananas on hand this time and pumpkin pie just screams 'Halloween' and 'autumn' to me, so my final decision rested on the molasses cookies.

I feel bad for molasses cookies because they are often over-shadowed by the ubiquitous chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, or peanut butter cookies. I guess molasses is an acquired taste, but if you like ginger and spices, then you should definitely give it a try! Mine came out soft and chewy (thanks to the brown sugar and butter). Although it's not as visually appealing as your chunky chocolate disks; still, don't underestimate this underdog. Give it a chance!

What's your 'go-to' cookie in a hurry?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The High Line Park, New York, NY

This isn't a food-related post, but I was so proud of myself for visiting this 'new' park and finally got my shutter bug activated again, I just wanted to share some photos with y'all.

According to the website, the High Line is a 1.45-mile-long elevated, steel structure built in the 1930s to carry freight trains. It currently runs from Gansevoort Street, in the Meatpacking District, through the West Chelsea gallery neighborhood, ending at 34th Street, next to the Jacob Javits Convention Center. The last train ran on it in 1980.

So what makes it so special that many are raving about it? Well, that's because it's just so much fun to have an elevator greenery in the middle of Manhattan and not to mention that right under the track is an array of high end restaurants and warehouses and factories that have been converted to art galleries, design studios, offices, retailers, museums, and residences.

While it can't be compared to Central Park and I find it an oxymoron to grow flowers between the cracks of debilitated rail tracks, somehow, I could still seek out serenity in this park. Yes, I do see myself going back real soon. It's nice to escape from the city in such proximity.

Let me know if you'd like to see more photos. :)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Homemade granola

Walking down the cereal aisle in a supermarket, you'd be confronted with an array of cereal boxes and different flavors of granola. Vanilla, chocolate, or cinnamon is just some of the choices out there. But as I'm becoming more conscious about the ingredients, I'm starting to react to the excessive among of 'additions' manufacturers add to the the supposedly harmless oats. Canola oil? Sugar? Salt? Tons of sweetened dried fruits and chocolate bits? That's nice downing a dessert, not a healthful grain. So, I like to make my own version of granola and it doesn't take long at all! Heck, I even burnt mine because I left it in the toaster oven for too long.

I keep the ingredients and process really simple and of course, you can add in any items you like as well! I mainly use old-fashioned oats (of course), wheat flakes, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and sliced almonds. Then I add in a teaspoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of maple syrup, a dash of cinnamon and a sprinkle of brown sugar and bake for about 10 minutes at 350 F and remember to check on it and mix it around so everything is nice and toasty. Then coconut shreds and some dried cranberries are tossed in at the end. And Viola! Add some yogurt, milk, or almond milk and you got yourself a really delicious, guilt-free breakfast, snack, or even dinner! Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Avocado - our friend or foe?

It's time to do avocado some justice. First of all, avocado is a fruit, not a vegetable. 75% of the calories comes from fat, 19% from carbohydrates and the rest from protein. Some people might scream when they here that so much fat is involved, but it's the 'good' fat. The monounsatuated fat, which lowers cholesterol. Avocado also contains more than 20 vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, which helps to prevent chronic diseases. Studies have shown that a little fat can help to absorb other nutrients, so a little goes a long way.

Now why does avocado get such bad rep? Because it's 'fatty'? But it's much better than the satuated fat from your diner burger or the greasy fries. A fifth of a medium-sized avocado has about 50 calories, where as a small pat of butter has about 100 calories already and let's not forget the nutritions that are being offered by this fruit.

Before, I may shun from anything that links with 'fat', like olive oil, avocado, or nuts/seeds. But now, I embraced them because I realized that a little goes a long way. I actually find my appetite lasts a bit longer when my dish includes a little fat in it. I often like to end a meal with a few almonds to satiate my hunger or throw in a few beans as well.

There are so many culinary ways to use avocado, such as a spread on your sandwich, guacamole (of course), topping on soups or even an avocado shake! I've even heard of an avocado face mask! That I need to try out someday. But for now, I crave the green creaminess from this amazing fruit. I love to 'massage' it into my salads instead of using salad dressing. Even in the restaurant, I ask to sub avocado for the cheese too. Unfortunately, my dining companions still have evil connotation of my avocado, but who cares, I know it's good for me as long as I don't over do it (as for all types of food).

