Category Archives: miscellaneous

The cutest apron!

Thank goodness I’m finally done with my board exam, I can finally write again :) For a while now I’ve been meaning to write about these really cute aprons that I saw. I had the website bookmarked and then it slipped my mind, until recently I was cleaning out my bookmarks and saw it again. The company is called Flirty Aprons, and they have a whole assortment of various styles that range from sweet and classy to sassy. I fell in love with this pink floral apron:

"Chic pink" apron

So pretty! I love how it looks like a summer dress instead of a boring or frumpy apron, especially with that lovely bow (I am a sucker for bows on dresses and clothes, such a sweet feminine touch!) One thing I absolutely cannot pull off is looking nice while working in the kitchen. I know, I can’t believe I just admitted that. But it’s true… I’m always worried that I’ll spill something or get flour on my clothes, so I head into the kitchen with my t-shirts that I don’t particularly care about. A cute little apron like this would make me feel so much more like one of those kitchen goddesses on the Food Network that are always making food and still dressed like they’re ready to entertain guests! Now all I need is my own kitchen to sashay around in… so this apron is definitely going on my wishlist for when I get my own apartment :)

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A Patriots fan’s visit to NYC on Superbowl weekend

Before I forget, happy belated Chinese New Year to all! I didn't get to do anything special to celebrate, and I didn't have any of the necessary ingredients to make classic Chinese New Year desserts (I only had a navel orange in the fridge… that counts right? haha), so unfortunately, as much as this blog is related to Chinese food most of the time, I don't have anything to post about CNY. I'll try to make up for that with a post about my visit to NYC on Superbowl Sunday :)

So last Sunday I woke up bright and early at about 5am to pack and drag myself to the Boston bus terminal to ride the Greyhound bus down to NYC. I have to say, 4.5 hours is a long time to be cramped in a chair, with the sun shining in your eyes the entire time. Still, I got to the Big Apple just before noon, and met up with my hung over friend Zheng to grab brunch near his apartment haha. I've been on a brunch roll lately, it's almost like I've uncovered a whole new cuisine altogether (I guess there were benefits to never eating breakfast!). At this place, whose name I can't remember but I know it's located on 9th Ave, I saw that eggs benedict was $9 (hah, no way I'd pay that price now!). What sparked my interest however was the large assortment of omelettes that the cafe served, and with a choice of whole eggs or egg whites.

Feeling like I should eat healthy, I settled on an egg white Irish omelette, which had corned beef, onions, and peppers in it, topped with swiss cheese. It was served with a side of smashed and seasoned potato chunks and whole wheat toast. I have to say, it being the first time I've ever had egg white omelettes, it was really tasty! In fact, I would definitely choose it over whole egg omelettes simply for the health benefits, because I honestly thought it was just as good as the real thing. I think the swiss cheese helped give it a lot of savory flavor that perhaps the plain egg whites would have been lacking. The corned beef was also really tasty with the egg whites, something a little different from the usual ham or sausage meat additions. The potato side was not very interesting though, but I suppose it was nice to rotate amongst the different foods on the plate. And as you'd expect things to be in NYC, the price tag was steeper than I would see in Boston. This brunch platter cost me about $9 before tax and tip, and I only got water to drink on the side.

Later that afternoon, I walked with Zheng through the city to get to his friend's apartment for a Superbowl party. Having grown up in the Northeast, there is no way I could be anything but a Patriots fan, and I was a bit intimidated that I would be the only one at the party who wasn't rooting for the Giants. Luckily I was wrong, because otherwise it would have been really hard to watch the last few minutes of the last quarter by myself heh. Anyway, on my way to the party, I was taking in all the sights and sounds of the city, and then I remembered that I've always wanted to try the frozen yogurt phenomena known as Pinkberry. Since Pinkberry stores are only located in CA and NY, I was set on getting a taste before I left. Zheng informed me that we'd be walking by "Koreantown", which is literally just one block of the city with all sorts of Korean and Japanese restaurants and stores, and that Pinkberry was located there. Apparently Pinkberry is a Korean frozen yogurt concept, which was news to me haha. Anyway, we made our little detour there and I was all giddy and snapping pictures because I've heard so much hype about this place and how celebrities love it. I have to say, the interior decor was nice and hip, very Korean-cutesy. I bet a lot of the people just come here for the decor alone, to be able to say that they hang out at the "cool" fro-yo place lol.

They had these big round white lights hanging from the ceiling, with undulating wave patters on them. Certainly very eye-catching and chic. On the walls were printed names of many famous lovers (Zheng was asking me what half of them were heh), although I'm not sure how it has anything to do with frozen yogurt or Pinkberry… I associate neither with… love haha.

There was a long line from the cash register going all the way to the front door, all people waiting to be served on a winter's Sunday afternoon. Amazing. Notice the cutesy pastel things on the right side wall? I don't even know what they were supposed to be… but definitely your typical Korean cutesy items. The one thing about the way Pinkberry operates (btw all their staff was non-Korean) that annoys me is that they don't tell you anything before you get to the cash register. On the back wall are the prices (and damn, this stuff is over-priced!), which say that a small yogurt is $3, and each topping you'd like to add is an additional $0.95. That's all it really says about the frozen yogurts. I figured out eventually that there were three yogurt flavors: original, green tea, and coffee. They don't tell you what the toppings are at all… how the heck was I supposed to order my $0.95 toppings?!? So when I got to the front of the line, I ordered a small original yogurt with 2 toppings, but the cashier said I needed to specify the toppings. Well you didn't have a list of them!! So I had to run up to the counter where they were serving the yogurt, which is like 7 feet away from the cash register, to observe which toppings were available in the serving bins. Normally that's not a big deal, but when there's like 15 people in line behind you, you feel terrible having to step out of line to figure out what toppings are available before coming back to order. What a poor system. Anyway, I chose cookies & cream (oreo crumbles) and mango chunks for my toppings, which made my small Pinkberry yogurt a grand total of $5 plus taxes. What a ripoff, seriously! For that price, I could buy a whole half gallon of premium ice cream at a grocery store!

So now that I've got my Pinkberry in hand (and I had to leave the store to eat it because all the seats were taken up), what is the verdict? Like many people, I had thought the "original" flavor, since it was white colored, would taste like vanilla. But it didn't… in fact it had a very distinct but very familiar taste to me, something I had often tasted while growing up in China. It was the taste of fresh yogurt… the kind that is sold in small bottles in China where the yogurt is partially liquid and partially soft curds, and you shake it up so that you can drink the thing with a straw. That's exactly the kind of thing that Pinkberry tasted like, except it was in a soft serve form. If you've never had the yogurt drink I've mentioned, I can only really describe Pinkberry as sour – not citrusy but more of a mild tartness that is accompanied by a hint of sweetness. It's not really creamy at all, which is what makes Pinkberry a refreshing and healthier alternative to ice cream. It's kind of an acquired taste, I think. Personally, I loved it because it brought back all my childhood memories of those yogurt drinks that I really enjoyed, but I think if you've never had such a flavor before it might be a shock to associate it with frozen yogurt. As tasty as the yogurt is though, I felt like the toppings didn't add anything to the experience… this isn't ice cream, there's no point in topping it with the traditional toppings aside from ripping customers off (honestly… $1 per topping?!?!). So while the flavor of the yogurt itself is appealing to me, I will definitely not be going back often due to the exorbitant price tag. When I go to China this summer… I'll just have my fill of my little yogurt drinks for a few pennies each :)

Moving on… the Superbowl itself was a pretty intense game to watch, and it was a lot of fun with a room nearly split 50/50 Pats fans and Giants fans. Zheng's friends had an enormous apartment (they had an entire floor of a building to themselves… with 2 bathrooms, 4 bedrooms, and a giant living room with kitchen. In fact, and this was exciting to me haha, the elevator of the building opens right up into their living room when you hit their floor button. How cool is that?!? Okay… sorry haha I clearly am easily excitable. We had the usual pizza and wings and chips and beer at the party, and then we stuck around for a while after the game since there were riots going on in Times Square (near where Zheng lives). We walked through some of that on the way back, and Zheng, a Giants fan, high fived a lot of random people in the streets haha. I saw policemen sitting on horses, trying to keep the order, but everyone was screaming and shouting and cars were honking (I almost got run over crossing the street). It was pretty crazy and a little scary too I have to admit, although I guess we've had our fair share of riots up in Boston for the Red Sox too heh.