It's time to recognize the health benefits and the deliciousness of this forgotten fruit - avocado.
How do you use your avocado?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Summer Food

Now that the temperature is finally creeping up by the single digit, our appetite also may fluctuates along with the temperature as well. It's common that we crave for hearty and heavy dishes during the winter, but a fresh, crisp salad during the summer. Heat often suppresses my appetite, so I always crave for cold and juicy food, like a slice of watermelon or a big, bowl of refreshing salad. Call me crazy, but a new wierd addiction of mine is frozen brussel sprouts. Hey, if it's ok to snack on frozen grapes, why not vegetables as well? Try it! It doesn't even taste like that funky, overcooked brussel sprout flavor! But of course, semi defroze it, otherwise you might break your teeth. :)

What are some of your favorite summer food that you're forward to?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Organic dairy farmers needs your help

This New York Times article informed that organic dairy farmers haven't been fairing very well lately. This is in part due to rising organic feed prices, falling milk prices, too much organic milk in the marketplace, which leads to lower demands. Organic milk comes from organic cows that have not been treated with antibiotics and synthetic hormones, so it doesn't contribute to the growing problem of bacterial resistance. Also, from a ethical point of view, organic cows are free to roam the greens, rather than cooped up behind bars.

However, there have been debates on the benefits and necessity of cow's milk. Many have gradually switched to soy milk, rice milk, or other nut milk. We are also the only species who still consume mammal milk beyond childhood. And how about all these propaganda with the "Got Milk?" ads? I personally tried to wean myself off from milk, but it's really difficult for me because I enjoy my daily cereal with milk and my share of yogurt. Though I do feel a bit bloated sometimes when I've too much dairy. What's your opinion on this topic?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Party Dessert

Tomorrow my workplace is having a company party to celebrate several special events and happenings all in one. Someone got married, travelled abroad, engaged and graduation. But it's important to take a break from work and have the opportunity to drink some champagne and chat with your colleagues 'officially'.

Volunteers were asked to bring in some treats and goodies. I for one enjoy baking, but I realized I still have some pudding mix and a pie crust on hand, so I decided to be lazy and made a no baked chocolate pudding pie. After layering the pudding into the crust, it just looked kind of bare, so I decided to sprinkle some rice puff cereal on top to make it brighter and more appealing.

It's not an elaborated project, but it's something simple and easy to put together as an impromptu contribution.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A tribute to the man who gave me Dannon yogurt

Before the Greek yogurt craze, our source of dairy calcium (besides milk and cheese) was mostly from yogurt and Dannon yogurt was the most widely consumed brand in the US. Now, the founder of this versatile food has passed away recently and I wanted to pay him a tribute on this Memorial Day (even though it's not military related).

Read this article to learn more about the spoonful of yogurt you may put into your mouth. When I'm on a budget and can't splurge on another tub of Greek yogurt, my default would be Dannon since it doesn't use any HFCS. I also love the variety of flavors it offers and my all time favorites are black cherry, key lime, and french vanilla and the recently newbies pineapple coconut and pomegranate berry. What's your favorite yogurt flavors?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Are you listening?

How often do you dine out? Daily? Weekly? Once in a blue moon? What pleasure do you get from dining out? The bold flavor? An excuse to consume alcohol? Not doing the dishes? For me, it's the opportunity for others to serve me and be pampered. I think this is a personal treat that we often overlook. While we're often busy 'serving' others, whether it is a mother who cooks breakfast for the entire family plus getting ready for her full time job, a social worker who worries about a client's problem during the off-hour, or of course, a waitstaff who attends to a customer's dining needs, we sometimes forget that WE deserved to be served too.

I usually order my 'usual' in a restaurant - a clearcut macro plate. This frustrates my dining companions because they think I'm boring and why go out when I can make the same thing at home. Yes, I am tempted to select the world-renowned surf and turf at a steakhouse (that is if I eat meat, but I don't) or cave into a decadent slice of new york cheesecake (though I've lost my sweet tooth), but for me, the main purpose of dining out is to be pampered. I enjoy the moments a waiter poured me a glass of water instead of me getting up and grab a pitcher from my kitchen. I love the details of someone clearing my used plates and scrapping the crumbs and remnants off the table. I also use this as an opportunity to step away from technologies (except for the cell phone) and totally engage into a conversation with my dining companions or just submerge within myself during a solo meal.