The next night for dinner, I went with Zheng to a little French-Italian fusion restaurant on 9th Ave called Nizza. Zheng wanted to get dinner from the Olive Garden, and I was having none of that chain restaurant stuff while out traveling, so we settled on this small but nicely decorated restaurant with decent prices (entrees $12-16 each). After being seated, the waiter came and told us about the menu, and informed us that the food here was a fusion of French food from the area of Nice and Italian cuisine. He also told us that the portions at this restaurant were about 3/4 normal entree portions at other places (no wonder it was priced cheaper than most places I saw), but that worked out nicely for us since neither of us can eat big portions anyway.

We started off the meal with two appetizers, which the waiter told us were tapas-style and great for sharing. We got the warm calamari with potato salad, and a plate of prosciutto crostini with sheep's milk ricotta and balsamic syrup. (Sorry for the pictures with flash, it was just too dim in the restaurant).

The calamari (right) was not fried as I had expected, instead it was naked and tender, probably braised. It came with little jalapeño pepper slices and grape tomato halves that were so sweet and juicy, in a savory vinaigrette sauce, on top of a small bed of skinned and cubed potatoes. I'm not a fan of spicy, so I let Zheng eat all the peppers, and he's not a fan of seafood, so he let me have most of the calamari (oops! I forgot he hates seafood and he didn't tell me not to order it when I suggested it). But in any case, the squid was just so tender, with that warm and perfectly soft chew that fresh and lightly cooked squid has.

On the left is the prosciutto crostini with sheep's milk ricotta and balsamic syrup. It was soooo good. The prosciutto was fresh and lean, sliced very thinly so that it pretty much melted in my mouth. The flavor was wonderful too, not too salty, not too bland. It paired perfectly with the creamy sheep's milk ricotta, which was much milder than I thought it would be, but I thought that was nice, because it would have competed too much with the prosciutto otherwise. And then, with the sweetness from the balsamic syrup on top of a crunchy slice of French bread, I was in heaven with each bite. I really liked the ricotta, it was nothing like cow's milk ricotta with its gritty texture. This cheese was so smooth and creamy I could have sworn it was a different cheese altogether. What a perfect pairing of fine flavors and textures!

Next came the entrees. Zheng ordered something that was pretty much like spaghetti with marinara sauce (it's not on the online menu right now), which wasn't interesting enough for me to waste a flash photograph on :P I ordered the crab ravioli, which came in a lobster cream sauce with fennel and parmesan.

I think the thing about Nizza that impressed me the most was the freshness of everything they served. The ravioli blew me away with how tender and fresh the pasta skin was. It was this pillow-soft texture that I had never ever experienced eating ravioli or any kind of pasta before… simply amazing. The crab meat filling was silky and subtle, with the lobster cream sauce giving it most of its flavor. I really liked the added kick from the fennel in the sauce, which gave the creamy flavor an edge that made it memorable. The portion size was perfect, each ravioli was two bites, and I felt just satisfied after dinner. I had room for dessert, but none of the dessert options (of which there were 4 or so) interested me, so we left to grab dessert at a bakery on the way home. I would definitely come back to have dinner at Nizza again, the appetizers were fantastic and the portions were surprisingly just right (there's something to be said about being able to eat your whole meal and not feel too full or not full enough). The price tag with 2 appetizers is a little steep (I paid about $27 including tax and tip), but that ends up being about on par for dining in NYC, as I was seeing a lot of restaurants advertising prix fixe menus at $24-27 per person before tax/tip.

So then on our way back to Zheng's apartment, I stopped by a busy little bakery called Amy's Bread, which had some tasty looking cakes on display, as well as a lot of sandwiches and breads. Apparently everyone else waiting in line was getting some of their fresh handmade bread to take home, too bad I'm not a big fan of bread. What caught my eye from the street were their red velvet cupcakes, complete with lots of whipped cream cheese frosting on top. It was no Magnolia, but it looked just right for dessert (although $2.50 for a cupcake is steep!).

Truth be told, it was my first time eating red velvet cake, and it's true that there is nothing special about how it tastes (it's really just red cake), but I guess it's something of a visual experience not to be missed out on in your life hehe. The frosting was just great, it wasn't sweet and overpowering like most cupcakes that use royal icing or even buttercream. This frosting also wasn't thick and heavy like cream cheese frostings. I really liked its lightness, which most resembled the kind of frosting that whipped cream cakes tend to have, with a bit of butter in it. Of course, with cakes that have this much pretty frosting on it, it's hard to eat properly without getting frosting all over your face, so I'll remember not to get such a thing when I'm out with important guests :)

So those were some of my food exploits on this trip, yummy and pricey as always! Until next time, NYC!


SparkPeople!

Now that the new year is in full swing, I have given some thought to what the purpose of this Vox once was (a food diary and calorie tracker), and what it has now become (a photo-based food blog). While I enjoy sharing my experiences with everyone and learning to photograph food in ways that aim to capture their flavors and textures, somewhere along the way I started to step away from the original goal of this blog, which was to help me eat healthy through tracking everything that I ate. Today I was introduced to a site called SparkPeople, which is an extensive free website that offers a lot of tools for staying healthy, connecting with others, and tracking your food and exercise. I'm pretty excited to start up a daily food log again, and it sure is easy doing it using SparkPeople (as well as very eye-opening, as it always is when you first start to track your food). I'm excited to start focusing on eating and staying healthy once again! Well that's my plug for this site, and rest assured that my Vox will remain as it is, a place to drop by and see food when you're hungry :) Finally, here is my SparkPeople pledge for staying healthy!

And this is what the food tracker interface looks like… I love it!


More goodies and some belated Christmas presents :)

I left home and came back to school a few days ago, but I thought I should finish posting the things I've been enjoying at home. When I was at a retreat in October, a co-worker of mine found it amusing that I was taking pictures of the food I ate. Just a few weeks ago, she excitedly came up to me and told me that she had been "influenced by me". I had no idea what she meant at first, but then she pulled out her cell phone to show me pictures of meals that she had eaten, homemade by her boyfriend. It was really cute, and she told me that it was fun to take pictures of all these delicious foods so that she could look back on them and remember how great it was to enjoy them. And it made me realize just how much I enjoy looking back on the things I've eaten, since what we eat defines so much of our lives. Plus, I always find that I associate the foods I eat with the events that happen to me at the time, so seeing certain dishes has the effect of making me think of my life from certain periods of time. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I say that a picture of what you've eaten is worth a thousand memories :)

My mom made this black sticky rice pudding after Christmas, and filled it with a sweet red bean paste filling. Black sticky rice is similar to glutinous white rice in texture, except that its color is black when it is raw. To use it, you would soak it in water overnight, which turns the rice kernels a deep burgundy color. My mom builds the pudding in a round-bottomed bowl by layering the bottom with the black sticky rice, then spreading on the bean paste filling before covering with more black sticky rice. The pudding is then put into a steamer to cook the rice and obtain that sticky chewy consistency so familiar of glutinous rice. In the case of black sticky rice, the flavor is more unique in that it has a nutty taste, somewhat like a whole grain pasta or brown rice, except that it is slightly sweet and therefore suitable for a sweet dessert like this sticky rice pudding. Sometimes when my mom makes it she likes to stir up a almond or coconut flavored sauce to pour over the sticky rice pudding for extra flavor and to keep it moist. It's a delicious dessert that is often eaten for breakfast or as a snack in Asia, but not usually for an after-meal dessert, since sticky rice tends to be very filling and rich.