Yes, a salad is nothing extraordinarily special. As much as I adore a home cooked meal, it is important to treat yourself to a meal because you deserve the attention and you deserve the absence of workload after your meal.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Summer is *almost* here!

My goodness...I thought warmth would never reach NYC. While mother nature has been tricking us with a roller coaster-liked temperature pattern, I'm glad this week is finally warming up. How do we equal summer with health? Dieting! Now, there are probably more people ordering salads for lunch than good old "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" meal. The number of gym-goers and Central Park joggers will also increase, which is good because we all need some fresh air and build our muscles and stamina. I buy the idea of exercising, but when it comes to resorting to a few leaves of lettuces as a meal to shed a few pounds, that's just doing more damages to the body. Studies have shown that the body goes into starvation mode when a person eats less than the minimum number of calories needed for body functions, so by dipping to a low number would only sabotage one's diet and health, resulting to binging or creating other illnesses.

As always, moderation is key. Perhaps some people do get better results from certain diet plans (ex: Atkins, South Beach, or pre-packed meal plans), but when it comes to funky diets, I believe it's a poor short-cut to reach a number goal.

Diet is a lifestyle, not a phase. So don't follow a plan that you don't believe you can live with. Choose a lifestyle that fits your needs and treat your body with respect and love.

What are your plans to stay fit and healthy?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Love and Hate - In The Name Of Brunch

You can say 'brunch' is a very "American" dining feature. What is it anyway? Is it a meal meant for people who slept in and passed the 'breakfast hour', but still too early for lunch? But then what's the point of creating a brunch hour between 11-4pm? Perhaps brunch is an early dinner if I were to take advantage of the brunch menu at 3:59pm?

New York is known for its brunch scenery. During the weekend, diners lazied around a restaurant with friends and families to catch up on the latest gossips and news or just as an excuse to extend more drinking from previous night. AYCD deal anyone?

Nevertheless, there's a love and hate feeling toward the idea of brunch. Some people don't like it because there's a long wait. When you've just waken and haven't eaten, a half an hour wait could seem like an eternity. Also, the brunch scene could be so chaotic that the kitchen, waitstaff, management and even the diners are all stressed out. Another issue is that the brunch menu is often limited to eggs and other carb-loaded dishes such as pancakes, waffles, and french toasts. Lunch menu is rarely served during the weekend.

For someone like me who don't eat eggs and shy from sweet and carb heavy meals during lunch time (I prefer to load up on carbs for breakfast instead), the brunch selections never satisfy me. I often have to resort to a small selection of salads, which again, are rarely vegetarian-friendly. But I can ask the kitchen to make changes, right? Well, I've tried, but since some places are just too busy, substitutions aren't honored. So how to satiate my appetite on a merely pile of greens? Well, I don't. I often need another snack an hour after my brunch, whereas my dining companion is still bloated from an obscene consumption of bacons and eggs.

That's why I would rather dine at a restaurant that serve lunch menu. Not only are there more creative dishes (and not just eggs, eggs, eggs), but you can truly experience the personality of the restaurant. However, I still like the brunch scene because I love to see diners eating and laughing, businesses doing well, and to enjoy a weekend without me cooking and cleaning. Eating out isn't only about the food (although that's a priority), but it's also the atmosphere and experience. I just have to arm myself with a piece of string cheese.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Your Source of Protein

As a semi-vegetarian (I still get occasional cravings for salmon), I'm always being questioned on if I'm getting enough protein in my diet. I never believed the concept that meat is the only source of protein, as studies that have proven that not only we overestimate the amount of protein we need daily, but we can get sufficient amount of protein from plant-based foods as well. Some great representatives include: dark greens, beans, soy, nuts, and quinoa.

Do you have a protein base that you mostly rely on daily? Luckily, I love beans (particularly chickpeas and black beans) and I can munch on them like snacks!