Instead of making the usual red braised pork belly that she likes to make, my mom decided to slice the pork belly up nice and thin, and toss it with sliced carrots, baby lima beans, and Chinese black beans for a dish filled with variety. The pork belly was soft and chewy, the carrots were slightly crunchy, the lima beans were soft and pasty, and the black beans were strong flavored. Though the presentation is never that amazing in Chinese cooking, the way that flavors and textures can be married in a dish is infinite. I've never heard of such a dish in Chinese cuisine, but it was definitely tasty and complemented the pork belly uniquely, in my opinion.

What a mouthful for a dish name! I'm not actually sure what to call it except to describe it, but this is basically a soupy kind of dish, containing silken tofu, napa, black wood ear fungus, and pieces of a Chinese fried dough called "you tiao", all stewed in a thick clear sauce. You tiao looks like a long and thin stick, somewhat similar to churros, and is often eaten for breakfast in China, accompanying a nice hot bowl of congee or soybean milk. When it's fresh, the you tiao is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. After it goes stale, it can become quite hard, and so my mom threw it into the soup to let it soften. If you think about it, this kind of dish is kind of like the Western chicken and dumplings soup, except that it's with tofu and Chinese fried dough instead hehe.

This is another dish that I grew up with, red braised potato sticks. My mom cuts up potatoes into these tiny little sticks, and cooks them with a red braise sauce until they are nice and tender but still a little crunchy. They do a great job of soaking up flavor from the sauce, and the potatoes really stick out in this dish, as opposed to fading into the background as a side dish. I love the texture of these little potato sticks, and they're always nice and tasty, never bland or dry like chunks of potatoes can be in other dishes. My mom also threw in a little bit of sliced Chinese sausage and some baby lima beans in here (you can tell she was having fun with the lima beans, it was like her new discovery as of late).

My mom's favorite way of cooking pumpkin is in this dish, flavored with some soy and black beans. She really dislikes the Westernized method of cooking pumpkin with cinnamon and other such spices. She enjoys the natural flavor and texture of pumpkin, with just black beans to give the flavor a kick. Since pumpkin has a natural sweetness, it actually pairs quite well with the saltiness of black beans, with neither flavor overwhelming the other. A really tasty way to eat pumpkin, in my opinion.

On my last night at home, I decided to contribute a dish to dinner, since everyone was pretty busy that night. I thawed out a few salmon filets and made a teriyaki flavored marinade consisting of soy sauce, honey, white sugar, white pepper, sesame oil, fish sauce, and black vinegar. I didn't really follow any recipes, but ended up using my intuition based on previous times that I've made teriyaki (it always comes out a little different each time, because of this). Plus I don't mind being able to play around with different teriyaki marinades. I let the thawed fish marinate in the sauce for just a few minutes before I threw them into the oven at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes (I leave the marinade in the pan so that the fish cooks in it). No basting necessary. Then I serve the fish with a few spoonfuls of the sauce on the plate, and keep the rest of the cooked marinade for future salmon, because it can be reused quite easily as long as it is kept refrigerated. Easy and effortless, that's what I like :) The fish was tender, and by dipping each bite into a little bit of the sauce, the flavor was just right. My parents really enjoyed it, my dad even asked me what I put into the sauce, because it had a unique flavor that he doesn't usually taste because my mom doesn't make sauces this way.

On my parents' anniversary, I had forgotten to bake something to help celebrate, so at the last moment, I dug up a few packages of those instant muffin mixes from Betty Crocker. The instructions only ask for 1/2 cup of water per bag of mix (which makes 5 cupcake-sized muffins), and it made me weary, because I was afraid they would come out without great flavor. I was quite right… they lacked any buttery taste, and were not very crunchy on top, and too moist on the inside. The mixes I had were blueberry and triple berry, which were done with these imitation berry pellets that apparently melt into a jam-like substance to look and taste like baked-in berries. Well, I suppose these muffins are passable if you are just looking for a quick fix and something baked to eat. But if you are really looking for a true muffin with a buttery flavor, crispy top, and dense inside, this is definitely not the mix to use. It's very fast to whip together, and cheap, but not worth the disappointment. On the other hand… they are rather healthy haha, only 150 calories per muffins, as opposed to the insane calorie count of other authentic muffins…

After I got back to school, I finally got to see my boyfriend after having been on winter break for several weeks. We presented each other with belated Christmas gifts, which we both loved. I gave him the complete Calvin and Hobbes collection, which comes as three hardcover volumes in a boxed set, printed on beautiful paper. It was definitely an impressive set, and heavy too (nearly 10 pounds)!

For my gifts, I received a most dazzling 1 carat journey pendent necklace from Zales…

Isn't it beautiful? When he told me to open my eyes and I saw that necklace sitting in a box in the palm of his hands, I was just so ecstatic. I've always thought the journey pendants were beautiful for their simple shape embodying a romantic concept that love grows. And it was especially touching because this is the first piece of jewelry my boyfriend has ever bought me in our nearly 4 years of dating. Of course, don't be fooled, it's not diamond (a 1 carat diamond journey pendant would have cost about $800). But it's great that Zales sells this white sapphire version of the necklace, because you can't tell that it's not diamond :) The setting is also sterling silver instead of white gold, which also makes the necklace much more affordable without sacrificing appearance. The only thing is that with sterling silver I have to wear it carefully to minimize tarnishing, and I'll have to clean it occasionally. But it's just as beautiful as a diamond journey pendant, and the meaning behind the gift is the same isn't it?

The other gift my boyfriend gave me was a self-assembled gift basket filled with goodies that I like, it was so thoughtful! We refer to it as the "fatty basket" haha. He bought me a box of crab cakes, because I love them and like to get them when we go out to eat. He also got me a box of Ghiradelli chocolates, a box of rocky road fudge (I was eying them earlier in the day at the grocery store haha), a bag of Smokin' Cheddar BBQ flavored Doritos (I love this flavor), a carton of Ben & Jerry's ice cream in Strawberry Cheesecake flavor, and a big Kit Kat bar. Haha such an indulgence of food, he is sure going to spoil me silly! But luckily… I am very sentimental and tend to dislike eating food gifts. I feel like if I eat a food gift… then it will be gone! So in the past, I have almost always saved my food gifts, uneaten, to the point where they can no longer be eaten / have gone stale / or become rock-hard. Of course, this being a basket of things I like, I can't really not eat any of it, but at least I'm not tempted to eat the entire thing right away haha. And of course… he's sharing with me :)  I really liked my presents from him this year, because it's clear that he put time and thought into the gifts. Earlier, when he was asking me what I wanted or needed for Christmas, I refused to give him suggestions, because I told him that I wanted him to just give me what he wanted me to have, things that he felt would add to my life based on everything he knows about me. He took what I said to heart, and gave me these wonderful gifts that although may give me a heart attack at 30, are unique to who he is and what we share together. Thanks for your gifts, Greg! :)

Well, that's it for now. Now that I'm back at school, hopefully you'll see some meals cooked by myself soon hehe.


And now, we return to winter

Boston's been getting a whole lot of snow lately. Apparently we have already gotten more snow this winter than all of last winter!! (and it's only mid December…) It's pretty crazy getting around, but I love the soft fluffy snow we're getting this year. Being inside and staring out at the peacefully falling curtains of flakes is really very relaxing. And it's perfect weather for a mug of steaming hot chocolate. It's funny leaving Boston when it was still transitioning from the last bits of autumn into winter, and then returning a few days later to be in the thick of two back-to-back storms, and now another one in less than a week. There's just something so comforting about snowstorms for me, I think because I grew up with them and whenever it snowed it always meant lots of fun outside for me, until my nose became raw and red and my mittens were soggy. I sure miss those days.

Anyway, this morning I walked outside to head to work, and in the thick of the storm, I saw a small herd of geese trying to sleep on the snow. It broke my heart a little, just imagining how cold and uncomfortable they must be. We have a lot of geese on campus, because we are situated right next to a river and we have lots of fields for them to graze on. I always thought that maybe they would migrate south for the winters, but it seems like a lot of them never do. It must be tough trying to survive a winter like this when you can't even find the ground beneath you. Such a juxtaposition to the ducks in the fountain at Stanford… poor geese!


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